January 20, 2021

The Establishment Clause

Posted on 16. May, 2011 by Administrator in Politics

In 1802, Thomas Jefferson sent a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in response to a query from that body.  In the following Library of Congress transcript, Jefferson’s spelling and punctuation have been retained as well as the bracketed material which ultimately he deleted before sending.

“Mr. President
To messers Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, & Stephen S. Nelson, a committee of the Danbury Baptist association in the state of Connecticut.

Gentlemen
The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist association, give me the highest satisfaction. my duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, & in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.  [Congress thus inhibited from acts respecting religion, and the Executive authorised only to execute their acts, I have refrained from prescribing even those occasional performances of devotion, practiced indeed by the Executive of another nation as the legal head of its church, but subject here, as religious exercises only to the voluntary regulations and discipline of each respective sect.]

Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association assurances of my high respect & esteem.

(signed) Thomas Jefferson
Jan.1, 1802”.

An anonymous writer claims that Jefferson’s remarks echo those of Roger Williams, the founder of the first Baptist church in America, who wrote in 1644 of the need for  “[A] hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world.”  Whatever the case, Jefferson’s expression of, “a wall of separation between church and state” led to the shorthand phrase “Separation of church and state.”  Although the phrase does not appear in our Constitution, the idea it embodies is a governing principle of our culture.  The phrase represents the essentialized meaning of the opening passage of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”  This is known as the Establishment Clause.

From the beginning of our nation, Americans recognized the principle of separation of church and state as a safeguard against religious intolerance and protection of one’s right to choose to believe, or not.  Our courts followed suit.  In its 1879 Reynolds v. United States decision, the court allowed that Jefferson’s comments “may be accepted almost as an authoritative declaration of the scope and effect of the [First] Amendment.”

In the Everson v. Board of Education 330 U.S. 1, 8 decision, Justice Hugo Black wrote, “In the words of Thomas Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect a wall of separation between church and state.”  Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun wrote: “When the government puts its imprimatur on a particular religion it conveys a message of exclusion to all those who do not adhere to the favored beliefs.  A government cannot be premised on the belief that all persons are created equal when it asserts that God prefers some.”  Another court stated that “A large proportion of the early settlers of this country came here from Europe to escape the bondage of laws, which compelled them to support and attend government-favored churches.”

Because of the many different religions and the many different convictions of atheists and agnostics that comprise our American culture, the separation of state and church assures that no one elected to office can lawfully impose his particular views as “the state religion.”   To further deflect such a danger, Article VI of the Constitution specifies that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

Today, however, some commentators question the validity of the separation of church and state, claiming “It’s not in the Constitution; so, we can disregard it.”  But a brief look at man’s history underscores the need for such a separation. The first forms of governments among men — Sumer and Ancient Egypt (c. 5000 BCE) — were both centralized authorities, in which the ruler held both powers of king and priest.  The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt, for instance, claimed they were the embodiment of  “god-kings,” or “priest-kings.”   They held both titles absolutely, sometimes appointing a priest class to perform various tasks, but always retaining the prerogative of supreme authority over men’s beliefs and actions.

For millennium nothing changed — except in Ancient Athens.  Pericles (c. 495 – 425 BCE), for example, was an elected ruler whose leadership did not usurp that of Athenian priests.  But in all other nation-states around the world and throughout time, absolute authority over both secular and religious affairs remained exclusively in the hands of the ruler.

For instance, during the Roman Empire, (c. 31 BCE – c. 284/313 AD) emperors were treated as divinities and some declared themselves gods.  During the Medieval period (c. 313 AD to c.1265 AD) the church dominated both secular and religious affairs.  Even the great, enlightened Elizabeth I (1533-1603) — alone among monarchs finally to break with the Pope — while granting wider freedom to her subjects nonetheless retained absolute control of her powers which included being the spiritual head of the Church of England.  Cromwell (1599-1658) justified his religious intolerance, the use of force, massacres and cruelty as necessary to hold together the body politic.  Louis 14th (1638-1715) the “Sun King,” imposed religious uniformity, persecuted the Huguenots and revoked the Edict of Nantes, which led to the exodus of many Protestant merchants and skilled artisans, accelerating economic decline.  Napoleon crowned himself at his coronation (1804), thereby declaring that as emperor of France he was to be considered supreme ruler over both secular and religious affairs.

