Tag Archives: George Bush

President Obama’s State of the Union Address

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OK….first of all the above Help Wanted ad is only in jest; the LAST THING we need is a new President—REALLY!  I’m not an expert (as if you couldn’t tell) but I am an American citizen who follows the news carefully through newspapers, television (ABC, NBC,CBS, CNN, and FOX), magazines, and the Internet.  I really make an effort to be well-informed–like so many others of you out there.  Yet one of the greatest problems in this country is the number of citizens who simply refuse to become well-informed by any measure whatsoever.  Either they watch/listen to only one station and hear only one viewpoint, or they simply tune out and do not spend any real time making an effort to really understand the issues.   Millions and millions of Americans did not bother to watch the President last night.  Instead they watched programs on other networks or dealt with other real or perceived priorities–playing cards, doing household chores, completing homework, visiting their favorite bar, catching up on some overdue sleep, playing with the children, working out at the gym, chatting on Facebook, playing video games, and any other of a hundred other activities–some important, some not-so-important.   News Flash:  It is incumbant upon those who live in a democracy–those who live in what many of us firmly believe is the greatest democracy in the world–it is incumbant upon every one of its citizens to become and remain well-informed.  And that requires work–real effort and time on all of our parts.

Of those who actually watched the President’s 80-minute address, some  did so with an open mind, intending to give our President a chance to explain what he would do in the second and succeeding years of his term.  Others, unfortunately, viewed the program with the most jaundiced of eyes.  They have already vehemently (and sometimes viciously) turned against our President–feeling that if he has not turned our country around in the grand total of 12 months, then he no longer deserves our support.  This outrageous opinion comes despite the fact that he inherited what many have called the worst recession since the Great Depression, two agonizing and expensive wars, a nearly double-digit unemployment rate, and a citizenry who seems to be conditioned to television’s 60-minute instant solution to complicated problems–a citizenry that seems to have totally forgotten that it took even the most successful of Presidents in the past (see Reagan, Clinton, Roosevelt, etc.)  nearly a full term or MORE to really begin to solve our Nation’s economic and other problems.

The afternoon before the speech, when asked by CNN correspondents what they most wanted to hear from their President in his State of the Union address, average Americans of all political stripes, stated overwhelmingly that they wanted to hear the President speak about jobs and the economy.  And so he did.  Addressing the intertwined problems of unemployment and the economy occupied the major portion of his speech.

I watched the President’s address in its entirety, and here is my analysis.  Under very difficult circumstances for our nation, he delivered a superb speech–perhaps the best State of the Union Address I have ever heard in my 59 years!  While he tried to give a realistic picture of the terrible situation our country was in when he took office, he also noted that “the worst of the storm has passed” because of actions his administration had taken–including the absolutely necessary bailout of the banks.

As accomplishments in his first year he pointed out that his administration had “extended or increased unemployment benefits for more than 18 million Americans, made health insurance 65% cheaper for families who get their coverage through COBRA, and passes 25 different tax cuts.”  With regard to those tax cuts, he insisted, ” that we cut taxes for 95% of working families, for small businesses, for first-time homeowners, for parents trying to care for their children, for 8 million Americans paying for college.  “As a result,”  he stated, “millions of Americans had more to spend on gas, food, and other necessities, all of which helped businesses keep more workers.”  And, he quickly added, “we haven’t raised income taxes by a single dime on a single person.”  He gave many examples of the success of the much-maligned Stimulus Bill or Recovery Act, but in summary, he said that “Because of the steps we took, there are about two million Americans working right now who would otherwise be unemployed.  200,000 work in construction and clean energy.  300,000 are teachers and other education workers.  Tens of thousands are cops, firefighters, correctional officers, and first responders”  He noted that the Adminstration is on track to add another one and a half million jobs by the end of the year.

Yet he did not pretend that we are totally out of the woods.  He noted that “One in ten Americans still cannot find work.  Many businesses have been shuttered. Home values have declined, Small towns and rural communities have been hit especially hard.  For those who have already know poverty, life has become that much harder.”  He went on the state that “This recession has also compounded the burdens that America’s families have been dealing with for decades–the burden of working harder and longer for less; of being unable to save enough to retire or help kids with college.”

