Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Movement to Bring the Troops and Tax Dollars Home

'Work for Peace':

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Gil Scott-Heron left us more legacies of consequence than we can count. But few stand the test of time so well as his song “Work for Peace,” with its reflection on the military-industrial complex—“the only thing wrong with Peace is that you can't make no money from it”—and his charge: 

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John Nichols
John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated...

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The American experiment was founded on the principle that "permanent war" was to be avoided, as it posed the greatest threat to liberty. This Memorial Day, Americans should recommit to that wise premise.
Real revolutions will never be televised. But the man who told us that revolutionized music and movements. 
I don't want to sound like no late night commercial,
but it’s a matter of fact that there are thousands of children all over the
world in Asia and Africa and in South America who need our help....
Nobody can do everything,
but everybody can do something,
everyone must play a part,
everyone got to go to work, Work for Peace.

 It is often claimed that the United States does not have much of an antiwar movement these days.
That’s the lie perpetuated by a media that does not care to cover politics or government, let alone activism, in any realistic sense.
The fact of the matter is that, when Congress voted last week on the omnibus defense authorization bill, energetic lobbying by grassroots peace activists across the country produced some of the most muscular antiwar votes seen on the Hill in decades.
On the question of President Obama’s undeclared assault on Libya should be allowed to extend from an air war to a ground war,416 House members (233 Republicans, 183 Democrats) voted “no.”
On the question of whether it was time for the Pentagon to begin developing an Afghanistan exit strategy, the numbers were not quite as strong. But they were striking when compared to past votes on the issue. A total of 204 House members (178 Democrats, 26 Republicans) voted “yes,” versus 215 (207 Republicans, eight Democrats) “no” votes.
On the final question of whether to authorize funding for maintaining the undeclared wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, and to expend more than half a trillion more dollars on the extension of the military-industrial complex about which President Eisenhower and Gil Scott-Heron warned, ninety-six House members (ninety Democrats and six Republicans) voted “no.”
Now the debate goes to the Senate, and the time to really get to work for peace is at hand.
Tim Carpenter and the veteran peace activists who form the core of Progressive Democrats of America are mounting a national campaign to highlight the cost to American prosperity and liberty that comes when the country’s energy and resources are steered into maintaining undeclared wars and massively over funding the preparation for war.
The message to the Senate is a simple one: “Bin Laden is dead; the Afghanistan mission is accomplished. It is time to bring our troops and war dollars home and start addressing the very real hardships facing Americans, including providing comprehensive healthcare for all and the spiraling costs of healthcare.”
To do that, Carpenter and PDA argue, senators should vote for proposals to begin an orderly withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan while signing on as cosponsors of Senator Bernie Sanders’s legislation to replace America’s broken for-profit healthcare system with a humane and fiscally responsible “Medicare for All” system that provides care according to a single-payer, not-for-profit model.
PDA hopes to get 25,000 Americans to sign a letter outlining this agenda that will be delivered to members of the Senate Democratic Caucus on June 7, the day that thousands of National Nurses United union members and their allies will rally in Washington on behalf of healthcare for all and a reordering of national priorities that puts care for those in need ahead of bailouts for defense contractors, big banks and multinational corporations.
Frankly, 25,000 is a modest goal.
PDA can and should exceed that number, if enough Americans are ready to do a little more “working for peace” by signing the letter.
Dear Democratic Senators,
We, the undersigned, express our support for the Democratic National Committee (DNC) Afghanistan Withdrawal Resolution, introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee and passed on February 26, 2011.
We support the American Health Security Act of 2011 (S.915), sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders, which will move us to a single-payer healthcare system.
The resolution and Sanders' S.915 express the intent of the Healthcare NOT Warfare campaign, which is to eliminate unnecessary military spending and redirect those funds to meet the very real need for comprehensive health coverage for all.
The vast majority of Americans are facing economic hardship brought on by policies that have favored the elite over working families. Foreclosures, high unemployment, bankruptcies, and loss of equity, savings, and pensions, accompanied by the rising costs of food, education, gasoline, and energy, have impacted the lives of most Americans.
While much of this problem was created on Wall Street and the failure of regulatory bodies to protect us, we recognize that the spiraling costs of healthcare and continuing to fight a war of choice in Afghanistan are responsible for a significant portion of the national debt and the hardships many Americans face.
With two major spending bills facing the Senate—the Defense Authorization Act and the 2012 budget—we encourage Senate Democrats to offer amendments that will cut unnecessary military spending and redirect those funds to providing healthcare for all and preserving and expanding Social Security and Medicare.
As peace and justice advocates, we expect our Democratic Senators will follow the lead of the Party that elected them and act in compliance with the will of the majority of U.S. citizens by taking necessary steps to begin a significant drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, beginning in July, as dictated in the DNC Resolution. In addition, we ask that Democratic Senators move to contain the spiraling costs of healthcare and address the 47 million Americans currently lacking access to healthcare by co-sponsoring the American Health Security Act of 2011.

