January 30, 2007

Addressing the State of the Bush Administration

A Response and Critique of the 2007 State of the Union Address

By Courtney Shannon

“Mr. President, a prayer for your success,” mentioned someone from the crowd. I’m sure the gentleman who said this was not the only one who was praying for President George W. Bush’s speech to go well.

At approximately 9:10 pm EST President George Bush began his opening remarks of his State of the Union Address by welcoming Nancy Pelosi as the first “Madame Speaker,” and congratulating the Democratic Congress on their success.” He mentions, “Congress has changed, but not our responsibilities. Each of us is guided by our own convictions -- and to these we must stay faithful. Yet we're all held to the same standards, and called to serve the same good purposes: To extend this nation's prosperity; to spend the people's money wisely; to solve problems, not leave them to future generations; to guard America against all evil; and to keep faith with those we have sent forth to defend us.”

Following his outlining statement, Mr. Bush spent just two minutes per topic, discussing the economy, health care and social security, education, immigration, and energy. He then devoted twenty minutes, ten times the amount of time he spoke on domestic issues, to topics on terrorism, war, and our foreign policy. After reassuring the American people that the death of our soldiers has not been in vain, and the war in Iraq has purpose, he called for support on global peace issues. How perfectly juxtaposed.

He began his address by stating, “We're now in the 41st month of uninterrupted job growth, in a recovery that has created 7.2 million new jobs -- so far. Unemployment is low, inflation is low, and wages are rising.” He called for continuation of this momentum “not with more government, but with more enterprise.”

In regards to our economy, he called for three economic reforms “that deserve to be priorities for this Congress.” The first was to balance the federal budget, without raising taxes. He suggested that Congress “impose spending discipline in Washington, D.C.” He mentions that we have already cut the budget in half three years ahead of the projected schedule. The President is now calling for a plan that “eliminates the federal deficit within the next five years.”

My question is, how can we realistically accomplish this when our country is at war, and there is talk of another? How can this country fully and adequately finance a war, protect our soldiers, and still retain diplomatic relations without a tax increase if we are to eliminate the deficit?
The second economic reform he proposed was to reduce the growing number of earmarks. He gives the following statistics:
“In 2005 alone, the number of earmarks grew to over 13,000 and totaled nearly $18 billion. Even worse, over 90 percent of earmarks never make it to the floor of the House and Senate.” Yes, in 2005, the Republican Congress allowed $18 billion of wasteful spending, and it is now up to the Democratic Congress to cut this number in half, as Bush proposed.

The third item on his economic agenda was the subject of entitlements, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. In his comments he outlined a new tax plan that would allow many more Americans to purchase private healthcare. He also suggested giving federal funds to the states to fund their own health insurance programs. Mr. Bush also called for the expansion of Health Savings Accounts, and increase in small business aid through Association Health Plans. To further cut down on medical cost, the president urged for an increase in medical technology and protection of good doctors form lawsuits.

In regards to education, he simply requested for the re-authorization of the No Child Left Behind Act. He made no mention of the Democrats’ agenda to increase the funding and availability of student loans.

Immigration is a huge issue in our nation. The president spoke briefly and called for more secure borders and the implementation of a temporary worker program. This legal program would “leave Border Agents free to chase down drug smugglers and criminals and terrorists.” The president acknowledged that we are a nation divided on this issue and asked that both sides work together to produce a solution.

Energy is perhaps the most pressing issue our country faces. Our dependence on foreign oil has brought us to war. The U.S. is one of two industrialized nations who refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol. Our country and our government, as a whole, refuses to accept global warming as fact. In the State of the Union Address, President Bush acknowledged that climate change is a serious issue. He called for technological advancements and for the nation to be a better steward of the environment. But what about the implementation of technology that already exists? There are a number of advancements that have already been made. Why not simply strive for the acceptance and use of them? Instead of truly clean energy the president called for biodiesel, solar and wind power, and “clean coal,” “clean diesel vehicles,” and “clean, safe nuclear power. He requested that there be a 20% gasoline usage reduction within the next 20 years. His solution was domestic oil production and increased supply of alternative fuels. Can America realistically achieve this goal without implementing all of the technologies discovered so far? Is increased domestic oil production really the best solution?

After addressing these domestic issues President Bush reminded the nation the importance of supporting bills and laws that prevent terrorist attacks. After a twenty minute speech on which included the themes of stopping the terrorists, war, 9/11, Al Qaeda, Islamic radicalism and extremism, the Taliban, freedom, and democracy, the president called for an increase of 20,000 troops to Iraq; even though this idea has not been supported by Democratic majority, or even the top commanders in Iraq. About 20 Generals have written letters to Mr. Bush to not increase troop size. He listens to no one.

Further, he admits that this war is not going to be resolved within his term, but rather that, “. . .the war on terror we fight today is a generational struggle that will continue long after you and I have turned our duties over to others.” He calls for Congress to work together so that ideas can be developed and shared and so that we can “show our enemies abroad that we are united in the goal of victory.”

After this bold statement about our “enemies” the president immediately spoke about the peaceful side of our foreign policy, to show that “. . . American foreign policy is more than a matter of war and diplomacy. Our work in the world is also based on a timeless truth: To whom much is given, much is required. We hear the call to take on the challenges of hunger and poverty and disease.”

President Bush gave praise to Congress for providing the funding to increase the availability of life-saving drugs from 50,000 to over 800,000 in only three years. To continue to fight disease he also asks that $1.2 billion be given to fight malaria. And to further improve the impact of American aid, he requested the funding of the Millennium Challenge Account, and called for Congress “to support the expanded trade and debt relief that are the best hope.”
He closed his speech by praising a few noble model American citizens, tactfully including Dikembe Mutombo, an NBA star born in Congo, female entrepreneur Julie Aigner-Clark, New York City subway hero Wesley Autrey, and a young soldier from Kentucky, Tommy Rieman.

