Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Education Reform 101

Check out the excellent 6-part series on Education Reform, written by school teacher and blogger Jersey Jazzman, starting today on bluejersey.com

Another Way the GOP is Derailing the Economy

If Planned Parenthood didn't exist, what would be the GOP's biggest bogeyman? Arguably it would be Amtrak.

Rail transport is an often under-appreciated aspect of the engine that drives the economy. It is more fuel-efficient than automobiles, and the portion of the Northeast Corridor that runs through New Jersey is critical to the state's and nation's economy.

Yet, two days after Irene, a portion of the Amtrak system in New Jersey remains closed. This also impacts New Jersey Transit which uses the same tracks.

The faux-fiscal conservative GOP has consistently worked to reduce and eliminate Amtrak subsidies, probably because the typical passenger is not one of their millionaire benefactors. Yet, the impact on the economy due to workers unable to get to their jobs is never a factor in the GOP's calculation.

Europe and China are making huge investments in infrastructure to benefit their economies. Floods, snowstorms, and hurricanes are a fact of life in the northeast. Amtrak needs funds not only for their day-to-day operations, but to invest in preventative and restorative infrastructure so that events like those this past weekend don't  make New Jersey less competitive in the world market.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Tax that Helps America Stay Competitive

The federal gas tax of 18.4¢ per gallon is set to expire at the end of September. Today’s New York Times has an editorial titled The Clear Case for the Gas Tax, enumerating several reasons why this tax should not be allowed to expire. The money collected goes to the Highway Trust Fund, which in turn creates jobs and upgrades our deteriorating infrastructure.

No doubt, the Tea Party Republicans will oppose a proposed extension of this tax, claiming that in these tough times we need to reduce the amount of money that the government collects. They will most certainly ignore the fact that by further depleting the Highway Trust Fund, we will move construction workers from the role of tax payer to the role of unemployment insurance recipient.

There is a very small grain of truth to the Tea Party Republicans’ assertion. One of the downsides of the gas tax is that a poor person who drives 12,000 miles per year (the EPA estimate of average American’s driving habits) pays roughly the same tax as the millionaire who drives 12,000 miles per year. This makes the gasoline tax a regressive tax, i.e. one that has a bigger impact on those with lower incomes.

To ameliorate this disparity, in addition to extending this tax, Congress should address the issue of its impact on the poor.

At the current rate, a driver who gets 20 miles per gallon and drives 12,000 miles per year pays $110.40 in federal gas tax.

But extending the current gas tax is not enough. Congress should increase the tax for a number of reasons. It would more quickly replenish the Highway Trust Fund, and consequently create more middle-class jobs.  Any increase in the price of gasoline helps discourage driving and decreases the cost of dealing with additional pollution and its health issues. While any tax increase would be perceived as an outrage by the Tea Party Republicans, our gas taxes are significantly lower than those in Europe (which also, by the way provides inexpensive and effective medical care to all, not just the wealthy).

While taxes are good in that they provide jobs, essential services, and infrastructure, these taxes must not be regressive.  Doubling the gasoline tax would cost the average driver $220.80 per year. Insignificant for the wealthy, but that $4.25 per week might make the difference between a child in a poor family getting a decent meal or going hungry one more night.

So while Congress should double the federal gas tax, it should also ensure that the burden does not fall upon those who could least afford it. Any legislation should include a tax credit of around $200 for automobile owners earning less than a set amount, say $30,000 per year. This way, the burden will not fall upon the poor as so many other taxes do.

Such a progressive proposal has as much chance of passing in the Tea Party controlled House as me becoming an Olympic athlete. But without improving our infrastructure, America will continue down the path of becoming a first-world nation with third-world services. And not having this discussion will ensure the Tea Party mantra of tax elimination will continue to destroy America.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Republicans are not Terrorists

In a recent column, writer Joe Nocera equated the members of the Tea Party to terrorists, pointing out their “jihad on the American people.”  In response to Tea Party criticism, Nocera quickly issued an apology for his “intemperate” language.

I have several friends who are Republicans. Some are moderate, and some are Tea Partiers. They are certainly not terrorists – I would categorize them as patriotic but perhaps misguided Americans. But let’s separate my friends, who sincerely want what’s best for America, from the Republican politicians and corporatists, who are driven by monetary greed, the lust for power, and their focused goal of removing Barack Obama from office at all costs.

