Speech delivered at US District Court for The Northern District of Illinois, Monday, November 7, 2011
One does not have to be a Christian to understand or believe what the Bible says about three critical things that are important to living our lives - faith, hope and love. Today I want to connect the idea of faith to faith in government.
Hebrews 11:1 says, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." What are some of those things that are hoped for and not seen?
When we drive a car, we have faith that when our light turns green and we go, the person driving the car in the other direction will obey their light when it turns red and stop. When we stop for a red light, we have faith that the car behind us will also stop and not ram us in the rear. We have faith that pedestrians will obey the yield sign and not run out in front of our moving car. We have faith that if a driver turns on their right-hand turn signal they will not suddenly turn left in front of us. We have faith that other drivers will not recklessly endanger our lives by driving drunk. So whether driving to work or to play, it is faith that allows us to drive. And if another person runs a stop light, doesn't brake behind us, doesn't obey the yield sign, suddenly turns in front of us or drives drunk, they have broken faith. In other words, when you're driving, the only thing that stands between you and death is faith!
If you fly on airplanes you have faith. You have faith that the pilot is well trained, knows how to take off and land, can handle a storm while in the air, can handle an emergency, is physically fit, psychologically stable and is not drunk or on drugs. You have faith in the flight attendants, that they have been trained to handle unruly passengers or an emergency situation. You have faith that the maintenance people have properly serviced the plane before it takes off. You have faith that the TSA employees have done their job and have not made an error that will put your life and the life of other passengers in danger. You have reasonable faith in the regulations of the FAA, that the fuel, engines, body of the plane and the runways are safe. A critical error anywhere along this line will damage or destroy your faith in air travel.
Train engineers have faith that drivers and pedestrians will not drive or walk around railroad crossing gates and endanger themselves or the train. Bus passengers have faith that the driver is not intoxicated, on drugs or experiencing emotional problems that could endanger the public or their riders.
Look at how faith operates during medical emergencies. When we are at our weakest - if suddenly we became ill and needed to be rushed to the hospital, we have faith that a well trained ambulance driver and emergency medical technician will arrive quickly to provide us care. We have faith that drivers on the road will pull over when they hear the sirens to allow our ambulance driver to get us quickly and safely to the hospital. We have faith in the doctors, nurses and medical staff that they will provide us with the highest quality of care possible regardless of our perceived ability to pay or whether or not we have medical insurance.
Last month I spent a day with the Johnson/Karlock family outside of Momence, Illinois during their family's harvest season.
As we were sitting down for lunch, Mr. Johnson led us in a short prayer to thank God for the successful season's harvest. Through his prayer I quickly learned how many factors a farmer has to rely on for a good harvest year.
When I pray over my family's dinner it's always, "God is good, God is great, thank you for the food and nourishment that what we are about to receive, in Jesus name, Amen." And then my family eats.
But from what I heard in Mr. Johnson's prayer, there must have been a dozen unseen faith factors on his mind that small family farmers depend on for their way of life. He expressed gratitude for the sun, gratitude for the rain, gratitude for the soil and gratitude for the harvest. He prayed for protection against things that can destroy his crop and support for their equipment.
His prayer was a mighty different prayer than the normal prayer I say over my food.
But the Johnsons and other small family farmers also believe in the federal government. If something bad does happen in a season, the federal government is there to provide crop insurance and disaster assistance to get them through the tough times. They rely on the federal government to provide research that enhances production and yield, genetic engineering of the crop and seed breeding.
They have faith that their government will be there in their time of need.
It doesn't matter whether you're a Christian, a Muslim, a Jew, a Buddhist, a Hindu, an agnostic or an atheist, it's impossible to live without faith.
Our auto industry almost collapsed, so we can have only so much faith in GM, Chrysler and Ford. Our financial system did partially collapse, so we can only have so much faith in our banks, lenders and investors. We can only have limited faith in the private sector because it has $2-to-$2.5 trillion sitting on the sideline, money that it refuses to invest in jobs and in the American people. And if Congress passed and the states ratified a Balance Budget Amendment, it would mean that the federal government could NEVER meet the American peoples' needs or correct gaps among our people that need to be corrected - and we would lose faith in our government.
We need to have faith in the federal government - which is supposed to be a government of, by and for the people - but we can only have such faith if it meets our peoples' current needs. Without such faith and deliverance by our federal government we cannot survive as a nation.
What is the greatest need of the American people today that a government of, by and for the American people should respond to? JOBS!
