Tag Archives: Obama

You’ve Got to Hand it to Them: Obama, Pelosi and Reid

By Marc Seltzer; originally published on March 22, 2010, at care2.com

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Watching the proceedings in the House of Representatives tonight, I came away with an appreciation of just how strong the Democratic leadership is.  We all knew that Barack Obama had discipline in the way his presidential campaign never faltered.  He kept his eye on the prize and didn’t sweat the small stuff.  But the first year in office raised questions about how much political capital he had lost because of the economic downturn and the unpopularity of the government’s response.  Republicans refused to break ranks.  Democrats were split.  Then came Scott Brown.  How much would the President be able to accomplish?

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President Obama Reaches Out to the Muslim world

Originally published at care2.com/causes/politics/blog

President Barack Obama’s recent speech, delivered in Cairo, Egypt and broadcast worldwide was historic, visionary and ingenious.
From its rhetorical highlight “America is not – and never will be – at war with Islam” to refashioning American policy on democracies abroad:  “we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments – provided they govern with respect for all their people,”  the speech was ambitious to the point of reasserting American international leadership.

President Barack Obama’s recent speech, delivered in Cairo, Egypt and broadcast worldwide was historic, visionary and ingenious.

From its rhetorical highlight “America is not – and never will be – at war with Islam” to refashioning American policy on democracies abroad:  “we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments – provided they govern with respect for all their people,”  the speech was ambitious to the point of reasserting American international leadership.  Full Story

Making the Grade

Along with banks, foreclosures, and jobs, education stands as a key focus of President Barack Obama’s vision for restoring prosperity in America. To address the immediate crisis, the president emphasized that he would direct public funds to banks, shovel-ready infrastructure, and state budgets, including funding for teacher’s jobs. In the long run, though, public investment in education will be even more central to reinstating American prosperity and leadership among nations.

Obama’s recently passed Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 allocated one hundred billion dollars in aid to education, including substantial investment in building new schools and shoring up resources like student loan and grant programs. Beyond the funding, what is Obama’s education philosophy?

The president’s education agenda is not so much a radical break from the past as it is a radical commitment of resources to support publicly funded education. Obama’s program embraces the standardized testing imposed by the Bush administration, but seeks to add funding to improve and support programs envisioned, but not budgeted for, in Bush’s No Child Left Behind legislation.

While the Bush administration sought to move toward competition among schools through support for private school vouchers as a way out of problems in public schooling, the Obama administration seeks to invest in and better manage the public system.

The President’s agenda is outlined on the administration’s website. The plan for grades K-12 includes the following steps:

• Reform No Child Left Behind

• Support High-Quality Schools and Close Low-Performing Charter Schools

• Make Math and Science Education a National Priority

• Address the Dropout Crisis

• Expand High-Quality After school Opportunities

• Support College Outreach Programs

• Support College Credit Initiatives

• Support English Language Learners

• Recruit Teachers

• Prepare Teachers

• Retain Teachers

• Reward Teachers

The hundred billion stimulus dollars earmarked for education will likely prove only a down payment on these goals, but Obama’s belief seems to be that education prepares the work force for the kind of business, academic, government, and creative leadership that will be necessary to compete in the global market place.

In Obama’s recent address to Congress, he received a standing ovation when he said his goal was to have a greater percentage of students graduating college in the United States in 2020 than anywhere else in the world. This would be a notable accomplishment, as American schools have lost the edge in certain key areas during the past twenty-five years. Math and reading scores among twelfth-graders have slipped appreciably, and the percentage of black and Latino students who fail to graduate from high school continues to dismay.

Obama has appointed Arne Duncan, formerly Superintendent of the Chicago School District, as his Secretary of Education. With one hundred billion dollars to spend and a chief executive commited to prioritizing American education going forward, one anticipates that Duncun will be an important voice in domestic policy in the coming years.

Barack Obama on Abraham Lincoln

Originally published on February 16, 2008, at http://www.care2.com/causes/politics/blog/barack-obama-on-abraham-lincol/

 

Abraham Lincoln, 16th president of the United States

licensed creative commons: http://www.flickr.com/photos/seamusnyc/295921575/sizes/m/</a&gt;

 

President Obama reflected recently on Abraham Lincoln at the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth.  His remarks, and the fact that Obama has mentioned focusing on the 16th president in looking to the past, give some indication of how Mr. Obama sees the nation and the presidency:

“It’s only by coming together to do what people need done that we will, in Lincoln’s words, . . . ‘Give an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life.’  That’s all people are looking for: a fair chance in the race of life.  That’s what’s required of us —  now, and in the years ahead.”  

“We will be remembered for what we choose to make of this moment, and when posterity looks back on our time, as we are looking back on Lincoln’s, I don’t want it said that we saw an economic crisis but did not stem it, that we saw our schools decline and our bridges crumble, but we did not rebuild them, that the world changed in the 21st century, but that America did not lead it, that we were consumed with small things, petty things, when we were called to do great things.”  

