The Path to a Restoration of the Middle Class

 

Prelude:

This post is a re-stating of the major tenets of a progressive agenda for the restoration of the middle class and a return to financial stability.  I do not take any credit for any of the projects listed.  It is only a skeleton document with much needed additional input by, hopefully, the readers of this post.  I also realize that in today’s political climate, getting any of these projects passed into law would be a massive undertaking.  I do think laying out our agenda is a needed philosophical blueprint for the progressive movement.  Moreover, coming from a grassroots progressive movement will give the plan exponentially more credibility.

The current debt crisis is a symptom of our fiscal problem’s not the disease.  The vast economic woes this country finds itself in are due to a drastic reduction of the working middle class, principally in the manufacturing sector.  Relying on the financial sector and service related jobs would not return nor sustain a viable middle class.  Without that middle class, the fuel that drives our economy, American consumer consumption, will never recover.  To put it in one word that is the prime cause of all our economic problems, it is JOBS.  Unless we can restore our manufacturing base, we will be a third world country.  I am aware of the staggering costs of these projects but for each I will endeavor to demonstrate how those costs may be offset.  Though it may seem impossible, all can be done and done with a budget reduction.  If we, on the progressive side of the debate, do not put forth our beliefs, we will be left with the disastrous lunacy of balancing the budget on the backs of working Americans and destroy any chance of a restoration of that middle class. This bare bones outline of a few of the major projects is a simple beginning to that dialogue.

Project 1:  Major Upgrade to the Nation’s Infrastructure

I list this project first because one cannot look at these endeavors outside the prism of the American political spectrum.  The nation’s infrastructure is under the purview of our governments.  What’s more beneficial is it is under all the layered redundancies of our different governmental jurisdictions.  I’m talking about federal, state, county and city governments wherever they apply.  Establishing a working relationship between these different bureaucratic systems will be beneficial for other projects described later in this paper. 

A 2009 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, released by the American Society of Civil Engineers, ASCE, assigns an overall grade of D to the nations infrastructure.  They broke down our infrastructure into 15 categories and no category received a grade higher than a C+.  According to the engineers next to nothing was done since the previous report in 2005.  The following is an excerpt from the online article where much of this information was derived.  To read it this article in its’ entirety the URL is

http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/jan2009/2009-01-28-01.asp

 

“Crumbling infrastructure has a direct impact on our personal and economic health, and the nation’s infrastructure crisis is endangering our future prosperity,” said ASCE president D. Wayne Klotz, a professional engineer.

“Our leaders are looking for solutions to the nation’s current economic crisis. Not only could investment in these critical foundations have a positive impact, but if done responsibly,” said Klotz, “it would also provide tangible benefits to the American people, such as reduced traffic congestion, improved air quality, clean and abundant water supplies and protection against natural hazards.”

He pretty much hit the nail on the head.  Being a progressive I assume that the readers of this diary entry are Keynesians.  His economic principles were boiled down by an economics professor I had with a simple pie chart.  You take the private sector as the portion of the pie that employed the majority of the pie and the remainder was filled in with public works.  This gave you a pie graph with no empty slices.  In short, full employment was at the heart of Keynes’s economic philosophy.  It was the foundation of what FDR used to get us out off the Great Depression.  The irony is I usually become irate when people use simple analogies to state any economic premises.  The old you can’t run your house like that is one that drives me crazy.  Simplistic economic concepts usually hold no water but I think this one does.  As to the veracity of what the ASCE engineers said, when was the last time you drank a glass of tap water.  The report stated that the water leaves the treatment plants in good shape but as it passes through pipes, sometimes over 100 years old, as in my home in New England, it picks up unwanted additives during the delivery process giving it that RUSTic flavor.  It’s created an entire industry that also pollutes the environment with non-degradable plastic bottles we find everywhere.  The most dramatic example of infrastructure degradation is New Orleans in the post-Katrina era.  What may not be common knowledge is that though Katrina was a level 5 hurricane when it hit New Orleans it was a level 3 storm.  The levies were supposed to hold if hit by a level 3 storm.  We could take a book to unravel all the reasons for the failure of the levies, in fact I’m sure there are several written after the storm but the point is there is still a considerable task making New Orleans safe from such storms.  As I write this, we are having major spring flooding in the Midwest flood planes.  You may argue whether anyone should be inhabiting a flood plane but if they are it is a major endeavor to stop the annual flooding.  I realize I’m preaching to the choir but I think I’ve made my point and hopefully some of you will strengthen the point.  We are in dire need of an infrastructure overhaul.  It would be the biggest in the country’s history and according to the ASCE it would cost around 2 trillion dollars.  The engineers put that price tag on the job and a timeline of 5 years.  I think that’s unreasonable and would cause a problem with the financing so I’ve put it a 10-year timeframe.  I had trouble finding the number of total employment for this project.  If anyone reading this could lend a hand it would very helpful for the total argument.  At the end of this paper I will propose how to fund the projects I’ve listed.