Similarly, the Emperors of Japan and China were considered direct descendents of the Gods, thus empowered as divine ruler on earth, supreme over all men’s actions and beliefs. The sheiks, caliphs, and ayatollahs of Arabia, India and Asia were no different. And so it went. With few exceptions, leaders claimed total authority over both religious and secular affairs — most clearly exemplified by “the divine right of kings” and “the infallibility of the Pope.”   The result was fines, imprisonment, torture and/or death levied on any that dared oppose the ruler’s edicts and beliefs.  The Inquisition was only one expression of such crimes against the mind of man. The slaughter and mayhem of the Crusades was another.   The arbitrary beheading, dismemberment, disfigurement and proscribed suicides of dissenters or the disrespectful, was characteristic of the rulers of Africa, India, Asia and the East. Then came the United States of America, an extraordinary achievement that broke with all precedent and stunned the world with its Declaration of Independence and its Constitution, which are the fountainhead of the wealth that cascaded from the minds and efforts of free men.

The Declaration of Independence identified man’s individual rights.  The Bill of Rights — the first ten Amendments of the Constitution — secured those rights in specific actions.  But it was the formulation of the Establishment Clause that addressed the difficult and complex issue of protecting man’s convictions and beliefs without intruding upon his right to believe as he chose, or not.  The governing principle of “a wall between church and state” was a stroke of genius that protected the American citizen from the deadly juggernaut of combined political and religious power.

The Founding Fathers gave us this nation, a child of the Enlightenment, Ancient Athens surely being our grandparent.  As beneficiaries of such a gift, let us not allow our nation to fall to barbarians — either foreign or domestic — by ignoring the lessons of undivided absolute power over our lives and nation.

Sylvia Bokor

Obama’s Presidency: A Tale to Date of Missed Domestic Opportunities

Posted on 13. May, 2011 by Administrator in Politics

In my previous blog on April 26, I decried President Obama’s obvious abandonment of the ‘core’ of voters who had come together with almost unprecedented political faith to give him a clear mandate on the domestic issue most concerning them: creating the nearly 20 million high-quality stable jobs needed to return our nation to near full employment in real terms.  Few things that I’ve written since 2006 have elicited more raw response.

It’s hard to find but one other President in our nation’s history who, on the day of his inauguration, was invested with more free political capital than was Barack Obama.  That political capital was found in a near-commonly accepted national agenda, namely, to pull us out of the Great Recession of 2007 by helping create millions of jobs, and a near-commonly targeted national enemy, namely, the banks.  Only Franklin Roosevelt started with as much capital, as he too was swept into office on the same near-consensus.  Armies of progressives and conservatives alike believed that the “hope” which Mr. Obama so often eloquently offered them in his campaign speeches would be the reality of immediate large-scale job creation.  Legions of the middle class who had lost or were about to lose their jobs said, “Go create jobs, Mr. President.”  And millions more who were trying to bring the American Dream to their families said to him, “Mr. President, go get those bastards on Wall Street who did this to us.”

The problem as I’ve argued and as to which a lot of respondents to my April 26 blog agree is that Mr. Obama never really embraced the jobs agenda with anywhere near the conviction and determination that he has shown, for example, regarding healthcare reform.  This is beyond perplexing given our continued high rate of real unemployment – at 18% today it is a figure unprecedented in modern times – and especially given the polls which have consistently shown that ‘jobs, jobs and jobs’ are the three issues most on the minds of the American people.  And it is this fear of job loss and economic stagnation that has undermined confidence in the direction our country is headed.

