Trump promised during the campaign that he would stimulate up to $1 trillion of investment in rebuilding the country’s infrastructure. This sounds surprisingly like President Obama’s efforts throughout his presidency to spend a similar amount on public infrastructure. Obama’s proposal would have stimulated job growth and the economy. It would have helped the US more quickly and fully recover from the Great Recession of 2008. But the Republicans in Congress would have none of it. It will be interesting to see how Congressional Republicans react to a major infrastructure investment proposal from President Trump, assuming he does put a proposal forward.

There are major differences between what Trump has described and what Obama proposed. Obama proposed spending federal government money using a public decision-making process to determine the projects to be undertaken.

Trump’s plan, rather than spending federal money as Obama proposed, would provide big tax breaks to private developers. The private developers, not public officials, would select the projects to undertake. The projects would, of course, be ones on which the developers would make a profit. The private developers would effectively own the completed facility and would receive federal tax credits of 82% of their equity investment. [1] That is the equivalent of buying a home and receiving 82% of the cost back in tax credits, meaning the home that you now would own outright would only have cost you 18% of its value.

Thus, the projects that would be undertaken under Trump’s plan would be quite different than those of Obama’s approach. For example, it’s unlikely under Trump’s plan that many school buildings would be renovated or that new schools would be built. Many of our school buildings do need major renovation or to be replaced, but this is not a profit-making undertaking. Similarly, public transportation is not likely to receive much investment. Public facilities, including water and sewer systems and public housing, would only receive investments if private developers were allowed to effectively own the resulting facility and make a profit from it. We’ve already seen what happens if private interests are given control of water systems. For example, in Detroit, water rates were increased to the point where many customers couldn’t afford their water bills. Then, the water authority callously shut off water to those who were behind on their bills.

Investments in our deteriorated roads and bridges would occur only if private developers were allowed to effectively own them and to charge tolls so they could profit from their investment. Investments in buildings for commercial or residential use probably would occur, because developers can charge rents and make profits. Investments would likely be made in high-income, well-developed communities where the return on investment is assured, not in communities suffering from under-investment where infrastructure improvements are most needed.

Furthermore, many of the projects that would benefit from Trump’s plan would have been undertaken anyway, without the tax credit. Therefore, the tax breaks would be windfall profits for developers and nothing more. In addition, important sources of investment capital, such as pension funds, endowments, and collective investment funds, would not be incentivized to make infrastructure investments because they are tax-exempt, non-profit entities and would not benefit from the proposed tax credit.

Trump’s advisors claim that his infrastructure plan would pay for itself because the new revenue resulting from its projects would fully cover the lost revenue from its tax credits. This conclusion is based on clearly unrealistic assumptions. It assumes that all the projects that receive the tax credit wouldn’t have otherwise occurred, that all the workers on the projects would otherwise have been unemployed, that the workers would have taxable incomes 3 to 4 times that of typical construction workers, and that all the money invested in these projects would otherwise have been sitting idle rather than invested elsewhere. [2]

In summary, the Trump infrastructure plan would not produce the infrastructure investments that are needed and that would benefit the public. It would provide private developers with windfall profits from a big tax credit that would increase the federal government’s deficit. It would privatize decisions on infrastructure investments, the effective ownership of the facilities built, and most of the resulting benefits.

Direct spending by the federal government on needed public infrastructure would be an economically sound, rational policy for making needed investments. Given the very low interest rates at which the federal government can currently borrow money by selling Treasury bonds, the cost of raising money for such investments would be very low. Therefore, the return on investment would be unusually high.

I urge you to contact your Congress people and ask them to support infrastructure spending that will benefit our nation as a whole and not just line the pockets of private developers. Ask them to ensure that the projects undertaken create infrastructure that meets public, not private, needs.

[1]      Huang, C., Van de Water, P.N., Kogan, R., and Kamin, D., 12/2/16, “Trump infrastructure plan: Far less than the claimed $1 trillion in new projects,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (

[2]      Huang, C., et al., 12/2/16, see above



Unfortunately, the National Park Service (NPS) has just enacted a policy that allows expanded commercialization of our national parks. Corporations have been pushing for years to commercialize our national parks with their names, logos, and products. The timing of the new policy is particularly inappropriate because this year is the 100th anniversary of our national parks. Their pristine beauty and intergenerational legacy were celebrated in the Ken Burns’ wonderful 2009 PBS special, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.” [1]

This new policy has been put in place despite overwhelming public opposition – hundreds of public comments in opposition and over 200,000 signatures on a petition opposing this policy. [2] The new policy will allow corporate sponsorships and partnerships, lift naming rights restrictions, allow advertising in parks (including for alcohol), and allow, if not require, parks to seek donations from corporations.