So nearly all of you would agree with our President that these are the problems he must confront—he has a duty to confront–head-on–in this next one to two years.  How does he propose to confront and solve these problems.  Here is his plan—NOT filled with details, because an 80-minute speech does not allow and is not intended to provide details.  Those details will come as specific proposals are advanced in the days to come.  Yet the address did provide some broadly stroked proposals in key areas to significantly improve the daily lives of the people of our nation.  In brief, here are those proposals:

1.  A fee on the “biggest banks” to recover the rest of the money we lent to them (Most has already been recovered).

2.  A new jobs bill, starting with small businesses–taking 30 billion dollars of the money Wall Street banks have already repaid and using it to help “community banks give small businesses the credit they need to stay afloat.”

3.  A new small business tax credit to over one million small businesses who hire new workers or raise wages.

4.  Elimination of all capital gains taxes on small business investment and a tax incentive for all businesses tha invest in new plants and equipment.

5.  Putting Americans to work building the infrastructure of tomorrow–highways, railroads, clean energy facilities, home energy  rebates.

Slashing tax breaks for companies that ship our jobs overseas and awarding  tax breaks to those companies that create jobs in the U.S.

7.  Serious financial reform–protecting our economy by providing for a strong, healthy financial market that “makes it possible for businesses to access credit and create new jobs” and which “channels the savings of families into investments that raise incomes.”

8.  Encouragement of  American innovation–clean energy, safe nuclear power, new offshore areas for oil and gas development, advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies, and a comprehensive energy and climate bill.

9.  Doubling our exports over the next five years, and increase that will support 2 million American jobs by launching a “National Export Initiative that will help farmers and small businesses increase their exports, and reform export controls…”

10.  Seeking new markets for our goods by strengthening trade relations in Asia and South America.

11.  Investing in the skills and education of our people by investing in educational reform which rewards only success–reform which raises student achievement.  This involves expanding these reforms to all fifty states so that “the success of our children ” depends more on their potential as opposed to simply where they happen to live.

12.  A bill that would revitalize our community colleges.  Ending “unwarranted” taxpayer-subsidies that go to banks for student loans and using that money to give families a $10,000 dollar tax credit for four years of college.  Increasing the Pell Grants which many of us relied on in the past to help fund our college educations.  A new requirement that would allow a million college graduates to pay only 10 percent of their income on student loans, and all of their debt to be forgiven in 20 years (and in 10 years if they go into public service.

13.  A task force on Middle-Class Families.  Nearly doubling the child care tax credit.  A plan to give every worker “access to a retirement account and expanding the tax credit for those who start a nest egg.”

14.  Stepping ups refinancing of homes so that homeowners can move into more affordable mortgages (noting that steps last year allowed millions of Americans to take out new loans and save an average of $1500 on mortgage payments.

15.  Health care reform which gives coverage to millions of Americans who have been denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions,  preventative care in all plans, protection of Americans from the worst practices of the insurance industries, and the opportunity for small businesses and uninsured Americans to have the chance to choose an affordable health care plan in a competitive market.  These  would be plans that would preserve the right of all Americans who currently have insurance to keep their doctor and their current plan.  And very importantly, it would reduce skyrocketing costs and premiums for millions of families and businesses.

16.  A plan to freeze government spending for three years (except for spending relating to national security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. This freeze would go into effect in one year, after our economy improves.

17.  The establishment of a bipartisan Fiscal Commission which would provide a specific set of solutions by a certain deadline.

18.  To increase trust in government, a requirement that lobbyists disclose each contact they make “on behalf of a client with my Adminstration or Congress.”

19.  The establishment of strict limits on the contributions that lobbyists give to candidates for federal office.  Here, the President actually took a daring swipe at the Supreme Court that just voted to “reverse a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests–including foreign corporations–to spend without limit in our elections.

20.  Earmark reform on all these pet projects (aka “pork”) that find their way into unrelated bills.  The establishment of a website that would post all earmark requests BEFORE a vote is taken on those requests so that “the American people can see how [and why] their money is being spent.”

