An Open Letter to Sen. Claire McCaskill

Sen. McCaskill,
Thank you for proposing the law to restrict executive pay on CEOs receiving TARP funds.  I’m encouraged that the U.S. Congress is now finally starting to understand how greedy and manipulative the banking and finance industry is.

You spoke from the Senate floor, saying “I don’t think any of us thought these guys were this stupid,” but unfortunately they’re not stupid.  The banking industry understands completely that Congress will always privilege financial capital over everything else: jobs, industrial capital, decent wages, etc.  The banking industry played you.  Almost everyone is Congress was eager to throw $700 billion to the financial industry without any restrictions whatsoever.  At that point, I lost total respect for Democrats.

Your $400,000 bill, while encouraging, is too little, too late.  The banking industry knows full well that you’ll give them whatever they want, and so does everyone in America.  $700 billion, and for what?  Banking buyouts, lavish parties, executive compensation….  America got screwed and you let it happen.

So now what are you going to do?

Health Care Now

By Paul Krugman, The New York Times.

The whole world is in recession. But the United States is the only wealthy country in which the economic catastrophe will also be a health care catastrophe — in which millions of people will lose their health insurance along with their jobs, and therefore lose access to essential care.

Which raises a question: Why has the Obama administration been silent, at least so far, about one of President Obama’s key promises during last year’s campaign — the promise of guaranteed health care for all Americans?

Let’s talk about the magnitude of the looming health care disaster.

Just about all economic forecasts, including those of the Obama administration’s own economists, say that we’re in for a prolonged period of very high unemployment. And high unemployment means a sharp rise in the number of Americans without health insurance.

After the economy slumped at the beginning of this decade, five million people joined the ranks of the uninsured — and that was with the unemployment rate peaking at only 6.3 percent. This time the Obama administration says that even with its stimulus plan, unemployment will reach 8 percent, and that it will stay above 6 percent until 2012. Many independent forecasts are even more pessimistic.

Why, then, aren’t we hearing more about ensuring health care access?

Now, it’s possible that those of us who care about this issue are reading too much into the administration’s silence. But let me address three arguments that I suspect Mr. Obama is hearing against moving on health care, and explain why they’re wrong.

First, some people are arguing that a major expansion of health care access would just be too expensive right now, given the vast sums we’re about to spend trying to rescue the economy.

But research sponsored by the Commonwealth Fund shows that achieving universal coverage with a plan similar to Mr. Obama’s campaign proposals would add “only” about $104 billion to federal spending in 2010 — not a small sum, of course, but not large compared with, say, the tax cuts in the Obama stimulus plan.

It’s true that the cost of universal health care will be a continuing expense, reaching far into the future. But that has always been true, and Mr. Obama has always claimed that his health care plan was affordable. The temporary expenses of his stimulus plan shouldn’t change that calculation.

Second, some people in Mr. Obama’s circle may be arguing that health care reform isn’t a priority right now, in the face of economic crisis.

But helping families purchase health insurance as part of a universal coverage plan would be at least as effective a way of boosting the economy as the tax breaks that make up roughly a third of the stimulus plan — and it would have the added benefit of directly helping families get through the crisis, ending one of the major sources of Americans’ current anxiety.

Finally — and this is, I suspect, the real reason for the administration’s health care silence — there’s the political argument that this is a bad time to be pushing fundamental health care reform, because the nation’s attention is focused on the economic crisis. But if history is any guide, this argument is precisely wrong.

Don’t take my word for it. Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, has declared that “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” Indeed. F.D.R. was able to enact Social Security in part because the Great Depression highlighted the need for a stronger social safety net. And the current crisis presents a real opportunity to fix the gaping holes that remain in that safety net, especially with regard to health care.

And Mr. Obama really, really doesn’t want to repeat the mistakes of Bill Clinton, whose health care push failed politically partly because he moved too slowly: by the time his administration was ready to submit legislation, the economy was recovering from recession and the sense of urgency was fading.

One more thing. There’s a populist rage building in this country, as Americans see bankers getting huge bailouts while ordinary citizens suffer.