The new policy allows facilities from auditoriums to benches to have corporate names on them. Buses in national parks can now be plastered with advertising. Bricks or paving stones can have corporate names and logos on them. Educational programs and endowed positions can be branded by corporations. Large banners with corporate logos will now be allowed in the parks.

Even before this policy was in place, Coca-Cola, after donating $13 million to the NPS, blocked a proposed ban on bottled water in Grand Canyon National Park. The ban would have reduced trash in the park by 20%, saving money and employees’ time, while reducing litter and wasteful use of plastic. After public pressure, NPS allowed a park-by-park ban that requires a rigorous cost-benefit analysis and a multi-layered approval process. In another pre-policy example, Budweiser had a joint marketing campaign with NPS that allowed it to use the image of the Statue of Liberty on its labels and to co-sponsor a concert in a national park.

This is happening because our national parks are starved for money. While attendance at the parks has been up for three years in a row and is 20% higher than it was in 2013, Congress and the President have provided flat funding for operating the parks. [3] Despite the increased wear and tear, as well as the need for more parking and greater capacity on trails and roads, due to the increased number of visitors, the parks have received dramatically insufficient funding to maintain, let alone expand, infrastructure. It is estimated that there is an $11 billion backlog in maintenance projects. [4] Park superintendents struggle to meet their goals of preserving their parks for future generations, while providing a safe and enjoyable experience for visitors. They will now be put in the awkward position of needing to be involved in fundraising to support their park while being banned by federal law from directly soliciting donations.

As a poignant example of the problems commercialization can cause, Delaware North Corporation (DNC) is suing the NPS for $51 million for compensation for trademarks on the names of facilities in Yosemite National Park. DNC had been the concessionaire at the park since 1993, but recently lost the contract. Because this suit could take some time to resolve, Yosemite National Park has had to rename facilities in the park. The iconic Ahwahnee Hotel has been renamed, despite having operated under this name since 1927. It was named after the Native Americans who lived in the valley and whose descendants still work in the park. The Badger Pass Ski Area, among other facilities, has also been renamed and the trademark on the name “Yosemite National Park” may also be disputed. [5]

Commercialization is spoiling the pristine beauty of our national parks and detracting from the inspiring experience of visiting them. Conservationist and President Teddy Roosevelt envisioned our national parks as being preserved for future generations “with their majestic beauty all unmarred.” Commercialization of our national parks is antithetical to that vision and to the basic principle for creating national parks – to preserve our natural wonders and beauty for future generations in their natural, awe-inspiring state. We need to do a better job of protecting our national parks and the experience of visiting them.

I encourage you to contact your members of Congress and urge them to adequately fund our national parks and to ban commercialization of them. We must resist the efforts by corporate America and budget cutting politicians to commercialize and privatize these truly unique and irreplaceable public assets.

[1]      Burns, K., & Duncan, D., 2009, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” Public Broadcast System, (

[2]      Strader, K., 1/4/17, “Disregarding public concern, the National Park Service finalizes commercialism policy and opens parks to industry influence,” Public Citizen as reported by Common Dreams (

[3]      Associated Press, 1/17/17, “National Parks set yet another attendance mark,” The Boston Globe

[4]      Rein, L., 5/9/16, “Yosemite, sponsored by Starbucks? National Parks to start selling some naming rights,” The Washington Post

[5]      Howard, B.C., 1/15/16, “National park advocates appalled by Yosemite name changes,” National Geographic (


Believe it or not, there was quite a bit of good news in the 2016 elections. While I imagine many of us feel that the election of Donald Trump as president was bad news for our country, the frustration that fueled his election has positive aspects.

First, the election of Trump and the surprising success of Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary both reflect a strongly-felt, deep-seated frustration that many middle class and working people have with the downward slide in their economic security and well-being. If they have been able to maintain their standard of living over the last 35 years, it has been a struggle. Often, they have had to work more hours at the same or lower pay. Many have lost jobs that moved overseas or to lower wage areas within the US. Some have had their pay or benefits cut due to overseas competition or the decline of collective bargaining through unions. Meanwhile, they have watched the income and wealth of the economic and corporate elite skyrocket.

