Friday, June 15, 2012

To Rebuild America

President Obama outlined his vision for America's economic future in Ohio on Thursday. 

"This election is about our economic future. .. [T]his election presents a choice between two fundamentally different visions of how to create strong, sustained growth; how to pay down our long-term debt; and most of all, how to generate good, middle-class jobs so people can have confidence that if they work hard, they can get ahead. 
Now, this isn’t some abstract debate. This is not another trivial Washington argument. I have said that this is the defining issue of our time -- and I mean it. I said that this is a make-or-break moment for America’s middle class -- and I believe it. The decisions we make in the next few years on everything from debt and taxes to energy and education will have an enormous impact on this country and on the country we pass on to our children."

"The problems we’re facing right now have been more than a decade in the making.. . Both parties have laid out their policies on the table for all to see. What’s holding us back is a stalemate in Washington between two fundamentally different views of which direction America should take.
And this election is your chance to break that stalemate."

First President Obama outlined how we got to where we are.  The Bush administration claimed that its policies of huge tax cuts, especially to the rich, and less regulation would bring prosperity to all.  It didn't.  It did bring prosperity to some: the already rich. "Over the last few decades, the income of the top 1 percent grew by more than 275 percent -- to an average of $1.3 million a year. Big financial institutions, corporations saw their profits soar. But prosperity never trickled down to the middle class. From 2001 to 2008, we had the slowest job growth in half a century. The typical family saw their incomes fall."

"For a while, credit cards and home equity loans papered over the reality of this new economy -- people borrowed money to keep up. But the growth that took place during this time period turned out to be a house of cards. And in the fall of 2008, it all came tumbling down -- with a financial crisis that plunged the world into the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Here in America, families’ wealth declined at a rate nearly seven times faster than when the market crashed in 1929. Millions of homes were foreclosed. Our deficit soared. And nine million of our citizens lost their jobs -- 9 million hardworking Americans who had met their responsibilities, but were forced to pay for the irresponsibility of others. "

"Throughout history, it has typically taken countries up to 10 years to recover from financial crises of this magnitude. Today, the economies of many European countries still aren’t growing. And their unemployment rate averages around 11 percent.  But here in the United States, Americans showed their grit and showed their determination. We acted fast. Our economy started growing again six months after I took office and it has continued to grow for the last three years.

Our businesses have gone back to basics and created over 4 million jobs in the last 27 months --  more private sector jobs than were created during the entire seven years before this crisis -- in a little over two years."  This includes manufacturing jobs:  "the strongest period of manufacturing job growth since 1995."

"And when my opponent and others were arguing that we should let Detroit go bankrupt, we made a bet on American workers and the ingenuity of American companies -- and today our auto industry is back on top of the world."

But the major effects of the Great Recession are not the only problems.  "But let’s be clear: Not only are we digging out of a hole that is 9 million jobs deep, we’re digging out from an entire decade where 6 million manufacturing jobs left our shores; where costs rose but incomes and wages didn’t; and where the middle class fell further and further behind."

So recovering from the crisis of 2008 has always been the first and most urgent order of business -- but it’s not enough. Our economy won’t be truly healthy until we reverse that much longer and profound erosion of middle-class jobs and middle-class incomes.

So the debate in this election is not about whether we need to grow faster, or whether we need to create more jobs, or whether we need to pay down our debt. Of course the economy isn’t where it needs to be. Of course we have a lot more work to do. Everybody knows that. The debate in this election is about HOW we grow faster, and HOW we create more jobs, and HOW we pay down our debt.   That’s the question facing the American voter. And in this election, you have two very different visions to choose from." [President Obama placed emphasis on those "how"s.]

President Obama used facts and figures from the real world to outline GOP proposals and their impacts.  Romney and the Ryan plan call for not only continuing present tax cuts and low tax rates for the weathiest, but new tax cuts for the wealthy.  They propose cutting $ billion from the federal budget but don't say what they will cut.

  " But here's the problem: The only tax breaks and deductions that get you anywhere close to $5 trillion are those that help middle-class families afford health care and college and retirement and homeownership. Without those tax benefits, tens of millions of middle-class families will end up paying higher taxes. Many of you would end up paying higher taxes to pay for this other tax cut. "

"I believe their approach is wrong. And I’m not alone. I have not seen a single independent analysis that says my opponent’s economic plan would actually reduce the deficit. Not one. Even analysts who may agree with parts of his economic theory don’t believe that his plan would create more jobs in the short term. They don’t claim his plan would help folks looking for work right now.