Project 2:  Renewable Energy

I heard a poll yesterday taken by someone stating that only 41% of Americans buy into the case that the earth’s greenhouse effect is due to burning fossil fuels.  It was 48% but after the right’s propaganda machine tried to discredit the British scientist’s by releasing selected emails that gave the appearance of a deliberate fudging of the facts.  In the February edition of Discovery, the evaluations of the scientists involved were exonerated of all wrongdoing.  It seems that out of 1,000 emails, they selectively chose a few that had the same effect as taking statements out of context.  There was no fudging of facts.  Anyone in any scientific field of work knows that if these allegations were proven they would never work again and be pariahs within their community’s.  I can’t take the time to state how contemptible I think these actions were but it once again demonstrates how our enemy works.  That’s one reason I’ve made this a totally progressive document with no conservative ideas whatsoever. 

Doing research for this project was challenging for me.  I’m not an engineer and the way electricity is quantified, is totally outside my scale of reference.  Any and all help in this area would be appreciated.  The most informative article I could find centered on T Boone Pickens’ ideas on the subject of using wind as one of the key tenants in the transition to renewable energy.  The following is from the article.  It can be read in its entirety at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pickens_Plan

The main proposals of the plan are:

Private industry would fund and install thousands of wind turbines in the Great Plains, which Pickens refers to as the potential “wind corridor” of the United States due to favorable wind resources and geographic location. Pickens estimates that these turbines could generate enough power to provide 20 percent or more of the country’s electricity supply.

Government would pay for electric power transmission lines to connect the turbine farms to the power grid. They would provide energy to the Midwest, South and Western regions of the country.

With wind energy providing a large portion of the nation’s electricity, the natural gas that is currently used to fuel power plants would be used instead as a fuel for thousands of vehicles. To increase efficiency, the Plan puts an emphasis on natural gas-burning fleets of trucks and buses.  Thus, the demand for petroleum products made from imported oil would be reduced.

Timetable

Pickens thinks his plan that would provide 22% of electricity from wind power and the conversion for vehicles from gasoline to gas could be accomplished in less than 10 years with the right leadership.  However, according to Chuck McGowan, senior project manager at the Electric Power Research Institute, a nonprofit organization funded by the electric power industry, the timetable is too tight.  Dave Hamilton, director for global warming and energy projects at the Sierra Club agrees “That is extremely aggressive … But it’s in the right direction. It’s a good thing we have an oilman saying we can’t drill our way out of this problem.  “Former U.S. vice president Al Gore, who has spent recent

years informing people about global warming, opines that all electricity generation should be completely fossil fuel free in the next 10 years.

According to Pickens the cost would be 1 trillion over ten years.  I agree with the Vice President.  With another trillion  going towards solar farms that is a possibility.  I do know that Pickens is correct about the Midwest corridor and the southwest would be an ideal place for solar farms.  We are looking at 2 trillion dollars over ten years to achieve dependable, clean energy that would make the US energy independent and create hundreds of thousands of jobs. 