The problem with this dysfunction Congress is that it is not keeping faith with the American people by providing them with their greatest need - JOBS.
Every member of Congress takes the following oath: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic…" When we take that oath, but leave 25 million people either unemployed or underemployed, internally we are creating potential domestic enemies.
I think I've demonstrated that all of us have faith - we couldn't live if we didn't have faith. But to have faith in a GOVERNMENT means that a government that is actually of, by and for the people must be responsive to the peoples' needs. So when Congress or members of Congress say - through words, deeds, actions or inaction - that the federal government can't help, it destroys the American peoples' faith in their government.
The greatest material need of the American people today is jobs, jobs, jobs. The greatest need of the American economy today is aggregate demand. The most effective and efficient way to meet the need for jobs and aggregate demand - in the spirit of FDR - is for the federal government to directly hire workers to do the work that needs to be done. The result of the federal government investing, building and growing our economy, and creating full employment, will be the restoration of faith in government.
For the last 30 years we have been bombarded with Ronald Reagan's conservative negative government rhetoric, "Government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem."
Now that's an interesting phrase. How can a government of, by and for the people be the problem? Logically, it says either we don't have a government of, by and for the people; or the people are the problem. So the first thing we must do to counter this negative Reagan propaganda is to have the federal government do positive things to restore the American peoples' faith in government and in themselves.
Among the many things that the addition of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution did during the First Reconstruction after the American Civil War was to help to restore peoples' faith in the federal government.
In taking over Herbert Hoover's mess of conservative economics - complacency, limited federal action and inaction - the first thing that Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal did: by the closing of banks to stop the run on currency and gold; Social Security for the aged; regulation of investment by the SEC; agricultural assistance to needy farmers; the Wagner Act that benefited working men and women; the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) and the Works Progress Administration that put people back to work - was to restore faith in the federal government.
Lyndon Johnson's Great Society - who's War on Poverty worked and dramatically reduced poverty, Medicare for the elderly, Medicaid for the poor, Elementary and Secondary Education Act for students, the 1964 Public Accommodations Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act for African Americans - for most Americans, those actions and programs restored faith in the federal government.
I. JOBS, JOBS, JOBS Today, in order to restore the American peoples' faith in government, the federal government must "jump start" the private economy by "priming the pump" and creating jobs. What do we need to do? Move the money; jobs not cuts; tax the rich; stop the wars; bring our troops home!
What does "move the money" mean? It means we need to create a second economic stimulus, not because the first one failed - it worked; stopping us from going into the abyss - but because the hole was deeper than we originally thought.
My conservative colleagues in both parties are like the man whose house caught on fire and he tried to put it out with his garden hose - and it didn't work. You know what he concluded? Water doesn't put out fire. But that was the wrong conclusion. He should have concluded that he needed more water and a bigger hose.
President Obama's original stimulus has given us 20 months of private jobs growth, but we need more to get us back on track. We need the President's AMERICAN JOBS ACT.
We need Rep. Jan Schakowsky's EMERGENCY JOBS TO RESTORE THE AMERICAN DREAM ACT.
And we need the plan that I'm putting together, the INVEST, BUILD, GROW & FULL EMPLOYMENT ACT."
In March of 2009 Congress passed the first economic stimulus which included $757 billion intended to save or create 2-to-2 1/2 million jobs over two years. It succeeded, but it wasn't enough.
In December, 2010, Congress passed an $858 billion bill extending the Bush-era tax cuts, which is expected to create 3 million jobs over the next two years. It may - but it's not enough.
That's $1.6 trillion over 4 years that we've invested to create between 5-and-5 1/2 million jobs - and we'll probably succeed. But it's not enough!
We need a plan that fits the size of the problem! We need something more and something more efficient and effective to put 15 million Americans back to work. Tax cuts are the worst and most inefficient way to create jobs. By congressional standards, $900 billion is not a lot of money - especially when it is used to jump start the $15 trillion GDP that is the American economy.
If we could afford $712 billion to fight a war abroad in Iraq, we can afford $900 billion to put Americans back to work at home. We can move the money from those who can afford to give more to those who need it - and not hurt anyone. That's how we keep faith with the American people!
