WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
Dear Mr. President,
I know you said when you started out in office you didn't want to get caught in the presidential bubble. Three years into your term, I prefer to think the bubble got you because that's a more palatable explanation than the notion that you have been fully engaged.
Below are some notes from a loyal American who always wants my presidents to be at their best regardless of their party affiliation.
No doubt it is a huge job that as a practical matter has a whole lot less juice than it used to have. Thanks to the global bankers with their credit default swaps, everything is now multilateral.
We are in a tight spot in terms of our economy. It is hard to rally a market when the compelling "new idea" is to pay down our collective debt and cut consumption.
Several hours before your scheduled to give a landmark address on jobs to a joint session of Congress, the world economy hangs on a precipice of a dramatic economic decline. Leaders in Europe (kind of an oxymoron these days), have built this European Union economic contraption with a currency that nobody over there is willing to sacrifice in order to save. Call it a polygamous marriage gone septic.
The U.S. is still mired in not one, but two wars, that it can't extract itself from with rumblings that we could "extend" our stay in Iraq past the end of the year. And what would all those brave men and women soldiers do back home anyway? By last count we have squandered at least $60 billion dollars on capital projects over there that investigators say are monuments to waste fraud and abuse.
Meanwhile, the American Society of Civil Engineers, a radical band if every there was one, have given the U.S. the grade of D- for the status of a drinking water infrastructure and a D for the condition of our dams.
The ASCE reports that back in 2001 the US had 364 high hazard dams in need of repair. Now that number is closer to 2,000. Don't let the fossil fuel trogs get you caught up in their global warming denials. Just talk about how the water is rising and bring them to Wayne or Paterson, N.J.
No doubt you need a home run tonight. And at the risk of mixing my sports metaphors you need to shift from a PGA pace to one more befitting the NFL (they're kicking off right after speech, as you probably know).
Do not say "Americans are tired of political games." Don't talk bold, be bold!
Remind U.S. multinationals that the world is their oyster because the U.S. military projects force around the world, and that when they cynically stash cash off-shore beyond U.S. taxation, their legal tax avoidance raises the tax burden on all Americans while helping to strangle the U.S. domestic economy.
Disarm the Republicans on your well-intentioned Affordable Health Care Act. Take Governor Christie's advice and say right up top to Congress that you will have Attorney General Eric Holder apply for an expedited review by the U.S. Supreme Court of the law that was held as unconstitutional by the 11th circuit.
The reality is that as our leader you have to be able to accept a little ego death in the public interest. At this point, whatever side you are on in terms of the disputed legislation, the real uncertainty attached to it must be dealt with so businesses and hospitals can plan how to move forward.
In the short term it will get you applause from Republicans and effectively take the whole "Obamacare" cudgel away from them for awhile. It will also show businesses that you understand the impact of uncertainty and that you are committed to combating it where you can.
On the extending unemployment front, take a leaf from President Clinton's welfare reform and tell folks that at bare minimum to get unemployment they will have to do volunteer work. Idleness breeds victimhood. Often a volunteer slot is the path to an employment opportunity. (That's how public radio works.) I know there are a lot of weary volunteer firemen along the Passaic River right now who could use a few hands.
People still like you but they are increasingly impatient on the economy. Like it or not, the meter on your economic strategy started running when you gave President Bush and Treasury Secretary Paulson political cover in October of 2008 before the election by endorsing their TARP, Toxic Asset Relief Program that baled out the banks no questions asked.
The bankers made out like bandits and now almost a third of American homeowners are underwater with their home being worth at least 20 percent less than their mortgage.
I wish you had taken to heart Jonathan Alter's book "The Defining Moment" that chronicles the transition from President Hoover to Roosevelt. Hoover, like Bush was desperate for bipartisan support for his attempt to save a tanking economy. But Roosevelt opted for change rather than continuity. You went with continuity and the Republicans have been trying to steal your lunch money ever since.
We now have a better idea what was under that TARP. Don't cut the banks any more slack. I know saving them is Treasury Secretary Geithner's most shining accomplishment. But if they were actually on going criminal enterprises engaged in fraud and robo-forgery don't let Federal regulators become part of a grand obstruction.
Sustainable, broad based prosperity cannot be built on deceit.
All the best,
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