I guess the big news from this weekend is that some guy in Iraq winged a pair of shoes at President Bush's head. All the news reports are telling us that this is a "sign of contempt" in Iraq, but it's hard to think of a place in the world where it would be a sign of anything else. It may not be universal, but it'd still be a pretty clear signal of disrespect anywhere you go -- "And now, in our traditional welcome, we shall batter you with shoes..." Still, shoes must be dirt cheap in Iraq, because you know that guy's probably not getting them back. I'm sticking with flipping the bird. Especially in this economy.
The shoe story has been so big that it's knocked other stories off the front page. Blagejovich has become "Blag-who-evich?" If the Governor of Illinois had known that was all it took to take the media heat off him for a moment or two, he might've hired someone to throw a pair of size 10s himself. That's one way to get a little breathing room.
But the shoe-chucker also knocked a developing story off the media radar this weekend. And that story's bigger than Blago. It's a developing story with international implications. Where the neocons in the Bush administration thought they could rebuild the world by knocking stuff down and blowing people up, others want to rebuild the world by rebuilding the world.
And if there was ever a time that the world needed rebuilding, it's now. The financial crisis is global, leaving no nation untouched. At the same time, we're facing what many recognize as the challenge of our lifetime -- if not of our young century -- global warming. There's a growing consensus out there that these are two problems with a single solution.
[UN News Service:]
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called for renewed global solidarity to tackle the twin challenges of climate change and the financial crisis, telling ministers gathered at a United Nations conference in Poland that the world cannot afford to let economic woes hinder progress on “the defining challenge of our era.”
“The world is watching us. The next generation is counting on us. We must not fail,” he told participants from nearly 200 nations, who have been meeting for nearly two weeks as part of UN-led negotiations aimed at reaching an ambitious global climate change deal next year.
Secretary Ban used the term "Green New Deal" to describe what was needed. "An investment that fights climate change, creates millions of green jobs and spurs green growth," he said. "In short, our response to the economic crisis must advance climate goals, and our response to the climate crisis will advance economic and social goals."
This story followed other stories along the same lines. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi used a weekend interview to announce that she'd seek an even larger economic stimulus package than had previously been considered. "This week we had our most recent presentations from economists to tell us what -- how robust such a package should be in order to have an impact on the economy, to turn the economy around," she said on Bloomberg TV's Political Capital with Al Hunt. "Economists told us that the package had to be strong enough, half a trillion, $600 billion, somewhere near that." A large part of that would go toward broader internet access and green energy.
And Barack Obama's thinking even bigger:
President-elect Obama's transition team may double the size of a planned economic stimulus package in an effort to prevent soaring unemployment.
"Obama aides and advisers have set $600 billion over two years as 'a very low-end estimate,' one person familiar with the matter said," according to a report in Saturday's Wall Street Journal. "The final number is expected to be significantly higher, possibly between $700 billion and $1 trillion over two years."
"We won't do it the old Washington way," Obama said about his stimulus plan earlier this month. "We won't just throw money at the problem. We'll measure progress by the reforms we make and the results we achieve -- by the jobs we create, by the energy we save, by whether America is more competitive in the world."
Some see this as a return to the policies Franklin Roosevelt used to deal with the great depression. "Well, I think the government is back and we're all the better for it," says economic analyst Jeff Madrick. "In fact, the government has been away at least since Ronald Reagan...
"If we spend money at the federal level at propitious times, we can get that bottom we're talking about and begin to recover as well. Unemployment comes down. Incomes rise again... Our infrastructure is a mess. Our education needs reform. We're not attended to our energy needs, people well know now."
Economic theory has been bass-ackward since Reagan. And Bush's policies have only been an exaggeration of that trend. Where government needs to spend when times are bad and build surpluses when times are good, Republicans have been approaching everything in the opposite direction -- only worse. Spend money when times are good, borrow money when things are bad. You don't need to be economic genius to see that that's a bad idea. All the while, we're supposed to keep cutting taxes and expect government to operate on sunshine and happy thoughts. National debt skyrockets, wages stagnate, and the economy relies on paper shufflers who don't actually produce or sell anything.
On the other hand, you need something constructive to spend money on when times are bad. Some argue that it was WWII, not FDR's public works programs, that ended the depression. But that stops making sense when you think about it; we take our nation's wealth, convert it to bombs, and blow it up in Europe. As investments go, blowing up money doesn't strike me as a very good one. It was building bridges and highways and hydro-electric dams, while changing the disastrous environmental practices that led to the dustbowl, that got America on her feet again. Investments in infrastructure are investments that have returns -- we're still enjoying the fruits of those investments today. Had we followed the current Republican economic reasoning, our manufacturing base would've failed -- as it's failing today -- and we wouldn't even have had the capacity to blow up our money in Europe. If that doesn't kill the "war is good for the economy" idea, consider that we're in two wars now -- how's that working out for you? In any case, even the "war is good for the economy" argument admits that government spending helps in hard times.
So we find ourselves in a perfect time to deal with global warming. We need to invest in change, at a time when an investment in change is essential. There's a growing consensus in the world that this investment has to happen and that this investment is the way out of our mutual financial crisis. We've got the government to do it, we've got the means to do it, we've got an international call to do it.
Given that, I say we roll up our sleeves and do it.