I agree with administration officials who argue that these financial bailouts are necessary (though I have problems with the specifics). But I also agree with Barney Frank, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, who argues that — as a matter of political necessity as well as social justice — aid to bankers has to be linked to a strengthening of the social safety net, so that Americans can see that the government is ready to help everyone, not just the rich and powerful.

The bottom line, then, is that this is no time to let campaign promises of guaranteed health care be quietly forgotten. It is, instead, a time to put the push for universal care front and center. Health care now!

Political Trivia

By Bob Benenson, CQPolitics.  Posted January 29, 2009.

Which is the most strongly Democratic state, according to a Gallup poll?

a) Vermont

b) Massachusetts

c) Rhode Island

d) Hawaii

Answer: c) A poll released Wednesday by the Gallup organization showed that Rhode Island was the state with the biggest gap — 37 percentage points — between those who favor the Democrats and those who favor the Republicans.

Rhode Islanders who said they are Democrats or lean to the party made up 60.4 percent of respondents, to 23.8 percent who said they are Republicans or lean to the GOP.

The 60.3 of respondents in Massachusetts who affiliate with the Democrats was lower by a statistically insignificant difference. But a slightly higher number, 26.3 percent, favor or lean to the Republicans, making the gap 34 points. The same was true in Hawaii, the only non-New England state in the top four, where 60 percent identified with the Democrats and 26.2 percent did so with the Republicans.

Vermont scored 58.9 percent Democratic and 26.2 percent Republican, a gap of 33 points.

No state held a candle, though, to the District of Columbia, the Democratic stronghold that is the only non-state with electoral votes in presidential elections. The nation’s capital registered 84.1 percent Democratic to 8.7 percent Republican, a gaping chasm of 75 points.

These pro-Democratic leanings were clearly evident in last November’s presidential election results. Democrat Barack Obama easily carried D.C. and the four top Democratic states over Republican John McCain , taking 92 percent of the vote in the District, 63 percent in Rhode Island, 62 percent in Massachusetts, 72 percent in Hawaii (which also is Obama’s birth state) and 67 percent in Vermont. The Republican Party does not hold a single congressional seat, Senate or House, in any of these places.

Yet, in an interesting anomaly, three of the four strongest Democratic states — Rhode Island, Hawaii and Vermont — have Republican moderates serving as governor.

Note that it is CQPolitics, not RIPDA, who characterizes Carcieri as a moderate!  I suppose Bush and the House Republicans serve to make Carcieri appear moderate by certain measures.

RIPDA Statewide Chapter Meeting, January 28

The RIPDA is having its next statewide chapter meeting and we encourage everyone to attend to discuss the following:

  1. Review of the PDA National conference in DC
  2. How to Respond to Governor Carcieri’s proposed budget
  3. Organize for a Forum on Guaranteed Universal Health Care

This will be a brainstorming session, so we need as many minds as possible there working on these issues. We will also be assigning tasks to help organize the health care forum and to better respond to the Governor’s budget.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009, 7 PM – 9 PM

Brooklyn Coffee and Tea House
209 Douglas Ave.
Providence, RI 02908

Refreshments will be served.

Please RSVP if you can attend!