Small businesses have struggled while giant, multi-national corporations have been bailed out and given huge tax breaks and other subsidies. Our elections and political system have produced policies that favor big corporations, while small business people struggle, just like others in the middle and working class.

Voters did not give any sort of mandate to Trump and the Republicans to enact their policy priorities. As you probably know, 3 million more people voted for Clinton than for Trump. In US Senate races, Republicans won only 46% of the popular vote – but got 52% of the seats. In the House, the Republicans won only 51% of the vote – but got 55% of the seats. [1]

Only 53% of eligible voters actually voted. This means that barely one out of four eligible voters voted for Trump and the Republicans. And the only reason Republicans won the presidency (courtesy of the Electoral College) and a majority in the US Senate is because of the disproportionate power given to small states in those bodies.

Republicans won a significant majority of US House seats only because of the gerrymandering of House districts (i.e., the drawing of district lines to gain partisan advantage). Due to this gerrymandering, it is estimated the Democrats would need to receive about 10 million more votes nationwide than Republicans (i.e., almost 55% of the vote) in House races to gain a narrow majority of the seats. [2]

Not only don’t Trump and the Republicans have any mandate, but many election results were in direct contradiction to their brand of conservatism and their policy positions. Three very progressive women of color were newly elected to the US Senate: Tammy Duckworth in IL, Kamala Harris in CA, and Catherine Cortez Masto in NV. Two very progressive women of color were newly elected to the US House: Pramila Jayapal in WA and Stephanie Murphy in FL.

In Oregon, Kate Brown, was elected Governor as a candidate of the Working Families Party. In AZ, ultra-right wing sheriff Arpaio was defeated by a Democrat. In MN, a Somali-American woman, Ihlan Omar, was elected to the legislature. And in TX four Latinos gained seats in the legislature. [3]

Important progressive policies were enacted by voters through ballot initiatives. All four states (AZ, CO, ME, and WA) that had minimum wage increases on the ballot passed them. Overall, the minimum wage will increase in 19 states on January 1st. This will increase wages for 4.3 million workers, providing them with over $4 billion of increased income over the course of the year. Millions of additional workers who earn just above the new minimum wage levels will also likely receive pay increases. The well-being of all these workers and their families will improve. [4] Income inequality will be reduced and all workers and the middle class will benefit.

AZ and WA also passed laws requiring paid sick time, while SD rejected a decrease in the minimum wage for teenagers and VA rejected an anti-union initiative.

CA and WA passed initiatives calling for overturning the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision (which allows unlimited spending by the wealthy in campaigns). MO and SD passed new laws regulating campaign spending. SD also passed an innovative $100 annual Democracy Credit for each voter to encourage small donors to participate in funding campaigns. Voters approved citizen-funded elections in Berkeley, CA, and Howard County, MD. They approved automatic voter registration in AK with a strong 64% vote in favor, while four other states enacted automatic voter registration through their state legislatures in 2016.

Maine voted for “ranked choice voting” which allows voters to indicate their first, second, third, etc. choices on the ballot. If your first choice is out of the running, then your second choice is counted, and so forth. Therefore, you can vote for the candidate you truly believe is best, without worrying that you might be aiding the election of a candidate you really don’t like. (For example, you could have voted for Ralph Nader for President in 2000 with Al Gore as your second choice, without worrying that your vote for Nader would help George W. Bush get elected.)

In CA, MA, ME, and OR progressive values prevailed in education reform ballot initiatives. CA and OK passed significant criminal justice reforms. [5] CA, NV, and WA strengthened laws designed to reduce gun violence, while RI and SD strengthened ethics laws for elected officials. [6]

These are only a few examples of the many successes in state and local elections on ballot initiatives, as well as on the election of candidates that will stand up for middle class and working people.

The support for candidates and policies that bolster the middle class and working people is broad and deep in the US. We all need to work together to ensure that the Republican Congress and President Trump work to improve the well-being of the 99% of people in this country who aren’t wealthy. We must be vigilant to ensure that the policies they enact aren’t for the benefit of the 1%, don’t exacerbate income and wealth inequality, and don’t continue the crony capitalism that benefits our giant, multinational corporations and their senior executives at the expense of small businesses and workers.

