Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Spending Freeze Could Worsen Jobs/Economic Crisis, and Follows the Path of Herbert Hoover rather than Roosevelt

Will President Obama follow the path of Herbert Hoover or Franklin D. Roosevelt in his attempt to lead the nation to economic recovery? That is the question that still remains to be answered, after his State of the Union Address.

Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, had the following to say about the Obama administration’s proposal to ‘freeze’ overall non-defense discretionary spending for three years starting with fiscal year 2011:

In all likelihood the unemployment rate will be higher in October than it is now, yet somehow the White House thinks it’s appropriate to begin reducing domestic discretionary spending at that time. Reducing overall spending when tens of millions of Americans remain out of work would be a disaster. It will condemn millions of families to years of avoidable economic hardships.

President Obama's . . . proposed ‘freeze’ is bad economic policy. It ignores the basic facts that deficit reduction must begin with job creation and economic recovery, offers little more than window-dressing on long-term deficit reduction, and inappropriately vilifies domestic spending.

Shifting federal spending from less effective to more effective programs is certainly welcome, but it doesn’t justify an overall spending reduction — especially not at a time when we need the federal government to inject demand into a severely weakened economy in order to create jobs. What President Obama should offer . . . is a bold plan to put millions of Americans back to work. To do anything less is to turn a cold shoulder to the needless suffering of millions of Americans and make any focus on ‘jobs’ simply rhetorical.

For more of Lawrence Mishel's statement, click here.

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Five-Point Plan to Put U.S. on Path Out of the Economic/Jobs Crisis, from the Economic Policy Institute

Five-Point Plan for U.S. Recovery: American Jobs Plan

In addition to the AFL-CIO, the Economic Policy Institute has a similar Five-Point Plan, backed up by research to support each of its key points for moving the U.S. Economy into a Path to real recovery--

The United States is experiencing its worst jobs crisis since the Great Depression. Nearly 16 million Americans—our family, friends, and neighbors—are out of work. This national crisis demands a bold plan to put people back to work. The Economic Policy Institute proposes the American Jobs Plan, a plan that would create at least 4.6 million jobs in one year.

Here you will find EPI's comprehensive research and analysis of the jobs crisis—how severe it has grown and why—and the details of EPI's American Jobs Plan.

We can—and must—put America back to work.

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A Clear Path Toward Dealing with the Jobs Crisis, to Show that People Still Matter More than Corporations

In order to keep the U.S. from following the path of Herbert Hoover into another depression, the AFL-CIO offers a clear path to a real jobs and national recovery, rather than just a corporate recovery.

We hope President Obama will follow this clear path to recovery, since anything less robust than this will be likely to repeat the mistakes of Hoover during the early 1930s, and of the Japanese during their "lost decade" of the 1990s.

A lukewarm response to the jobs crisis will fail to restore the more than 10,000,000 jobs lost during the last two years. A piecemeal, dribbled response will condemn the U.S. to a perpetual unemployment rate of more than 10%, which will be a disaster for all the people condemned to joblessness, as well as the national economy and the political prospects of the Democratic party.

From the AFL-CIO:

America Needs Jobs Now

No one needs to tell America’s families that unemployment and underemployment are at crisis levels. We need jobs—and we need them now.

Wall Street has gotten its bailouts. Now it’s time for Main Street to get some immediate help.

The AFL-CIO is calling on Congress and the Obama administration to take five steps now to care for the jobless and put America back to work.

1. Extend the lifeline for jobless workers. Unless Congress acts now, supplemental unemployment benefits, additional food assistance and expansion of COBRA health care benefits will expire at the end of the year. They must be extended for another 12 months to prevent working families from bankruptcy, home foreclosure and loss of health care. Extending benefits also will boost personal spending and create jobs throughout the economy.

2. Rebuild America’s schools, roads and energy systems. America still has at least $2.2 trillion in unmet infrastructure needs. We should put people to work to fix our nation’s broken-down school buildings and invest in transportation, green technology, energy efficiency and more.

3. Increase aid to state and local governments to maintain vital services. State and local governments and school districts have a $178 billion budget shortfall this year alone—while the recession creates greater need for their services. States and communities must get help to maintain critical frontline services, prevent massive job cuts and avoid deep damage to education just when our children need it most.

4. Put people to work doing work that needs to be done. If the private sector can't or won't provide the needed jobs, the government should step up to the plate, putting people who need jobs together with work that needs to be done. These should never be replacements for existing public jobs. They must pay competitive wages and should target distressed communities.

5. Put TARP funds to work for Main Street.The bank bailout helped Wall Street, not Main Street. We should put some of the billions of dollars in leftover Troubled Asset Relief Program funds to work creating jobs by enabling community banks to lend money to small- and medium-size businesses. If small businesses can get credit, they will create jobs.

America’s jobs situation would be even more dire without the economic stimulus program President Obama and Congress enacted, which has saved or created 1 million jobs. But the depth of this crisis demands that we do more—and that we do it now, before more people lose their jobs, their homes, their health care and their hope.

See chart: The Gap In The Labor Market

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

One BIG Reason Pres. Obama's Approach to State of the Union MAY be TOO LITTLE TOO LATE for the Economy and Jobs (unless more direct approach is taken)

Michigan Indefinitely Delays 200 Road & Bridge Projects

Lansing Associated Press writer KATHY BARKS HOFFMAN just posted a report, which NPR picked up, that underlines the reasons we may still be on the path to a second great depression.

And unless President Obama and Congress develop a quick and aggressive response to this economic reality in Michigan and many other states, he will be following the path of Herbert Hoover rather than F.D. Roosevelt.

According to Hoffman's report:
Michigan transportation officials have voted to delay more than 200 road and bridge projects previously planned for the next five years because the state is running low on money.
And, according to Hoffman, "Michigan could go from spending roughly $1.4 billion on roads this year with the help of federal stimulus money to less than $600 million three out of the next four years."

And this is just the tip of the iceberg of the additional economic decline and job loss in store for many states like Michigan in the coming years, unless something is done immediately to prevent states from heading down this path toward delaying and canceling major infrastructure projects, which must be the base of any economic recovery.

Unless President Obama and Congress support a major new economic stimulus package directed at helping the States to avoid massive additional job loss across Michigan and many other states as the result of cancellation of infrastructure projects like these in Michigan, the success Obama had in slowing job losses in 2009 (although we're still losing jobs each month) will quickly reverse, and we'll be sliding backwards again. And this time the Democrats won't simply be able to blame the Republicans, since when this downward spiral begins, it will be as much a result of insufficient and weak Democratic policy response, as due to Republican obstructionism.

The fact that even last night in his State of the Union speech President Obama continued to appeal to a hope that the Republican party would come around to support a "common sense" bipartisan strategy to help the country rise out of its crisis, would seem to indicate that he and his advisors have barely begun to reckon with the banality of evil that has been driving the Republican strategy for more than eight years now.

And if Obama and his advisors think they can confront and reverse this nihilistic and destructive Republican political force by appeals to common sense, they have apparently not even begun to think seriously about the lessons the struggles of the civil rights movement and the work of Dr. Martin Luther King have to teach us.

President Obama said in his speech that he was not naive. Unfortunately, based on the lack of a clear strategy and focus for supporting a strong economic/jobs recovery in his speech, I'm not convinced he is right about himself or his administration.

Based on the speech last night, the Obama administration continues to pursue an extremely naive political strategy, which sacrifices the power of popular progressive mobilization that could carry it forward, to a weak political strategy that keeps him hostage to the Republicans.

The continuing insistence on appealing to a Republican Party that has shown it is primarily invested in the destruction of the Obama Presidency at all costs, and that it has little concern for common sense or the good of the country, is bizarre and tragic from a President who should know better. After all, if the Republican Party had any concern for the country's welfare and the welfare of people, it would never have landed us in this economic mess in the first place!

The great slide into the first great Depression of the 1930s occurred largely because under President Hoover the Federal Government failed to help states avoid exactly the kinds of severe cut-backs states are now facing, and instead tried to focus on traditional business incentives to stimulate the economy.

Unless President Obama's administration and Congress wake up to the hard lessons of the previous great depression, and quickly, we will find ourselves repeating the mistakes of the past, and of President Hoover, who like Obama was a good man with good intentions who wanted to help his country, and even had a great resume of past experience for doing so.

But when it comes to the hard reality of capitalist economic cycles, good intentions that are not backed up with necessary and informed policy action, are utterly meaningless. And if we end up in another great depression, history will not remember Obama's good intentions. It will record and remember his failure to listen to the lessons of history, and to act on the advice of historically-informed economists like Paul Krugman, who should be put in charge of running Obama's economic team (though I suspect he may not want such a thankless job)....

