Friday, February 27, 2009

Analyzing Obama's State of the Union and Budget

Two important events took place this week: President Obama proposed his budget and he delivered his first message to Congress. A Los Angeles Times article noted that Obama's budget "included broad goals and few line items", and the same could pretty much be said for his speech. The three issues he focused on were energy, health care and education. On the face of it, none of those issues are infrastructure. In fact, there was less about infrastructure in Obama's speech than in the speech of Louisiana governor Kenneth Parcell, er, Bobby Jindal. Jindal criticized Obama and Congress' massive appropriation for infrastructure, highlighting the Anaheim-to-Las Vegas high speed rail project (More on that in a future post). Infrastructure made its main entrance in Obama's speech subtly in the energy and education, where Obama highlighted his green energy plans and singled out a crumbling school in Dillon, SC.

Full Text of Obama's Address to Congress

Looking at Obama's budget, the first thing Republicans, including David Brooks, cry foul about is that its percentage of GDP inches us closer to Europe. (To that, I counter that we NEED massive gov't spending in ALL AREAS. This morning's LA Times had an interesting schematic showing the differences in funding between Obama's budget and the last Bush budget. Unfortunately, I couldn't find it on the 'Net. I will note, however, the most important difference to funding--an increase in the outlay to the Department of Transportation by more than $60B, with much of that increase coming in the stimulus package.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Quick Update

Sanford took the stimulus money

Wonder what Boehner thinks

Wonder how this will affect his 2012 Presidential bid

Monday, February 23, 2009

This Week on the Blog Front

This blog is a compilation of several interesting articles I read in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and the Huffington Post.

One article in today's Los Angeles Times compares the public works projects built by the WPA and other FDR New Deal agencies to Obama's infrastructure projects, and notes that the projects built THIS:

Grand Coulee Dam in WA Align Center

and THIS:

La Guardia Airport, Triborough Bridge

and even THIS:

Whittier High School Auditorium

It goes on to note that Obama's plan creates very few of these monumental projects, with the possible exception of high-speed rail. I would note that high-speed rail is a very important exception (more on the high-speed rail debate later), would disagree with the Times that some of our infrastructure projects are not , and would hope that sooner or later, Obama builds the new infrastructure

Either way, Obama's stimulus/infrastructure package was the main subject of the Governors' Meeting over the weekend, according to a recent New York Times article. Most governors, Democratic and Republican, support Obama on the stimulus package, the most noteworthy Republican crossing lines being our own Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had to take the stimulus money just to balance the budget (For that, the California "I'm-Too-Conservative to-Care-About-the-Public-Good" Republican Party is giving him a vote of no confidence).

The Republican governors who oppose the stimulus package the most, and have hinted they might refuse some or all of the money include Mark Sanford, Bobby Jindal, and Sarah Palin (Where have I heard those names before? Oh, yeah...they're all running for Prez in 2012). According to the Huffington Post, Obama is now taking shots at state governments who oppose him. You can watch the video at the Huffington Post link.

And finally, a recent ABC News poll analyzed Obama's first month. Here are some of their key findings:

*People think Obama was trying to compromise with Republicans by a
3:1 margin, but think that Republicans weren't trying to compromise with Obama, 59-34

*Support for the stimulus plan is 64% overall, but only one in three among Republicans

*Obama holds a 68% approval rating, and an identical 68% of Americans say Obama has brought "Change to Washington"

*The % of Americans who think the country is on the right track has doubled since the election, but is only at 31%

*People think that the stimulus will help their local economy much more than the economy as a whole


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Dose of Promethean Policy, Part 1

First off, a definition of the word “Promethean”. Promethean means foresighted. It also means that if you act foresightedly, Republicans will chain you to a rock and eat out your liver. And as such, my doses of Promethean policy focus on infrastructure programs that Republicans opposed as excess spending or pork, but I feel are essential at “lighting the fire” to getting America on the right track.