As one respondent recently wrote me, “I think we projected on to Obama much more than is there. He isn’t up to the job [of creating jobs].” Of course Mr. Obama compounded the error of forsaking the agenda which his electoral victory mandated with his almost immediate toadying up to the big banks.  This voluntary capitulation was pre-ordained by his selection of Timothy Geithner as Treasury Secretary, who as head of the New York Fed had a miserable record of protecting consumers.  Geithner, along with Larry Summers, became the architects of the administration’s “financial reform” which just a year or so later left the big banks better positioned than before the crash and with a nary a bit of meaningful penalties.

By largely ignoring the likes of Paul Volcker, Rob Johnson and Elizabeth Warren, President Obama committed what economist James Galbraith calls his “original sin of assign[ing] economic policy to a closed circle of bank-friendly economists and Bush carryovers…who had no personal commitment to the goal of an early recovery, no stake in the Democratic Party, and no interest in the larger success of Barack Obama”.  And so, Mr. Volcker’s important ideas of repudiating “too big to fail” and barring commercial banks from indulging in heavy risk taking and proprietary trading were sabotaged to death, mostly by Secretary Geithner.  Thus, President Obama lost his capacity to harness the justified anger of voters that was pervasive on the day he was inaugurated.

Yet it is far too harsh an assessment to suggest that President Obama isn’t “up to the job”, although now two-plus years into his administration I share the frustration of millions of progressives.  Clearly, Barack Obama is ‘up to the job’.  Seldom in my lifetime have I encountered a keener intellect.  His problems are that in presidential terms he doesn’t ‘learn’, and that he often hires very poorly.  On the seminal issue confronting the domestic landscape, namely, full employment, he didn’t evolve when his first instincts failed.  And on the most complex issue confronting any American president, namely, integrating our domestic economy into our global leadership position, he has hired abysmally, with no more imagination or realism than simply to bring back the “Rubin-Summers gang.”

Sure, on that day in November 2008 when the nation chose Barack Obama as its 44th president, the voting public was so tired of George Bush and so afraid of John McCain’s unpreparedness, almost any Democrat would have been elected.  That doesn’t mean, however, that the vast majority of Americans didn’t give Mr. Obama a clear mandate as well as a dragon to slay.  Thus it is little surprise, with our economy mired in a near jobless recovery and real unemployment at 18% with a “Jobs Gap” of 21 million, that the latest McClatchy-Marist Poll (4-28-11) finds that only 40% of Americans now approve of how President Obama is dealing with the economy while fully 57% disapprove.  And often mentioned by those millions of voters who disapprove is their view that the big banks and Wall Street are back acting with virtually the same disregard for consumers and for the health of the national economy as before the Recession began.

George Kennan, who is thought by many to be greatest intellect in American foreign relations history, said that, “foreign-policy problems are always more complicated than Americans, in their native idealism, usually allow” (per Ryan Lizza, The New Yorker, 5-02-11).  In this era of economic globalization, the same can be said about our economic-policy problems – and they often seem more complicated than Mr. Obama’s own idealism allows and is capable of reacting to. This tendency to favor rhetoric over action – what one of his own senior advisors describes as “leading from behind” and Zbigniew Brzezinski describes as ‘sermonizing rather than strategizing’ – has clearly failed him in creating jobs for the domestic economy and truly reforming the banks and Wall Street.  And the compounding factor has been the President’s proclivity in many instances to hire poorly and in others to not heed the counsel of the informed people he has hired.

Clearly, President Obama was dazzling in his decision making to send U.S. Navy SEAL Team Six to get Osama bin Laden.  In helping to develop and oversee this sensitive, risky operation, Mr. Obama showed that in his own calm, rational way he can decisively lead when he sets his mind to tackling a major challenge.  It’s now time for Mr. Obama to adopt this same laser-like focus on creating jobs in America on the scale that is so badly needed.  And may his great success last week be a permanent catalyst in his evolution as a leader.  If he seriously addresses this challenge, it will carry forward the clear mandate the American people gave him in 2008 and lead to his earning – and very much deserving – a second term in the White House.