See Krugman's recent blog post on the stupidity of the approach suggested by Obama's speech last night, which according to Krugman (and I agree) completely failed to change the narrative that has put the Republicans in charge of the rhetorical battle over both policy and politics in 2010.

I love Krugman because he pulls no punches, while his critiques also go to the core of what is wrong with the entire framework of both the Republican and Democratic approaches to policy in this crisis.

And unless politicians in charge of policy strategy begin to listen to Krugman and other economists like him, the consequences of all the premature 2009 talk of having avoided another great depression, which merely continues the delusional detachment from reality of the Bush era, will soon be coming home to roost.

The illusion-creating stock market "recovery" will be forced to meet the reality of continuing job loss, as our whole economy turns around for its "second dip." And this time, since we're starting at 10% unemployment (which hides a much larger unemployment rate that is structural and not even being counted--in cities like Detroit, for example, the real unemployment rate is around 30%, even higher than national rate in depths of the 1930s depression), we'll be entering depression era territory pretty quickly--thanks to the feckless policies of both political parties.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

President Obama's State of the Union Address

Madame Speaker, Vice President Biden, Members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow Americans:

Our Constitution declares that from time to time, the President shall give to Congress information about the state of our union. For two hundred and twenty years, our leaders have fulfilled this duty. They have done so during periods of prosperity and tranquility. And they have done so in the midst of war and depression; at moments of great strife and great struggle.

It’s tempting to look back on these moments and assume that our progress was inevitable – that America was always destined to succeed. But when the Union was turned back at Bull Run and the Allies first landed at Omaha Beach, victory was very much in doubt. When the market crashed on Black Tuesday and civil rights marchers were beaten on Bloody Sunday, the future was anything but certain. These were times that tested the courage of our convictions, and the strength of our union. And despite all our divisions and disagreements; our hesitations and our fears; America prevailed because we chose to move forward as one nation, and one people.

Again, we are tested. And again, we must answer history’s call.

One year ago, I took office amid two wars, an economy rocked by severe recession, a financial system on the verge of collapse, and a government deeply in debt. Experts from across the political spectrum warned that if we did not act, we might face a second depression. So we acted – immediately and aggressively. And one year later, the worst of the storm has passed.

But the devastation remains. One in ten Americans still cannot find work. Many businesses have shuttered. Home values have declined. Small towns and rural communities have been hit especially hard. For those who had already known poverty, life has become that much harder.

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 I know the anxieties that are out there right now. They’re not new. These struggles are the reason I ran for President. These struggles are what I’ve witnessed for years in places like Elkhart, Indiana and Galesburg, Illinois. I hear about them in the letters that I read each night. The toughest to read are those written by children – asking why they have to move from their home, or when their mom or dad will be able to go back to work.

For these Americans and so many others, change has not come fast enough. Some are frustrated; some are angry. They don’t understand why it seems like bad behavior on Wall Street is rewarded but hard work on Main Street isn’t; or why Washington has been unable or unwilling to solve any of our problems. They are tired of the partisanship and the shouting and the pettiness. They know we can’t afford it. Not now.

So we face big and difficult challenges. And what the American people hope – what they deserve – is for all of us, Democrats and Republicans, to work through our differences; to overcome the numbing weight of our politics. For while the people who sent us here have different backgrounds, different stories and different beliefs, the anxieties they face are the same. The aspirations they hold are shared. A job that pays the bills. A chance to get ahead. Most of all, the ability to give their children a better life.

You know what else they share? They share a stubborn resilience in the face of adversity. After one of the most difficult years in our history, they remain busy building cars and teaching kids; starting businesses and going back to school. They’re coaching little league and helping their neighbors. As one woman wrote me, “We are strained but hopeful, struggling but encouraged.”

It is because of this spirit – this great decency and great strength – that I have never been more hopeful about America’s future than I am tonight. Despite our hardships, our union is strong. We do not give up. We do not quit. We do not allow fear or division to break our spirit. In this new decade, it’s time the American people get a government that matches their decency; that embodies their strength.

And tonight, I’d like to talk about how together, we can deliver on that promise.

It begins with our economy.

Our most urgent task upon taking office was to shore up the same banks that helped cause this crisis. It was not easy to do. And if there’s one thing that has unified Democrats and Republicans, it’s that we all hated the bank bailout. I hated it. You hated it. It was about as popular as a root canal.

But when I ran for President, I promised I wouldn’t just do what was popular – I would do what was necessary. And if we had allowed the meltdown of the financial system, unemployment might be double what it is today. More businesses would certainly have closed. More homes would have surely been lost.

So I supported the last administration’s efforts to create the financial rescue program. And when we took the program over, we made it more transparent and accountable. As a result, the markets are now stabilized, and we have recovered most of the money we spent on the banks.

To recover the rest, I have proposed a fee on the biggest banks. I know Wall Street isn’t keen on this idea, but if these firms can afford to hand out big bonuses again, they can afford a modest fee to pay back the taxpayers who rescued them in their time of need.

As we stabilized the financial system, we also took steps to get our economy growing again, save as many jobs as possible, and help Americans who had become unemployed.

That’s why we 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 passed 25 different tax cuts.

Let me repeat: we cut taxes. We cut taxes for 95% of working families. We cut taxes for small businesses. We cut taxes for first-time homebuyers. We cut taxes for parents trying to care for their children. We cut taxes for 8 million Americans paying for college. As a result, millions of Americans had more to spend on gas, and food, and other necessities, all of which helped businesses keep more workers. And we haven’t raised income taxes by a single dime on a single person. Not a single dime.

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. And we are on track to add another one and a half million jobs to this total by the end of the year.

The plan that has made all of this possible, from the tax cuts to the jobs, is the Recovery Act. That’s right – the Recovery Act, also known as the Stimulus Bill. Economists on the left and the right say that this bill has helped saved jobs and avert disaster. But you don’t have to take their word for it.

Talk to the small business in Phoenix that will triple its workforce because of the Recovery Act.

Talk to the window manufacturer in Philadelphia who said he used to be skeptical about the Recovery Act, until he had to add two more work shifts just because of the business it created.

Talk to the single teacher raising two kids who was told by her principal in the last week of school that because of the Recovery Act, she wouldn’t be laid off after all.

There are stories like this all across America. And after two years of recession, the economy is growing again. Retirement funds have started to gain back some of their value. Businesses are beginning to invest again, and slowly some are starting to hire again.

But I realize that for every success story, there are other stories, of men and women who wake up with the anguish of not knowing where their next paycheck will come from; who send out resumes week after week and hear nothing in response. That is why jobs must be our number one focus in 2010, and that is why I am calling for a new jobs bill tonight.

Now, the true engine of job creation in this country will always be America’s businesses. But government can create the conditions necessary for businesses to expand and hire more workers.

We should start where most new jobs do – in small businesses, companies that begin when an entrepreneur takes a chance on a dream, or a worker decides its time she became her own boss.

Through sheer grit and determination, these companies have weathered the recession and are ready to grow. But when you talk to small business owners in places like Allentown, Pennsylvania or Elyria, Ohio, you find out that even though banks on Wall Street are lending again, they are mostly lending to bigger companies. But financing remains difficult for small business owners across the country.

So tonight, I’m proposing that we take $30 billion of the money Wall Street banks have repaid and use it to help community banks give small businesses the credit they need to stay afloat. I am also proposing a new small business tax credit – one that will go to over one million small businesses who hire new workers or raise wages. While we’re at it, let’s also eliminate all capital gains taxes on small business investment; and provide a tax incentive for all businesses, large and small, to invest in new plants and equipment.

Next, we can put Americans to work today building the infrastructure of tomorrow. From the first railroads to the interstate highway system, our nation has always been built to compete. There’s no reason Europe or China should have the fastest trains, or the new factories that manufacture clean energy products.

Tomorrow, I’ll visit Tampa, Florida, where workers will soon break ground on a new high-speed railroad funded by the Recovery Act. There are projects like that all across this country that will create jobs and help our nation move goods, services, and information. We should put more Americans to work building clean energy facilities, and give rebates to Americans who make their homes more energy efficient, which supports clean energy jobs. And to encourage these and other businesses to stay within our borders, it’s time to finally slash the tax breaks for companies that ship our jobs overseas and give those tax breaks to companies that create jobs in the United States of America.

The House has passed a jobs bill that includes some of these steps. As the first order of business this year, I urge the Senate to do the same. People are out of work. They are hurting. They need our help. And I want a jobs bill on my desk without delay.

But the truth is, these steps still won’t make up for the seven million jobs we’ve lost over the last two years. The only way to move to full employment is to lay a new foundation for long-term economic growth, and finally address the problems that America’s families have confronted for years.

