Time is now for activist government


After all the fear and anger on Wall Street, in Washington and across the country over the past couple of weeks, here's what you probably don't want to hear: The $700 billion Wall Street bailout should be just the beginning.

The bailout is designed to save the banks and investment firms whose short-sighted greed created a massive economic crisis for themselves and the nation. It's necessary because the fate of those banks and firms has such a significant impact on the pocketbooks and retirement plans of regular people.

But the bailout is an emergency measure. Officials hope it will prevent the economy from falling into not just a recession but a depression. But it's no panacea to revive the sluggish national economy.

The next president and the new Congress will face the daunting task of creating what might be called the New New Deal.

You'll recall that President Franklin Roosevelt took office in 1933 at the nadir of the Great Depression. In his March 3 inaugural address, Roosevelt said:

"Our greatest primary task is to put people to work. ... It can be accomplished in part by direct recruiting by the government itself, treating the task as we would treat the emergency of a war, but at the same time, through this employment, accomplishing greatly needed projects to stimulate and reorganize the use of our natural resources."

Roosevelt's first move was to create the Civilian Conservation Corps, which combined job creation with environmental preservation. It operated in every state. Among many other projects, CCC workers planted 5 billion trees. CCC's per-capita expenditures were greater in Nevada than in any other state.

Two years later, Roosevelt created the Works Progress Administration. By 1938, the WPA employed 3.3 million men and women who built roads and public buildings, and operated social service programs. One important project paved and widened the Los Angeles Highway, linking Southern California tourists with the burgeoning resort town of Las Vegas

Today, the national economy may not be as fouled up as it was during the 1930s, when unemployment reached 25 percent, but a New New Deal could be a much-needed catalyst to help pull us out of our tailspin.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is an advocate, calling last week for an economic recovery program that involves building "highways, roads, bridges, dams, waterways, sewer systems." In Nevada alone, we have more than $5 billion in unfunded transportation projects.

Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., have been pushing for a stimulus package totaling about $56 billion. Reid said it would create "hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs."

That's great, but it's not enough. Considering the Wall Street bailout is pegged at $700 billion and the first economic stimulus package -- this year's tax rebate -- will total about $270 billion, we should invest a similar amount, at least, in a job-creating public works program.

Another major piece of the New New Deal would be a huge investment in renewable energy. You know the litany: solar, wind, geothermal, biofuels and other alternatives to reduce America's crippling dependence on foreign oil. This, too, could be a major job-creation effort.

Nevada could benefit big time from this piece of the New New Deal, offering perfect conditions to become a nation-pacing provider of renewable energy. At the recent National Clean Energy Summit at UNLV, Former President Bill Clinton singled out the Silver State as a potential national leader in the move to clean energy.

Experts argue to this day about the positive and negative effects of Roosevelt's New Deal, but one thing is indisputable: Roosevelt's bold action, his leadership and confidence, gave the American people hope during one of the nation's darkest hours. In "The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope," Jonathan Alter says Roosevelt "revived the spirits of a stricken nation."

One hopes the new president will embrace Franklin Roosevelt's spirit in confronting the current economic crisis.

Errors of omission

Well, I should have expected it.

I wrote a column a few weeks ago in which I criticized the Nevada Democratic Party's sleazy ads attacking Republican state Sen. Bob Beers. The Beers camp has jumped on the opportunity to quote me in at least two different campaign mailers. I hate when they do that.

I hate it for several reasons, but the main one is the mailers make it look like I'm a supporter of Beers.

Not so. While I condemned the noxious content of the Democratic Party ads in that Sept. 7 column, I also suggested the Democrats have an ample arsenal of relevant, legitimate material on which to criticize the senator.

"Beers should be beatable on the issues," I wrote. "While he serves a vocal constituency of ideologues who want lower taxes and smaller government, he does not represent the wider, quieter majority of voters who are moderate and pragmatic, who understand that the costs of education, public safety and government services rise as the population increases. Beers stands in the way of Nevada improving its educational systems, its public services, its quality of life for the poor, sick and disabled."

Naturally, these lines didn't make it into the Beers mailers.

Geoff Schumacher (gschumacher@ reviewjournal.com) is publisher of Las Vegas CityLife, an alternative newsweekly owned by the same company as the Review-Journal. He also is the author of "Sun, Sin & Suburbia: An Essential History of Modern Las Vegas" and "Howard Hughes: Power, Paranoia & Palace Intrigue." Check out his new blog at www.howardhughesblog.com. His column appears Sunday.

 

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