Category Archives: Newsletter

Clearing the Air

(I wrote this last month for the Urban News. Enjoy.)

I was all ready to follow up last month’s article with another one on the economy. I was going to spend a good deal of time revealing through solid data that austerity does not work. We can not cut our way to prosperity. In short, the Austrian austerity folks are wrong, as I’ll explain more next month. But for now, I would like to clear the air and address some of the lies, rumors, and misstatements that are dominating the news media.

Birtherism and Racism
A few weeks ago Mitt Romney “jokingly” stated, “No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this is the place that we (my wife and I) were born and raised.” Mitt Romney’s statement got me thinking: Why would Barack Obama be hounded about his birth certificate and Mitt Romney isn’t? Both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama had fathers who were born outside of the United States. Both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are highly educated. They both obtained advanced degrees from Harvard University. Yet, for some reason, it is okay to openly question Barack Obama’s origins, while it is automatically assumed that Mitt Romney was born right here in the good old USA. Is it impossible to believe that a black man could be born in this country, educated in this country, and rise to become President of the United States?

Our Bloated Government
Just the other day Sen. Rand Paul asserted that one of the reasons our economic recovery has been so slow is that we have a bloated government. According to this Kentucky optometrist, there are just too many people on the government payroll. This story plays into the Republican mantra – (paraphrasing Ronald Reagan’s famous line) that “The Government Is the Problem.” The truth is, if the government were to keep growing at the same rate it grew under George W. Bush, we would have 1.5 million more government employees. Just this simple act alone would push the unemployment rate below 7%. Over 600,000 government employees (federal, state and local) have been laid off during the Obama administration. This is a fact. A huge number of those layoffs have occurred in “red” states, where Republican legislators and governors slashed budgets and eliminated tens of thousands of teachers and other public employees – then, having deliberately increased their state unemployment rates, they blame President Obama and the Democrats in Congress for the loss of jobs. Continue reading

Killing the Economy Without Even Trying

Massive protests in Wisconsin are entering their third week. In my opinion, unions are in a battle with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker for the future of the middle class. On one hand, Governor Scott Walker states that the state of Wisconsin is broke. In order to get their fiscal house in order, they must balance the budget and cut the size of government. Among the budget-cutting proposals, and the most controversial, is Governor Walker’s proposal to end collective bargaining among public workers.

On the other side of this titanic argument sit the Wisconsin unions. The unions have unequivocally stated that they’re willing to take salary cuts but are not willing to give up their right to collective bargain. So the unions have met Governor Scott Walker more than halfway and yet we still have an impasse. Who’s right?

The governor claims that the great state of Wisconsin has a $137 billion shortfall. As it turns out, the governor passed an approximately $140 million tax giveaway to special interest groups. This should sound familiar. Republicans like to cut taxes but they don’t pay for themselves. The Bush tax cuts did not pay for themselves. Reagan’s tax cuts did not pay for themselves. Why should Governor Walker’s tax cuts pay for themselves? The real crime appears to lie in the fact that Governor Walker wants to pay for his tax cuts by asking workers to sacrifice more. As I’ve chronicled, time and time again, the middle class is been squeezed like never before. The middle class continues to face increasing expenses (utilities, housing and education costs) and stagnant or decreasing wages.

This is part of a conservative agenda which started decades ago. Conservatives use the government to enrich their friends (tax cuts to the rich). Conservatives have never liked unions because unions support, for the most part, Democrats. So, Governor Scott Walker is only following the conservative playbook, which advocates enriching your friends and punishing your enemies.

Wisconsin is simply a microcosm of what’s happening on the national level. Currently, the House Republicans are insisting on somewhere around a $60 billion budget cut because “America is broke.” I don’t understand. How is it that we can be broke when we just gave the rich tax cuts in December? These tax cuts were not paid for. How can we afford tax cuts when we’re broke? Remember that Republicans successfully argued that we were in the middle of a recession and increasing taxes would slow economic growth. Using the same logic, spending would spur economic growth. Then wouldn’t cutting $60 billion slow economic growth? Of course it will. (Slowing the economic recovery also has the side effect of making Democrats look ineffectual and therefore decreasing the chance of Obama’s reelection.) Government spending equals approximately 25% of our GDP. Economists estimate somewhere between 200,000 and 700,000 jobs will be lost by $60 billion in discretionary spending.

