Tuesday, January 27, 2009


The presidential election didn’t stop the conservative crazies. They’re coming out of the woodwork again.

Congressman John Boehner — formerly an upholder of the Bush borrow-and-spend program that helped run the United States into the ground — is now criticizing Obama for a borrow-and-spend program.

This is just when, thanks to the previous administration, we have no other choice if we ever want to dig ourselves out of the financial mess we're in.

And since tax-cuts for the rich were great for the rich but ultimately didn’t do much for the economy — just look where we were before Bush got elected and where we are now, after the Bush tax cuts — bonehead Boehner is avocating…well, you almost guessed it!

Boehner wants tax cuts that would lower tax rates while essentially giving nothing to the poor and unemployed. Yet it's the poor and jobless who would have no choice but to pour their money into the economy as fast as more comfortable citizens have shunted their tax refunds to the banks in the past.

I’m not wildly enamored of the currently evolving Obama program either. It tries to make nice to too many uncooperative forces, including the likes of economic obstructionists like Congressman Boehner.

On the other hand, at least the Obama tax cuts and credits for the struggling middle class and poor will quickly inject some money into the economy, as will a program of infrastructure repair. However…

Here's what we need most

We’ve got to start thinking long term. Highway repairs are just another temporary palliative.

Yes, we need to repair infrastructure. Desperately. But we also need the equivalent of the space program of the 1960s and the Manhattan Project in the 1940s to create new American technological advances, prosperity and new industries. Otherwise, 20 nears from now, in our ever-weakening “service economy,” we’ll all still be grubbing a living by taking in our neighbors' laundry and flipping each others’ hamburgers.

Parts of this got talked about during the election campaign. Why, oh why, has it almost gone away?

We need programs to fund nonprofit laboratories in universities and governmental facilities, from which the technologies (and the technical innovators) of the future will emerge.

We need to educate the engineers and architects who can build not only the cars and transportation systems of the future, but also the homes and offices and (let us pray) factories of the future.

Let America become the world’s leader in developing and manufacturing wind turbines rather than coal plants.

Let’s be innovators in making power-generating light cells rather than buzz-generating celebrity gossip.

Let’s pioneer more energy-efficient and less toxic ways to dispose of waste.

Instead of developing new and improved anthrax strains for germ warfare, how about putting government scientists to work on anti-malarial drugs to replace the ones that are losing effectiveness against new strains of the disease? Let’s have a government push to create a truly effective an AIDS vaccine. And better (and cheaper) anti-cancer drugs.

Now that we can begin thinking seriously about stem cell research again, how about a government-funded push at universities to become stem cell innovators?

Better teachers, free college tuition

How about a government-funded program to train and pay for a legion of well-paid and inspirational science teachers —a program that will not only increase employment in the near future, but also supply well-trained Americans to develop new technologies? If we attract the most innovative minds to education, not only will education in this nation become better but fewer people will spend their time devising arcane and mischievous financial derivative training programs.

How about a free — yes, that’s free — college tuition program. It’s outrageous, for example, that a Ph.D or M.D. finishes his or her education carrying a debt big enough to mortgage a McMansion. Little wonder some of the smartest young graduates have been headed to Wall Street where they were able to pay back these crushing debts quickly — and ultimately at the expense of the nation.

Free (and all right, dirt cheap) city and state colleges helped make the United States the 20th Century’s most innovative nation. Then, late last century, we started charging more and more for tuition and insisting that more and more students borrow the money to get their degrees. Now we’re a nation of increasingly desperate, debt-ridden money-grubbers.

Yes, fix the roads. Yes, fix all the infrastructure. We need to do that. But listen up: all that won’t really fix the economy until we also fix our thinking.

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