Thursday, February 5, 2009

An American Moment

An Open Letter to Congress:

We're dyin' here, folks! ...while you play politics with the life of our country. You were willing to write a blank check to the banking industry with no plan for how the money was going to be spent, no oversight at all, and we've all seen how that's turned out. While Secretary Paulson promised that ours would be a 'par' investment in the banks, e.g. $1 stock for $1, as it turns out it is about only 2/3 of that, with no assurance we will ever see any return ever. Besides that the money appears not to have been used for the intended purpose. So I can understand why y'all might want to be extra careful about another trillion dollars. And, yes, by the time we pay the interest on the $900,00 billion, it will top out at at least a trillion, I expect. However, let's get real here and think about some of your ideas for this "stimulus" package, which besides stimulating the economy is to create jobs.

From where I stand it looks like Republicans want tax cuts and tax credits for spending. Tax incentives, such as a tax credit to anyone purchasing a new car, sounds good to me, except for the fact that most of us are so nervous about how we've been losing half of our retirement savings that I don't think any sensible person is gonna go out and buy that new car right now.

Let's talk about the long list in the Democratic economic recovery package to which the Republicans and even some Democrats object, and I'll grant you I've taken a look at the benefits that will come to California, and I'm somewhat dubious about the number of jobs that will be created compared to the job losses that have been suffered. Nineteen governors and several mayors support the recovery package, and it is little wonder. A look at what California stands to gain shows that it would serve to wipe out a good part of California's predicted budget shortfall, much of which is due to Med-Cal. They predict 421,000 new jobs in California and an additional $100 a month in unemployment benefits to those out of work. Four billion dollars would go toward education, which would limit cuts currently in progress. In addition, there would be $2.8 billion for highway projects, $950 million for transit, $435 million for clean water, such as prevention of beach pollution, and $45 million for energy assistance for low-income families struggling with heating and/or air conditioning. And that's just California!

Republicans and, to be honest, many in middle America object to a list of what they decry as "pork". Included in the list of objectionables, of course, is the $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts, which always seems to head the list; $1 billion for National Science Foundation, $14 million for cyber-security research by Homeland Security Department, $850 million for Amtrak, $400 million for climate change research, and $400 million for sexually transmitted disease research. Talking heads say that the Democrats have now that they have the chance just added all their pet projects that have been denied over the past ten years. All totalled, these items add up to less than 1% of the total.

Even so, I can do a fair amount of justifying in my own mind most of these things. As for the National Science Foundation, scientists are closing in on understanding the nature of viruses and nearing a break-through on stem cell research; surely this is a time to provide additional funding to continue this important research that may ultimately provide huge savings on health care, plus preserve research jobs.

Why not additional funding for Amtrak? I suspect the auto industry and Exxon are eager for this one to be dumped. It looks to me as though it could provide some jobs and make improvements so that more people might use train for travel.

Climate change research - well, now we have an administration who actually believes the science, so what could possibly be their reasoning for not wanting to give some financial support to something that has been short-changed for so long?

It doesn't take a genius to figure out why they want the money for research and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases eliminated. While several of their colleagues have been found in compromising positions involving sex, with this one they're thinking of voters back home rather than the jobs that could be created and the potential health-care savings. They're probably the same ones who believe in the failed abstinence only approach to sex education in the schools and were the ones that insisted on eliminating the condom program.

What do they want instead? Senator Lindsay Graham wants to give a $15,000 tax credit to first time home buyers. They're talking about an interest rate of 4 to 4.5% for those same first time home buyers if they can qualify and somehow inspire the banks, who unfortunately aren't very interested in giving loans. Kind of a Catch 22!

Aside from the above tax credit and more and more emphasis on reduced taxes, I've not seen a lot of constructive input from the Republicans, although they complain they've not been included in the process.

A bipartisan group of 19 governors, including California Governor Schwarzenegger and Charlie Crist of Florida have expressed support of the bill as it stands. Everyone hopes that something will be done to prop up the housing market, which is, of course, a major cause of the financial crises.

I'm one of the big 'D' Democrats, who believes that The National Endowment of the Arts needs more help than ever during an economic downturn. I definitely support its being given some funds in the stimulation package. The current economic situation facing everyday Americans is likewise contributing to the challenges that nonprofit organizations, especially those involved with the arts, are beginning to experience. The arts preserve our culture, provide forward thinking and are responsible for enhancing our spirits, an essential part of our country. I'm reminded of an old Afghan proverb: "If you have two coins, use the first for jasmine, the next for bread. One will give you life, the other a reason for living." (This is a saying with variations, such as "Flower" in place of jasmine, common to many cultures.) In our household, we believe "use the first for the arts, the next for bread."