Monday, May 16, 2011

Tough, Unfair Choices on the Mississippi

The opening of the Morganza spillway and other floodgates on the Mississippi to avoid flooding in Baton Rouge and New Orleans may be necessary, and it may be a last resort, but it's far from fair. To expect people in the Cajun country of Louisiana to sacrifice their homes, crops, and livelihoods for people downstream is cruel, and it exhibits a problem that needs to be addressed: that human beings have yet to learn to live with nature, and adapt to nature, rather than trying to contain it.

The levee system on the Mississippi has existed in some form since the early 1700s; in the 1850s the federal government got involved, and the result, over many decades, has been an elaborate system of barricades and spillways built and maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and designed to contain the Mississippi within its banks. Unfortunately, by containing normal flooding that would ordinarily take place over a vast area, it channels the waters of this powerful river into a narrow path and, where flooding exists, makes it much worse than it would otherwise be.

To avoid an environmental catastrophe as the Mississippi floods Baton Rouge and New Orleans and the many oil refineries and oil storage facilities in the area, the people of rural Louisiana are being threatened with the loss of their way of life. It's time to come up with some solutions, both in terms of an environmentally sound response to the river's spring flooding and to the practice of locating homes, farms and businesses within the river's flood zones, that prevent this kind of human tragedy. A levee system that is more diffuse and that accommodates normal flooding while protecting people and property may be possible; oddball solutions like homes that actually float -- houseboats, in other words -- may make sense for people whose lives are tied to the flood zones of the Mississippi. Crops that can survive flooding or that can be replanted and grow after flooding make sense for the region. Maybe flooding can be controlled in such a way that it doesn't have the devastating impact that this major flood will likely have on the farmland itself. The best scientific minds need to be put onto this problem.

Meanwhile, in the short term, those who have been put in harm's way by the actions of the Army Corps of Engineers need to be compensated for their losses. The right of eminent domain allows land to be taken for the public good, but with fair compensation, and it seems that this concept applies here.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Why Red States Should Support High-Speed Rail

High-speed rail is being pushed by the Obama administration as vital to the future of the U.S., but is being opposed by conservative Republicans as an expensive "tax and spend" idea. The conservatives may want to think twice before dismissing the idea.

In parts of the Northeast and the Midwest, towns and cities are suffering a population drain as people move west and south; rural areas are hard-hit as young people unable to support themselves are moving away from their families to cities or to areas of the country with more opportunity.

High-speed rail could help resolve this problem. An individual living in a small town or on a rural farm could drive 30 minutes to the nearest train station, get on the train and commute 200 miles to a job in a major city, and then reverse the process and be home by supper. Residents of rural areas would no longer be confined to the limited career opportunities in their immediate area, but could easily have access to jobs -- and education, art, music, and culture -- in New York, Boston, Chicago, or L.A., and still enjoy the closeness and community of small-town living.

Small-business owners, artists and designers could commute to cities around the country and promote their services and goods in person. Realtors would have access to a vast new customer base as city dwellers of modest means are able to afford homes in rural areas, while keeping their city jobs. Farm families could have some family members with access to a much-needed big-city income as others maintain the farm.

High-speed rail has a lot to offer rural, red-state America -- perhaps even more than it offers the urban dweller. The Obama administration needs to include rural America in its plans for high-speed rail, and red-state Republicans need to get on board.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Single Best Stimulus Move Obama Can Do

The point of a stimulus package is to get money into the hands of consumers, so they can spend that money and get the economy moving again.

One thing none of the economists or politicians have given any thought to is the fact that since the 1990s, employer after employer has gone from paying people once a week to paying every two weeks. Once a practice among corporations employing highly paid, salaried workers, it has crept down to the lowest-paying jobs. A lot of people who used to get paid weekly never recovered from the switch, and built up consumer debt in large part as a result of having to cover living expenses with money that came in less frequently.

Obama needs to pass a simple bill, fast, that offers businesses a write-off of 150 percent of the cost of processing payroll, and put it into effect immediately. He also needs to do an aggressive campaign to promote this idea, and push banks to lend to companies that use credit to cover their payroll.

Pushing for weekly pay for America's workers will help solve a cash flow problem that has been haunting workers for almost two decades. Workers who get paid more often will likely spend more, because they know they will have more money coming in in a week. They will feel that they can let money go and begin to pay off their credit card debt.

Write to Barack Obama via the website whitehouse.gov, and tell him you want to get paid once a week. Call or write your congressional representatives and senators and tell them the same thing.

Let's put paychecks in the hands of hard-working Americans on a timely basis, and see what happens.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Republicans shouldn’t oppose empathy too soon

Now that the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor have started, the word “empathy” is rearing its head again. The party of “no” has come out strongly opposed to choosing a new Supreme Court justice based partly on President Obama’s stated quality of empathy, and now the attack dogs are circling, claiming that Obama’s use of the word “empathy” is code for “judicial activism.”