State Representatives – 2009-2010

State Representative Home Phone Work Phone E-Mail
Edith Ajello 274-7078 751-5100 rep-ajello@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Joseph Almeida 467-7033 490-4795 rep-almeida@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Samuel Azzinaro 596-1434 rep-azzinaro@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Lisa Baldelli-Hunt 766-1679 rep-baldellihunt@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Jon Brien 766-9887 rep-brien@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
David Caprio 783-7575 861-6200 rep-caprio@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
John Carnevale 741-6546 274-1353 rep-carnevale@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Kenneth Carter 294-9183 294-6460 rep-carter@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Elaine Coderre 726-1190 222-7649 rep-coderre@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Arthur Corvese 353-8695 351-6100 rep-corvese@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Stephen Costantino 521-1313 222-8028 rep-costantino@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Roberto DaSilva 569-3593 rep-dasilva@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Elizabeth Dennigan 434-8525 222-2457 rep-dennigan@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
John DeSimone 351-7373 454-1400 rep-desimone@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Grace Diaz 467-8413 rep-diaz@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Rod Driver 539-7985 rep-driver@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
John Edwards 624-8879 rep-edwards@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Laurence Ehrhardt 295-1352 rep-ehrhardt@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Deborah Fellela 231-2014 456-9403 rep-fellela@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Frank Ferri 737-5113 831-6940 rep-ferri@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Christopher Fierro 767-5541 rep-fierro@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Robert Flaherty 737-9385 781-7200 rep-flaherty@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Gordon Fox 272-0113 222-2447 rep-fox@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Douglas Gablinske 253-5523 253-9910 rep-gablinske@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Raymond Gallison 253-1852 277-5261 rep-gallison@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Al Gemma 739-2845 738-1008 rep-gemma@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Joanne Giannini 831-1393 222-2672 rep-giannini@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Scott Guthrie 823-3451 rep-guthrie@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Arthur Handy 785-8996 421-6487 rep-handy@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Joy Hearn 247-9867 rep-hearn@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Russell Jackson 847-7076 848-7979 rep-jackson@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Robert Jacquard 943-7799 467-2300 rep-jacquard@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Brian Patrick Kennedy 377-8818 222-6580 rep-kennedy@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Peter Kilmartin 727-2211 222-1591 rep-kilmartin@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Donald Lally 789-8483 222-1712 rep-lally@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Charlene Lima 946-5707 456-9293 rep-lima@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
John Loughlin 625-9889 523-9700 rep-loughlin@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Karen MacBeth 333-5398 rep-macbeth@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Jan Malik 247-1271 247-1733 rep-malik@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Michael Marcello 647-5905 rep-marcello@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Peter Martin 847-0651 924-2402 rep-martin@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Nicholas Mattiello 943-6143 461-5800 rep-mattiello@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
John McCauley 421-3331 454-5677 rep-mccauley@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Joseph McNamara 941-8319 rep-mcnamara@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Helio Melo 435-0546 rep-melo@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Rene Menard 765-1499 765-2500 rep-menard@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
William Murphy 821-2413 222-2466 rep-murphy@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Eileen Naughton 738-7928 737-4161 rep-naughton@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Brian Newberry 765-1069 rep-newberry@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
J. Patrick O’Neill 475-0265 273-9092 rep-oneill@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Edwin Pacheco 567-0382 rep-pacheco@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Peter Palumbo 785-2882 rep-palumbo@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Peter John Petrarca 270-9473 273-1111 rep-petrarca@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Scott Pollard 952-3475 222-2466 rep-pollard@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Amy Rice 841-0505 222-2258 rep-rice@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Michael Rice 783-9602 rep-mrice@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Deborah Ruggiero 423-0444 rep-ruggiero@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
William San Bento 727-0276 723-7210 rep-sanbento@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
John Savage 437-0466 222-2259 rep-savage@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Gregory Schadone 354-8300 232-2555 rep-schadone@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
David Segal 432-7049 rep-segal@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Patricia Serpa 828-5687 rep-serpa@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Mary Ann Shallcross-Smith 727-8982 723–2277 rep-shallcrosssmith@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Agostinho Silva 728-5473 723-0223 rep-silva@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Thomas Slater 461-4554 739-9724 rep-slater@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Raymond Sullivan 828-9207 222-2457 rep-sullivan@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Joseph Trillo 885-3250 826-9100 rep-trillo@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Stephen Ucci 275-5559 rep-ucci@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Kenneth Vaudreuil 728-1523 727-8184 rep-vaudreuil@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Donna Walsh 364-6433 rep-walsh@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Peter Wasylyk 272-1854 831-7730 rep-wasylyk@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Robert Watson 885-6688 274-3770 rep-watson@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Anastasia Williams 272-8135 351-4300 rep-williams@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Timothy Williamson 822-2005 823-9200 rep-williamson@rilin.state.ri.us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Thomas Winfield 949-3356 949-0180 rep-winfield@rilin.state.ri.us

Governor Carcieri’s Horrible Plan

“Good evening, my fellow Rhode Islanders…”