Leo Hindery, Jr. is Chairman of the US Economy/Smart Globalization Initiative at the New America Foundation and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.  Currently an investor in media companies, he is the former CEO of Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI), Liberty Media and their successor AT&T Broadband.  He also serves on the Board of the Huffington Post Investigative Fund.

Cutting “subsidies” to big oil is political sleight of hand

Posted on 10. May, 2011 by Administrator in Energy/Environment

Between the time this is written and the time you read it, gas prices will have undoubtedly risen again.  They have been on an upward spiral for months and not likely to drop long term without some bold, decisive action as was taken on July 14, 2008. Instead of encouraging the development of our own natural resources, politicians of both parties  are once again betting that we will not notice if they play the antibusiness card—but 2011 is not a year for politics as usual and the rules have changed. This is no longer a back-room game. It is the poker channel. People are watching.

With their cards close to the vest, Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Harry Reid (D-Nev.) are bluffing. They want America’s citizens to believe their hand is filled with spending cuts—cut subsidies from big oil companies. Somehow we are supposed to think this will lower gas prices? Part of their bluff is to use the term “subsidy”—which in the house-of-cards economy/debt crisis they’ve built translates to spending. Concerned Americans do not want more spending, they want cuts. We’ve anted up all we can. Politicians are betting we’ll fall for the deception. But for those of us who are watching, the tell is there. The so-called “big oil companies” don’t get subsidies.

They do get the same type of tax deductions on their expenses and some of their up-front costs that every industry gets. Their dramatic wins are in the headlines now. Loses are huge too—though usually not front page news. Last month, it was announced that Shell Oil had to scrap their Alaska drilling plans (which would have provided more domestic energy) due to an EPA decision to withhold permits. Shell had spent five years and $4 billion on plans to explore. Will the EPA reimburse them for their loss? No. But they will receive some tax benefits, the loss is held against their wins—just like every other business. They know they win some, they lose some. It is all factored into the game plan.

But who is the real loser? The American citizen who wants lower gas prices. If the cost of doing business is lower, and the resource development is encouraged, the savings is passed on at the pump. When costs continue to escalate and business is forced to fold their hand—even when it could be a full house, we lose. The way the energy game is being played now is that the house always wins—with the house being government, not business. A company can, as Shell did, make big investments based on their hand as they see it (geology and seismic data indicates the gamble is worth it) and then the dealer calls the shots. Sorry.

Because we are playing dealer’s choice, other more expensive, less competent players get the advantage. Renewables do get subsidies—like $6 billion for the corn ethanol industry. Electric cars are subsidized to the tune of $7,500 for each vehicle sold—and this is just on the retail end. American taxpayers are forced to buy in even though we know we are drawing dead.

Next week, Harry Reid is dealing once again. He is expected to hold a vote on the Baucus plan which they claim will “end billions of dollars in wasteful tax breaks for large, multinational oil and gas companies while investing in cleaner and cheaper domestic energy sources.” The dealers are picking the winners and losers. If the above quote from Baucus’ website was honest, it would say that they are singling out one industry because it is currently making money (who will be next?) and giving money to more expensive energy sources.

If the game was fair, and we eliminated tax deductions and subsidies altogether—great! Then everyone would need to stand on their own merits in every industry. But that is not going to happen with this hand. We’ll need a different dealer. But we, the American taxpayers, do not have to sit idly by and watch. We can let them know we are watching. We can participate. We can force politicians to play for us. It is our money they are playing with. Call their bluff. The hand they are holding will increase the cost of doing business for America’s domestic energy providers and that will result in higher gas prices not lower. Who do they think they are fooling? Politicians, like poker players, are known to have a few cards up their sleeve.