We cannot afford another so-called economic “expansion” like the one from last decade – what some call the “lost decade” – where jobs grew more slowly than during any prior expansion; where the income of the average American household declined while the cost of health care and tuition reached record highs; where prosperity was built on a housing bubble and financial speculation.

From the day I took office, I have been told that addressing our larger challenges is too ambitious – that such efforts would be too contentious, that our political system is too gridlocked, and that we should just put things on hold for awhile.

For those who make these claims, I have one simple question:

How long should we wait? How long should America put its future on hold?

You see, Washington has been telling us to wait for decades, even as the problems have grown worse. Meanwhile, China’s not waiting to revamp its economy. Germany’s not waiting. India’s not waiting. These nations aren’t standing still. These nations aren’t playing for second place. They’re putting more emphasis on math and science. They’re rebuilding their infrastructure. They are making serious investments in clean energy because they want those jobs.

Well I do not accept second-place for the United States of America. As hard as it may be, as uncomfortable and contentious as the debates may be, it’s time to get serious about fixing the problems that are hampering our growth.

One place to start is serious financial reform. Look, I am not interested in punishing banks, I’m interested in protecting our economy. A strong, healthy financial market makes it possible for businesses to access credit and create new jobs. It channels the savings of families into investments that raise incomes. But that can only happen if we guard against the same recklessness that nearly brought down our entire economy.

We need to make sure consumers and middle-class families have the information they need to make financial decisions. We can’t allow financial institutions, including those that take your deposits, to take risks that threaten the whole economy.

The House has already passed financial reform with many of these changes. And the lobbyists are already trying to kill it. Well, we cannot let them win this fight. And if the bill that ends up on my desk does not meet the test of real reform, I will send it back.

Next, we need to encourage American innovation. Last year, we made the largest investment in basic research funding in history – an investment that could lead to the world’s cheapest solar cells or treatment that kills cancer cells but leaves healthy ones untouched. And no area is more ripe for such innovation than energy. You can see the results of last year’s investment in clean energy – in the North Carolina company that will create 1200 jobs nationwide helping to make advanced batteries; or in the California business that will put 1,000 people to work making solar panels.

But to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives. That means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country. It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development. It means continued investment in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies. And yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America.

I am grateful to the House for passing such a bill last year. This year, I am eager to help advance the bipartisan effort in the Senate. I know there have been questions about whether we can afford such changes in a tough economy; and I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change. But even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future – because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. And America must be that nation.

Third, we need to export more of our goods. Because the more products we make and sell to other countries, the more jobs we support right here in America. So tonight, we set a new goal: We will double our exports over the next five years, an increase that will support two million jobs in America. To help meet this goal, we’re launching a National Export Initiative that will help farmers and small businesses increase their exports, and reform export controls consistent with national security.

We have to seek new markets aggressively, just as our competitors are. If America sits on the sidelines while other nations sign trade deals, we will lose the chance to create jobs on our shores. But realizing those benefits also means enforcing those agreements so our trading partners play by the rules. And that’s why we will continue to shape a Doha trade agreement that opens global markets, and why we will strengthen our trade relations in Asia and with key partners like South Korea, Panama, and Colombia.

Fourth, we need to invest in the skills and education of our people.

This year, we have broken through the stalemate between left and right by launching a national competition to improve our schools. The idea here is simple: instead of rewarding failure, we only reward success. Instead of funding the status quo, we only invest in reform – reform that raises student achievement, inspires students to excel in math and science, and turns around failing schools that steal the future of too many young Americans, from rural communities to inner-cities. In the 21st century, one of the best anti-poverty programs is a world-class education. In this country, the success of our children cannot depend more on where they live than their potential.

When we renew the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we will work with Congress to expand these reforms to all fifty states. Still, in this economy, a high school diploma no longer guarantees a good job. I urge the Senate to follow the House and pass a bill that will revitalize our community colleges, which are a career pathway to the children of so many working families. To make college more affordable, this bill will finally end the unwarranted taxpayer-subsidies that go to banks for student loans. Instead, let’s take that money and give families a $10,000 tax credit for four years of college and increase Pell Grants. And let’s tell another one million students that when they graduate, they will be required to pay only ten percent of their income on student loans, and all of their debt will be forgiven after twenty years – and forgiven after ten years if they choose a career in public service. Because in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they chose to go to college. And it’s time for colleges and universities to get serious about cutting their own costs – because they too have a responsibility to help solve this problem.

Now, the price of college tuition is just one of the burdens facing the middle-class. That’s why last year I asked Vice President Biden to chair a task force on Middle-Class Families. That’s why we’re nearly doubling the child care tax credit, and making it easier to save for retirement by giving every worker access to a retirement account and expanding the tax credit for those who start a nest egg. That’s why we’re working to lift the value of a family’s single largest investment – their home. The steps we took last year to shore up the housing market have allowed millions of Americans to take out new loans and save an average of $1,500 on mortgage payments. This year, we will step up re-financing so that homeowners can move into more affordable mortgages. And it is precisely to relieve the burden on middle-class families that we still need health insurance reform.

Now let’s be clear – I did not choose to tackle this issue to get some legislative victory under my belt. And by now it should be fairly obvious that I didn’t take on health care because it was good politics.

I took on health care because of the stories I’ve heard from Americans with pre-existing conditions whose lives depend on getting coverage; patients who’ve been denied coverage; and families – even those with insurance – who are just one illness away from financial ruin.

After nearly a century of trying, we are closer than ever to bringing more security to the lives of so many Americans. The approach we’ve taken would protect every American from the worst practices of the insurance industry. It would give small businesses and uninsured Americans a chance to choose an affordable health care plan in a competitive market. It would require every insurance plan to cover preventive care. And by the way, I want to acknowledge our First Lady, Michelle Obama, who this year is creating a national movement to tackle the epidemic of childhood obesity and make our kids healthier.

Our approach would preserve the right of Americans who have insurance to keep their doctor and their plan. It would reduce costs and premiums for millions of families and businesses. And according to the Congressional Budget Office – the independent organization that both parties have cited as the official scorekeeper for Congress – our approach would bring down the deficit by as much as $1 trillion over the next two decades.

Still, this is a complex issue, and the longer it was debated, the more skeptical people became. I take my share of the blame for not explaining it more clearly to the American people. And I know that with all the lobbying and horse-trading, this process left most Americans wondering what’s in it for them.

But I also know this problem is not going away. By the time I’m finished speaking tonight, more Americans will have lost their health insurance. Millions will lose it this year. Our deficit will grow. Premiums will go up. Patients will be denied the care they need. Small business owners will continue to drop coverage altogether. I will not walk away from these Americans, and neither should the people in this chamber.

As temperatures cool, I want everyone to take another look at the plan we’ve proposed. There’s a reason why many doctors, nurses, and health care experts who know our system best consider this approach a vast improvement over the status quo. But if anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors, and stop insurance company abuses, let me know. Here’s what I ask of Congress, though: Do not walk away from reform. Not now. Not when we are so close. Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people.

Now, even as health care reform would reduce our deficit, it’s not enough to dig us out of a massive fiscal hole in which we find ourselves. It’s a challenge that makes all others that much harder to solve, and one that’s been subject to a lot of political posturing.

So let me start the discussion of government spending by setting the record straight. At the beginning of the last decade, America had a budget surplus of over $200 billion. By the time I took office, we had a one year deficit of over $1 trillion and projected deficits of $8 trillion over the next decade. Most of this was the result of not paying for two wars, two tax cuts, and an expensive prescription drug program. On top of that, the effects of the recession put a $3 trillion hole in our budget. That was before I walked in the door.

Now if we had taken office in ordinary times, I would have liked nothing more than to start bringing down the deficit. But we took office amid a crisis, and our efforts to prevent a second Depression have added another $1 trillion to our national debt.

I am absolutely convinced that was the right thing to do. But families across the country are tightening their belts and making tough decisions. The federal government should do the same. So tonight, I’m proposing specific steps to pay for the $1 trillion that it took to rescue the economy last year.

Starting in 2011, we are prepared to freeze government spending for three years. Spending related to our national security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will not be affected. But all other discretionary government programs will. Like any cash-strapped family, we will work within a budget to invest in what we need and sacrifice what we don’t. And if I have to enforce this discipline by veto, I will.

We will continue to go through the budget line by line to eliminate programs that we can’t afford and don’t work. We’ve already identified $20 billion in savings for next year. To help working families, we will extend our middle-class tax cuts. But at a time of record deficits, we will not continue tax cuts for oil companies, investment fund managers, and those making over $250,000 a year. We just can’t afford it.

