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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.

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Entries tagged "Barack Obama"

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What Obama can Learn from W.

October 19, 2010 ·

There are a few important reasons why George W. Bush made sense to many Americans after Bill Clinton.  By now we’re familiar with the primary reason:  the country was attracted to Bush’s ‘compassionate conservative’ message, a message that sanded off the hard edges of Reagan-era conservatism while simultaneously referencing a mythical American past in which right and wrong were definable and easily categorized. 

The desire by some to embrace a leader who seemed to embody liberal and conservative ideals, who seemed, at least in rhetoric, to merge the best attributes of Republican presidents past (including his father) with the best attributes of Bill Clinton, can only be understood contextually; in the parlance of media and advertising, the Bush presidency was brought to us by Bill Clinton.

We knew what Clinton had done, but we never really knew who he was.  To the end of his presidency Clinton remained an almost inscrutable figure.  We knew, of course, about his various appetites, his charisma, his brilliance, but we never really had a sense of what made him tick.  One of the enduring legacies of Clinton’s time in office is his penchant for triangulation, his perpetual search for the middle ground.  In the end, Clinton seemed more a politician of strategy than passion.   His methods were best described by the term he popularized with fellow politician-strategist Tony Blair; for most of his time in office, Clinton was a ‘third way’ President. While a cleaving to a ‘third way’ sounds fine, it is also an admission that one has arrived at a position by, in effect, splitting the difference.  This does not a position make.  

Bush took a different tack; he started with the poll-tested talk (‘compassionate conservatism’), and then committed himself almost wholly to a single side, much to the delight of right-wing partisans all over the country.   In the end, Bush’s commitment to certain conservative principles won him more than a few enemies, but it also won him the earnest approval of a significant bloc of the country, a bloc that came out in large numbers to reelect him in 2004 (shenanigans in Ohio aside).  As a Texan, I understand the main source of Bush’s popularity:  whether we agreed with him or not, we understood his narrative.  Unlike Clinton, Bush allowed us to access the heart of his decision-making process, the organ which converted the information he received to the policies he endorsed.  Bush’s ‘heart’ was his conversion to Christianity.  Many of Bush’s policies – PEPFAR and No Child Left Behind are examples here –   neatly fit the Christian conversion narrative, and seemed to define his vision for the country.   Bush seemed to believe that, for the disadvantaged anyway, America should be a country of rigid regulations, a country bounded by strict unalterable rules, but a country, too, that provided a path – narrow though it was – to redemption.

(We later learned that the ‘path’ was no path at all, but that is a different tale).

Many of us instantly fell in love with Obama because he, like Bush before him, wore his heart on his sleeve.  His 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention was a declaration of who he was, why he was, and how he’d be different.   He was a community organizer.  A civil rights attorney.  He was the product of two races, a walking, talking embodiment of MLK’s American dream.  We believed that Obama would be a transformational figure because his narrative – his ‘heart’ – was about a man coming to terms with his identity and embracing the various parts of himself.  We hoped that his policies would reflect this narrative, that he would help America complete the same journey.

The most dispiriting thing about the Obama presidency thus far isn’t that he hasn’t had some successes – surely he has.  It is the realization that, perhaps, the poetry of his campaign can never be reconciled with the prose of governing.   It is the realization that there is a possibility we don’t know as much about his heart as we initially believed.  It is the realization that, when it comes to matters of the heart, there is a possibility that he will be more like Clinton, and less like Bush.  

That said, Obama still has time, and I still believe in his presidency.   He still has time to show us his heart.

Better Late Than Never: Obama puts solar panels on White House

October 5, 2010 ·

SAN FRANCISCO - MAY 25: A group demanding that solar panels be put on the White House protest outside of the Fairmont Hotel before U.S. President Barack Obama arrives for a fundraiser May 25, 2010 in San Francisco, California. Hundreds of protestors from different political groups staged the demonstration at a campaign fundraiser for U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA). (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)"No."

That was the disappointing response from the Obama White House a few weeks ago to the plea from climate change activists who transported solar panels dating back to the Carter Administration to the White House to get them reinstalled. President Jimmy Carter placed solar panels on the White House roof during the energy crisis of the 1970s--only to see them removed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986. Writer and climate activist Bill McKibben and his group 350.org managed to find them, dust them off, and offer them up as one small gesture President Obama could take, sending a signal, once again, that the White House was serious about supporting clean, renewable energy. The rejection was stunning.

People puzzled over why. Maybe the White House figured placing panels from Carter on the White House roof would allow for too close an association with a one-term president. Maybe he just didn't get it.

Well, just as mysteriously, on October 5 came the announcement that the "no" had been transformed into a  "yes"--with some caveats. The White House will install a new set of solar panels and bring solar heated water some time in 2011.