The Republicans shouldn’t be too fast to reject empathy. The most notorious Supreme Court decision of the past decade, Kelo vs. New London, could have done with a little empathy on the part of the Supremes. The city of New London, Connecticut, as part of an economic redevelopment plan designed to boost a sagging economy, decided to take by eminent domain an entire residential neighborhood to build a complex of for-profit, privately owned enterprises that included upscale housing, a high-end hotel, office space, and even a day spa. The 2005 Supreme Court decision, which affirmed a municipality’s right to take property by eminent domain for private enterprises as long as it could be judged to be for the higher good (possible translation: for higher property taxes than a residential owner could pay), put every homeowner in the country at risk at the hands of politicians and corporations. Empathy might have gotten the justices down out of their ivory tower long enough to anticipate the horrible consequences to ordinary citizens of this ruling; empathy might have allowed the justices to put aside their na├»ve, idealistic view of the world long enough for them to recognize not just the possibility, but the probability that corruption would taint the process.

The plaintiff, Suzanne Kelo, and her neighbors watched their neighborhood razed to the ground; homes were destroyed, but more than that, a complex, supportive social structure was torn apart as neighbors who had known each other for decades were uprooted and had to say good-bye. Four years after the Supreme Court decision, the former neighborhood is an empty lot, the private development company having abandoned the project. Litigation and damages have cost the city of New London millions of dollars. Supposedly trustworthy public officials charged with making the decisions involved with the redevelopment plan landed in the slammer for unrelated corruption charges; notably, then-Governor John Rowland, an early supporter of the redevelopment plan, ended up spending several months in prison for misusing his public office—not a sterling recommendation for his judgment on the New London redevelopment plan. Meanwhile, the entire New London debacle has apparently benefited no one.

Judges, including Supreme Court justices, need to be impartial, so that plaintiffs and defendants can have a fair hearing before the courts. But judges cannot be so cut off from the real world that their decisions are merely intellectual arguments devoid of any understanding of the consequences of their rulings. The law is created so that human beings have some kind of legally enforceable parameters about how to function in a complex society, and stripping the law of an understanding of its effect on humanity renders it useless or, infinitely more serious, dangerous.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Swear the Guy In!

The Democrats in the Senate are playing politics with the appointment of Illinois pol Roland Burris to the Senate, and it seems to be not because his appointment is illegal, but because they think he can't win the seat in 2010.

That's irrelevant! The governor of Illinois hasn't resigned, he hasn't been impeached, and as long as Burris and his advocates haven't shown up on the FBI wiretaps that started this whole mess, Roland Burris should be considered a legitimate appointee to the U.S. Senate.

Let the guy in!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Bush: No Clue

Bush: No Clue

The fact that an Iraqi journalist threw not one, but both of his shoes at President Bush hasn't made a dent in the man; he has no clue of the path of devastation he's left in his wake in the past eight years. It doesn't occur to Bush that the thousands of Iraqi civilian deaths, the millions of refugees living in other countries, and the still very real threat of death every time someone visits a Bagdhad marketplace can all be placed right at his doorstep.

He's leaving soon, and soon his ability to actively harm Iraqis, the economy, the environment, and so on will be at an end. And the Obama administration may well have the skill and the will to untangle the mess Bush has left us. But the willingness of so many people to jump on the Sarah Palin bandwagon and support yet another stubborn, ignorant idealogue shows us that the threat to society is not over.

Let's hope the Obama administration does such a spectacular job fixing the mess we're in that any desire to throw an amiable "Know-Nothing" into the mix fades.

We can't survive another "Aw-Gee-Shucks" George Bush type, in pants or in a skirt.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

I'm Ready for a Smart President

Pundits keep asking whether the American public is ready for a black president. I just don't think of Barack Obama in those terms. Yes, I realize he is black; yes, I realize that he self-identifies as black and relates to black culture; and it would definitely be a benefit that little black kids all over the country would grow about two inches the moment he becomes president. But that isn't why I'm supporting him.

Obama is about as intelligent as anyone who has ever run for the office. A graduate of Harvard, the editor of the Law Review, a college professor versed in Constitutional law, and a successful civil rights lawyer, he has used his intelligence and his inherent wisdom about human nature not to enrich himself, but to advocate for the rights of the poor and the dispossessed of all races and ethnic backgrounds.

His policies may not seem to differ greatly from Hillary Clinton's, but the differences that do exist show him to be a thoughtful and compassionate man. When he looks at Hillary Clinton's mandate that everyone purchase health care insurance, he asks, how is this going to affect people who still can't afford health care? When he advocates for easing payroll taxes, he is looking at people at the low end of the economic scale and recognizing that payroll taxes and self-employment taxes, which are assessed on the first penny people earn and are not lowered by Clinton's proposed tax credits, are an enormous burden on the poor. In other words, when he ponders economic issues and possible solutions, he asks himself, "How is this action going to affect the little guy?"

Obama's calm demeanor in the face of persistent and sometimes bizarre attacks from the Clinton campaign, at times from Clinton herself, give me confidence that Obama's steady hand on the ship of state can steer us, peacefully and rationally, through some very difficult times ahead. Not so Clinton, who has proved herself to be erratic, manipulative, and underhanded.

Black? I don't care whether Obama is black, blue, or a kangaroo. I care that he is intelligent, wise, and kind.

I'm ready for a smart president.