Now, even after paying for what we spent on my watch, we will still face the massive deficit we had when I took office. More importantly, the cost of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will continue to skyrocket. That’s why I’ve called for a bipartisan, Fiscal Commission, modeled on a proposal by Republican Judd Gregg and Democrat Kent Conrad. This can’t be one of those Washington gimmicks that lets us pretend we solved a problem. The Commission will have to provide a specific set of solutions by a certain deadline. Yesterday, the Senate blocked a bill that would have created this commission. So I will issue an executive order that will allow us to go forward, because I refuse to pass this problem on to another generation of Americans. And when the vote comes tomorrow, the Senate should restore the pay-as-you-go law that was a big reason why we had record surpluses in the 1990s.

I know that some in my own party will argue that we cannot address the deficit or freeze government spending when so many are still hurting. I agree, which is why this freeze will not take effect until next year, when the economy is stronger. But understand – if we do not take meaningful steps to rein in our debt, it could damage our markets, increase the cost of borrowing, and jeopardize our recovery – all of which could have an even worse effect on our job growth and family incomes.

From some on the right, I expect we’ll hear a different argument – that if we just make fewer investments in our people, extend tax cuts for wealthier Americans, eliminate more regulations, and maintain the status quo on health care, our deficits will go away. The problem is, that’s what we did for eight years. That’s what helped lead us into this crisis. It’s what helped lead to these deficits. And we cannot do it again.

Rather than fight the same tired battles that have dominated Washington for decades, it’s time to try something new. Let’s invest in our people without leaving them a mountain of debt. Let’s meet our responsibility to the citizens who sent us here. Let’s try common sense.

To do that, we have to recognize that we face more than a deficit of dollars right now. We face a deficit of trust – deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years. To close that credibility gap we must take action on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to end the outsized influence of lobbyists; to do our work openly; and to give our people the government they deserve.

That’s what I came to Washington to do. That’s why – for the first time in history – my Administration posts our White House visitors online. And that’s why we’ve excluded lobbyists from policy-making jobs or seats on federal boards and commissions.

But we can’t stop there. It’s time to require lobbyists to disclose each contact they make on behalf of a client with my Administration or Congress. And it’s time to put strict limits on the contributions that lobbyists give to candidates for federal office. Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign corporations – to spend without limit in our elections. Well I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and that’s why I’m urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong.

I’m also calling on Congress to continue down the path of earmark reform. You have trimmed some of this spending and embraced some meaningful change. But restoring the public trust demands more. For example, some members of Congress post some earmark requests online. Tonight, I’m calling on Congress to publish all earmark requests on a single website before there’s a vote so that the American people can see how their money is being spent.

Of course, none of these reforms will even happen if we don’t also reform how we work with one another.

Now, I am not naïve. I never thought the mere fact of my election would usher in peace, harmony, and some post-partisan era. I knew that both parties have fed divisions that are deeply entrenched. And on some issues, there are simply philosophical differences that will always cause us to part ways. These disagreements, about the role of government in our lives, about our national priorities and our national security, have been taking place for over two hundred years. They are the very essence of our democracy.

But what frustrates the American people is a Washington where every day is Election Day. We cannot wage a perpetual campaign where the only goal is to see who can get the most embarrassing headlines about their opponent – a belief that if you lose, I win. Neither party should delay or obstruct every single bill just because they can. The confirmation of well-qualified public servants should not be held hostage to the pet projects or grudges of a few individual Senators. Washington may think that saying anything about the other side, no matter how false, is just part of the game. But it is precisely such politics that has stopped either party from helping the American people. Worse yet, it is sowing further division among our citizens and further distrust in our government.

So no, I will not give up on changing the tone of our politics. I know it’s an election year. And after last week, it is clear that campaign fever has come even earlier than usual. But we still need to govern. To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve some problems, not run for the hills. And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that sixty votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town, then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well. Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it’s not leadership. We were sent here to serve our citizens, not our ambitions. So let’s show the American people that we can do it together. This week, I’ll be addressing a meeting of the House Republicans. And I would like to begin monthly meetings with both the Democratic and Republican leadership. I know you can’t wait.

Throughout our history, no issue has united this country more than our security. Sadly, some of the unity we felt after 9/11 has dissipated. We can argue all we want about who’s to blame for this, but I am not interested in re-litigating the past. I know that all of us love this country. All of us are committed to its defense. So let’s put aside the schoolyard taunts about who is tough. Let’s reject the false choice between protecting our people and upholding our values. Let’s leave behind the fear and division, and do what it takes to defend our nation and forge a more hopeful future – for America and the world.

That is the work we began last year. Since the day I took office, we have renewed our focus on the terrorists who threaten our nation. We have made substantial investments in our homeland security and disrupted plots that threatened to take American lives. We are filling unacceptable gaps revealed by the failed Christmas attack, with better airline security, and swifter action on our intelligence. We have prohibited torture and strengthened partnerships from the Pacific to South Asia to the Arabian Peninsula. And in the last year, hundreds of Al Qaeda’s fighters and affiliates, including many senior leaders, have been captured or killed – far more than in 2008.

In Afghanistan, we are increasing our troops and training Afghan Security Forces so they can begin to take the lead in July of 2011, and our troops can begin to come home. We will reward good governance, reduce corruption, and support the rights of all Afghans – men and women alike. We are joined by allies and partners who have increased their own commitment, and who will come together tomorrow in London to reaffirm our common purpose. There will be difficult days ahead. But I am confident we will succeed.

As we take the fight to al Qaeda, we are responsibly leaving Iraq to its people. As a candidate, I promised that I would end this war, and that is what I am doing as President. We will have all of our combat troops out of Iraq by the end of this August. We will support the Iraqi government as they hold elections, and continue to partner with the Iraqi people to promote regional peace and prosperity. But make no mistake: this war is ending, and all of our troops are coming home.

Tonight, all of our men and women in uniform -- in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world – must know that they have our respect, our gratitude, and our full support. And just as they must have the resources they need in war, we all have a responsibility to support them when they come home. That is why we made the largest increase in investments for veterans in decades. That is why we are building a 21st century VA. And that is why Michelle has joined with Jill Biden to forge a national commitment to support military families.

Even as we prosecute two wars, we are also confronting perhaps the greatest danger to the American people – the threat of nuclear weapons. I have embraced the vision of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan through a strategy that reverses the spread of these weapons, and seeks a world without them. To reduce our stockpiles and launchers, while ensuring our deterrent, the United States and Russia are completing negotiations on the farthest-reaching arms control treaty in nearly two decades. And at April’s Nuclear Security Summit, we will bring forty-four nations together behind a clear goal: securing all vulnerable nuclear materials around the world in four years, so that they never fall into the hands of terrorists.

These diplomatic efforts have also strengthened our hand in dealing with those nations that insist on violating international agreements in pursuit of these weapons. That is why North Korea now faces increased isolation, and stronger sanctions – sanctions that are being vigorously enforced. That is why the international community is more united, and the Islamic Republic of Iran is more isolated. And as Iran’s leaders continue to ignore their obligations, there should be no doubt: they, too, will face growing consequences.

That is the leadership that we are providing – engagement that advances the common security and prosperity of all people. We are working through the G-20 to sustain a lasting global recovery. We are working with Muslim communities around the world to promote science, education and innovation. We have gone from a bystander to a leader in the fight against climate change. We are helping developing countries to feed themselves, and continuing the fight against HIV/AIDS. And we are launching a new initiative that will give us the capacity to respond faster and more effectively to bio-terrorism or an infectious disease – a plan that will counter threats at home, and strengthen public health abroad.

As we have for over sixty years, America takes these actions because our destiny is connected to those beyond our shores. But we also do it because it is right. That is why, as we meet here tonight, over 10,000 Americans are working with many nations to help the people of Haiti recover and rebuild. That is why we stand with the girl who yearns to go to school in Afghanistan; we support the human rights of the women marching through the streets of Iran; and we advocate for the young man denied a job by corruption in Guinea. For America must always stand on the side of freedom and human dignity.

Abroad, America’s greatest source of strength has always been our ideals. The same is true at home. We find unity in our incredible diversity, drawing on the promise enshrined in our Constitution: the notion that we are all created equal, that no matter who you are or what you look like, if you abide by the law you should be protected by it; that if you adhere to our common values you should be treated no different than anyone else.

We must continually renew this promise. My Administration has a Civil Rights Division that is once again prosecuting civil rights violations and employment discrimination. We finally strengthened our laws to protect against crimes driven by hate. This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are. We are going to crack down on violations of equal pay laws – so that women get equal pay for an equal day’s work. And we should continue the work of fixing our broken immigration system – to secure our borders, enforce our laws, and ensure that everyone who plays by the rules can contribute to our economy and enrich our nations.

