February 2, 2009

Locals Ponder Obama's Future

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You may want to hold off on that new car or think twice before booking that Spring Break trip to Acapulco, or even stop yourself from shelling out the $7.00 for a Collegetown bagel, because despite the House’s approval of the economic stimulus package, experts warn that there will be no quick solution to the financial crisis. 
Yesterday, just over 40 people gathered at the Tompkins County Public Library to hear a panel of experts discuss what President Barack Obama must do to begin to right the economy. The event, which was sponsored by the Ithaca Democratic Socialists of America, featured four speakers who offered unique insight into different aspects of the issue. 
Eric Lessinger, a physician in Trumansburg, explained that although healthcare has taken a backseat to other more seemingly urgent economic problems, it is in healthcare reform that we can create great savings. Lessinger believes that the United States should implement a national single-payer health insurance, wherein a governmental agency would replace individual insurance companies. 
“Medicare’s administrative cost is 3 percent of their revenue,” he said, “administrative costs for health companies is 15 to 30 percent.” 
Cutting these administrative costs by consolidating insurance companies could lead to massive individual and national savings. [img_assist|nid=34655|title=Options for tomorrow|desc=Shianne Osterreich, Dominic Frongillo, Eric Lessinger and joe Schwartz discuss the possibility of single-payer healthcare in the United States yesterday at the Tompkins County Public Library.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Dominic Frongillo, an energy independence activist, sees the answer to the crisis in a different area: reducing the nation’s oil consumption. 
“We must invest in real infrastructure, in high speed technology, in solar, wind and switchgrass generation of energy,” he said. 
Frongillo expressed his belief that real change must come about on a local level by building awareness in smaller communities and that gaining momentum locally that will lead to change nationally. Yet, after surveying several individuals, he understood that challenges lie ahead. 
“Most people responded by citing a lack of knowledge, lack of time, lack of trust of contractors and a lack of social support,” he explained. “We must teach people how to conserve energy.” 
Shaianne Osterreich, who focuses her research on racial and gender issues in the workforce, worries that the economic downturn will be the toughest for women, African Americans and Hispanics.  
“Overall female unemployment is in the 9 to 10 percent area and single women are twice as likely to be unemployed as married women,” she noted, “Soon, 70 percent of teenage black men and women will be unemployed and 40 to 50 percent of teenage Hispanics.” 
With overall American unemployment at 7.2 percent, she fears that Obama’s stimulus package fails to create enough new jobs. 
“For every job opening, there are 3.3 people looking for a job today, compared with 1.9 only a year ago … yet, the stimulus package is more effective in cushioning the pain and stemming unemployment, rather than trying to create new jobs,” Osterreich explained. 
Joe Schwartz, a political scientist at Temple University, argued that though Obama has promised to work for the middle class, he has yet to address how he plans to fight for individuals living in poverty. 
“The bottom third of our economy struggles or live in dire poverty. Even if you have two jobs at Wal-Mart, you bring home $32,000 before taxes,” he stated, “the average person works 200 hours more a year than they did 30 years ago. People don’t have vacations anymore, people work two jobs, people work overtime.” 
Schwartz believes that Americans can no longer privatize public services and will need the government to tightly regulate business sectors. 
“We can’t be afraid to say the dirty word — socialism,” he said. “Until we grow up and join the rest of the world, we’re going to be a disadvantaged society. We need to make sure that seven generations out, we are not the most vilified generation on this planet.” 
Prof. Wayles Browne, linguistics, attended the discussion. 
“I thought it was very interesting to hear people with similar ideas and approaches looking at different kinds of troubles that we’re faced with.” 
To date, Over two million Americans have lost their jobs in the past year.