With these words, Governor Don Carcieri started his address to the state on Wednesday night. With these words, he spoke to all of us about the profound difficulties our small state is experiencing. With these words, he offered his disastrous solutions:

  1. Changing the retirement age of all municipal and state workers and teachers to 59 regardless of their current contract.
  2. Eliminating Cost of Living Adjustments which account for increases in inflation.
  3. Enacting a “Defined Contribution” retirement plan.
  4. A 6% cut in local city and town aid, essentially ensuring cuts to education, health care, police, fire, even garbage collection.  This will probably also facilitate property tax increases.
  5. Changing the delivery of Medicaid-supported social services (aid to seniors and RIte Care).

We need to make sure that our elected Representatives hear from us. Rhode Island needs a fair budget solution that will include additional revenues gained by rolling back the tax breaks to given RI’s wealthiest individuals and families, and by closing corporate tax loopholes.

The House Finance Committee looks as if it will start holding hearings on Tuesday regarding the supplemental budget for this fiscal year. Let’s tell them what we think. We are organizing a phone bank on Wednesday, January 14 at 5:30pm. We will meet at the SEIU Local 1199 Office at 55 Cedar Street in Providence and will focus our calls on the districts of the House Finance Committee members (Reps. Caprio, Ehrhardt, Giannini, Mattiello, Melo, and Silva).

None of the Governor’s solutions are fair to the hard working men and women, the elderly, or the children of Rhode Island. A very large part of the problem we are facing has to do with the recession, caused in large part to unwise state and federal tax cuts skewed to benefit the wealthy and lax regulations on the financial and banking industries (which then received $700 billion of taxpayer money), but what was most striking about the Governor’s proposal was the absence of even the slightest pretense of shared sacrifice. These budget cuts, again, will be borne almost entirely by the middle class, the poor, and the elderly. There was no discussion about rolling back the tax cuts that benefit the wealthy, no discussion about job creation programs or economic development, no discussion about closing corporate tax loopholes, and no discussion about a more equitable tax system that will realign the tax burden.

We must respond! Anyone able to make phone calls on Wednesday, please contact Brian Hull @ brianhull@ripda.org or 401-580-3321.

W. and the Damage Done

By Vincent Rossmeier and Gabriel Winant, Salon.com

After a couple of presidential terms, mismanagement in every area of policy — foreign, domestic, even extraterrestrial — starts to add up. When George W. Bush entered the White House in January 2001, he inherited peace and prosperity. The military, the Constitution and New Orleans were intact and the country had a budget surplus of $128 billion. Now he’s about to dash out the door, leaving a large, unpaid bill for his successors to pay.

To get a sense of what kind of balance is due, Salon spoke to experts in seven different fields. Wherever possible, we have tried to express the damage done in concrete terms — sometimes in lives lost, but most often just in money spent and dollars owed. What follows is an incomplete inventory of eight years of mis- and malfeasance, but then a fuller accounting would run, um, somewhat longer than three pages.

THE ECONOMY

Until not too long ago, President Bush’s supporters could be heard to argue that the economy was the unheralded success story of his administration. In 2006, Larry Kudlow called it “The Greatest Story Never Told.” While praising Bush, Ramesh Ponnuru decried the unfairness of it all. “It seems to happen every week: Some new piece of good economic news comes out, and Republicans sink a little deeper in the polls.” To share their admiration, it helped if you ignored the way the wealth was being distributed. Or if you were a repo man.

But the whole debate became moot on Sept. 15, with the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Now the economy may be the most burdensome of all the Bush legacies that Barack Obama will have to shoulder.

The current financial and economic crisis has grown so massive, consuming everything in sight, that one might be able to forget that it started with bad mortgages. Well, one could try to forget, as long as one still has a home, or is not among the nearly one in four mortgage-holders whose homes are worth less than the debt on their homes.

How bad is it? “An average recession is one in which we lose about 3 percent of GDP. Three percent of GDP is about $500 billion,” UCLA economist Lee Ohanian told Salon. “It’s not inconceivable that this could be twice as worse, which would be close to a trillion.”

How much poorer are we going to get before we start getting richer again? Here are some (scary, morbid, gruesome) clues.