We need to do what FDR did during the Great Depression - have the federal government directly hire workers. "In times of economic crisis, government has a crucially important role to play. People matter. Results count. And we don’t need to go too far back in our history to find examples," said Michael Hiltzik, the Pulitzer Prize winning author and LA Times reporter, who explored this issue in his latest book, The New Deal: A Modern History. For those of my conservative colleagues in both parties who say the government can't and doesn't create jobs, he writes, “The WPA [Works Progress Administration] produced...1,000 miles of new and rebuilt airport runways, 651,000 miles of highway, 124,000 bridges, 8,000 parks, and 18,000 playgrounds and athletic fields; some 84,000 miles of drainage pipes, 69,000 highway light standards, and 125,000 public buildings built, rebuilt or expanded. Among the latter were 41,300 schools. The transformative power of this effort is inestimable.”
FDR, using the federal government, directly created jobs because it took jobs to do all of that!
FDR invested in and built up an entire region with the TVA - the Tennessee Valley Authority.
The Public Works Administration built the Grand Coulee Dam in the State of Washington and put 8,000 men to work starting in 1933 using materials from 46 states.
In Southern California, the PWA helped repair or replace 536 school buildings damaged or destroyed by the great Long Beach earthquake of March 10, 1933.
In Florida, the PWA built the Overseas Highway, 127 miles of causeways and bridges connecting the mainland and Key West and transformed the island into one of America's premier tourist attractions.
In New York City, the PWA built the Triborough Bridge that connected three of the City's five boroughs and it funded the building of LaGuardia Airport.
Hoover Dam, once known as Boulder Dam, is located in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River on the border between Arizona and Nevada. It was constructed between 1931 and 1936 during the Great Depression and in July, 1934 it employed over 5,000 workers building the dam.
And in my home City of Chicago the Lake Shore Drive Bridge was started in 1929 but the Great Depression prevented its completion until the WPA delivered funds in the mid-1930s. When completed in 1937, the bridge was 356 feet long and 100 feet wide, making it the world's longest and widest bascule bridge - i.e., moveable or draw-bridge - a type of bridge that was developed and perfected in Chicago and used for many of its river crossings.
So don't tell me that the federal government can't create jobs - millions of jobs if it wants to!
And we already have an economic model - the CCC, WPA and PWA in FDR's New Deal. If we have the political will - the first phase of an over-all 6-year $2.2 trillion proposal - we can take $600 billion, jump start this economy by hiring 15 million workers directly at an average annual salary of $40,000 - some $20,000; some $60,000 depending on the job - to invest in America. These projects will rebuild our infrastructure, put Americans back to work and create aggregate demand - the greatest need of this economy - and the aggregate demand will bring the $2-to-2.5 trillion in private money sitting on the sideline back into the game because there will be a market for the goods and services the private economy produces. The investment of private money will create even more jobs and all of these workers both in the public and private economies will be paying taxes. At the same time the number of Americans dependent on the federal government for unemployment compensation and food stamps and more will be reduced, which will help to lower the deficit and the debt faster than any other current proposal.
The American Society of Civil Engineers has proposed a similar 5-year $2.2 trillion plan to build and rebuild America's infrastructure for the future.
In 2011, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers, states have a combined debt of almost $200 billion. The Federal Government should bail them out and give Democratic and Republican governors and state legislatures a clean economic slate.
Our cities and counties are in debt. Set aside another $100 billion to bail out most, if not all, of them and give Democratic and Republican county presidents and commissioners, mayors and city councils, a clean economic slate - e.g., $700 million in Chicago; $48 million in DC.
So for a mere $900 billion - which is slightly more than each of the last two stimulus packages - we can bail out all states, most if not all of our counties and cities and put 15 million Americans back to work. The only thing we lack is the political will.
So again I say, we need to restore peoples' faith in government by moving the money; creating jobs not cuts; taxing the rich; stopping the wars; and bringing our troops home!
II. INEQUALITY OF INCOME AND WEALTH Robert Reich in his latest book, Aftershock, argues that the central challenge at the heart of America's ongoing economic predicament is, and I quote: "not to rebalance the global economy so that Americans save more and borrow less from the rest of the world. It is to rebalance the American economy so that its benefits are shared more widely in America." In other words, America's jobs and aggregate demand problems cannot be solved with the current mal-distribution of income and wealth, which is at the heart of our economic problems.
