Charging the economy with a citizen stimulus
August 18, 2009
by Tom H Hastings

President Obama’s approval rating in the polls has been dropping. It is lower every time it’s measured.

Unemployment rates are higher under Obama’s leadership than they were under the disastrous Bush regime. In my state, Oregon, we’ve been in the double digits for three months. The rate in the US is the highest in more than half a century.

Seven companies that received two or more federal bailouts because they were such poor entrepreneurs that they risked folding are now offering their top employees bigger bonuses than they did last year. This is a simple case of the middle class subsidizing the elite. Business usually justifies obscene profiteering because they take risks. In this case, they are the ones being bailed out while working middle class Americans are losing jobs, health care and homes—risks they didn’t even know they were taking.

A stimulus package for the one in seven Americans unemployed or underemployed could simply provide $15 per hour jobs, with full health care coverage for the workers and their families, for any American adult. This would solve both the unemployment problem and the uninsured problem. It would cost less than the hemorrhaging financial whale bailouts to the rich. Foreclosures would drop instead of rise. Time for a bailout for all Americans.

Bush caused the structural problems and Obama is only compounding them; his actions belie his rhetoric.

We elected Obama with a mandate for change, but we’ve seen none that has risen to the level of meaningful. Yes, he’s a far better face and voice representing our country to the world. Yes, it’s a blessed relief to have an actual adult in the White House. But his fundamental policies are simply typical of the slavish deference to the military-industrial complex that has dug us into these holes.

When we gulped and watched Congress approve the giant stimulus packages we wondered how jobs figured in. The logic seemed so Reaganesque; give massive subsidies to the bloated wealthy and some will trickle down to give relief to the suffering citizens. Bail out banks and, um, they’ll loan money. The winking and nodding was apparently supposed to substitute for the jobs we kept hearing about. Now comes the inevitable flood of reports about the corruption and skimming that we knew would happen.

Even the obscene military budget is higher under Obama—this is the budget that creates fewer jobs than any sector of the economy—the worst place to spend money if the goals include job creation. His rhetoric on this is actually nearly identical to Bush—we’ll spend more to protect the soldiers. Of course, he has more of them fighting wars or occupying other people’s lands than Bush did, so it follows that his spending would rise, even though those occupations are entirely optional. Bringing the troops home would end those massive spending justifications.

It could have been different. So much is literally shovel-ready.

The US Forest Service could employ easily ten times the numbers they will eventually employ for trail repair and other manual labor duties. Add to that the work that might have been done in national, state, county and city parks and you would have created literally at least 1-2 million jobs with a minimal investment. Instead of dumping huge floods of taxpayer monies into the deep pockets of the rich so they could think about loaning some money to someone, we could have nearly full employment for the 18-30 year-old sector of our workforce—giving them shovels and handsaws instead of M-14s. Teach them to read maps and construction schedules instead of bomb coordinates. Bring them into nature to create instead of into someone else’s cities to practice armed occupation.

Can we turn this ship of state around to point toward a brighter future for America? Only if the civil society that is suffering acts with enough force and power to make it happen. We cannot hope that the two parties will give up their stakes in the elite world of power without a struggle. That conflict is underway and it is our hope that we can keep it from the spiral of destruction that continues to worsen. We always have choices and we can always make our next steps constructive, but if we take no next steps and allow the ruling class to take all the steps for us, they will profit and we will lose.

Tom H. Hastings is director of PeaceVoice and a founder of Whitefeather Peace Community in Portland, OR. He is a core faculty in the Portland State University Conflict Resolution graduate program.

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