Expected shortfall of gross domestic product below normal growth path in 2009: $900 billion

Decline in the Dow Jones Industrial Average from its decade high to its value at the close of business, Jan. 7, 2009: 5,394.83, or 38.1 percent

Number of manufacturing jobs lost since 2000: 3.78 million

Increase in number of unemployed workers from 2001 to 2008: 4 million, a jump of 2.7 percent in the unemployment rate

Real median household income according to the 2000 census, adjusted for inflation: $51,804

Real median household income as of August 2007: $50,233

Of course, the government didn’t sit idly by while our financial future was disappearing down the drain. Instead, the feds have pumped in hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars, hoping to juice lending and public spending.

Cost of finance industry bailout: $350 billion, with another $350 pending congressional approval

Cost of auto industry bailout: $17.4 billion, so far

And even though there’s widespread agreement among economists that the government needs to be spending a large sum of money on an economic stimulus package, it still won’t look pretty on the public balance sheet.

National debt: $10.6 trillion

Amount of that debt owned by China: At least $800 billion

INFRASTRUCTURE

When that bridge in Minneapolis collapsed, killing 13 and injuring 145, we started to remember that the prosaic details of infrastructure policy matter. Nuts and bolts can mean, quite literally, life and death. And the I-35 bridge over the Mississippi is not the only American thoroughfare suffering from underfunding and neglect.

Number of bridges judged structurally deficient: 70,000.

Number of major roads in mediocre or poor condition: Roughly one-third.

Meanwhile, the roads aren’t only worn down, they’re overcrowded. In part, we can thank an administration that gave tax credits to SUV buyers while targeting public transit for cuts.

The Bush White House’s proposed cuts in public transit funding for fiscal year 2009: $202.1 million.

Though he capitulated in the face of overwhelming congressional majorities in favor of Amtrak, Bush threatened repeatedly to defund the national rail system altogether.

Target level of federal funding for Amtrak proposed by Bush in 2005: $0.

Budget cutting on that scale causes a decaying, obsolescent infrastructure. Fixing it won’t come cheap. On Dec. 6, during his weekly address to the nation, President-elect Obama promised t0 make “the single largest investment in our national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s.”

President-elect Obama’s proposed infrastructure program: $375 billion to $475 billion.

Amount spent by FDR’s Works Progress Administration, up through 1941: $11.4 billion — adjusted for inflation, that’s about $170 billion.

IRAQ

How many times have you heard, “With the money we spend in Iraq in just one week …”?

So how much has that been, exactly? Linda Bilmes, a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and co-author with economist Joseph Stiglitz of “The Three Trillion Dollar War,” thinks the figure in her book’s title is, if anything, too low. (Bilmes and Stiglitz put the full price of all Bush administration debacles at $10 trillion in their own excellent damage report for the January issue of Harper’s.)

“I think it’s still a good figure. It was always a conservative figure. We essentially just took the amount of money that we spent to date, the sort of minimum that we are going to need to spend on veterans’ disability benefits, veterans’ disability, weapons that have been used up, interest on the money we’ve borrowed. And then there are some of the economic costs. There are social costs, like parents or spouses of wounded veterans who have to leave their jobs after parents come back. And there are economic costs, such as oil disruption.”

Cost: From the start of the war through 2017, “You can’t get any lower than $3 trillion.”

And a gradual drawdown of troops isn’t going to make it better, Bilmes says. Maintaining any presence at all in Iraq entails what economists call high fixed costs. Whether we’ve got 10,000 troops or 15,000 at a base, that base is still going to cost a lot to maintain. Hence, when the British withdrew half their forces from Basra, their costs fell by an almost imperceptible 3 percent.

Since $3 trillion is hard to digest, let’s itemize some of the costs in Bilmes and Stiglitz’s comprehensive figure.