Today’s topic: Rural broadband.
As you can see from this map, in many rural counties in America, less than half the population has access to high-speed internet, and in the Rustbelt and the South, that number is closer to a quarter. In a recent National Public Radio article, former FCC economist Michael Katz acknowledged that rural America is technologically and environmentally backward, but thinks that broadband is a waste of money. He is joined by many other Republicans, who ironically represent rural constituency. Here’s what I say to their criticisms:
  • It will promote innovation and curtail unemployment in rural areas. Decades ago under the New Deal and Fair Deal, the Tennessee Valley Authority extended electricity and phones to disaffected people in Tennessee and Alabama (ironically to some of the areas now least served by broadband). The result was the creation of thousands of jobs, the establishment of unions in an un-unionized area, and the building of libraries in a low-literacy area. The broadband initiative would likely do the same thing. Also, another part of the NPR article notes that, using the example of Ten Sleep, Wyoming.
  • Don’t just look at now; look at fifty years into the future. Fifty years ago, Temecula, CA, was a ranch. Today, 100,000 people live there. The same thing may be happening in Centennial, CA. Today’s farm is tomorrow’s megalopolis. When you think of only the immediate future, THIS is what happens:

    Yeah. And that’s today’s blogspot. By the way, if you want to want to read more about the myth of Prometheus, click here.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

I Wonder, Wonder, Wonder, What's in this Wonder Bill?

As you've undoubtedly heard, the stimulus bill has passed both houses of Congress, passing in the House with no Republican support, and in the Senate with the support of only three blue-state Republicans. This means that Boehner's gamble has paid off in the House, but the stimulus bill will have to be percieved as a failure for it to pay off completely. Seven blue-dog Democrats defected, and hopefully they'll be primaried out in 2010. In analysis on the News Hour with Jim Lehrer, syndicated columnist Mark Shields thinks that it was a major success for Obama and the American people, while New York Times correspondent David Brooks thinks that too many people are not satisfied with this bill. The Los Angeles Times, and the author of this blog, tend to side with Shields on this one, pointing out that the stimulus even the Republicans concede that the bill will create or preserve at least 3.46 million jobs. The author would like to add that one important function of this bill is creating jobs in every industry, yes, including the arts industry. View NPR Coverage.

Here's a visual that shows what's in this "Wonder Bill". As you can see, $85.7 billion (or about $300 for each person in America) is allocated towards infrastructure. Of this, $46B is allocated towards fixing our highway network, and get almost $10B apiece.

Now that the stimulus bill has been passed, the direction of this blog will change slightly, to how infrastructure spending is being used to help the economy, or how lack of infrastructure spending is hurting the economy.

This blog post is brought to you by Nestle.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Senate Bill Passes Senate...On to Conference Committee

Yes, the stimulus package passed the House by a vote of 61-37, with only Collins, Snowe and Specter supporting it (the total does not add up to 100 because Gregg sat it out and the Minnesota seat is still vacant). Though the only Senators to support the measure (Snowe, Collins, Specter) came from states that comfortably voted for Obama last November, this means that part of Boehner's gamble hasn't paid off. In a post-passage news conference, Sens. McConnell (R-KY) and Kyl (R-AZ) attacked the bill for turning the United States into a Socialist county like the rest of the industrialized world, and roasted the amount of (including "pork" for improving our schools and energy grid!). You can view it here, or you can also get the link by clicking on the picture of the vote.

Coverage by the Los Angeles Times
Coverage by C-SPAN
Coverage by National Public Radio

Now that the bill has passed, it goes to conference committe, where the major differences between House and Senate versions, deliniated below

Personally, I hope the conference committee sides with the House on most of the issues--you'll note that the House has allocation more money for infrastructure (the actual subject of this blog), as the bipartisan committee decided to cut the spending on infrastructure improvements suchs as roads, schools, and broadband technogoly. This is very unfortunate, since sectors that would be put to work by those measures (i.e. home construction) have been among the worst hit by the recession. The elite chamber also slashes funding to states, which are in worse shape than the federal government and have to fund most of the infrastructure projects not funded by the feds. The one thing I side with the elite chamber on is increased spending to bring our green energy grid into the 21st century, curtail our dependence on foreign oil, and decrease the trade deficit that is a major cause of the recession.

Yes, readers, I tend to side with BIGGER numbers, because I'm a big-government tax-and-spend hippie Greepeace Liberal pinko Commie Socialist...and I feel that bigger spending will give the First Tiger the appearance of actually doing something.