In fact, just the other week, one economist from Moody’s said the following about Mr. Romney’s plan -- and I'm quoting here -- "On net, all of these policies would do more harm in the short term. If we implemented all of his policies, it would push us deeper into recession and make the recovery slower."

As for the long term, remember that the economic vision of Mr. Romney and his allies in Congress was tested just a few years ago. We tried this. Their policies did not grow the economy. They did not grow the middle class. They did not reduce our debt. Why would we think that they would work better this time?  We can’t afford to jeopardize our future by repeating the mistakes of the past -- not now, not when there’s so much at stake.   

I've got a different vision for America.  I believe that you can’t bring down the debt without a strong and growing economy. And I believe you can’t have a strong and growing economy without a strong and growing middle class. This has to be our North Star -- an economy that’s built not from the top down, but from a growing middle class, that provides ladders of opportunity for folks who aren't yet in the middle class."

But the key to a strong middle class is how America competes in the world economy, as part of a "race to the bottom," a low wage, high pollution economy, or "a race to the top" that requires investment in education for  "the best-educated, best-trained workers in the world; an America with a commitment to research and development that is second to none, especially when it comes to new sources of energy and high-tech manufacturing. "

"I see a future where we pay down our deficit in a way that is balanced -- not by placing the entire burden on the middle class and the poor, but by cutting out programs we can’t afford, and asking the wealthiest Americans to contribute their fair share.  

That’s my vision for America: Education. Energy. Innovation. Infrastructure. And a tax code focused on American job creation and balanced deficit reduction."  

Understand, despite what you hear from my opponent, this has never been a vision about how government creates jobs or has the answers to all our problems. Over the last three years, I’ve cut taxes for the typical working family by $3,600. (Applause.) I’ve cut taxes for small businesses 18 times. (Applause.) I have approved fewer regulations in the first three years of my presidency than my Republican predecessor did in his. And I’m implementing over 500 reforms to fix regulations that were costing folks too much for no reason."

"I’ve signed a law that cuts spending and reduces our deficit by $2 trillion. My own deficit plan would strengthen Medicare and Medicaid for the long haul by slowing the growth of health care costs -- not shifting them to seniors and vulnerable families."

So, no, I don’t believe the government is the answer to all our problems... But I do share the belief of our first Republican President, from my home state -- Abraham Lincoln -- that through government, we should do together what we cannot do as well for ourselves. 

That’s how we built this country -- together. We constructed railroads and highways, the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge. We did those things together. We sent my grandfather’s generation to college on the GI Bill -- together.  We instituted a minimum wage and rules that protected people’s bank deposits -- together.  Together, we touched the surface of the moon, unlocked the mystery of the atom, connected the world through our own science and imagination. We haven’t done these things as Democrats or Republicans. We’ve done them as Americans."

The President outlined specific plans for his second term: for a clean energy economy, investment in science and technology, in community colleges, in infrastructure:

"At a time when we have so much deferred maintenance on our nation’s infrastructure -- schools that are crumbling, roads that are broken, bridges that are buckling -- now is not the time to saddle American businesses with crumbling roads and bridges. Now is the time to rebuild America.  
So my plan would take half the money we’re no longer spending on war -- let’s use it to do some nation-building here at home. Let’s put some folks to work right here at home.

My plan would get rid of pet projects and government boondoggles and bridges to nowhere.   But if we want businesses to come here and to hire here, we have to provide the highways and the runways and the ports and the broadband access, all of which move goods and products and information across the globe."

Throughout his speech President Obama also talked about responsible longterm solutions to the federal deficit.  Part of the solution is responsible tax policy that requires that the wealthiest pay more than the historic very low taxes they now enjoy.

Then he drew the contrasts, between the Romney plan of more tax cuts for the rich versus what he proposes:

  "I don’t believe that tax cut [for the wealthy] is more likely to create jobs than providing loans to new entrepreneurs or tax credits to small business owners who hire veterans. I don’t believe it’s more likely to spur economic growth than investments in clean energy technology and medical research, or in new roads and bridges and runways. I don’t believe that giving someone like Mr. Romney another huge tax cut is worth ending the guarantee of basic security we’ve always provided the elderly, and the sick, and those who are actively looking for work. 