[1]      Singer, P., 11/10/16, “Democrats won popular vote in the Senate, too,” USA Today (

[2]      Richie, R., 11/7/14, “Republicans got only 52 percent of the vote in House races,” The Nation (

[3]      Hightower, J., 12/8/16, “We can beat back the reign of Trump – if we unite in a movement for populist justice,” The Hightower Lowdown (

[4]      Jones, J., 1/3817, “The new year brings higher wages for 4.3 million workers across the country,” Economic Policy Institute (

[5]      Hightower, J., 12/8/16, see above

[6]      Politico, 12/13/16, “2016 ballot measures election results,” (


Our mainstream media are failing our democracy. In the last election, they provided almost no coverage of issues and policies, which should play a significant role in voters’ decisions. Even when issues or policies were mentioned, there was little fact checking or context provided, let alone analysis. Such in-depth reporting is critical to having an informed electorate, which is essential for a successful democracy.

Because the mainstream media are mostly huge, for-profit corporations, their focus is on the bottom line – on profits. Their revenue comes from advertising and is determined by how many people read or view their output. Revenue and readership / viewership are experiencing dramatic competition from on-line media. As the number of mainstream media users declines, the revenue per ad declines, so the ratio of ads to content goes up to retain as much revenue as possible. This detracts and distracts the viewer from the news that is presented.

To attract attention and eyeballs, the mainstream, corporate media have turned more and more to shocking, fear-mongering, or titillating stories at the expense of real news; in other words, to tabloid journalism. The phrase “if it bleeds, it leads,” has become all too true of the mainstream media. Crime, terrorism, violence, and tragedy are typically the leading stories because a story that engenders outrage, anger, or fear is more likely to attract viewers.

During the election, shock value was more salient than facts, in-depth details, or analysis. Coverage was more focused on generating emotional reactions than informing. As CBS’s Chairman put it, the shock value of Trump’s statements “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”

This focus on the sensational and lack of depth reflect not only the need to attract viewers, but also the slashing of newsrooms’ budgets. To cut costs and increase profits, our corporate, mainstream media now employ roughly 40% fewer news reporters today than they did 10 years ago; and further cuts are coming. [1]

The mainstream “news” is increasingly what is often referred to as infotainment – a cross between information and entertainment. This means less factual content and more emotional content. For political reporting, this has meant the more shocking, outrageous, and emotion-provoking the statement or story, the better. Information and factual content on issues and policies is pushed aside as too boring and too costly to report. The only facts that seem to be reported are from the horse race perspective – who’s ahead in the latest poll and who has raised more money. Ironically, we now get some of our best political analysis from our entertainers, comedians such as Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, John Oliver, and Bill Maher.

The bottom line is that the business model of our corporate, mainstream media is not serving the best interests of our democracy. They are not providing citizens and voters with the information and analysis they need to participate meaningfully in our democracy.

A different business model is needed where news outlets are not huge corporations and are not dependent on advertising revenue. To deliver in-depth, fact-based reporting with context and analysis, not to mention investigative journalism, news outlets will require a significant portion of their revenue to come from public funding and / or readers’ / viewers’ donations. This will ensure that content is free of the coercive effects of advertising or other funders who have a vested, special interest in the news content.

For television and radio, we need our public broadcasting system (PBS). I encourage you to listen to or watch our public broadcasts and to support them financially. I urge you to be on the lookout for and to oppose efforts to cut PBS’s public funding or undermine its independence. It is essential to our democracy and over 40 other countries have highly respected public broadcasting systems, including the BBC in Great Britain and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Canada.

Finding reliable sources for print journalism (hardcopy and on-line) is not easy given all the junk and even fake news that are present on the Internet. For broad-based news coverage that includes coverage of issues of importance to our democracy, I recommend these five sources:

I hope you’ll go on-line and look at one of more of these. You may want to subscribe to their on-line news feeds or to their hardcopy publications (except for Common Dreams which is exclusively on-line). I guarantee you’ll be a better-informed citizen and voter if you do. If you don’t have time to follow one of these regularly, just keep following my blog. I’ll give you the highlights.

[1]      Bauerlein, M., 11/19/16, “How Trump played the media,” Mother Jones (