What mal-distribution am I talking about? According to the most recent non-partisan CBO report, and again I quote directly: "The top 1% of earners more than doubled their share of the nation’s income over the last three decades….In addition, government policy has become less redistributive since the late 1970s, doing less to reduce the concentration of income….The equalizing effect of federal taxes was smaller in 2007 than in 1979, as the composition of federal revenues shifted away from progressive income taxes to less-progressive payroll taxes. Also, federal benefit payments are doing less to even out the distribution of income, as a growing share of benefits, like Social Security, goes to older Americans, regardless of their income. From 1979 to 2007, average inflation-adjusted after-tax income grew by 275% for the 1% of the population with the highest income. For others in the top 20% of the population, average real after-tax household income grew by 65%. By contrast, for the poorest fifth of the population, average real after-tax household income rose 18%. And for the 3/5ths of people in the middle of the income scale, the growth in such household income was just under 40%."
In other words, the "class warfare" that the Republicans have been reacting to and complaining about is exactly the opposite of what they say it is.
It hasn't been class warfare by the poor and the middle class against the rich. The middle class and the poor are not jealous of the rich - and they are especially not jealous those who are part of the "greedy rich."
The middle class and the poor have not been attacking the real job creators. Yes, they're opposed to giving more tax breaks - as the Republicans want to do - to the so-called job creators who already have $2-to-2 1/2 trillion dollars sitting idle on the sideline and who have not used that money to create jobs.
But, make no mistake about it, there is class warfare going on. The non-partisan CBO just documented that it's been class warfare by the rich against the middle class and the poor! That's what really has been happening!
III. RESTORING FAITH IN GOVERNMENT We live in a representative democracy. Democracy is a government of, by and for the people. A government of, by and for the people will be responsive and meet the material needs of its people and the peoples' economy.
We don't really have an economic problem - at least one we can't solve. Again, we have a political problem with my conservative colleagues in both parties in this Congress. We have a problem of the American people not demanding of their federal government that it meet their need for jobs and the resulting economic aggregate demand. The people of Occupy Wall Street, Occupy LaSalle Street, Occupy Oakland and the other 99% movements that are springing up and becoming active around this country - and around the world - are beginning to demand that democratic governments everywhere address the existing economic inequality and be responsive to their need for meaningful jobs at livable wages. In 2010, the Tea Party movement became politically active and moved Congress in a more conservative direction. If the "Occupy" movements are to bring about real change, they must become politically active in 2012 and beyond. They need to move Congress in a more progressive direction - a direction that fits their needs. Just like the ultra-conservative Tea Party movement pressured moderate Republicans to stiffen their backs on the conservative things Republicans say they believe in, so too the Occupy movements must pressure Democrats to stiffen their backs on the liberal things that Democrats say they believe in. We already know that my conservative colleagues in both parties believe in states' rights and deregulation, which will allow the private economy and market forces to reek havoc on the economy and on most Americans like it did in the first decade of the 21st century.
We already know conservatives in both parties believe in trickledown economics - that never trickles down, but always floods up.
We already know the consequences to the economy, workers and society of such laissez faire policies - bank crises that bring about or threaten Great Depressions, failed corporations, disastrous home foreclosure crises, high unemployment and corrupt politics.
We already know what conservatives on both sides of the political aisle will bring us.
But will progressive Democrats strongly advocate for bringing the American people anything better? So I want to challenge myself and all of my Democratic colleagues to do more.
We say we care about the poor - well, let's give the poor some boot straps so they can lift themselves up.
We say we care about the working class - well, let's advocate for a solution that fits the size of the problem and create enough jobs to employ the unemployed and put all Americans back to work.
We say we want more home ownership - well, let's propose meaningfully solutions to address the housing foreclosure crisis.
We say we're for the middle class - well, let's advocate for policies that will restore the middle classes' previous standard of living. We say we support students - well, let's help them reduce their college debts.
We say we support small businesses - let's advocate for policies that will help small businesses grow and enable them to hire more workers.
We need to stand with family farmers, like the Johnson's in my district, and against agri-business when they threaten to drive the Johnsons out of business.
CONCLUSION So I say, put America back to work. Invest in America. Rebuild America. Grow the America economy. End the housing foreclosure crisis. Enable college students to go back to school. Retrain our workers. Save our children. Save our family farms. Rebuild our bridges, ports, sewer and water systems. Build high speed rail, public transportation, ports, levees and new airports. Invest in alternative energy sources - wind, solar, biomass and geothermal.
We can do better! Register and vote for politicians who will better represent the real economic interests of the American people!
We can act! We can change things! We can restore faith in government and the private sector, and restore hope in the American people!
We must invest, build and grow our economy in order to accomplish full employment. We must challenge ourselves - all of us - to do better. Thank you very much for inviting me and for listening so intently.
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By Ashlee Rezin Friday June 29th, 2012, Progress Illinois
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