Those things don’t make our economy weak. What makes our economy weak is when fewer and fewer people can afford to buy the goods and services our businesses sell. Businesses don’t have customers if folks are having such a hard time. What drags us all down is an economy in which there’s an ever-widening gap between a few folks who are doing extraordinarily well and a growing number of people who, no matter how hard they work, can barely make ends meet."

President Obama concluded with observations about the campaign and the stakes of this election:

"So, Governor Romney disagrees with my vision. His allies in Congress disagree with my vision. Neither of them will endorse any policy that asks the wealthiest Americans to pay even a nickel more in taxes. It’s the reason we haven’t reached a grand bargain to bring down our deficit... Despite the fact that taxes are lower than they’ve been in decades, they won’t work with us on any plan that would increase taxes on our wealthiest Americans. It’s the reason a jobs bill that would put 1 million people back to work has been voted down time and time again. It’s the biggest source of gridlock in Washington today.

And the only thing that can break the stalemate is you.  You see, in our democracy, this remarkable system of government, you, the people, have the final say. This November is your chance to render a verdict on the debate over how to grow the economy, how to create good jobs, how to pay down our deficit. Your vote will finally determine the path that we take as a nation -- not just tomorrow, but for years to come.   When you strip everything else away, that’s really what this election is about. That’s what is at stake right now. Everything else is just noise. Everything else is just a distraction.   

From now until then, both sides will spend tons of money on TV ads. The other side will spend over a billion dollars on ads that tell you the economy is bad, that it’s all my fault -- that I can’t fix it because I think government is always the answer, or because I didn’t make a lot of money in the private sector and don't understand it, or because I’m in over my head, or because I think everything and everybody is doing just fine.  That’s what the scary voice in the ads will say.   That’s what Mr. Romney will say. That’s what the Republicans in Congress will say.

Well, that may be their plan to win the election, but it’s not a plan to create jobs.  It’s not a plan to grow the economy. It’s not a plan to pay down the debt. And it’s sure not a plan to revive the middle class and secure our future. "

 " At a moment this big -- a moment when so many people are still struggling -- I think you deserve a real debate about the economic plans we’re proposing. Governor Romney and the Republicans who run Congress believe that if you simply take away regulations and cut taxes by trillions of dollars, the market will solve all of our problems on its own. If you agree with that, you should vote for them. And I promise you they will take us in that direction.

I believe we need a plan for better education and training --  and for energy independence, and for new research and innovation; for rebuilding our infrastructure; for a tax code that creates jobs in America and pays down our debt in a way that’s balanced. I have that plan. They don’t.  

And if you agree with me -- if you believe this economy grows best when everybody gets a fair shot, and everybody does their fair share, and everybody plays by the same set of rules -- then I ask you to stand with me for a second term as President."  

"I will work with anyone of any party who believes that we’re in this together -- who believes that we rise or fall as one nation and as one people."

"This November, you can provide a mandate for the change we need right now. You can move this nation forward. And you can remind the world once again why the United States of America is still the greatest nation on Earth."

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Magic By the Bay

It only took 128 years.  On Wednesday evening in San Francisco, Matt Cain pitched the first perfect game in the 128 year history of the Giants, one of the oldest teams in big league baseball.  This perfect game was a thing of beauty that exemplifies this sport at its best.  There have been only nine official perfect games in the National League (they don't count Harvey Haddix's 11 perfect innings in a game he lost in the 12th) and the 22nd in major league history.  That's out of more than 350,000 games played.

Said the ESPN headline: Matt Cain wasn't just perfect Wednesday night. He may have tossed the greatest game in MLB history.

 It happened in the Giant's home park before a large and very responsive crowd.  (I've only seen one game there but the combination of the beauty of the park and the right-there electricity of the crowd in so-called layed back San Francisco was unique.)

Matt Cain has come close to no-hitters before, and he said afterwards that he'd never had better command of his pitches. He struck out 14 of the Houston Astros he faced--his personal high, and tying the most strikeouts in a perfect game with the immortal Sandy Koufax. Watching the game on TV, I don't recall seeing a better moving fastball since the young Doc Gooden.

 But a perfect game--no walks, no errors as well as no hits--is a team accomplishment.  This season the Giants have more team errors than all but one team.  But they made a number of tough plays, including Gregor Blanco's sterling catch in the right-center field "triples alley."  The teamwork starts with the catcher and pitcher, and Buster Posey was as perfect as Cain--every pitch he called worked, and Cain didn't shake off one sign the entire game. 