I need to be candid about this project.  My knowledge of renewable energy is not what’s needed.  If anyone reading this could make contributions to this section of the post, it would be greatly appreciated.  My aim is to generate a project that would create a clean, efficient, energy recourse that would vastly reduce our dependence on Middle Eastern oil. Upgrading our infrastructure and creating a clean, renewable energy system would lower our unemployment rate to  historic lows.

Project 3 High Speed Rail

This project ties in closely with project 2.  High-speed  trains run on electricity and if powered by renewable clean energy, it would be the most environmentally friendly means of transportation. 

While talking with my sister-in-law recently she and her family had just driven up to New Hampshire to visit my wife and her sister, they both live in New Hampshire.  During a conversation about high-speed rail she mentioned that Ohio gave the money back for high-speed rail because the people of Ohio would rather drive their cars.  I think that is a major misconception spread by the right wing propaganda machine that implies that high-speed rail would eliminate travel by the family automobile.  It is not meant to replace cars but give alternatives to what is  becoming an outdated mode of transportation.  Anyone commuting to and fro from the suburbs in either LA or New York can tell you driving into those hubs is a nightmare.  That situation will spread to  most of the major American cities as we continue to increase in population and the use of the automobile as our major means of transportation.  When she and her family drove up to visit they paid over $30.00 in tolls and driving a large family van spent well over 400 hundred dollars in gas.  They also had to rent two motel rooms for the drive, which cost about $100.0 a night per room.  They have two  teenage children, a boy and a girl.  By car or van that trip cost my brother-in-law, just in transportation costs about $700.  Both ways it took 30 hours in travel time.  We’re talking about traveling approximately 700 miles.  With a national high-speed rail system they could take an express train from Columbus to New York and then transferred to a Down Easter that would drop them off in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  If the pricing structure I’ve envisioned the cost would be around $100 per adult and $100 for the kids which would come to $200 round trip and give the travelers a grand experience of truly seeing the country.  On a high-speed bullet train it would of taken less that 4-5 hours each way.  Sounds kind of nice doesn’t it?

The beauty of rail is we can construct area hub design, much like the original rail companies did.  The main difference I see in this rail renaissance is the Federal government would outlay the capital of any additional track costs.  High-speed rail can run on our existing tracks but it would place serious restrictions on speed, maintenance and costs.  The reason for this is if anyone has ever looked into Amtrak pricing, you will understand why so few people ride it.  It is extremely expensive.  If the government pays the construction costs for the trains and the rail costs, then gives contracts to private companies to maintain and service the lines, the price could be as small as was demonstrated in the above section about my sister-in-law and family.  It must be affordable or it will be a wasted endeavor.  The idea is for clean, affordable travel for the American public not a robber barren land grab by industry like the original rail growth in this country.

There are several different designations of high-speed rail listed below is found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-speed_rail_in_the_United_States.

·High-Speed Rail – Express: Frequent, express service between major population centers 200–600 miles (320–965 km) apart, with few intermediate stops. Top speeds of at least 150 mph (240 km/h) on completely grade-separated, dedicated rights-of-way (with the possible exception of some shared track in terminal areas). Intended to relieve air and highway capacity constraints.

·High-Speed Rail – Regional: Relatively frequent service between major and moderate population centers 100–500 miles (160–800 km) apart, with some intermediate stops. Top speeds of 110–150 mph (177–240 km/h), grade-separated, with some dedicated and some shared track (using positive train control technology). Intended to relieve highway and, to some extent, air capacity constraints.

·Emerging High-Speed Rail: Developing corridors of 100–500 miles (160–800 km), with strong potential for future HSR Regional and/or Express service. Top speeds of up to 90–110 mph (145–177 km/h) on primarily shared track (eventually using positive train control technology), with advanced grade crossing protection or separation. Intended to develop the passenger rail market, and provide some relief to other modes.

·Conventional Rail: Traditional intercity passenger rail services of more than 100 miles with as little as one to as many as 7–12 daily frequencies; may or may not have strong potential for future high-speed rail service. Top speeds of up to 79 mph to as high as 90 mph generally on shared track. Intended to provide travel options and to develop the passenger rail market for further development in the future.