Perhaps this change of heart had something to do with disgruntled climate change activists responding to the Obama Administration's first "no" with calls to indeed make him a one-term president. Maybe it had something to do with the upcoming mobilization of 350.org activists on October 10, 2010--10-10-10--in a global work party to take action on climate change with 6,174 events and actions planned in 184 countries. Or maybe it had a little to do with the fact that solar
is now out-competing nuclear power, with costs coming down for solar while costs continue to rise for nuclear, and the U.S. losing out to China in the production of solar cells.

Or maybe Obama finally listened to the U.S. Department of Energy which has claimed solar could indeed power the U.S. economy, dispelling the myth that base load power can only come from large coal, gas, hydro and nuclear power plants. The DOE claims that:

"...photovoltaic (PV) technology can meet electricity demand on any scale. The solar energy resource in a 100-mile-square area of Nevada could supply the United States with all its electricity (about 800 gigawatts) using modestly efficient (10%) commercial PV modules.. The land requirement to produce 800 gigawatts would average out to be about 17 x 17 miles per state. Alternatively, PV systems built in the "brownfields"—the estimated 5 million acres of abandoned industrial sites in our nation's cities—could supply 90% of America's current electricity..."

But whatever caused the change of heart, President Obama has restored a small sense of hope among climate activists that he really will make climate change a focus for him in coming months. It's a small gesture, but in dark times such as these, small gestures can lead to more meaningful and transformational ones. Let's hope this change of heart is one we can believe in.

$400,000 Annual Household Income and Still Struggling?

September 29, 2010 ·

Todd Henderson, a corporate law professor at the University of Chicago, claims that he is struggling during these tough economic times--despite the fact that he has an annual household income of $400,000.

According to Fox News:

“A quick look at our family budget, which I will gladly share with the White House, will show him that, like many Americans, we are just getting by despite seeming to be rich. We aren’t,” Henderson wrote.

[Henderson] said he and his wife, a doctor, paid $100,000 in federal and state taxes last year and $15,000 in property taxes. He wrote that they have a mortgage on a house they own a short distance from President Obama’s home, and they are paying off $250,000 in student loans. With an annual income of more than $250,000, he wrote, he and his wife are  far from super-rich.

Although many people on the Right are using this story to advocate for a full-on extension of the Bush Tax Cuts, and to reject any proposals that would tax the "super rich," these numbers are incredibly misleading and ill-informed.

Like what Professor Bradford Delong of University of California at Berkeley had observed, Henderson doesn't acknowledge the fact that he is among the select few in this country. The only reason why he has so much cash output is because he has the capability to buy and pay for a nice house in a bougie neighborhood (only a short distance away from the Obamas!), and to send his kids to expensive, quality private schools. These are privileges that only the super-rich enjoy.

With our unemployment rate currently at 9.6%, and with so many people out there struggling to pay for the necessities to keep themselves alive, I wouldn't consider Henderson's situation bad at all. 

Nobody says it better than IPS's own Sanho Tree when he heard the story: "Half the planet lives on less than $2/day. It gives new meaning to the expression, 'Eat the rich!'"

So maybe Henderson should have thought twice before he decided to complain about his $400,000 annual household income.

Five Reasons to Let the Bush Tax Cuts for the Rich Expire

September 16, 2010 ·

Congress is actively debating whether to retain President Bush’s 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for the wealthy that are due to expire at the end of this year. President Obama supports extending tax cuts for households with incomes under $250,000, but ending the tax breaks for higher income households. 

Here are five good reasons for Congress to let them go:

1. Borrowing to Give the Rich Tax Breaks is a Really Bad Idea. We’ve already borrowed $700 billion since 2001 to pay for these tax cuts. Maintaining them for another decade would cost an estimated $700 billion, plus interest on the national debt estimated at $126 billion. Does it really make sense to send interest payments to China and millionaire bond-holders in the U.S. – so that we can cut taxes for U.S. millionaires and billionaires?

2.  There are 700 Billion Better Ways to Use the Money. Consider the superior ways to spend $700 billion. We could use a portion to reduce budget deficits. We could make long overdue investments in infrastructure such as bridges, roadways, railroads, water treatment facilities, retrofitting buildings – things that make our economy strong and competitive. We could direct funds to make the transition to the new economy that is less dependent on foreign oil. In the short-term, all these investments would create millions of jobs. In the long term, it would put the economy on better footing for the future. There are a billion better ways to use the money.