Known as the voice for energy, Marita Noon is the Executive Director at Energy Makes America Great Inc. the advocacy arm of the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy—working to educate the public and influence policy makers regarding energy, its role in freedom and the American way of life. She is a popular speaker, a frequent guest on television and radio, her commentaries have been published in newspapers, blogs and websites nationwide, and she has just completed her twentieth book: Take Away Energy, Take Away Freedom. Find out more at www.EnergyMakesAmericaGreat.org.

Senator Boitano Named “Champion for Charters” by National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

Posted on 06. May, 2011 by Administrator in Education

Four Public Officials Honored this National Charter Schools Week for Supporting Pro-Charter Legislation and Policies

Washington, DC – This week the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) recognizes Senator Mark Boitano for his commitment to promoting high-quality charter schools. Annually, the Champions for Charters awards recognize public officials for leading a major public charter issue or initiative, serving as a highly visible public charter school advocate, and consistently supporting charters as a high-quality public school choice option.  The honorees are announced during National Charter Schools Week, which runs May 1-7.  “Senator Boitano has shown leadership and continued commitment to high-quality charter schools throughout his time as a public servant,” said Peter C. Groff, president and CEO, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. “On behalf of the 1.6 million children enrolled in charter schools, we thank Senator Boitano for making sure New Mexico families have access to high-quality public charter schools.”

“Charter schools are truly the change agents and disruptors in public education today.  Their innovative approach to governance, budgeting, staffing, scheduling and curriculum – coupled with their small size – has energized students and parents,” said Senator Boitano.

“Charters have long waiting lists in my school district.  I’ve already seen a significant change in our traditional public schools in New Mexico because of the reforms pioneered by our charters.” New Mexico Senator Boitano has demonstrated steadfast support for public charter schools during his 11 years in the legislature.  In particular, his sponsorship of the 1999 Charter Schools Act and leadership in strengthening it in 2006 continues to open up countless new public education opportunities for children, teachers and principals throughout New Mexico.

Joining Boitano in receiving this year’s recognition are U.S. Representative Howard P. McKeon of California, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist.

Today marks the beginning of the 12th annual National Charter Schools Week celebrating the ways in which charter schools are helping children and families. Charter schools are independent public schools that are free to be more innovative and are held accountable for improved student achievement. They foster a partnership between parents, teachers and students to create an environment in which parents can be more involved, teachers are given the freedom to innovate and students are provided the structure they need to learn.  This week, public charter school supporters around the nation are hosting and participating in numerous activities to mark the movement’s success and growth.  The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) is the national nonprofit organization committed to advancing the charter school movement. The NAPCS works to increase the number of high-performing charter schools available to all families, particularly low-income and underserved families who currently do not have access to quality public schools. NAPCS provides assistance to state charter school associations and resource centers, develops and advocates for improved public policies, and serves as the united voice for this large and diverse movement. More than 1.6 million students attend nearly 5,000 charter schools in 40 states and the District of Columbia.

Southern New Mexico Children’s Forest Gets Kids and Adults Learning Outside

Posted on 03. May, 2011 by Administrator in Energy/Environment

Forests are outdoor classrooms.  This is a simple, yet powerful, statement that drives home the U.S. Forest Service’s decades-long commitment to get kids outdoors to rediscover and experience nature up-close and personal.  We believe our national forests provide great classroom settings where youth can have a myriad of learning experiences such as the thrill of fishing a cold mountain stream and catching their first trout. It doesn’t take long to make the connection that fish, along with humans, need clean water to live and thrive. Fish habitat and our drinking water are dependent on healthy forests.