Osama Bin Laden’s aim was to wreck the American economy and instill fear among the American people. And with the assistance of the Bush/Rove/Koch power mongers, he succeeded.

Merriam-Webster defines terror as a state of intense fear. Certainly today’s Republican leadership has succeeded in spreading that state of fear across the nation – fear that any American Muslim is a potential suicide bomber, fear that Hispanics will outnumber Caucasians in some areas and dominate the voting process, fear that curtailing wasteful military spending will cause us to be invaded by China or the Grand Duchy of Fenwick, fear that if we don’t pray in school that God will look unfavorably on us, and fear that if citizens can’t buy AK-47s without a background check, liberal thugs will rape, pillage, and plunder their sometimes ill-begotten treasure.

Even more pernicious is the fact that though their tactics are different, the current crop of Republican leaders, with the help of some chickenshit Democrats,  are working toward the same outcome that Osama Bin Laden strived for – transforming America into a third world banana republic.

So, Mr. Nocera, if your apology was aimed at average Republican citizens, it was justified. But if your original column referred to the leaders of the Tea Party Republicans, no apology was necessary. Rank-and-file Republicans are not terrorists, but their leaders are moving this nation along the path that will give Osama Bin Laden a posthumous victory.

Monday, August 1, 2011

American Exceptionalism

The Tea Party GOP is fond of citing the concept of American Exceptionalism as justification for everything from prioritizing war over diplomacy to cutting taxes for the wealthy. Arguably, the twentieth century was, indeed, the century of American Exceptionalism.

In that century, we fought and won the War to End All Wars, and followed it up with the development and deployment of weapons of mass destruction to end the next war.

In the twentieth century, America exploited the fruits of the Industrial Revolution, developing a manufacturing economy that paid decent wages thanks to regulation and strong unions. We eradicated the scourges of yellow fever and polio and put a man on the moon. Not only did we win the space race, but we also won the Cold War, thanks in part to the Soviet Union’s draining their resources on an ill-advised war in Afghanistan. We developed an educational system with institutions from pre-school to post-graduate that attracted people from all over the world. We invented the transistor and the Internet and made Silicon Valley an engine of growth, opportunity, and prosperity.

The common thread that ties this success story together is government. Government grants for education boosted innovation. Government regulation on fuel economy, the environment, and workplace safety were catalysts for economic growth. Government research and development grants to spur innovation helped a few large corporations and spawned thousands of small ones. Millions of Americans were able to realize the dream of home ownership.

Unfortunately, the momentum has changed in the twenty first century. The engine that drives the economy has stalled. American corporations are shipping green jobs to China and America lags behind Europe and Asia in investments in rail transportation. Tea Partiers cheer when someone like Governor Chris Christie abandons an important rail transportation job in mid-stream, throwing away billions of taxpayer dollars.  In this century’s basic infrastructure race, broadband, America is in the middle of the pack, just behind Luxembourg.

Of course, the decline in American Exceptionalism did not occur overnight, nor is it finished yet.  The decline took root when Ronald Reagan hoodwinked the American people by postulating that “Government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem.” But what really threw American Exceptionalism under the bus was the administration of George W Bush and its demonstrably failed policy of trickle-down economics. Bush’s legacy will be the demise of the middle class and the rise to power of the corporate oligarchs. This trajectory toward banana republic status was guaranteed by the Tea Party’s disdain for government services (which they all use) and the taxes that pay for them.

Is there a way to revector this trajectory? Probably not in the short term. Democrats have amply demonstrated their impotence in slowing down the Republican-led demise of our economy, let alone reversing it. Right-wing corporations control much of the mainstream media and Progressives have to work twice as hard to get their truthful message out. Cuts in education will make it easier for Republicans to “dumb-down” elections and win on simplistic talking points about complex issues. With the recent election of Tea Party governors in many states, voter suppression initiatives that hurt the poor and unemployed are on the rise.

Eventually the Republicans will win the White House. If not in 2012, then in 2016. To stay in power, as they exploit workers and the poor and as they shift more jobs overseas, they will need something to rally around, be it another war or terrorist attack.

American Exceptionalism helped us survive the Great Depression and World War II. Is there enough left to help us survive the Tea Party onslaught?