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Michael Miller

Viewpoint

By Michael Miller
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Depression

1. Let’s start here: The South Mall Expressway in Albany was suddenly closed yesterday for emergency repairs. There are two 10-foot-long cracks in the pier cap beams that support this highway, which connects downtown Albany and the Empire State Plaza with I-787 and the Dunn Memorial Bridge across the Hudson River. The bridge, now inaccessible from the west, is typically used by 14,000 cars each day. Transportation officials said temporary repairs will be made to open everything by early August, after which they will figure out how to make, and pay for, permanent repairs.

2. “We have not had resources to repair the roads and bridges we need and want to. This has been a problem for a long time. Because of the resources we have, we’ve been duct taping our infrastructure together…” said Mike Elmendorf, state president of the Associated General Contractors of America (Albany Times Union).

3. Now let’s skip to here: Despite the first rounds of draconian public sector budget cuts in 2010, the Greek budget deficit for the first six months of 2011 widened by one-third. All kinds of economic indicators have tanked.

4. Mostly because of special tax exemptions (sales of stock, dividends, income from shipping and ship building, others), many multi-millionaires in Greece pay significantly lower taxes than even American multi-millionaires, whose tax rates are nowhere near their historic levels. As part of the big austerity program, the tax rate on Greek corporations will fall by one percentage point annually until it reaches 20 percent in 2015.

5. The Greek nation is being stripped of all public assets—roads, water supplies, sewers, airports, utilities, even some of the Greek islands—as speculators try to unload the debt they bought onto taxpayers and cash in.

6. As this is being written, the Italian Parliament is passing a harsh four-year austerity program. “We must begin a process of privatisation,” says the Finance Minister. They are doing this to “reassure the financial markets.” To show its gratitude, the market is driving the interest on Italy’s debt through the roof.

7. Italy has no budget deficit, but it must refinance $1.28 trillion of maturing debt over the next five years.

8. The United Kingdom’s Office for Budget Responsibility urges the people of Great Britain to brace themselves for “decades of austerity,” despite massive public sector layoffs and program cuts. A Financial Times analysis in June showed that British consumer spending, the bulk of the economy, is picking up at the slowest pace of any recovery period since at least 1830.

9. Public sector jobs are real jobs. Federal spending alone accounts for one-tenth of our country’s economic activity. The biggest generator of goods, services and consumer spending in New York is New York.

10. Some insist that we import the same failing fiscal and debt policies that are pushing a hundred million Europeans to the brink. Or else.

11. Corporate and Financial America has returned to the profitability and productivity it had prior to the 2008 Wall Street crisis, only with almost 8 million fewer jobs for Joe and Jane American.

12. There is no national discussion about addressing rising poverty in America, about putting people to work even temporarily, about restructuring tax policies at all levels to conform with 21st century realities.

13. Local governments across the U.S. are running a collective 12% structural budget deficit. We are no longer allowed to raise taxes, or even to talk about rethinking what taxes we pay.

14. How are we going to fix the next highway? The next bridge?

15. The next 2,000 bridges that are already considered to be “structurally deficient” in New York alone?

16. The market will not fix some bridges.

17. Won’t fix some Coliseums.

18. What do we tell next year’s graduates, many already weighted down in debt, about the America in which they expect to take a place?

19. Worker drones are grateful, quiet, compliant. Productive. Cost efficient. Replaceable.

20. Do we really want to create a situation in which scores of millions of Americans could decide that, ultimately, they no longer have anything to lose?

Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: millercolumn@optimum.net