In the end, it is our ideals, our values, that built America – values that allowed us to forge a nation made up of immigrants from every corner of the globe; values that drive our citizens still. Every day, Americans meet their responsibilities to their families and their employers. Time and again, they lend a hand to their neighbors and give back to their country. They take pride in their labor, and are generous in spirit. These aren’t Republican values or Democratic values they’re living by; business values or labor values. They are American values.

Unfortunately, too many of our citizens have lost faith that our biggest institutions – our corporations, our media, and yes, our government – still reflect these same values. Each of these institutions are full of honorable men and women doing important work that helps our country prosper. But each time a CEO rewards himself for failure, or a banker puts the rest of us at risk for his own selfish gain, people’s doubts grow. Each time lobbyists game the system or politicians tear each other down instead of lifting this country up, we lose faith. The more that TV pundits reduce serious debates into silly arguments, and big issues into sound bites, our citizens turn away.

No wonder there’s so much cynicism out there.

No wonder there’s so much disappointment.

I campaigned on the promise of change – change we can believe in, the slogan went. And right now, I know there are many Americans who aren’t sure if they still believe we can change – or at least, that I can deliver it.

But remember this – I never suggested that change would be easy, or that I can do it alone. Democracy in a nation of three hundred million people can be noisy and messy and complicated. And when you try to do big things and make big changes, it stirs passions and controversy. That’s just how it is.

Those of us in public office can respond to this reality by playing it safe and avoid telling hard truths. We can do what’s necessary to keep our poll numbers high, and get through the next election instead of doing what’s best for the next generation.

But I also know this: if people had made that decision fifty years ago or one hundred years ago or two hundred years ago, we wouldn’t be here tonight. The only reason we are is because generations of Americans were unafraid to do what was hard; to do what was needed even when success was uncertain; to do what it took to keep the dream of this nation alive for their children and grandchildren.

Our administration has had some political setbacks this year, and some of them were deserved. But I wake up every day knowing that they are nothing compared to the setbacks that families all across this country have faced this year. And what keeps me going – what keeps me fighting – is that despite all these setbacks, that spirit of determination and optimism – that fundamental decency that has always been at the core of the American people – lives on.

It lives on in the struggling small business owner who wrote to me of his company, “None of us,” he said, “…are willing to consider, even slightly, that we might fail.”

It lives on in the woman who said that even though she and her neighbors have felt the pain of recession, “We are strong. We are resilient. We are American.”

It lives on in the 8-year old boy in Louisiana, who just sent me his allowance and asked if I would give it to the people of Haiti. And it lives on in all the Americans who’ve dropped everything to go some place they’ve never been and pull people they’ve never known from rubble, prompting chants of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A!” when another life was saved.

The spirit that has sustained this nation for more than two centuries lives on in you, its people.

We have finished a difficult year. We have come through a difficult decade. But a new year has come. A new decade stretches before us. We don’t quit. I don’t quit. Let’s seize this moment – to start anew, to carry the dream forward, and to strengthen our union once more.

Thank you. God Bless You. And God Bless the United States of America.

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Toward a Sustainable State of the Union: What President Obama Needs to Communicate Tonight

"What happened here tonight can happen all over America." So stated the new Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown last week after his election night takeover of Ted Kennedy’s seat. If the somnambulant Democratic Party leadership wants to avoid the fate of having Scott Brown’s prediction come true, President Obama and the Democratic leadership need to engage a fundamental transformation of strategy.

That process of transformation could begin tomorrow night with President Obama’s State of the Union speech. To avoid repeating the mistakes of President Hoover, on the way to a one-term presidency, this State of the Union speech needs to do three primary things:

1. Emphasize an inspiring Vision of Sustainable Recovery and Governance for a democratic nation of, by, and for the people, not corporations.

2. Demonstrate President Obama is taking up the role of a democratic national leader, rather than trying to be a technocratic political manager of the narrow Beltway consensus.

3. Define an assertive Progressive populist Agenda for which the President will fight, as leader of the American people.

If President Obama and his administration are still inspired by the audacity of hope that helped them to win the election in 2008, here is the kind of message and vision that needs to be communicated in the President’s State of the Union Address tonight.

"Without vision, the people perish."

Vision--Develop an assertive Progressive Vision of government of, by, and for the People, not the corporations, by focusing on Sustainable National Recovery and Community Building.

Instead of constantly playing defense against an assertive populist minority on the right, emphasize your progressive vision of Democratic Governance for a Democratic Nation of People. Provide a larger inspiring vision for governing the country, one that engages the people of this country as participants in creating a Sustainable Recovery and an ongoing Process of Community Building assisted by a progressive government of, by, and for the people (rather than the corporations) that will put all Americans back to work in rebuilding their communities and the economy of the Nation!

Especially after last week’s Supreme Court decision, there is great opportunity and need to recapture the spirit and importance of the reasons our government over the last century was shaped to restrict corporate influence in order to preserve democracy from being destroyed by corporate power. Democracies are always fragile, and never more so in times of war and crisis. If we allow government to be taken over by the fear resulting from perpetual war and the power of money stemming from corporate control, meaningful democracy will have little chance of surviving in the U.S. during this century.

Since FDR’s New Deal was very fragmented and only partially effective, the Obama administration can provide a better and more Sustainable New Deal for the American people--if it grounds its strategy in a clear vision and a systematic strategy for addressing the requirements of economic and political transformation in the 21st century. A Sustainable New Deal focused on Recovery and Community Redevelopment can not only be more successful than Roosevelt’s New Deal, but can provide a vital platform for national and local transformation in this decade and beyond. Such a vision and strategy would allow the Democrats to lead the nation dramatically forward, rather than keep them in a position of continuing to fight on the margins of reform against a faux-populist Republican party that provides nothing but empty slogans and ideology to guide us further down the path to disaster.

Leadership--We Need Progressive Presidential Leadership, not Management, NOW!

We the People need a President who will not be afraid to take up the role of democratic political leadership of the people of the nation! We don’t need, and will eventually lose faith in a President Obama who rests content with trying to be another political manager of the Beltway politicians and their consensus (or lack thereof). We need a President who will provide the inspiring leadership of the People who elected Barack Obama to be their President. Allow your staff to play the role of managing the Beltway political process—that’s what they are hired to do. We elected you to do more than that. As President, you should be the political leader of the people of this country, and we need such a progressive leader now more than ever.

Tomorrow night, do not speak like a technocratic political manager! Instead, combine the impassioned and inspiring Obama of 2008, and of the 2004 Democratic convention, with the spirit of Presidents Lincoln and F.D. Roosevelt who came to understand and accept the role of being leaders of their country in times of national crisis. This means speaking beyond the audiences of the Beltway, to the hearts and minds of the American people. Use the vision of Sustainable Recovery and popular government for the people to take up the mantle of leader of the people of the United States, not simply of the other politicians within the Beltway.

President Obama, you have the ability to be an inspiring leader; don’t hide that ability under a bushel! This speech should rebuild our sense of the President as a popular leader of the country, not a mere political manager and technocrat of a Beltway-centric political process so narrowly and cynically defined that most of the American people have become disgusted with the very meaning of "government" associated with the Beltway. People have lost the ability to believe in government as a positive force for progressive change in their lives, their cities, and their country because no one speaks out in an inspiring way about all the valuable things government (beyond the Beltway) does and can do for the American people and for our common good as a people and a nation. The President as democratic leader should speak to this most fundamental of needs of a democratic nation.

Progressive Agenda--Define an Assertive Progressive populist Agenda you will fight for!

Grounded in a Vision of a Progressive Populist Government that will engage with and fight for the American people, and for a sustainable National Recovery and process of rebuilding communities, use this speech to define an Assertive Progressive populist Agenda you will fight for! Don’t get bogged down in a bunch of boring policy-wonkish details that make you sound like a politician and political manager rather than a leader of the nation. But use this speech to provide a clear and inspiring outline of the kind of systematic approach to progressive governing that will not only lead the country out of its current economic and political crisis, but also provide a strong and firm foundation for its future as it responds to the fundamental 21st-century challenges of war, climate change, and the crises of energy and economic transformation. These challenges are not going away, and will be a constant feature of this century’s historical development.

The President who can provide the people of this nation with a clear approach to achieving a Sustainable Economic Recovery and National and Community Development in the 21st Century will define the meaning of successful and positive government for generations to come (as did Roosevelt for the second half of the twentieth century).