The Lincoln National Forest in southern New Mexico received $70,000 in funding for the Southern New Mexico Children’s Forests.  This grant encompasses the Lincoln National Forest and many agencies, schools and youth organizations, and interested individuals that are bringing kids to the outdoors and the outdoors to kids.  It is not one place, nor one program, but a network of places, programs, and activities that give all citizens of and visitors to southern New Mexico, the opportunity to visit, explore, and learn about the outdoor world. The Children’s Forest that received funding in New Mexico gives the Forest Service and their partners the opportunity to do something in and for their local communities.   We’re optimistic about the future and want to be part of improving the next generation’s chance to be happy, healthy, and well-educated about their world.

We want to open their minds to the outdoors.  Our grade-appropriate field trip curricula for elementary school classes are the keystone of our Children’s Forest.  This will eventually give children in southern New Mexico at least two field trips per year to an outdoor space.  The grade-appropriate curricula will introduce, teach, and/or reinforce the State standards and benchmarks that teachers are required to cover.  We expect this to increase student understanding as measured by test scores and surveys.

The Children’s Forest Intern Program will be an exciting opportunity for college students working toward teaching and natural resource degrees. Through the Education Department at New Mexico State University-Alamogordo, two hard-working students will earn the honor of being Children’s Forest Interns each semester and during the summer.  Interns will help us design and implement Children’s Forest programs, while learning about conservation education and becoming better teachers themselves. One program of our Children’s Forest is an After School Teacher’s Institute.

Teachers will meet after school to learn hands-on environmental education activities.  Teachers will be able to implement award-winning curricula such as Project Learning Tree, Project WET, Project WILD, Project Food, Land, and People, and Project Archaeology after attending Institute Workshops.  A future website for the Southern New Mexico Children’s Forest will have links to partners, resources, and opportunities for educators. Nationally, more than 4 million young people participated in Forest Service conservation education programs last year.  It is encouraging to know that we can include New Mexico kids in these programs. I believe personally experiencing the outdoors truly gives us an increased appreciation for clean air, clear water, healthy forests, grasslands and deserts, not to mention those awe-inspiring Southwestern landscapes.  To do that, we must reconnect our younger generations with our forests, in hopes that they will be future stewards of our land and our environment.

For more information on the Southern New Mexico Children’s Forest, contact Peg Crim, Lincoln National Forest at 575-434-7231 or email pcrim@fs.fed.us.  If you would like more information on the Forest Service’s More Kids in the Woods program go to their website at: www.tinyurl.com/FS-MKIW.

Corbin Newman was assigned to the position of Regional Forester for the Southwestern Region of the U.S. Forest Service in December 2007. Newman has held numerous positions at all levels of the Forest Service—in both the eastern and western parts of the country—during his 35-year career.

In “Presidency by Obama”, where’s his ‘core’?

Posted on 03. May, 2011 by Administrator in Politics

“Body by Jake” Steinfeld – the first and still most prominent television ‘personal trainer’ (and an old friend) – always says that everything starts and stops with an individual’s ‘core’.  Jake obviously means that part of the body – your ‘gut’ – from which most other strength emanates. Unfortunately, in “Presidency by Obama”, Mr. Obama often neglects his core – his core values and his core supporters – and he seems to have lost that ‘gut feel’ that so wonderfully defined his campaign for the presidency just three short years ago.  It is also patently apparent that the 2012 election is already a major driver of his proposals and priorities.

Having looked at polling numbers and conducted a number of focus groups, President Obama and his team seemingly have decided that his electoral future is in the hands of those whose highest priority for the nation is significantly cutting the budget.  This view is evident in a ‘planted’ op-ed in the Financial Times (4-05-11) by Roger Altman, a frequent surrogate for the administration, who wrote that “Mr. Obama must continue his centrist push”, a push that is evident in the White House’s recent ‘five-year freeze in non-security discretionary spending, its acceding to large Republican-led cuts in the current year’s budget, and its submission of the South Korea free-trade agreement to Congress for approval’.  Altman, as does the President himself, describes this political ideology as “pragmatism.”