A Leaner, Meaner Defense Strategy Can Reduce the Deficit

Tuesday, 05/31/2011 - 2:22 pm by Reese Neader | One Comment
us-great-sealAs the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network releases its progressive, practical Budget for a Millennial America, those who helped craft it will explain their innovative ideas and tough choices in a series of posts. Reese Neader outlines five key changes to defense that would make us safer while saving us money.
To achieve our long-term fiscal sustainability goals and win the 21st century, we need to rethink our approach to national defense. Any serious plan to address our long-term debt will include cuts to defense spending, not just because we spend too much on defense, but also because our current spending priorities do not address the changing threats to US national security.
The Roosevelt Institute Campus Network has released its Budget for Millennial America, a plan for fiscal sustainability that reflects the long-term values and priorities of the next American generation. A key piece of our budget is a defense spending plan that outlines a ‘Millennial Grand Strategy,’ which cuts wasteful defense spending and makes investments to ensure our future security.
During the Cold War, there was a clear overarching goal for US foreign policy: contain and defeat communism. But since its end, when the US became the world’s only superpower, we have operated without a coherent long-term strategy that defines our position in the international system, outlines our goals for engagement with other countries, and provides a plan for ensuring that our foreign policy builds our national prosperity. We need a ‘Grand Strategy’ to ensure that America wins the 21st century. Our plan includes five key components:
1. Confront New Threats
There are approximately 440,000 US troops stationed or deployed overseas, close to the number overseas at the close of the Cold War. The threats to US national security have changed dramatically since the fall of the Berlin Wall; rogue non-state actors, transnational criminal networks, and failing states that serve as safe havens for extremism are the new security threats. These new challenges demand a new strategic approach. By rebalancing the deployment of US forces overseas away from Cold War bases in Europe and East Asia, the US can be more responsive and agile in addressing global threats. And by ending costly wars of occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan, US forces can be redirected towards supporting small-scale counter-terrorism operations like the recent, successful campaign to eliminate Osama bin Laden.
2. Deploy New Tools
War is always the result of political failure. By investing in the infrastructure of developing countries and engaging in effective diplomacy with the international community, the US can save trillions of dollars by avoiding potential conflicts. There is strong bi-partisan consensus that 21st century threats need to be addressed with a mix of foreign policy tactics, placing a stronger emphasis on development and diplomacy as effective tools of statecraft, a concept commonly referred to as “smart power.” The government needs to reform our foreign policy institutions to encourage cooperation and collaboration between networks. This approach will require rebalancing funding levels for the State Department and US foreign assistance programs. By mixing the use of defense, development, and diplomacy, the United States can reduce expenditures and work more effectively to ensure global stability.
3. Share the Cost of Security
America can also fight more effectively by working closely with its partners to decrease the risk of polarization and militarization in the international system. Instead of always shouldering the burden to preserve global stability, the US can work as a “super-partner” with its allies, providing key assistance to regional powers. In effect, the U.S. will get more bang for its buck, reducing spending on intervention and increasing the impact of foreign aid by getting the same security results for less dollars spent.
4. Fix a Broken Procurement System
While the US military has made commendable strides towards modernizing its fighting force to address current threats to the international system, Congress has consistently refused to reform a broken weapons procurement system. Every year, billions of dollars are wasted in paying for weapons programs that the military doesn’t want because defense contractors have close relationships with Congress. Instead of spending money in an efficient and transparent manner, Congress continues to support a system that operates like a corporate welfare giveaway. Our military needs the ability to more tightly control the arms procurement process and modernize its fighting forces to address 21st century threats.
5. Build Shared Prosperity on Renewable Energy
Our military also keeps our country safe by promoting American prosperity. Many major commercial innovations of the past 75 years have come, directly or indirectly, from military research: satellites, the microchip, the Internet. Right now, the innovations will need to come in building a new energy infrastructure. During the 20th century, American prosperity was ensured in large part by access to cheap and reliable oil. But in the 21st century, we will have to transition toward using renewable energy resources. Investing in renewable energy research now will help ensure America’s global leadership, promote our continued prosperity, and save us money by diverting potential future conflicts over access to energy. The US military has correctly identified climate change and energy security as key threats to our national security. With increased funding channeled from other savings in our proposal, the Department of Defense can be positioned to lead our country’s efforts towards achieving energy independence in the 21st century.
To achieve our long-term fiscal goals and win the 21st century, we need to rethink our approach to national defense. Not only does our ‘Millennial Grand Strategy,’ part of the Budget for Millennial America, make sense given our budget and global resource constraints, but it also expresses sound policies that will save America money, restore our image abroad, and save American lives.
Reese Neader is the Roosevelt Campus Network’s Policy Director.