This should be your trans-partisan (not bipartisan, which allows the combined limitations of both Washington parties to define your agenda) approach to developing an agenda for the American people, rather than the political parties. By focusing on outlining a progressive agenda for action on behalf of the American people that transcends the narrow limitations and petty politics of both parties, you can challenge the membership of both political parties, as well as Independents across the nation, to follow your popular progressive leadership. Absent this, you will remain hostage to the narrow and ultimately self-defeating agendas and battles of both political parties.

It is through defining a clear and inspiring progressive agenda for change, grounded in the vision of Sustainable Recovery and Community Building, that you can take leadership of the political process back from the reactionary forces governing both parties, and become a truly transformative democratic leader for the 21st century.

What would be some of the key highlights of a Progressive Agenda for Sustainable Recovery and Community Redevelopment?

First and foremost: A strong and primary emphasis on supporting and nurturing citizen and community engagement in processes of Governance and Policymaking, so citizens can take government back into their own hands for the purposes of sustainable development and community renewal. Effective participatory engagement in structures of local governance is crucial to the forms of sustainable community building and development needed to respond effectively to all the major challenges of the 21st century related to energy, climate change, and economic transformation. And the survival and flourishing of democratic government in this century depends on the rediscovery of popular and equitable participation in structures of governance that are not limited to the voting booth.

Second, the strengthening of effective and efficient social programs of education, health and human services, housing, food security, employment, and transportation under the more coherent and unifying umbrella of building sustainable infrastructure for healthy communities, is crucial to being able to defend and improve upon the national, state, and local infrastructure and structures of social services that people depend on for maintaining humane and decent communities that serve the fundamental needs and interests of the American people. Merely maintaining a focus on social program spending, and on restraint of such spending, in the absence of a new and inspiring vision and framework that gives people an understanding of what all social programs are for, is a losing strategy that feeds into the hands of all the reactionary forces that seek continually to cut social spending but have no problem with always increasing the budgets for military spending. This is neither a progressive nor sustainable strategy for the development of a democratic government and nation in this century. It is rather a capitulation of the worst kind to the reactionary forces that will defeat all movement toward a sustainable future.

An inappropriate emphasis on spending restraint in relation to the most pressing social needs of the people in the midst of a major jobs recession will do more to turn people against this administration than anything else could, while also ensuring that the economic recovery will fail to sustain itself. Any real economic recovery must be a jobs recovery, not merely a financial/stock market recovery.

Third, the promotion of progressive environmental and energy programs, on the order of New Deal’s TVA, are crucial to building a sustainable recovery. Here is where the most dramatic emphasis can be placed on clear programs for tying together sustainable economic recovery and community redevelopment through an emphasis on the promotion of fundamental and energetic initiatives needed to bring about the transformation of our national economy and energy grid to sustain a productive national economy throughout the century, while also protecting the global environmental commons on which all nations depend for their survival and flourishing in this century.

And last, the strengthening of effective and efficient regulatory programs to protect the interests and security of the nation’s economic and financial systems, along with the fundamental structures of democratic governance of, by and for the people, all of which can be so easily corrupted and broken down by forces from within or without.

NO MIDDLE ROAD to a Sustainable Future

The possibility of a compromising bipartisan middle road to the future disappeared during the eight disastrous years of the Bush administration.

Until the Obama administration and the Democratic Party wake up to this fact, they will be playing into the hands of the most reactionary forces of our political reality, and living in a dream world of the past. In the terribly fragmented and divided political culture of our present reality, there can be no middle road to winning the hearts and minds of the American people.

If Obama the President tries to play the role of political manager of a nonexistent middle-of-the-road consensus, and continues to follow the path of moderation and compromise, he will remain a mediocre president like Hoover who failed to rise to the occasion of democratic leadership and vision in a moment of national and global crisis. He will remain a President always reacting to the crises of each moment, rather than a President able to define and lead a democratic people and nation in turning crises into opportunities to redefine the nature of our structures of life and governance in ways that will help us not only to survive but to thrive as a people and nation in the 21st century.

In a time of crisis, to remain the same and follow the patterns of the past is inevitably to lose the struggle to define history. To remain a moderate in this crisis will mean being defined, limited, and eventually overwhelmed by the constant crises of our historical era.

President Herbert Hoover was defined by historical crises he was never able to rise above and command with a vision for national transformation and leadership. The first year of the Obama Presidency unfortunately followed the model of a Hoover rather than an FDR. But as we’ve seen from past presidencies, the first year does not need to define the course of an entire Presidency.

Obama was much younger than FDR when he took office, and so we can allow him the grace of time needed to discover and learn the necessity of assuming the mantle of national leadership in a time of crisis. This cannot be easy. It is obviously the most difficult of things, and no human being could do it alone. But President Obama has the hopes and aspirations and desire of the American people behind him, if he will have the courage to lead. Even FDR made many mistakes, and his New Deal was far from perfect. But FDR became a great leader because he was willing to lead, and take on the vast program of experimentation with passion and commitment to the common good of the American people and nation.

But the time for indecision within the Obama administration is quickly running out. The time for transformation of Obama the political manager into Obama the progressive democratic national leader has arrived, and tomorrow’s State of the Union is a pivotal opportunity for him to begin to make that transformation manifest.

Instead of accepting current political reality and beginning day one of his administration with a clear plan to fight and reverse the damage done by the Republican party’s disastrous framework of policies over eight years of misrule under the Bush administration, the Obama team seemed to have no clear plan for its first months beyond a moderate course of economic stimulus to correct the most severe aspects of the financial debacle, a commitment to health reform—without any clear will to fight for a public plan, and a rather bizarre commitment to seeking bipartisan cooperation with a Party that had just brought the country to the brink of ruin, and has continued to show it has no desire to change its ways.

In a situation where the Democrats won the most resounding political victory of a generation, and a clear progressive mandate for reversing the horrendous damage done by eight years of Republican misrule, the Obama team in 2009 seemed more interested in establishing a tone of reconciliation than a fighting spirit aimed at building on the tremendous popular achievement of the Obama candidacy of 2008.

Now, after the loss of the Massachusetts Senate seat and a Supreme Court decision that threatens to convert what remains of people’s democracy in this country into a façade for a corporate-controlled state, it is time for President Obama to assume the mantle of transformative democratic leadership the people of this nation are waiting for.

The people of the country want such a leader, and are ready themselves to assume the mantle of progressive leadership with him, to create the change that is needed. But in order to become a nation of transformative leaders, we need a herald to shine a light on our path, and to believe in the ability of the nation’s people to bring about this change.

While obviously not intended, the consequences of this somnambulant Democratic politics in 2009 are already beginning to manifest—in the victory of Scott Brown. Democratic sleepwalking has allowed the populists on the right to step into the gap and scoop up the vast energies and anger in the country against the deep economic and political inequalities evident to all, in ways that have set the stage for these libertarian-right populists to become the insurgent force for the election year of 2010!

Now the only question remains: Will the Obama administration and the Democratic Party awaken from its sleepwalking?!

If the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress do not quickly wake up and develop a progressive policy spine for battle, they will be paving their way to lame-duck status, and will be forced to limp through 2011 and 2012 on the way to the end of a one-term Obama presidency—a presidency that will be viewed by history as more like the Hoover than the Roosevelt administration.

But this tragic history has not yet been written, and we are not condemned to this historical trajectory. Everything now depends on how the Obama administration and Democratic leadership responds to the dramatic loss in Massachusetts, and what it signifies. Will the administration and the Democrats in Congress become even more cowardly, and lay down to die, as some in Congress already seem to be indicating they are willing to do? Or will the Obama administration and the rest of the Democratic leadership see the writing on the wall, and transform themselves into a Party of progressive Leaders willing to fight for the people who elected Obama to lead this nation in a new direction?

Unless the somnambulant Democrats and the Obama administration quickly wake up, and fundamentally transform their strategy into a clear and assertively progressive populist agenda, the Democrats should begin preparing themselves to become a lame-duck party on the way to a one-term Obama Presidency.

And so we must now pose to the Obama presidency, after its first year, the kind of challenge that the poet Robert Sherwood posed to F.D. Roosevelt at his 1933 inauguration:

[Can we trust] that you have fixed your eyes on
A goal beyond the politician’s ken?
Have you the will to reach the far horizon
Where rest the hopes of [the people]?

We hope, President Obama, that you will show us where you stand tonight--with Vision, Leadership, and a clear progressive Agenda.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

To Pres. Obama & the Democrats: "Have you the will to reach the far horizon where rest the hopes of men?"

After his victory Tuesday night, Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts summed up the nightmare scenario for Democrats in 2010: “What happened here tonight can happen all over America.”