Well, as someone who also worked hard for the Obama campaign in 2008 and as a longtime supporter of the Democratic Party, this judgment is not only short-sighted but it’s also profoundly mistaken.  As Paul Krugman recently wrote (NY Times, 4-10-11): “What have they done with President Obama?  What happened to the inspirational figure his supporters thought they elected? Who is this bland, timid guy who doesn’t seem to stand for anything in particular?”

In these troubled economic times, the American people are looking for principled leadership, not someone who is constantly checking the polls, figuring out how to compromise on longstanding beliefs, and worrying about the next election.  By being overly willing to compromise with people who themselves never compromise and are publicly committed to making him a one-term president, Mr. Obama is caught up in his own Patty Hearst-like “Stockholm Syndrome”, as Frank Rick observed so eloquently back in December (NY Times, 12-04-10).

In the latest budget agreement, President Obama agreed to significant reductions in programs that he long favored going back to the 2008 campaign.  Yet if he opts to continue on such a budget reduction path – allowing the Republicans to determine the playing field for economic policy debate – then the American electorate that I encountered on his behalf in 2008 will choose actual Republicans for office, not someone who is playing at ‘Republican-lite’.  In the interim, as Krugman wrote, by caving in so completely on the first round of budget reconciliation, Mr. Obama has set a baseline for even bigger concessions over the next few months as the 2012 budget comes to the fore.  And in doing so he hasn’t even kept for himself the bully pulpit that every President before him selfishly held on to – Mr. Obama is more than happy to share his pulpit with Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan for them to spew out their anti-middle class, pro-rich guy drivel.

For Mr. Obama right now, good policies would (again) be good politics.  This means that while keeping a proper eye on the deficit and waste in the federal budget, he needs to (i) steadfastly advocate for those programs which will create the 20 million jobs that are needed to fill the current real employment ‘Jobs Gap’, (ii) bring fairness back to the individual and corporate tax code, and (iii) pursue only free trade agreements that are at once fair to American workers.

Let’s take these in order.

Despite the reluctance of our larger private sector employers to do any significant new hiring – especially in the all-important manufacturing area which alone has lost more than 2 million jobs since December 2007 – Mr. Obama nonetheless keeps emphasizing small businesses like Subway sandwich shops.  And he does so notwithstanding the fact that the vitality of small and even most medium-sized businesses flows directly from the vitality of bigger businesses.  Mr. Obama’s other emphasis is his ‘jobs exporting’ techie friends in Silicon Valley even though the Bureau of Labor Statistics has just recently estimated that employment in ‘information technology’ will be lower in 2018 than it was as far back as 1998 (see “Obama-nomics: Guess who came to dinner, guess who didn’t even get asked” (Huffington Post, 3-15-11)).

In the absence of a proactive all-of-government American manufacturing and industrial policy that closely matches up with the mercantilist policies of our major trading partners, U.S. manufacturers are making increasing use of part-time workers and overtime and further offshoring American jobs to China and other emerging economies.  What they aren’t doing is hiring.  Yet it was Mr. Obama’s campaign promise to quickly implement such a policy – call it what you will – along with his job creation and trade promises that mostly gave him his electoral wins in the nation’s heartland.  The promise of health care reform, to include a “public option”, was certainly important to millions of voters as well, but health care never stood alone as sadly became the case immediately after the Inauguration.

As for bringing fairness back to the individual and corporate tax code, it’s really pretty simple.  On the individual side, just go after the tax evasion and selfish tax avoidance schemes that have robbed our tax system of much of its fundamental progressiveness, starting with taxing carried interest as ordinary income, increasing capital gains taxes for the top brackets, and eliminating frivolous personal deductions for the wealthy.  On the corporate side, as I recently wrote (“The Tax Man Cometh — Just Not For Everybody”, Huffington Post, 4-12-11), (a) incent American multinationals to attribute less not more of their profits to their foreign operations; (b) cut the corporate income rate to, say, 26% while increasing the capital gains rate to 28% and taxing dividends as ordinary income; and (c) consider adopting a modest value-added-tax or VAT on the order of 5% that reduces both corporate income and payroll taxes and includes thoughtful exemptions.