America is looking at a $1.25 trillion deficit. Republicans continually point to this number and hope that Americans will reel at its size. The conservatives want you to be flabbergasted. But when you look at the number in its proper context it is not as large as it seems. We are a country of over 300 million people. Therefore, if every man, woman and child forks over $4000, the budget deficit is solved. $4000. That’s it. Not $40,000 or $4 million, we are talking about $4000 per person to prevent cutting programs that help the poor, like the low-income heating energy assistance program (LIHEAP) and Head Start. If we just look at those tax cuts, which were passed in December, the average millionaire is reaping over $100,000 in tax cuts. If we just require those who have benefited the most from our stable economic environment to simply pay their fair share, we could fix the budget in no time.

Conservatives are using a ginned up “financial crisis” in order to push through their agenda, which is destroying unions and killing government spending on social programs. This is a full-blown attack on the American Way of Life. We should and must take to the streets like they are in Madison, Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Democratic Party has started a petition to recall eight of Wisconsin’s Senators in accordance with the Wisconsin Constitution. If the Democrats win three of these eight seats, the balance of power shifts in the Senate. This is direct democracy. This is the way that we take back our government from corporate special interests who have the undivided attention of our politicians.

Egypt and Black History Month

February is Black History Month. For all black authors, there is some sort of unwritten rule that it is blasphemy not to comment on Black History in February. Well, I will not commit blasphemy this month.

In many schools, history is taught as a bunch of isolated facts that are seldom related to reality. Students are forced to digest facts like

  • In 1885, Sarah E. Goode invented a bed that folded into a cabinet. She was the second black woman to receive a patent.
  • Garrett Augustus Morgan created a gas mask.
  • Thomas J. Martin patented the fire extinguisher in 1872.
  • George T. Sampson invented a clothes dryer in 1892 that used heat from the stove.
  • Although Thomas Edison is credited with inventing the light bulb it would have been nothing without the carbon filament. The process for creating a carbon filament which burned in hours instead of minutes was figured out by Lewis Latimer.
  • Granville T. Woods invented the multiplex telegraph in 1887. He invented air brakes for trains. He also invented a device that picked up electricity from the “third rail” which made electric powered transit systems possible.
  • And Dr. George Franklin Grant invented the world’s first golf tee, which was patented in 1899. He was also the first Black professor at Harvard.

But even lumped together all these individual achievements don’t tell the story of Black History. They don’t tell the story of how many minorities in America thrived despite oppression. Henry Blair, for example, never learned to read or write, yet he invented a corn seed planter in 1834 and signed his patent with an X. Martin Luther King wrote some of his most eloquent essays from a Birmingham Jail.

The story of Black History, then, is the story of overcoming obstacles, of excelling in spite of squalid conditions. As we sit back today and see the people of Egypt taking to the streets and asking for basic human rights, such as fair wages and equal treatment from the government, it is hard not to remember and reflect upon the civil rights movement.

Remember, first, that the civil rights movement did not happen one day in 1963 when the Reverend Dr. King stood before a crowd of hundreds of thousands and declared, “I Have a Dream.” It started after World War II, when our brave black soldiers came back from honorable, heroic service overseas and were then treated as second class citizens, again. The integration of the armed forces in 1948 really started the civil rights ball rolling. The NAACP saw enormous growth in the late 1940s, and its president Roy Wilkins, along with Thurgood Marshall, carefully planned a series of legal battles that culminated in Brown v. Board of Education (of Topeka, KS) in 1954. It was hundreds of thousands of thoughtful, hard-working blacks and whites who made up the civil rights movement that grew into a powerful force that lasted more than 20 years.

Freedom, liberty, and civil rights do not come easy. They did not come easy in America and they will not come easy in Egypt. We must remember that Dr. King, who was devoted to nonviolent change, led a series of marches. It is important that we do not forget people like Huey P. Newton (founder of the Black Panthers) and Malcolm X, who proposed using “any means necessary” to achieve the goal of civil rights for all, were a significant counterbalance to the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

All these people came together and demonstrated, and challenged, and marched, and fought to bestow on people like you and me the freedoms that we enjoy today. In Egypt, too, the people are going to have to fight for change on all fronts. They’ll have to continue with nonviolent demonstrations in the streets. They’re going to have to fight in the courts. They’re going to have to fight in their legislature. When I look at Egypt, I can see just how far we’ve come. When I look at the latest job numbers (unemployment rate of 9%, 8.7 million Americans having lost their jobs since December of 2007), I can see we have a long way to go.

Black History is more than a series of names and events. Black History is an American story of triumph and tribulation. It is a story of a very long struggle which should have meaning for all Americans.