The Giants also gave Cain a 10-0 lead, which meant he could concentrate on the perfect game.  On the other hand, the Giants' 15 hits meant he was sitting in the dugout for long stretches, which can cool the arm of some pitchers and throw off their rhythm. 

But everything was working--Cain, the hits, the defense, the crowd that was thunderous in the late innings, after Cabrera's catch against the wall and then Blanco's instant classic, and they weren't the only excellent plays in the late innings to preserve the perfect game.  This is what makes it magical.  It can happen any game, but no one can predict which one.  If you're lucky enough to be part of it or just be there, you've been touched by magic.

This great but relatively young ball park has seen some magic before, and some history--World Series wins, the home run record broken and set. This also becomes an immortal night, to lift us out of the ugly slog of politics and"news."  To remind us that once in awhile, people can do something that's perfect.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Whose Bus Are You On?

Earlier this year, President Obama had this moment alone, sitting in the very seat on the very bus where Rosa Park's act of quiet defiance became an iconic moment in the struggle for racial equality in law and in practice.  Looking at this photo we may reflect on how far we've come, but sitting on that bus might prompt someone to realize how the fight is never over, and even some of the same ground must be defended and won again and again. 

In agitating for the practical, equal right to vote, African Americans in the 60s were not only claiming their own rights but affirming and reviving constitutional and societal rights for everyone.  By adding their free participation in the political process, and the economy, they added value to society, and made it easier for others to use their rights. 

A mirror of their fight for voting rights in this generation is resistance to the attempts by GOPer governors and legislators throughout the country to erode and even take away voting rights.  In Florida, the governor has essentially declared war on the federal government, specifically the Justice Department, in announcing his defiance of their order to stop the cynical attempts to deny citizens their right to vote.  Using the plainly cynical excuse of addressing a voting fraud that does not exist, he seeks to seize political power by preventing people who might vote against the GOP from being permitted to cast their votes.

There are principled people in Florida stopping this particular effort, but it is only one among many in that state, and in many other states.  Just as in the Civil Rights era, such efforts are conducted by cynical politicians who feed (and feed on) the ignorance and bigotry of the people who support them. 

Controlling who is eligible to vote is an age-old strategy for the undemocratic seizing and holding of power.  So is demagoguery, which in its way is also an assault on the integrity of elections, especially when it involves pernicious lies.  In this election, involving media paid for by huge amounts of money, those lies will be persistently repeated--and the Romney campaign is extraordinary in the number and size of its lies.

They are not differing approaches to policy, or arguable interpretations of meaning.  They are lies about quantifiable facts.  Romney's campaign is based on insisting that President Obama has vastly increased federal spending, added greatly to the federal deficit, and greatly increased federal government regulation.  None of this is true.  Yet Romney has the money behind him to repeat these lies endlessly, in media packages designed for those who believe television dramas and reality shows are true.  Update: the pattern in Mittdacity.

This attacks the legitimacy of government at its core.  For if there is no incentive in doing something difficult since your opponents will simply lie about it, or in attempting to address real problems because there is no political benefit to doing so, it's not only democracy but government and the functioning of society that is in danger.

Romney's lying is becoming his defining characteristic.  One writer noted, "There no longer exists any doubt that Mitt Romney intends to win the White House by conducting the most dishonest, unscrupulous and reprehensible campaign ever devised."  If he is successful, elections become a sham, as real as reality TV.  The fight for effective rights, for a real representative democracy, and against ignorance and bigotry, is as real and necessary now as it was when Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus.  We must recognize how our different situations today nevertheless constitute the same fight.

 One difference is that on the surface at least the Civil Rights movement was an insurgency that rattled the established practices of a settled society.  Today the fight is to keep rights from being taken away by those who feel the tide of history against them.  But society is also in more peril, more danger from a return to rule by the cynically selfish and the ignorant.  It's this generation's fight.  They are getting on the bus.  What will they do?           

Update 6/12: The lawsuits are flying.  Florida has sued the federal government over its attempts to stop the voter purges, while local election officials condemn the Governor's suit and say they won't resume the purges anyway.  The Justice Department has sued Florida to stop the voter purge.  Meanwhile a Tea Party front group has sued several states to force them to enact similar voting purges.  So whose bus are you on?