Finally, there is the issue of making free trade at once fair to American workers, an area that right now couldn’t be getting any more screwed up by the administration. In November 2010, Mr. Obama backtracked on his three years of stated objections to the South Korea Free Trade Agreement (or FTA) and instead embraced it.  In doing so, Mr. Obama said that this FTA would ‘help meet [his] goal of doubling U.S. gross exports by 2015 and further U.S. economic interests in Asia as a counterweight to China’.  Yet we know from our own official government studies that the Korea FTA will indisputably increase the U.S. trade deficit and thus kill U.S. jobs.  Korea’s refusal to eliminate the safety and environmental rules and other barriers that help keep Korea the world’s most closed car market in the world, at the expense of Detroit, should alone doom this ill-conceived and poorly negotiated FTA.

But if the South Korea FTA isn’t a big enough slap to the faces of America’s workers, the President’s announcement on April 7 that he now also has an “Action Plan” to advance the Colombia FTA, despite the fact that it too will increase the U.S. trade deficit and despite that country’s horrific labor rights conditions, is really beyond the pale.  As Leo Gerard, President of the United Steelworkers, has said, “We should not be rewarding a country that still murders more labor leaders than any other nation.”  Even during the last four years of maximum Senate and public scrutiny of the Colombia FTA, the number of trade unionist assassinations in the country has risen, from 37 in 2007 to 51 in 2010.

On trade, it’s way past time to remind the President of the very specific trade reform promises he made throughout his campaign, first to Mr. Gerard’s Steelworkers way back on March 26, 2008 – and then hold him to them. This really is ‘gut check time’ all around for President Obama and his administration, with the core beliefs that he sold Democrats and Independents on three years ago looking pretty flabby right now.  And now with his attention shifted to the federal deficit, while trying to be Clinton-like he’s already unacceptably tracking to the right.  President Clinton raised taxes where they needed to be raised rather than make deep cuts to the programs that protect those most in need.  In contrast, President Obama is mostly only fighting against the further extension of the unwarranted tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans that he allowed to be extended last December despite countless promises during his campaign for the presidency that he would never do so.

Mr. Obama has already agreed to massive spending cuts merely to continue government spending for the rest of the year – many more cuts than he should have – and it seems today that he is going to give away too much to get the debt ceiling raised and a 2012 budget agreed.  In his April 14 speech on the deficit, he said eloquently, as is his wont, that, “We have to reduce our deficit, and we have to get back on a path that will allow us to pay down our debt. And we have to do it in a way that protects the recovery, protects the investments we need to grow, creates jobs, and helps us win the future.”

But is this just another ‘defining moment’ like so many others that later leads to retreat?  His words are compelling, but are they just words?  For then all I heard as he continued to speak was a list of headings under which deficit reduction might occur, with no amplification, no specifics. President Obama’s well-spoken view of our nation, which he’s always seen as “generous and compassionate… and a land of opportunity and optimism”, must increasingly be weighed against his actual performance on key issues.  And by failing to be specific on the deficit issue, which is increasingly defining politics in America and certainly for 2012, he failed to sufficiently defend the government budgets needed to achieve a just, fair and progressive society.

We know who we should be, Mr. President, and we pretty much know where we need to end up deficit-wise.  So now, as you did throughout 2008 in Iowa and elsewhere, tell us with specificity how to mend our fiscal policies, and then lead us there.

Leo Hindery, Jr. is Chairman of the US Economy/Smart Globalization Initiative at the New America Foundation and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.  Currently an investor in media companies, he is the former CEO of Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI), Liberty Media and their successor AT&T Broadband.  He also serves on the Board of the Huffington Post Investigative Fund.

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