If Millennials Ruled... the Budget

 May 25, 2011
 Caitlin Johnson SparkAction

John Boehner (R-OH) has said it. Alan Simpson, the co-chairman of President Obama’s Fiscal Responsibility Commission has said it too: our ballooning debt is stealing from our grandchildren. We need a responsible federal budget in order to preserve our nation for our grandchildren. We have to make sacrifices now, for the sake of our children and grandchildren’s future.

Now, those "grandchildren" are weighing in themselves.

BUDGETOn May 25, the progressive student policy organization the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network released its Budget for Millennial America, a rigorous and concrete federal budget plan that lowers the deficit while making investments in the areas that thousands of Millennials (young people ages 18 to 24) identified as priorities.

"The implications of this debate rest on the shoulders of our generation by and large, so it’s important to have a generational voice in this debate," says Hilary Doe, national director of the Network.

"We want to help design the future we're going to inherit," she says.

The Budget was released along with five other budget alternatives as part of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation’s 2011 Fiscal Summit: Solutions for America's Future, which challenged six organizations from across the political spectrum to develop  sound long-term fiscal policy to "resolve these problems for a generation or more."

The other plans come from more traditional economic think tanks—the American  Enterprise Institute, the Bipartisan Policy Center, the Center for American Progress, the  Economic Policy Institute, and the Heritage Foundation. Each group received a $200,000 grant from the Peterson Foundation to design the plans.

To enable comparisons, the budgets use as a common starting point the long-term projections from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), and each was analyzed and scored by the CBO, the Tax Policy Center and Barry Anderson.

The Millennial Budget—to date the only citizen-produced deficit reduction plan to receive a CBO score—tries to tackle the root causes of economic problems, as its creators see them. It prioritizes domestic investments in infrastructure, education and the social safety net along with reforms to health care, and includes a "Too Big to Fail" tax designed to stabilize the financial sector.

Its creators question the prevailing call for across-the-board cuts and idea of "shared sacrifice" as the best or only solution.

"When we surveyed the landscape of America, we felt that lower- and middle-income people really shouldn’t have to sacrifice more than they already have over the last 30 years of economic growth in this country," says Zachary Kolodin, 26, who directs the Roosevelt Institute’s Future Preparedness Initiative. "So we designed a plan that actually cuts taxes for most lower- and middle-income people, that makes investments in education and health care that make those services better for all Americans, but especially for middle and lower income people,"

Big Ideas—Beyond Idealism

The Budget for Millennial America builds on Roosevelt's Think2040 work over the past year to develop aBlueprint for Millennial America, in which more than 3,000 young people from diverse communities worked together (in person and online) to develop a shared vision for the future of the nation.

The result was an ambitious, entrepreneurial and, its creators say, inspiring blueprint.