21.  Renewing focus on “terrorists who threaten our nation.”  Continued investments in homeland security.

22.  Increasing troops and training Afghan Security Forces so that “they can begin to take the lead in 2011, and our troops can begin to come home.”

23.  Removing all of our combat troops from Iraq by August of this year.

24.  Commitment to support men and women in uniform and veterans when they come home; building a 21st century VA and a commitment (headed by Michelle Obama and Jill Biden) to support military families

25.  New initiatives, sanctions, and negotiations to reduce nuclear weapons around the world.

26  Providing world leadership in helping other counties with problems in climate change, HIV/AIDS, fighting bio-terrorism and infectious disease, and other problems.

27.  The prosecution of civil right violations and employment discrimination and strengthening laws dealing with civil right violations and employment discrimination; repealing the don’t ask, don’t tell law in the military.

Now, admittedly, this is a very ambitious agenda–but it is the agenda on which this President was overwhelmingly elected.  It is an agenda that he HAS made some progress on (as noted above) although we all wish that the progress could come more quickly and more easily.   The focus, however, is where the Americans wish it to be–on jobs and the economy.

Let me conclude with the point on which I began:  Let us give this President–OUR President–a real chance to succeed–not just 12 months.  As you might guess, I didn’t vote for Bush, or Nixon, or even Reagan, but I did give each of those Presidents my respect AND a full 36-42 months to make good on their promises and to make some real inroads in turning our country around in what I felt was a positive direction.  The idea of a 4-year Presidency is to give that President a term to really make progress on his agenda–even if it is not the agenda of the candidate that you would have preferred to occupy the office.  President Obama is President of ALL Americans.  As conservative Republican actor and activist John Wayne once said when referring to President Kennedy, “I didn’t vote for him, but he’s my President.  I hope he does a good job.”

That’s what I would request of each of you.  Give our President a chance to do the work for which he was overwhelmingly elected.  Have the patience with his Administration and the respect for the Office and the Individual that true Americans have always given their President.  Stop the name-calling, the insults,  the profanity, the exaggerations, the refusal to even consider other points of view.  Educate yourselves on the issues and stay educated.  Let the best of your instincts and your intellect show themselves on talk shows, editorials, blogs, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and Internet forums. Let us try to work as one country–as one People–in solving the multitude of problems we face and making our country all it can truly be.

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Scott Brown, Haiti Relief, and Football

Election of Scott Brown in Mass. Illustrates Voter Anger and Frustration

This week’s election of Massachusetts relatively obscure State Senator Scott Brown to the U.S. Senate was a wake-up call to all politicians in Washington that the Americans are fed up with business as usual in the Beltway.  Martha Coakley may not have been the strongest campaigner, but after all–this is Massachusetts–the true-blue state that voted over 60 percent for Barack Obama just over a year ago!

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I do have to admit that my adult son and I spent almost three hours alone on a downtown corner in an election-day snowstorm holding signs for Martha Coakley.  We recorded 52 thumbs-up from passing motorists vs. only 29 thumbs down during about a thirty-minute time period when we were making our strictly unscientific poll.  Since our town and the whole state voted strongly for Brown, the only thing we were able to confirm was the complete unreliability of these unscientific polls!

So, what does it all mean?  Well, first of all, it means that the people are unhappy with the slow pace of the recovery and the higher-than-ten percent unemployment rate (9.4 percent here in Massachusetts).  Secondly, they seem to be angry with both Democrats whom they view as trying to spend our way out of the recession by using huge amounts of taxpayer money (adding to the deficit) with additional government programs like health care.  Although many people in Massachusetts support the idea of health care for the 30 million Americans who do not have any health care (and the elimination of prior conditions as a rationale for rejection ), they are incensed with back-room deals and a perceived lack of transparency in developing a health care bill.  While this looks like good news for Republicans, it is clear that they should not be licking their chops just yet.  Surveys and interviews with voters show that the people are  also not happy with Republicans who seem to be refusing to compromise, and are now beginning to be known as the Party of “No.”  Many people I spoke to point to the fact that Republicans and Conservatives  like Sen. Jim DeMint or Rush Limbaugh seem to WANT Barack Obama to fail and are, therefore, doing everything within their power to be obstructionist and confrontational–refusing to work with the President or to offer realistic compromises.