Amount of money earned by a married U.S. Army sergeant with children per day in Iraq in 2007: $170

Amount of money earned by a Blackwater military contractor per day:
$600

Number of U.S. military deaths as of Jan. 7, 2009: 4,222

Average cost of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle: $3.166 million

Cost of the new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad: $592 million

Cost to conduct the war per month: $12 billion

Amount the Bush administration estimated the war would cost from start to finish: $60 billion

The cost to “fix” the military: Meaning, to restore battered and depleted personnel and materiel. Larry Korb, a defense analyst at the Center for American Progress, thinks we’re talking about $250 billion. “In terms of materiel, obviously, if you’re talking fiscally, you’ve got the reset cost of the equipment that’s been destroyed, used up, burned in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, you’ve got at least $100 billion. So that’s one cost, because you assume this is going to last longer, when you bought it.” And then there’s personnel: recruitment bonuses, the new GI bill, pay raises. Korb’s guess is about another $150 billion there. And this isn’t money that we’ll necessarily recoup when the war ends. “You can never roll those back,” he says of the GI bill and bonuses.

And, while these estimates overlap with those made by Bilmes, they don’t even account for most of the increased defense spending. The Pentagon’s budget is up about 40 percent since Bush’s inauguration, says Korb. “I’d only say about one-quarter is due to the things we spoke about. The other is just poor management. You have the cost overruns in weapons systems, $400 billion in weapons systems since they came in.”

HUMAN RIGHTS

One of President Obama’s important early tasks will be dismantling the culture of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, the web of white papers and executive orders that jeopardized habeas corpus and allowed — encouraged — torture.

The damage to the image of America may be long-term. Karen Greenberg, the executive director of New York University’s Center on Law and Security, says that the stain on America’s reputation among foreigners and, for that matter, Americans can never be removed.

“And it sullied — not so much our reputation, because that’s the obvious — it sullied on some level how we think of ourselves,” says Greenberg. “You can’t undo the damage that torture’s done. You took something out of a box that has vast repercussions, and gave people a chance and a reason to defend a practice that brings out rather horrific things about human beings for very little, for no gain. So the way to go about the torture thing is in a very definitive way. Which is, we’re not going to do it. The policy prescription is not to have a policy. We don’t torture.”

Our methods in the war on terror, says Greenberg, expose a fundamental lack of faith in the ability of democracy to achieve policy successes. “The biggest cost of torture was that it eroded the confidence of the American people. Because if you choose bullying as your method, you are saying, we don’t trust ourselves to have the skills, whether they are the intelligence skills, or the law enforcement skills, to be the best in the game and the best and the brightest on the issues that are part of our national security.”

But there are also quantifiable costs to holding enemy combatants indefinitely, and creating military commissions to try them.

Number of detainees who have died in U.S custody: Human Rights First claimed that as of February 2006, nearly 100 had died, a figure the Pentagon disputes. In addition, Amnesty International says that more than three dozen individuals believed to have been in U.S. custody have essentially disappeared.

Cost of building and staffing detention facilities at Guantánamo: More than $400 million as of December 2008. Yet to be determined: the price for trying the 250 detainees who remain, or any civil suits that might be forthcoming.

HURRICANE KATRINA

When Katrina’s winds were finally quiet, they had left in their wake a mountain of statistical testimony to the power of a hurricane and the incompetence of the government officials who were supposed to deal with it. Fifteen million people on the Gulf Coast were affected and 400,000 jobs and 275,000 homes were lost. The most important statistic of all is the number of deaths. Estimates vary greatly, but deaths directly caused by the August 2005 storm are generally believed to be in excess of 1,100, perhaps about 1,500, with total direct and indirect deaths in excess of 1,800. Another 700 or so people are still missing. Many thousands more, however, who fled Louisiana to escape the storm have never come back. The city’s population is still only at 72 percent of its pre-Katrina level of 450,000. Louisiana and North Dakota are the only two states whose populations declined between 2000 and 2008.

But let’s talk about money.

Cost to the federal government: As of mid-2006, Congress had approved $122 billion in funds for the region. FEMA had paid $19 billion.