3. Restores Balance to Tax Code. Over the last half century, Congress has steadily reduced tax obligations for the very rich and global corporations. Between 1960 and 2004, the top 0.1 percent of U.S. taxpayers – the wealthiest one in one thousand – have seen the share of their income paid in total federal taxes drop from 60 to 33.6 percent. Restoring the tax rates to pre-2001 levels would be a very slight increase, yet begin the process of rebalancing the tax code.

4. It Won’t Hurt the Economy. You’ve heard the blather about how taxing the rich is going to hurt the economy. But cutting the taxes for the wealthy are an ineffective way to help the economy. A recent analysis by the Congressional Budget Service ranked 11 strategies to spur the economy and create jobs. Cutting taxes for the rich was the worst ranked strategy. Here’s the reality: Taxing the rich is different than taxing the middle class. The rich save more of their tax cuts while working people and middle class spend it in the economy. Over the last decade, the top wealth holders have shifted trillions of dollars into speculative investments that have hurt the economy. 

5. The U.S. Public Supports It. A recent Gallup Poll reveals that 57 percent of the population support letting the tax cuts for the rich expire – while 37 percent support extending them. Polls rarely reveal support for any form of taxation, which indicates that a majority of Americans – including those who will pay the hire taxes – recognize the imprudence of extending them. Alan Greenspan, who supported the tax cuts in 2001, has now reversed his position and believes the time has come to raise taxes.

Take action:  Organizations such as Wealth for the Common Good and Americans for Responsible Taxes are working to build public support for letting the tax cuts expire. 

What We Didn't Hear from Obama on Iraq

September 2, 2010 ·

Above: Contrary to appearances, this really is Phyllis on Fox News, 8/31/10.

President Obama’s speech on the partial draw-down of U.S. troops in Iraq had one surprising moment. He admitted that the Iraq War as a “trillion dollar” war. That’s huge. I’m pretty sure he’s the first U.S. official to acknowledge that horrifying reality.

But what he left out was more significant. Just on the cost of war, while acknowledging the overall cost, and speaking separately about job loss and the economic crisis in the U.S., he didn’t make the crucial link between the two. He didn’t say, for instance, that the cost of keeping 50,000 troops in Iraq another year and a half, more than $12 billion, could instead pay for 240,000 new green union jobs back home – and still have funds left over to begin paying for real reconstruction and reparations in Iraq.

What else didn’t we hear? We didn’t hear that the 50,000 troops in Iraq now ARE still combat troops — even if the Pentagon has “re-missioned” them for training and assistance.  We heard about the 4th Stryker Brigade leaving Iraq, but not about the 3,000 new combat troops from Fort Hood in Texas, from the Third Armored Cavalry — combat troops — who just deployed TO Iraq 10 days ago.

Above: Same thing on Real News Network. Obama only seems ubiquitous. 9/1/2010.

We didn’t hear about the 4,500 Special Forces among them. That group has two jobs: continuing their “counter-terrorism” operations, which means running around the country with a “capture or kill” list, authorizing those U.S. soldiers to do just that to anyone named on the list. Who knows what corruption, settling of old scores, or other factors led to some of those names? Their second job is to train their Iraqi counterparts, the Iraqi Special Operations Force, which seems to be becoming an El Salvador-style death squad. It’s accountable only to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, not to the Iraqi government as a whole. The U.S. officer who set it up, Lt. Col. Roger Carstens, laughed while telling the Nation’s Shane Bauer that “all these guys want to do is go out and kill bad guys all day.”  The U.S. head of the training unit, Brig. General Simeon Trombitas, who said he was “very proud of what was done in El Salvador,” also announced that the U.S. training in places like El Salvador and Colombia (he served in both) was “extremely transferable” to Iraq.

We didn’t hear much about that.

And, at the end of the day, we didn’t hear much about the 50,000 troops remaining. We didn’t hear about how the State Department is bringing in 7,000 armed security contractors, planes, surveillance drones, armored vehicles, and a “ready reaction” force of its own, to protect the 5,000 diplomats anticipated in the giant (Vatican City-sized) new embassy after the December 31, 2011 deadline for all U.S. troops and all of the Pentagon’s military contractors to leave Iraq. Thus instead of replacing U.S. power with independent and sovereign Iraqi power, the real transition underway is from the Pentagon to the State Department. Instead of replacing military force with diplomacy, the U.S. is just militarizing U.S. diplomacy.

And one more thing we didn’t hear. We didn’t hear Obama remind us of what he once understood so clearly: that Iraq is a “stupid war.” Instead, we heard a near-reiteration of George Bush. The war never was about “Iraqi Freedom.” But it sure doesn’t sound like a “New Dawn” either.

You can also listen to me debate the subject with Ret. General James Dubik and Washington Post editor Rajiv Chandrasekaran on The Diane Rehm Show. And before the speech I was on Al-Jazeera English.

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