For those who pay attention to history, it is clear that this financial crisis does not belong to any ONE political party.  After all,  Democrat Bill Clinton left a $237 billion surplus for Republican George Bush and a Republican Congress.  President Bush and his policies caused that surplus to disappear largely through unfunded wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, leaving  Democrat Barack Obama (on entering office)  a $1.3 trillion deficit.

The general view seems to be that Scott Brown–an attractive and energetic campaigner–was able to tap into all of that voter frustration.  Running a smart campaign, he is the beneficiary of all of that voter anger and angst.  His job now is to  prove that he is, in fact,  the independent thinker, shaker and mover that he purported to be.  In the spirit of good government and true bipartisanship, I wish him all the best.  Our country needs it; our democracy demands it.

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NOW,  ONTO  SOME  OTHER  CONCERNS  OF  THE  WEEK:

Kudos to the American people who have rallied to the cause of disaster relief in Haiti by donating over 377 million dollars in the past two weeks.   As an American and an educator for nearly 37 years, it makes me proud to see how average citizens–many in financial difficulty themselves–have dug deeply to help friends in the world community who have been stricken by the disaster in Haiti.  While so many countries–including the U.S., Mexico, Venezuela, Israel, Spain, and China–have sent doctors and/or rescue squads, many are also contributing huge amounts of money.  Based upon the percentage of amounts donated and/or pledged and on the per capita contributions (which takes the population of each country into account), it seems that the leading contributors are the United States, Canada, Spain, Great Britain, France, the World Bank, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and the European Commission.  I hope the contributions continue to flow in –even as Haiti fades from the nightly news reports, and the media focuses on other areas of the world.

Since they often are ridiculed for the causes they espouse, I also want to thank those celebrities who were involved as performers or phone handlers in the telethon for Haiti relief which was on all three networks yesterday.   Sure, our society rewards superstar celebrities with nearly obscene salaries for their singing or acting, but it behooves us to point out that a large number of these celebrities really do seem to have genuine social consciences that cause them to go into action to help in the worst of times.  Thanks to celebrities such as George Clooney, Madonna, Sting, Alicia Keys, Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen, Taylor Swift, Keith Urban, Kid Rock, Neil Young, JayZ, Beyonce, Shakira Wyclef Jean, Bono, Sheryl Crow, and Rhiana who all performed (partial list).  Thanks also to those who manned the phones:  Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert DeNiro, Julia Roberts, Jack Nicholson, Denzel Washington, Matt Damon, Clint Eastwood, Halle Berry, Ben Stiller, Stephen Spielberg, Ellen DeGeneres, Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks, and Reese Witherspoon.  As of this morning, their efforts had already raised 67 million dollars.  Quite a few of these celebrities have also made major contributions from their own personal fortunes to Haiti relief. Just a few of the heavy contributors:  Sandra Bullock (1 million dollars), Leonardo DiCaprio (1 million dollars), Madonna (250,000 dollars), Clooney/Pitt and others (1 million dollars)..

Just a few words on the NFL playoffs……..I am writing this just as the AFC Championship game begins.   As I think of the millions of fans who are diverted by football for a few hours from their financial or personal problems, I am reminded a bit of my Shakespeare classes at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine.  It seemed that even in the midst of a classic tragedy like Macbeth, Shakespeare  managed to introduce some comic relief—just to allow the audience to breathe a bit–before the worst to come.  One hopes that we have already seen the worst, but it is nice–nevertheless–to be able to take a breath, watch the Jets, the Colts, the Vikings, and the Saints–and be concerned only with yards per carry, interceptions, quarterback sacks, and the like.  If only the problems of the world could be so simple.

My Predictions:

Colts defeat Jets 24-21;  (Jets’ defense not enough to stop Manning) and Saints defeat Vikings 31-27  (Bret Favre is good (and Adrian Peterson could help), but Drew Brees is better.

Until Next Week………….

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