If you really want to see the power of high-speed rail take a look at what the Chinese are doing.  Bear in mind the chief argument that the right places a constraint against the US having rail being due to the size of the United States in comparison with Europe.  If I’m not mistaken the US and Chine are similar in size.  This link can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-speed_rail_in_China

 

High-speed rail in China refers to any commercial train service in the People’s Republic of China with an average speed of 200 km/h (120 mph) or higher. By that measure, China   already has the world’s network with about 8,358 km (5,193 mi) of routes in service as of January 2011 including 2,197 km (1,365 mi) of rail lines with top speeds of 350 km/h (220 mph).  The high-speed trains have transported 600 million passengers since their introduction on April 18, 2007, with average daily rider ship of 237,000 in 2007, 349,000 in 2008, 492,000 in 2009, and 796,000 in 2010.

China’s high-speed rail lines consist of upgraded conventional rail lines, newly built high-speed passenger designated lines (PDLs), and the world’s first high-speed commercial magnetic levitation line.  The country is undergoing an HSR building boom. With generous funding from the Chinese government’s economic stimulus program, 17,000 km (11,000 mi) of high-speed lines are now under construction. The entire HSR network will reach 13,073 km (8,123 mi) by the end of 2011 and 25,000 km (16,000 mi) by the end of 2015.

In 1853 a young Scotsman went to work for the Pennsylvania Railroad Company.  He started as a telegraph operator and secretary.  It didn’t take long for the industrious man to realize that building railroads you needed a great deal of steel.  His name was Andrew Carnegie.  He proceeded to be one of the great robber barons in an era of robber barons but he did see the tie between railroads and the production of steel.  The American steel industry could make a dramatic comeback if all steel for all these projects were made in the United States.  You could make the rust belt gleam once again.

Vice president Joe Biden said that a national high-speed rail system could be built by 2030 with a price of 500 billion dollars.  I think it would cost more like a trillion.  I’m factoring all projects with a 10-year time constraint.  Chances are all will take longer but it both gives us round figures and timeframes.

Project 4:  Presidential Counsel on Manufacturing:

This would be a counsel that would recommend strategic plans for a return to America making widgets once again.  As I stated earlier we cannot sustain an economy without making things.  I don’t think we will ever return to making socks but making high-end wash machines, dryers, and freezers and an assortment of different products that could rekindle the manufacturing sector.  That’s exactly what China does and it works for them.  The beauty of this is there would be next to no cost.  I worked in the military industrial complex for over 10 years and with the government involved in the number of contracts this paper laid out, companies would be lining up to continue sucking at the governmental teat.  If not we will never have the kind of middle class needed to return to greatness.  If I may add one important point, a manufacturing class that is unionized. 

Funding:

Anyone out there still reading this post must be thinking, is this guy crazy?  The deficit is already killing the United States.  As I stated earlier the deficit is a symptom not the disease.  Lets take a look at the costs as I’ve laid it our over ten years.  2 trillion for infrastructure, 2 trillion for renewable energy and 1 trillion for high-speed rail.  Give or take a few billion and we’re talking real money.  If I’m not mistaken that’s 5 trillion over 10 years.  Let’s take a look at how  this can  be done. 