"Whenever someone comes up with something like that, especially young people, people chalk it up to idealism -- 'Great, its cute you want to invest here or there, I was idealistic at 19 too, but it's just not possible, there’s no money for it," Doe told SparkAction.

Now, budget (and CBO score) in hand, "we can show we're serious about paying for it," Doe said.

Roosevelt’s Budget for Millennial America was calculated entirely by young people ages 18 to 26, working in small workgroups around key areas like defense, health, and tax policy. A panel of nine expert advisors—including economist Dean Baker, Social Security expert Virginia Reno, and James Klumpner, a longtime Democratic Chief Economist with Congress—were available to answer questions and reality check ideas.

“They didn’t start the conversation," says Kolodin. "They didn't come in and give a presentation, but rather we let students start with their vision and then run it by the experts, bouncing ideas off of them but not allowing them to dictate the process."

Like Congress, workgroup members quickly found that it’s not easy to reach consensus.

Chris Scanzoni, a 20-year-old student at UNC Chapel Hill, was part of the Defense working group. He called the experience “very empowering.”

“We would pore over briefs and reports and different recommendations by other institutes as well as official recommendations in Congress or legislation, and we’d come together … and hash out every issue, and come to agreement about where we should cut and where, in some cases, to augment,” he says.

Milad Alucozai, a Purdue University student from Kabul, Afghanistan, says the Millennial Budget “Is a great blend of ideas. Would I agree with everything in it? No. But that's the beauty of it, that’s the Millennial approach; there are a lot of different perspectives and voices that went into this."

What's Next?

The Millennials behind this budget say they will continue to promote these ideas at the national level, and hope today's Fiscal Summit is the start of a larger, broader conversation.

"Economists talk about the big budget items like [social security and health care] and don’t as often flesh out discretionary spending. It really needs to be a much wider discussion – one that's not just about making an equation equal but about the kind of America we want to live in, the kind of future we want. We need to start there and then figure out how to pay for it," says Hilary Doe.

Doe, Kolodin and the other creators hope this will help democratize the budget process, encouraging citizens, young and old, to participate, rather than defer to economists and experts. (Learn more about “participatory budgeting.")

There is also significant local work. In the six months between the release of the BluePrint and the Budget, Roosevelt members have been active in communities and states across the country to enact their policy ideas and priorities.

In December, Roosevelt will release an update to its Blueprint, and is inviting Millennials across the country to share their ideas.

Get streaming video and all six budget plans on the Peterson Fiscal Summit page.

Millennials Demand a Stronger, More Flexible Safety Net

Friday, 05/27/2011 - 9:47 am by Zachary Kolodin | 2 Comments
jobless-man-150As the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network releases its progressive, practical Budget for a Millennial America, those who helped craft it will explain their innovative ideas and tough choices in a series of posts. Zachary Kolodin envisions a safety net that grows stronger in recessions to catch those falling out of the workforce.
I graduated from college in 2007, entering the job market just as it was teetering toward collapse, and have been incredibly fortunate to have a job during this tumultuous time. But I have watched dozens of my friends — capable, engaged people — struggle with job loss, unemployment, financial problems, and debt during these critical formative years. This has been the experience of almost every Millennial in the job market since the Great Recession swept away the economic growth of the 1990s and 2000s.
As a result, Millennials grasp the importance of having a strong social safety net better than any generation in recent memory. Having experienced the economic storm viscerally, my generation has come to understand the importance of unemployment benefits and subsidized health insurance, and the difficulty of acquiring new skills in America once you’re unemployed.
During the worst of the recession, and even now as unemployment hangs uncomfortably at 9%, Millennials have found America’s safety net in retreat just as it is needed most. State budgets, which fund many core social programs, dry up in economic downturns, leaving people in need with no where to turn. The Roosevelt Institute Campus Network found Millennials wanting a safety net that grows stronger during difficult times, providing even more robust benefits, rather than shriveling up when budgets face challenges.
In the past 30 years, the American economy has become more dynamic, more service-oriented, and more unpredictable. Yet the institutions that make up our social safety met have remained largely unchanged. Millennials want to remedy this oversight. The safety net should provide basic insurance for everyday Americans against the exigencies of a dynamic, flexible economy. Furthermore, it should help Americans rebound when their careers are sidetracked by industrial shifts out of their control.
To accomplish these essential goals, the Budget for the Millennial America proposes two key additions to the safety net:
1. An automatic stimulus plan that ensures states can continue to provide much-needed social services even when tax revenues dry up during recessions.
2. A new kind of worker retraining program designed specifically for the 21st century economy.
The recent recession proved that states do not have the tools they need to fight downturns when they occur. Combining an auto-stimulus plan with a State Budget Bank that can provide lending to states to fill budget holes during economic downturns will give them the firepower they need to continue to support health insurance for the elderly, needy, and young, and to keep education strong during tough times. Without this change, we can expect to once again see American society begin to unravel at the seams during recessions.
Zachary Kolodin is the Director of the Future Preparedness Initiative at the Roosevelt Institute.