“Instead, let them say that this generation, our generation of Americans rose to the moment and gave America a new birth of freedom and opportunity in our time.”

Clear themes of coming together, fairness, action in the face of challenges, and rising to the historical moment show that the current president is thinking about his and the nation’s choices in a historic context.  

This may be rhetoric or it may be Obama’s belief that the financial crisis is a major historic event in line with the Great Depression, but he seems to be asking the people of the United States to move beyond competing political parties and social agendas to act together on common interests in education, infrastructure and leadership. 

The rush to pass stimulus legislation did not bridge any partisan divides, but President Obama will have a chance at a more deliberate pace to gather together political leaders, parities and populace, going forward.  

It may be worth remembering that Abraham Lincoln called the people of his time to make great personal sacrifice for the nation, and in honoring the fallen and leading the living he reminded Americans of the noble purpose of the American experiment:

“the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” (excerpted from Gettysburg Address)

The Right Direction Now and For The Future

To Senators Obama and Reid and Representative Pelosi:

In the sixties, President Kennedy put hundreds of thousands to work on the space program, putting a man on the moon, aptly symbolizing American leadership, and foretelling United States military superiority and civilian commercial dominance in aerospace and communications for thirty years. The technological advantage American industry gained on the investment could not have been achieved absent the governmental commitment or resources. 

In the eighties, President Reagan funded Star Wars, which achieved little in missile defense, but nonetheless, changed the world, leading to U.S. civilian computer, satellite and Internet superiority and prosperity for another thirty-year period.  The time is again right for government investment in creating the future. 

First, the beginning of a recession is a good time to act, because stimulus is helpful, jobs are at stake, and a government-funded program will immediately instill confidence in long-term labor conditions.  This is far more productive stimulus than refund checks, which do ease family budget concerns, but only  marginally improve commerce.  They do little to support employment prospects and nothing to support long-term wealth creation.

Second, there are many areas, such as pharmaceutical research, Green technologies or military hardware, that require massive investment to achieve their full potential.  No one can claim that research and development in alternative energy or pharmaceutical testing is near capacity.  Both are so financially risky that only a fraction of what could be done is being done, even though the lives of millions and the future economic health of many nations hang in the balance.  As with past science and technology programs, the initial public investment in energy, medical or environmental technology would surely be followed by decades of highly profitable private business applications.

Finally, the arguments against publicly funded investment misunderstand the real problems of government spending and deficit spending in particular.  We can agree that private investment and direction of resources is superior to public, and yet still acknowledge the need for a military, Civil Corps of Engineers, or law enforcement to meet national needs.  In the 1940s, the Government put the nation to work to produce armaments on a vast scale enabling our defeat of Fascism. Some tasks are just too large to be left to the private marketplace. 

The real question is what should public money be used for, and crucially, what should it be used for when we are over budget? 

The answers are not the same.  Most commentators today oversimplify the issues surrounding deficit spending.  They assert that a balanced budget or small deficits are always good and large deficits are bad, with the caveat that deficit spending during a recession is good as it stimulates the economy while spending during high growth periods is bad as it adds to inflation. 

Without more, neither view is adequate. 

Deficit spending is essentially borrowing from the future for the present.  Thus, deficit spending can be thought of as irresponsible, and in some ways unethical, because it uses future resources to satisfy today’s needs.  However, deficit spending only depletes future resources and weaken financial integrity when it does not lead to long-term financial health.  When such spending is for infrastructure and facilitates wealth and revenue in the future, it is neither irresponsible nor unethical. 

Such spending should be judged on the benefit versus risk of success at achieving its goals.  Kennedy’s Sending of a Man to the Moon was a huge risk, but it paid off handsomely in its political, scientific and commercial legacy.  Reagan’s Star Wars research was less of a reach and it paid off, even though the goal of the original research has still not been achieved.

In this light deficit funding for Green technologies would stimulate the economy during a recession and, if successful, would lower energy and environmental costs in the long run.   This is how prosperous periods have occurred.  Improvements in productivity mitigate inflationary pressures while increasing wealth during economic expansion.  

Politically and commercially the benefits are obvious as leadership and wealth will be the rewards to nations that meet the challenges of the future most efficiently and profitably.  Medical research presents similar cost/benefit prospects and military investment, though to a lesser extent, may also be useful given the difficulties we have had achieving military goals in the past decade.

The alternatives pale in comparison.  Giving stimulus to individuals and businesses in the form of refunds or tax cuts at a time of economic slowdown has short-term social and economic value at a cost that is roughly equal to what has to be paid back later with interest.  Investing in roads and bridges provides some job support and infrastructure upkeep, but no dynamic future benefits.  Doing nothing has such great lost-opportunity costs.  On the other hand, investing in the technology of the future will have a modest short-term economic benefit in confidence and jobs, and in the long term, if past is prologue, it will present unimagined opportunity.

Marc Seltzer