Officially the defense budget for 2011 is 719 billion.  That figure does doesn’t include Homeland Security and the National Security Agency (NSA).  Its budget is secret.  Nor does it take in the VA, something I wouldn’t cut.  I think it should be increased.  I don’t think anyone would argue  that we spend about a trillion a year for all our military expenditures.  That would put the figure at 10 trillion over 10 years.  We can’t zero out the military budget.  It just can’t be done but it could and should be cut in half.  We are at the point in our nation’s evolution where we can no longer maintain and empire.  At present that’s what we have.  What no one will tell you is why.  That’s the real 400-pound gorilla in the room.  Years ago after Eisenhower made his famous farewell speech warning us to beware the military industrial complex (MIC), the military complex did a brilliant maneuver.  For just about every weapons system sold to the DOD they made  sure it was made in just about all 50 states.  The number of workers in the military industrial  complex is not an easy figure to get.  If anyone has more knowledge than I please fill it in but my guess is at least a million.  There are 2 million Government Service workers and I’d say it would be a safe bet half of them work in different defense related projects.  For every GS there’s at least one contractor.  If you cut the military budget by half, which is what I’m proposing, that’s about one million people out of work.  I sincerely believe that’s why we’ve never done anything about it.  From the standpoint of the economy those men in charge of the MIC have been able to call the shots.  There are two very negative aspects to this entrenched business model.  For the companies to continue to sell these weapons to the government, it helps if there is a war going on.  Think about something; including the cold war, which was a god send for these people, we’ve been involved in how many wars?  Korea, Viet Nam, Grenada, that’s my personnel favorite, Iraq 1 & 2, Afghanistan and those police actions that barely make the papers.  The 2nd negative aspect is after these systems become obsolete for the mighty US military, we sell them to every despot on the planet.  This causes suffering on a biblical scale in just about every country in the third world.  All things considered that’s what I’d call a bad thing.  Loosing a million workers at one time would be catastrophic for the economy.  I’m serious those people would have to be put at the front of the line when we replace making weapons to making change you can believe in.  That would include the industrial giants like Raytheon, GE, Lockheed Marten, Northrop-Grumman and a myriad of other companies.  We’re not looking for a fight, just change.

Cutting the military budget in half and giving up our  empire is still a push.  5 trillion over ten years and 5 trillion over ten years.  How do we cut the deficit?  Resend all the Bush tax cuts, not just for the rich but for everyone.  Even Allen Greenspan advocated that yesterday on ABC’s This Week.  With the number of people  working and the employment market being so employee friendly it would balance the budget within a few years.  In May and June of 1953 the unemployment rate was 2.5%.  If Keysian economics are correct when it come to job creation, and they are, I’d say the unemployment rate after these projects were in full swing would be lower than that.

I’ve written a post stating that it wasn’t the taxes that angered Americans but what they got for their money.  If we move forward with this progressive agenda I don’t think our citizens would mind being taxed at a nominal rate.  They would be able to see how their tax dollars were being spent.  Under this plan it would be a true progressive spring in America. 

 

Summation:

Every day on every news channel, even MSNBC we are bombarded with spending cuts being the only way to make the American experiment in governance solvent.  I truly believe that if progressives don’t start and get our like minded brothers and sisters involved, we will be doomed to the lunacy being put forth by Paul Ryan and the other rehashed, retried, failed trickle down economic strategies that have constantly failed us as a nation.  I’m dead serious when I say the smartest, most articulate, insightful, political informed segment of our society are the readers and contributors to the Dkoz.  This diary has no meaning without the input of the people reading this post.  If you have any expertise beyond what I could find in this post, please contribute those ideas and make it a collaborative effort.  When we take control of the Democratic Party, as we must, we could have a similar document and insist this is what the people that elected you want.  I’m not so naive as to believe that we could ever get any of the projects laid out in this paper getting enacted into law, even with the upcoming progressive landslide.  The country is seeing the Tea Party movement for what it really is and they are pissed.  If we channel that anger we could have a landslide similar to what happened in 2010 only with the direct opposite in the political direction taken by the country.  If we start a grass-roots movement with the same ardent fervor that the Tea Baggers had for the 2010 election, we will succeed.  We must organize, energize and let the people know what is expected when we put them in office. That’s why I think this document could have a great deal of power.  It can’t be anything that I write but if it is a collaborative document by a large number of people in the progressive movement, that’s when it will have power.  Anyone out there with better ideas, more facts, more precise wording, feel free to change any or all of this document.  The only meaning this post may have is with the contributions and power intrinsic to a communal document.   May we link hearts and minds and take back this country in 2012.  Once Americans find out what life would be like under progressive governance, it will continue to be, once again, the normal mode of the Federal Government.