Cost to insurers: A month after the storm, the insurance industry gave the preliminary figure of $34.4 billion. A year later, the number was $40.6 billion.  Harry Richardson, a professor of public policy at the University of Southern California and editor of a collection of scholarly articles called “Natural Disaster Analysis After Katrina,” notes, grimly, that any assessments of the storm’s impact should also include financial losses because of fatality. “Generally we estimate the value of life — even for poor people — at about $5 million per person. So if you wanted to estimate the cost in human life, you could multiply that [times the number of deaths].” At 1,800 deaths, that’s another $9 billion or so.

There has also been a financial impact on people who were spared the wrath of Katrina, who have never heard of a levee and live far from Louisiana and Mississippi. Home insurance has become more costly and/or more difficult to procure. After the storm, many national insurers simply stopped issuing policies for homes that were too close to coastlines.

Cost to repair the levees in New Orleans: $1 billion, with no guarantee, as sea levels rise and hurricanes increase in intensity, that they will hold.

HEALTHCARE

Americans are ambivalent about healthcare reform. They consistently cite it as a top issue in polls, and promising action on healthcare helped Bill Clinton get elected in 1992 and Barack Obama win 16 years later. But they’ve proved skittish about the actual details, as Clinton learned once in office. Victor Fuchs, an emeritus health economist at Stanford, says that “the public has shown no disposition to support any significant reform.”

The Bush administration embodied this schizophrenia. Public concern about the rising cost of heathcare led Bush to push for the the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act in 2003, which included a prescription drug program called Medicare Part D that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2006. It was a somewhat compassionate idea, since it helped seniors pay for needed medicine, but it wasn’t exactly conservative. Sure, it protected profits for drug companies, but only by forcing the government to pay the high prices that consumers had been paying. To the chagrin of Republicans who helped pass it, Bush’s drug plan has turned out to be one of the biggest new entitlement programs of the past 40 years. (It only won enough Republican support to pass Congress because the Bush administration lowballed the actual price.)

Cost of implementing Medicare Part D: $534 billion

Difference in price of brand-name drugs, U.S. and Canada, in 2004: 70 percent more expensive in the U.S.

Increase in average prescription drug price between 1997 and 2007: From $35.72 to $69.91

While buying drugs for seniors, Bush denied healthcare to kids. In 2007, he vetoed an expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which gives federal money to the states to help provide health insurance for families with children.

Number of children kept off of SCHIP because of Bush’s veto: 4 million

Meanwhile, the nation’s underlying healthcare problems remain unaddressed. Healthcare grows more expensive, and the number of uninsured Americans, as a percentage of the population, is not decreasing.

Number of uninsured Americans: 46 million, or 18 percent of the population under 65. Says Roger Hickey, founder and co-director of the progressive political organization Campaign for America’s Future, “That’s about 16 percent of the population. A larger and larger percentage of the public is losing their employer-sponsored healthcare because it’s become so expensive for employers to insure their people. And that’s the backbone of our system.”

Increase in the amount that the average employee pays toward employer-provided healthcare since 2000: 120 percent

According to Hickey, the number of uninsured has fluctuated over the past eight years, but the figure is deceiving. “I can’t say that it’s gotten dramatically worse. [B]ut there was an analysis when the latest numbers came out about three months ago that showed the only thing that kept it from getting worse is that more and more people are signing up for public programs like Medicaid.” Hickey expects the number to spike upward very soon. “People are losing their jobs — there’s about to be a huge leap in the uninsured as the recession hits.”

Hickey characterizes Bush’s expansion of Medicare as “a wasted opportunity,” because of corporate influence on drug pricing. “The legislation was written by drug company lobbyists and lobbyists-to-be like Billy Tauzin of Louisiana, who wrote the bill and then took a job as the head of PHRMA, the pharmaceutical lobbying organization … There are actually provisions in that law that protect drug companies from competitive pricing.”

Harvard Business School professor Regina E. Herzlinger, author of the book “Who Killed Health Care?,” says that the scariest American healthcare stat is probably how much we spend on it as a percentage of our economy.

Cost of healthcare as a percentage of GDP: 16 percent

Ratio of cost of healthcare to cost of national defense: 4.3-1

“As an economist,” says Herzlinger, “I am tremendously concerned about the ever increasing fraction of our GDP that’s taken up with health care. Most of the countries that we compete with average 9 to 10 percent of their GDP on health care. We spend about 70 percent more and I cannot honestly say that we’re getting 70 percent better health care in the U.S.”