Want to Reduce the Federal Debt? End Too Big to Fail

Thursday, 05/26/2011 - 10:53 am by Zachary Kolodin | 4 Comments
too-big-to-fail-license-plate-banker-new-yorkAs the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network releases its progressive, practical Budget for a Millennial America, those who helped craft it will explain their innovative ideas and tough choices in a series of posts. Zachary Kolodin calls on the US to both rein in Wall Street and expand access to capital.
American politicos have discovered that our national debt is rising but haven’t come to grips with how we got here and how to prevent it from happening again. When the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network started preparing its Budget for the Millennial America, we wanted to find solutions that not only dig our way out of a fiscal ditch, but also prevent the U.S. from again stumbling into that hole. This approach embodies the Millennial Generation’s desire to build a prosperous future, rather than just get by crisis to crisis.
We identified four key drivers of the debt: rising health care costs, the Bush-era tax cuts, wars of occupation without clear goals, and financial sector instability. What stood out to us about problems in the financial sector was that the Congressional Budget Office doesn’t take them into account. Stock market crashes that wipe out trillions in savings and jobs? Not scoreable by the CBO. Unprecedented bailouts costing hundreds of billions of dollars? Not scoreable. So you won’t see financial sector reform in most budget hawks’ agendas. In fact, Paul Ryan’s budget rolls back the reforms in the Dodd-Frank bill. But we all saw what happened in 2008 and 2009 when the Wall Street collapse demanded hundreds of billions of federal dollars, and dragged the rest of the economy down with it. We know that we can’t claim a responsible federal budget until we stop promising to bailout the big banks. So we started thinking about how our budget proposal could stabilize the financial system.
If big banks are too powerful to be effectively regulated by the various agencies in charge of regulating them, then we had to find another way. Our answer was simple: make being “Too Big to Fail” unprofitable. Our budget proposes a 25% financial activities tax on institutions exceeding $200 billion in assets. This tax would affect the top 12 largest banks in the United States, forcing them to split up their activities into new companies. These new companies would pose significantly less risk to the global financial system, since they would no longer be “too big to fail.”
Having experienced the fallout of an under-regulated, bubble-chasing financial sector, Millennials are committed to making the Wall Street of the 21st century a vehicle for strengthening America. The “Too Big to Fail” tax is the first step in that journey, but it doesn’t stop there.
The Blueprint for the Millennial America, which was the basis for creating the budget, calls for a level playing field for entrepreneurship. One of the foundations is equitable access to capital. Yet, despite its remarkable growth in the past 20 years, U.S. banking has not improved this access. Now that we are devoting 17% of U.S. GDP to banking, can we claim even a single improvement in the allocation of capital?
Moving forward, we recommend new public policy that leverages the expertise of the financial sector to ensure better access to capital for all Americans — particularly in our rural areas and inner cities. The Intersect Fund, a nonprofit organization started by Roosevelt Campus Network alum Joe Shure that provides microloans to jumpstart social mobility through entrepreneurship, offers a small-scale model for what the financial sector can achieve on a large scale. The Budget for the Millennial America offers the promise of an America in which the financial sector again empowers Americans, rather than causing anxiety over the federal debt. As we work toward that goal, let us not be confined by the 21st century paradigm of concentrated capital. The America we inherit can be one of democratized access to capital.
Zachary Kolodin is the Director of the Future Preparedness Initiative at the Roosevelt Institute.