This loss of Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat to a Republican for the first time since the 1950s does more to underline the fundamental consequence of Democrat’s sleepwalking approach through 2009 than any additional words can offer. And the message of this loss should now be loud and clear for Democrats across the country—especially for those in the Obama administration: Either wake up to the need for a fundamental transformation of strategy into one that is more clearly and assertively progressive and populist, and willing to fight! Or get ready to become a lame-duck party on the way to a one-term Obama Presidency.

At the inauguration of President Roosevelt in the midst of the Great Depression in 1933, the poet Robert Sherwood posed a fundamental question to Roosevelt on behalf of the American people:

“Are we sure that you have fixed your eyes on
A goal beyond the politician’s ken?
Have you the will to reach the far horizon
Where rest the hopes of men?”

At this crucial historical juncture for the Obama administration and the country, the American people need to pose this query to President Obama and the Democratic leadership in Congress.

Have you the will to reach the far horizon where rest the hopes of men?

During the four long months between the election of 1932 and Roosevelt’s inauguration in March of 1933, President Hoover did everything he could to try to tempt Roosevelt into abandoning his ambitions for the New Deal. As Arthur Schlesinger observed about this moment in The Crisis of the Old Order: “In the name of ‘cooperation,’ Hoover proposed that Roosevelt repudiate” most of the major policies that would make up the New Deal.

Roosevelt, however, made clear that he was not interested in this kind of “cooperation.” Instead, on the basis of a firm repudiation of Republican appeals, on the day of his Inauguration Roosevelt launched the greatest hundred days of institutional reform legislation this country had ever seen, and thereby laid the foundation for the programs of the New Deal.

President Obama’s first year, on the other hand, raises serious questions about how much of the potential for significant reform and the hopes he inspired for a second New Deal may have been surrendered in the months before his Inauguration by two parallel sets of compromises: (1) his decision to recruit for his economic/financial team representatives of the very financial elite that had set us up for the 2008 financial crisis and recession; and (2) his commitment to going out of his way to seek “cooperation” with a Republican party that had no interest in any constructive cooperation with the Democratic leadership.

Instead of accepting this political reality and beginning day one of his administration with a clear plan to fight and reverse the damage done by the Republican party’s disastrous framework of policies over eight years of misrule under the Bush administration, the Obama team seemed to have no clear plan for its first months beyond a moderate course of economic stimulus to correct the most severe aspects of the financial debacle, a commitment to health reform—without any clear will to fight for a public plan, and a rather bizarre commitment to seeking bipartisan cooperation with a Party that had brought the country to the brink of ruin, and was showing no desire to change its ways.

In a situation where the Democrats had won the most resounding political victory of a generation, and a clear progressive mandate for reversing the horrendous damage done by eight years of Republican misrule, the Obama team seemed more interested in establishing a tone of reconciliation than a fighting spirit aimed at building on the tremendous popular achievement of the Obama candidacy of 2008.

And because the Obama team so quickly and naively surrendered the tremendous power and potential of the political victory it had achieved, along with the opportunity for dramatic change offered it by the disastrous economic collapse that was the appropriate culmination of the Bush era, his team soon found, to its apparent surprise, that the popular anger and energy it had chosen to spurn and dissipate was instead being harnessed by the Republicans—against the middle-of-the-road Obama agenda.

Many inspired by the Obama candidacy had hope his election would bring about a movement for the restoration of a democratic government of, by, and for the people instead of the corporations and banks. But we were all quickly confronted with the reality of a President who had placed into leadership many of the financial whizzes responsible for the financial meltdown, and who appeared to be more interested in conciliating and appealing to the good graces of a Republican party committed to his failure, than to fighting for a progressive populist agenda that included a strong public health plan.

Instead of launching his Presidency with a strong critique of the last eight years of Republican misrule and errors of domestic and foreign policy, and building on the power of his victory to offer a strong and clear alternative agenda of policies that would reestablish the fundamental principles of a government that would fight for and with the people, against the corporations, banks and financial interests that had brought so much harm to the American economy and the millions of people who have lost their jobs; instead of using the historic victory of 2008 to establish a clear progressive agenda for a second New Deal, the Obama team’s somnambulant agenda of 2009 allowed most of the energy and hope of 2008 to be dissipated.

Instead of harnessing the transformative passion he inspired in the American people to fight for the restoration of a progressive agenda for government in 2009, the administration allowed these energies to decay into a free floating anger and anxiety that could be harnessed by others for anti-progressive purposes.

While obviously not intended, the consequences of this somnambulant Democratic politics in 2009 are already beginning to manifest—in the victory of Scott Brown. Democratic sleepwalking has allowed the populists on the right to step into the gap and scoop up the vast energies and anger in the country against the deep economic and political inequalities evident to all, in ways that have set the stage for these libertarian-right populists to become the insurgent force for the election year of 2010!

Only a sleepwalking Democratic Party could have squandered, in one year, the great opportunity offered for progressive populist renewal by the Obama victory of 2008. Enough said.

Now the only question remains: Will the Obama administration and the Democratic Party awaken from its sleepwalking?!

If the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress do not quickly wake up and develop a progressive policy spine for battle, they will be paving their way to lame-duck status, and will be forced to limp through 2011 and 2012 on the way to the end of a one-term Obama presidency—a presidency that will be viewed by history as more like the Hoover than the Roosevelt administration.

But this sorrowful history has not yet been written, and we are not condemned to this historical trajectory. Everything now depends on how the Obama administration and Democratic leadership responds to the dramatic loss in Massachusetts. Will the Democrats in Congress become even more cowardly, and lay down to die, as some in Congress already seem to be indicating they are willing to do? Or will the Obama administration and the rest of the Democratic leadership see the writing on the wall, and transform themselves into a Party of progressive Leaders willing to fight for the people who elected Obama to lead us in a new direction?

President Obama, in the words of the poet, the American people now ask:

[Can we trust] that you have fixed your eyes on
A goal beyond the politician’s ken?
Have you the will to reach the far horizon
Where rest the hopes of men?

Our hope has not yet completely died, but it withers a bit more every day…

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

President Obama No Longer Seems to Get It, or to Be Listening

From the beginning of his Presidency, unfortunately, President Obama has seemed to lack a clear appreciation for history. And now this lack of historical vision is haunting his bad judgments regarding Health Care Reform legislation. Instead of recognizing that weak middle-of-the-road Democratic politics had already died (twice over) in the elections of 2000 and 2004, he seems to be treating his own election as a rationale for trying to revive and continue the same old dead middle-of-the-road politics that worked so well (!) for President Clinton in the 1990s.

Its time to wake up President Obama. If you continue to try to take this middle-of-the-road path, instead of fighting much more strongly for a truly progressive agenda on health care reform and other social policies, you will be leading us all to the same kind of Democratic legislative defeat Clinton faced in 1994, and to your own single-term Presidency, which would be terribly unfortunate for all of us, for the entire country, and the world.

This middle-of-the-road wishy-washy Democratic politics (which your admin continually defends as realistic and pragmatic) is leaving progressive Democrats--who were your strongest advocates, and who have been the ones fighting most vociferously for health care reform--completely stranded. We are losing the hope you once inspired, when we see this continual process of compromise that gives up more and more of what we thought we elected you to fight for.

And most importantly for the future, and for your lack of a historical sense, you now seem to be conceding the entire energy of grassroots activist politics to the Tea Party types on the right who have been more successful at getting people into the streets than any of this middle-roader politics of continual compromise, which now seems to have yielded a health care reform bill that is so watered down it will force those of us who fought for you to buy the very private health insurance we have so vociferously opposed, without any assurance that prices will be controlled, and without any true option to choose a public alternative.

Those of us who believe that only public health insurance can be democratically accountable, and that any health reform that does not include a public option is a fundamental betrayal of our right to choose, cannot feel anything but betrayal and loss of hope as we recognize that not only are you unwilling to fight for the public option, but you are also now actively encouraging the Senate to pass a Bill that does very few of the things we have been fighting for! We feel like we are being again being sold a bill of false goods, and if this Bill goes through, we will not be inclined to think it is a success-- it will be an even darker defeat than any direct defeat of a stronger progressive bill could have been. If you had fought for a strongly progressive bill, and lost the first battle, this loss would only have inspired us to come right back with all the more strength and struggle.... But any win with this current bill will merely feel like an utter betrayal and utterly pyrrhic victory.

You seem to think passing any bill will be better than passing no bill at this time, but that is not true. Passing a bad bill will be worse than passing no bill because it will demobilize and betray all the people who fought so passionately for your election. You will lose not only those who fought for health care reform, but you will lose your whole progressive base, which you need in order to accomplish anything else of significance during your Presidency, not to mention a second term. Lose us now, and you will be condemning the rest of your administration to lame-duck status, all because you seem to have lost touch with the need to lead the fight for a truly progressive agenda....