“I put this squarely at the foot of the Bush Administration. They were purportedly people who were interested in helping  consumers but they didn’t do a lot of the things that could have helped the consumer.”

CLIMATE

Number of nine warmest years on record that have occurred since 2000: Seven.

How much has the Arctic ice cap shrunk? 50 percent since the turn of the century.

By now, the stories of global warming denial and outright censorship of government scientists by the Bush administration are well known. The incoming Obama administration admits the existence of climate change, but a decade has been lost. Meanwhile, there is both a tremendous and growing financial impact from existing climate change, and the specter of the enormous economic commitment that would be required just to return global temperatures to status quo.

“It’s difficult to put a cost on sea level rise of 40 feet, or the Southwest becoming desertified,” says physicist and Salon contributor Joseph Romm. “[But i]f you were to ascribe to Bush a significant fraction of the cost of catastrophic climate change, then it’s a number that’s going to dwarf all the numbers you have.”

The Stern Review, a report commissioned by the British government, pegs the potential cost of unaddressed climate change at 20 percent of world gross domestic product. While that’s an immense figure, it doesn’t adequately conjure the Armageddon we’re facing, Romm says.

“From my view, you have to start talking, at some point in the second half of the century, about triaging coastal cities. You’re certainly not going to try to save every coastal city. Galveston is probably a write-off, but you’re certainly going to try to save Houston. You’re not going to save the Florida Keys but you’d save Miami, certainly, New York, the island of Manhattan. But it’s one thing to save them from a few feet of sea level rise. It’s another thing when we’re talking about 20 or 100.”

So, what’s it going to run us to save Manhattan from the sea? It means the replacement in the next three or four decades of all the infrastructure of the developed world, followed by a similar effort in the rest of the world in the second half of the century.

Cost to fix: 2 or 3 percent of global GDP, a couple trillion a year.

The good news: “Because we’re so rich,” says Romm, “avoiding catastrophe is a huge amount of money in absolute terms, but it’s pocket change relative to our wealth.”

9 Steps to Peace for Obama in the New Year

By Deepak Chopra, AlterNet.

You have been elected by the first anti-war constituency since 1952, when Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected after promising to end the Korean War. But ending a war isn’t the same as bringing peace. America has been on a war footing since the day after Pearl Harbor, 67 years ago. We spend more on our military than the next 16 countries combined. If you have a vision of change that goes to the heart of this country’s deep problems, ending our dependence on war is far more important than ending our dependency on foreign oil.

The most immediate changes are economic. Unless it can make as much money as war, peace doesn’t stand a chance. Since aerospace and military technologies remain the United States’ most destructive export, fostering wars around the world, what steps can we take to reverse that trend and build a peace-based economy?

1. Scale out arms dealing and make it illegal by the year 2020.

2. Write into every defense contract a requirement for a peacetime project.

3. Subsidize conversion of military companies to peaceful uses with tax incentives and direct funding.

4. Convert military bases to housing for the poor.

5. Phase out all foreign military bases.

6. Require military personnel to devote part of their time to rebuilding infrastructure.

7. Call a moratorium on future weapons technologies.

8. Reduce armaments like destroyers and submarines that have no use against terrorism and were intended to defend against a superpower enemy that no longer exists.

9. Fully fund social services and take the balance out of the defense and homeland security budgets.

These are just the beginning. We don’t lack creativity in coping with change. Without a conversion of our present war economy to a peace economy, the high profits of the military-industrial complex ensures that it will never end.

Do these nine steps seem unrealistic or fanciful? In various ways, other countries have adopted similar measures. The former Soviet army is occupied with farming and other peaceful work, for example. But comparisons are rather pointless, since only the United States is burdened with such a massive reliance on defense spending. Ultimately, empire follows the dollar. As a society, we want peace, and we want to be seen as a nation that promotes peace. For either ideal to come true, you as president must back up your vision of change with economic reality. So far, that hasn’t happened under any of your predecessors. All hopes are pinned on you.