And that's today's rant. Coming up, I report on the conference committee's findings, and I channel Prometheus.

Friday, February 6, 2009

A New Tactic, and Political Capital

The new Republican tactic—not calling the stimulus package a stimulus package, but a spending bill. Defeated presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) used this tactic in interviews Wednesday, and it was adopted by fellow spending hawk Tom Coburn (R-OK) on the floor yesterday morning—he claimed that Obama’s stimulus package would not create a single job. I would like Obama to find that person who gets that job and invite him to the White House, just to prove that Coburn was wrong and Mark Shields was right about the death of conservatism. Anyway, the GOP’s tactic seems to be working—though three-quarters of the population support a stimulus package (down from before Obama took office), half of its supporters think it needs “major changes”. McCain yesterday proposed an amendment to cut the stimulus monies in half—in the Republicans’ view, the half cut would mostly be “fat”, and the infrastructure spending that is the root of this blog. The half cut is not to be, but earlier tonight it was announced that the Senate has agreed to cut at least $85B in “fat”—in other words, funding for education and the arts, and aid to the embattled states mentioned in the previous blog.

A word about political capital at this point—I know the concept is mostly associated with President Bush, but it could also be associated with Obama. Obama has been forced by the Republicans to buckle down and burn a lot of his political capital on this stimulus bill (not to mention from the tax questions of his Cabinet), appearing on every major network and now stump-speaking in the battlegrounds of Florida and Indiana. The Republicans are going to lose the infrastructure fight (a foregone conclusion), but, unfortunately for us liberals, they have made it easier to win the next one. For coverage of the next one, keep watching this blog

Also, take a look at this NewsHour interview with David Axelrod

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Senate Begins Debate and Key Stakeholder: Illegal Immigrants

The infrastructure package is now in the Senate, after a break for the weekend and to discuss the Holder nomination. The Senate version is near $900B, compared to the $819B in the House package. Republican Senators are again touting plans to put money in people's pockets, but it as of yet remains unclear whether or not they can unify their ranks against the bill. These Senators, as well as a handful of conservative Democrats, have proposed a bevy of amendments, including doubling aid to people who are facing foreclosure, getting rid of many "non-stimulus related measures" (even if they could potentially create jobs) and capping all stimulus spending at $900B. And in a late-breaking (meaning a few minutes before I posted), Associated Press briefing, Mitch McConnell and other Senate Republicans blocked an amendment by our own Dianne Feinstein to add an additional $25 billion in badly-needed infrastructure money, including an additional $2 billion for desperately-needed mass transit projects, citing concerns that the bill contains too much money already. However, an LA Times article states that Republican Congressmen, particularly those from states that Obama carried, are being forced by constituents to defend their vote against the stimulus bill.

Let’s talk about the effect of the infrastructure bill on illegal immigration, an issue that has hotly been debated.

Many states with large populations of illegal immigrants are also the states hit hardest by the economic crisis. These states are also “too big to fail”, despite having measures such as balanced-budget amendments and majorities required to pass budgets that are almost as bad as the Articles of Confederation. Their governors, both Republican and Democratic, are urging speedy passage of the infrastructure bill. According to a Los Angeles Times article, part of the House package includes a measure that would require all workers receiving jobs under the stimulus package to register with eVerify, a citizenship authenticating website. Critics say that not only does it violate immigrant rights, it could slow relief in the form of infrastructure money. No doubt that this measure was driven in part by the wave of nativism that inevitably follows a downturn in the economy.

In other news, Michael Steele appointed RNC chair in attempt to relate to minorities, who have been further alienated by the aforementioned measure.

So how will we resolve the issue of immigration (which the Republicans so kindly brought up), an issue that is pulling many state governments into the red? By cutting them out of the construction industry, which often employs large numbers of them? Sending them back or not letting them in in the first place are out of the question. So we must do something to give immigrants the tools to achieve the American dream, so that their descendants can be musicians or realtors or MBA trainers or whatever. And that’s my take on immigration, the infrastructure package, and the economy. Keep the paintballs coming.

What’s Really in the Stimulus Package (NPR)

Senate Takes on Stimulus (LA Times)

An Op-Ed about the stimulus (LA Times)

More on the Stimulus Package (LA Times)