Perhaps you've already grown tired of the burdens of the war, and of having to constantly balance war spending against the defeat of all your real hopes for helping the citizens of this country to rebuild it. If this is the case, it would certainly be understandable. But this would also be deeply regrettable. We elected you to be strong and passionate and persistent in the cause of fighting for a true progressive agenda to help us repair a country gutted of its spirit and wealth by 8 years of the Bush administration. No middle-roader politics can do this work of repair...

If you will not fight for us in a strong and progressive way, then you will lose all of those who stood behind you, & who are needed to carry forward any significant work of your administration in the years ahead. But if, after all, you are satisfied with simply having been elected President for 4 years so that you can retire in 2013 after having served your single term as a middle-of-the-road President--well then, I guess that's what you will have. Unfortunately, this will be a terrible blow to all in this country who hoped that a community organizer as President would have more of a will to fight and a fire in his belly to fight for US, the everyday people of this country, than you seem to be showing.

We're sad, disheartened, and losing hope. You seem, after all, to have become merely another wealthy man's President who feels he has done his job well if the stock market is doing well, and you can spend each day worrying about what kind of compromises you need to make in order to stay in the running for your next election. But we who voted for you the first time can assure you that this approach to your Presidency will not win you a second term.

This calculating, compromising approach will surely lose you a second term, and may quickly convert the rest of your remaining term into a lame-duck's nightmare. You'll have inherited the management of a miserable war in order to preside over a further dismantling and demoralization of the progressive and middle classes of the country.

So we can only hope and pray that you will listen to us deeply, and Please, please, please reconsider your strategy, and become the fighter for REAL Reform we thought we had voted for. Our country cannot endure a return to Republican rule, but this middle-of-the-road politics is leading exactly to that result....

We hope you are still listening, and we hope you will become the President we thought we voted for-- a progressive fighter, with the fire and passion of a strong community organizer, a lion for change, rather than another Bill Clinton, even at his best.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Spineless Democrats & Pres, No Real Health Care Reform, Democrats Lose in 2010, Return of the Republicans--The Future after Collapse of HC Reform

Well, here we go again with a spineless Democratic party and President-- Our election of President Obama to lead a stronger and more assertive progressive Democratic party that would fight on behalf of the real needs of the American people seems to be completely collapsing under the onslaught of big money and big Private Health Insurance, and everything big except a real willingness to fight for what the great majority of the American people have been demanding-- true health insurance reform, with a public option.

Now even the Medicare buy-in seems to be getting jettisoned so that the most spineless of Democratic parties, caving even to Sen. Lieberman, can say it has gotten something done before Christmas. It's gotten something done alright! If this kind of weak excuse for a health reform bill is what we get for all our hard work over the last year, we will be getting the equivalent of a gigantic lump of dirty coal (or more like a gigantic lump of s--t!) in our stockings for the holidays-- thanks to a weak Democratic caucus and President unwilling to fight for anything other than their own status quo--so spineless they're allowing Sen Lieberman, of all people, to determine the fate of health reform!

Democrats, there is no surer formula than this to guarantee that you will lose miserably in 2010, and all Americans will lose with you, since if we end up with another Republican resurgence next year, even the few hopes we had for some kind of progressive agenda during the first years of the Obama admin. will be dashed to pieces.

And here's the future we'll be facing, as you sell the soul of Democratic reform to obtain your mess of pottage: the Democratic House will lose a bunch of seats in the 2010 election; Obama will continue to lose popularity as those who hoped he would fight for true health care reform lose all hope in him, and the Democrats will lose the White House in 2012, all because the hopes for progressive Democratic reform were completely abandoned over health care.

Thanks again, dear Democratic Senators, for being so completely spineless, and for condemning us to a return to Republican regression and stupidity and to the collapse of any hope for bringing sanity back to our government.

And now, after betraying the hope of this country's people, just go off to your holidays, with your own great health insurance coverage, paid for by the tax dollars of those of us who cant even afford health insurance, and please by all means enjoy yourselves for your great work done!

For shame on you all! You make me sick to my stomach and my soul.

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

For Washington's Imperial Elite, the Health of Our People is a Luxury, while War is a Necessity: This is the Way All Empires End

And if our current political leadership, under the Obama administration, does not soon reverse the tragic course of many decades of thinking that culminated in the disastrous imperial escapade of the Bush administration--if our current political leadership does not soon reject the corrupt mentality of imperial overreach that has brought our nation to the brink of internal collapse--we will inevitably go the way of the empires that preceded us. And we will go the way of previous empires for many of the reasons that history could easily teach, IF our political leaders bothered to pay attention to history.

So why are we in this completely ridiculous and absurd predicament of being asked by our national leadership to continually support an endless war in the name of "defending American citizens" while this same leadership seems unwilling to invest in defending the basic health of the people by supporting a public option?

Yesterday Glenn Greenwald posted a great blog piece titled "America's Priorities," by the Beltway Elite, that goes to the heart of this dark imperial absurdity. Greenwald cites an article from the Washington Post editorial page (the voice of the Beltway elite and the wealthy corporate patrons they represent) that explicitly defends the prosecution of the war as a priority and necessity, while
Universal health care, however desirable, is not "fundamental to the defense of our people." Nor is it a "necessity" that it be adopted this year....
In response Greenwald points out,
a recent study from the Harvard Medical School and Cambridge Health Alliance documented that "nearly 45,000 annual deaths are associated with lack of health insurance" in America.
45,000 deaths from political inaction is the equivalent of nearly fifteen 9/11 terrorist events annually, occurring NOW, every year!

And these deaths are due largely to the failure of our political leaders to make government work FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE PEOPLE
rather than simply for the benefit of the corporations that have been profiting from the current structure of things.

Greenwald goes on in his article to underline the fundamental contradiction and absurdity of a governmental commitment to doing overseas for the people of other countries what that same government is not willing to do for its own people:
So according to The Washington Post, dropping bombs on, controlling and occupying Afghanistan -- all while simultaneously ensuring "effective governance, economic development, education, the elimination of corruption, the protection of women's rights" to Afghan citizens in Afghanistan -- is an absolutely vital necessity that must be done no matter the cost. But providing basic services (such as health care) to American citizens, in the U.S., is a secondary priority at best, something totally unnecessary that should wait for a few years or a couple decades until we can afford it and until our various wars are finished, if that ever happens. "U.S. interests in South Asia" are paramount; U.S. interests in the welfare of those in American cities, suburbs and rural areas are an afterthought.
And after citing the authority of none other than Adam Smith (of The Wealth of Nations), who understood in the eighteenth century something about the economic and political dangers of imperial overreach that our own political and economic elite have refused to acknowledge, Greenwald concludes:
Lounging around in the editorial offices in the capital of a rapidly decaying empire, urging that more Americans be sent into endless war paid for with endless debt, while yawning and lazily waving away with boredom the hordes outside dying for lack of health care coverage, is one of the most repugnant images one can imagine. It's exactly what Adam Smith denounced. And it's exactly what our political and media elite are [doing].
Unfortunately, our Beltway politicians, including many in the Obama administration, seem not yet to have learned the tragic lessons of the history of the fall of previous empires: that tragic story--especially after the lessons of our own previous imperial war in Vietnam--should be familiar to anyone who has read much history. But then we know how difficult it is for folks in DC to take seriously (& act on) the lessons of any history beyond that of their own immediate election cycle.

As for the people of the United States themselves, it should now be clear that the only solution to this imperial rot at the head of our politics is to vote out of office any politician, Democratic or Republican, who demonstrates by their votes that they have not yet learned the basic lessons of the fall of previous empires.

One of those key lessons is:

Any political elite that values the prosecution of war over the health and wellness of its fellow citizens is doomed to lead the nation to disaster.

And if the people of a democratic nation does not have the will to organize to change the nature of that political leadership, then that people (meaning we, the people) will be complicit with our political elite in paving the way to that end.

With the election of President Obama, "We, the People" merely began a process of political and policy change. But as we have clearly seen, the election of 2008 was only the beginning of a process that still has many additional steps that need to be organized to achieve significant change.

Winning the Public Option--and with it the beginning of true health care reform--is the next necessary step in rejecting a national policy that values war more than the health of our own people and communities.

Winning this battle for true health care reform will be the first key step toward the kinds of nationl policy change needed to replace a government of, by, and for the corporations with one that more truly represents a government of, by, and for the people. And perhaps then we, the people, will begin to receive the kind of priority attention from our national politicians that until now has been accorded primarily to corporate lobbyists.

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