"This disaster is not set to happen in some science fiction future many years ahead, but in our lifetime," Tony Blair warned shortly after acclaimed economist Sir Nicholas Stern calculated the costs of the climate crisis clusterfuck in 2006. "Investment now will pay us back many times in the future, not just environmentally but economically as well."
One person who was obviously listening to that sobering calculus was President-elect Barack Obama, who on Thursday finally publicized a green jobs initiative aimed at fortifying America's present infrastructure while tackling the hard work of building its green future shortly after he hits the White House later in January. Given the incompetent horror -- or lucrative apathy, depending on whether you're a principled economist or partisan hack -- of the Bush administration, Obama's optimistic policy could not have come at a better time. The day after his speech, a handful of reports further horrified: 2.6 million Americans lost their jobs in Bush's last year in office, the worst year for hard-working citizens since the end of World War II. Worst yet. On the same day another Tennessee Valley Authority dam broke, this time in Alabama, spilling toxic waste into Widow Creek.
But evidently these economic and environmental realities were not enough to wake even some Democrats out of their stupor. Rather than get the thing off the ground due to some portions of the stimulus package that, in the words of Kent Conrad (D-North Dakota), were "unlikely to be effective," such as tax credits for hiring employees or rebate checks for citizens clocking in under $200,000 a year, the Senate may have to work through its own President's Day holiday to hammer out a compromise. After all, some crow, the price tag is over $1 trillion dollars. We're not made of money!
Please. Democrats and Republicans alike simply couldn't wait to throw $700 billion of American taxpayers' hard-earned money down the rabbit hole, chucking stacks of cash to investment and savings banks, credit card companies, the Big Three automakers and basically anyone who came crawling to Capitol Hill asking for a handout. Government agencies have now committed nearly $8.5 trillion dollars to propping up the Ponzi schemes of Wall Street and their political enablers, who pawned off hyperreal hedge funds that were created from jump street to fail. In other words, to create our current Great Depression rerun.
"The worst aspect of this is that they were designed not to do what they were supposed to do," another noted economist, Joseph Stiglitz, told Bloomberg about Treasury's ridiculous plan to give money away to well-heeled nobodies for nothing. "In many ways, it's not only a giveaway, but a giveaway that was designed not to work."
But it is a new year and work is exactly what America needs to pull its head out of its ass. And due respect to Conrad, John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) and other politicians trying to skew Obama's stimulus straight, but now is not the time to sit on that ass and natter on about details. Eight years after you asked for pretty much everything but. The logic is simple: Bush designed the system to fail, and reward his backers. Obama is designing one to succeed, with his head in the right place and his heart asking for comparatively minor paychecks to be delivered to an over-stressed, out-of-work populace, in hopes of heading off a climate crisis that will probably make Children of Men look like Mary Poppins. Quibbling over $1,000 rebates to married couples or $3,000 tax breaks for hiring the unemployed is not just a waste of time. It's due negligence.
Chew on these numbers. Nicholas Stern argued in the Stern Review that not only will it take one percent of global GDP to avoid the worst effects of global warming, but that failure to reach that utterly reachable goal could downsize future global GDP by up to 20 percent. We've already spent more than that on Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, GMAC and other utterly compromised entities, in hopes of righting an economy that, like global warming itself, cannot be fixed without some hard work and serious sacrifice. We cannot spend our way out of the forthcoming dystopia, merely batten down the hatches, weatherize the world, and find some new sources of energy as fast as we can.
But we spend money every single day on lesser efforts than Obama's stimulus plan, so the argument that it needs to be perfect is, well, flawed. Stupidly, ignorantly flawed. The occupation of Iraq continues to bleed billions and trillions out of not just the American economy, but the global one, given all of its direct and peripheral impact. So $1.5 trillion isn't going to kill anybody, and neither is handing Joe and Jane America a paycheck of $1,000. What's going to kill us is inaction, which was more or less the wonky Stern's point.
And given that Obama, being both a symbol of hope and change in an age of increasing danger, is living on borrowed time, waiting is not an option. Let's get it on.