January 23, 2007

State of the Union Address and the Democratic Response

President Bush Delivers his 7th Annual Report to Congress

President Bush, in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, urged Congress to support his decision to add 21,500 troops in Iraq, saying, "I ask you to give it a chance to work." Mr. Bush also proposed plans to reduce gasoline consumption and expand health care coverage, and addressed education and immigration in his speech, delivered for the first time in his presidency to a Democratic-controlled Congress.

Here are links to SOTUS by President Bush and the Democrats response by James Webb (D-VA). VIDEO & TRANSCRIPT of Bush's SOTUS, and, here (Fox News). The Democrats' Response, and here (Fox News)

The Evolution of the President's Message

The State of the Union tradition began in 1790, when President George Washington delivered his first "annual message of the president." A few years later, President Thomas Jefferson thought that the tradition of speaking to Congress was "too royal" so he sent his annual message in a letter. This written tradition continued for a century.

In 1913, President Woodrow Wilson delivered his message in a speech to Congress. By 1945, FDR's speech formally became known as the "State of the Union" speech. The power of television and mass communication media have firmly established this annual tradition. There's lots of pageantry and planned posturing, but it is also an opportunity for both sides to score some political points. Yet, it is the President's hour to speak to the nation. Presidents have a great deal of power but perhaps the most important power they have it the power to persuade. They hold the biggest megaphone and when they speak everyone hears them--even if many people don't really listen or agree with them.

Obviously the popularity of the president affects his power to convince and how his message is received. Unfortunately for G.W. Bush, several polls that came out a couple days ago show that he's hovering around 28 to 34% approval ratings. An overwhelming majority of Americans, 75%, disapprove of his Iraq policy, including the latest escalation plans.

This is the first time for president Bush that he has to work with a Democratic House & Senate. In his 6 years in office, he used his veto only once--against stem cell research/funding. His veto stood. There is going to be lots of gridlock in the system in the next 2 years as the two branches fight for their agendas, but it is the Democrats who are more eager to pass legislation and win points with the American electorate. In less than 2 years, the whole House and 1/3 of the Senate are up for re-election, as well as the big prize: the White House.

January 22, 2007

Welcome Political Science Students!

This blog will soon be hosting essays by students of Political Science. The politics of the 21st century have already been affected by the rise of new media, like the blogs. Major candidates for the presidency now announce their intent on their internet site/blog instead of other traditional media. This new versatile medium has also made it possible for non-traditional candidates to get their message across, get more people involved at the grassroots level, and perform another important function: raise lots of money!

This blog is going to be a forum for discussion and exchange of information about issues of political concern. Yet, the direct participation of college students in this blog will undoubtedly bring us interesting perspectives and thoughtful observations. Unlike other blogs, the posted essays will be the result of serious effort that college students produce for class credit, and will serve as a public record of such work.

Interested students who would like to serve as co-editors here on this blog please apply by contacting the administrators.

Cheers for a great semester and for an exciting new year.

January 11, 2007

How'bout this for a Change: Pain & Pleasure as a Two-way Street

Students and Faculty Asking for Reason to Prevail

Recently, the New York Times published an article about the clashes taking place in many higher-ed institutions between those running them and those who are teaching. The students are always part of the mix, since they suffer most of the effects of bad policy. It's rather common nowadays that college presidents make 3-4 times more than the President of the United States. This doesn't sit well with students--who have to pay a fortune to attend--and faculty that feels is underpaid and under-appreciated. Throw in some free speech issues and you have a very volatile mix, as it is the case at Pace University.

I think an obscenely high salary may be justified when there's a "finder's fee" clause in the contract. That is, if the president of a college brings in donations, increases the endowment fund, etc, he could get a 5% finder's fee. Otherwise, he should be compensated as much as the highest faculty member of that institution. The extra perks and the honor of being at the top of the pyramid and of facilitating Education should be more than enough for good qualified people to be attracted to such positions.

Some may say, this is a free market system, so higher-ed institutions have to compete for talent, and therefore they have to offer high salaries. This is not entirely true. Yes, there's competition, but it's not a free market approach. The board of directors, for the most part, are all of the same mind-frame and of same socio-economic class. They've bought into the culture of excesses much like Wall Street. I'm willing to bet that if a college offered reasonable compensation, say $100,000 a year plus benefits, there would be many qualified & eager persons to serve. Such people are already serving as faculty and/or staff. It's time to shed this top-heavy bureaucracy and the myth that supports it.

If a president can raise lots of money for his college, the finder's fee will compensate him generously. I don't think there would be a shortage of highly-qualified persons for the job. Why, this marketplace idea would tie compensation to performance, unlike the present system whereas a president can make millions during his tenure without the Board of Trustees demanding that he meets the stated strategic goals of the university. Not to mention, that many talk about responsibility without any serious consequence, and while a failed president can afford to retire after a few years of work, thousands of students struggle to stay in school because of the high costs.

How can these high salaries are justified when faculty and staff get no pay increases or below the inflation rate? I reckon that some $500,000 a year (cut from an obscenely high salary) can be used for hiring a couple extra faculty [new exciting courses, less class crowding, etc], or give a dozen students some serious financial aid. Isn't better to increase the opportunities for those who are eager & able but can't afford the high cost of education than to buy another yacht for a college president?

A president's salary is only a fraction of the total budget but there has to be some measure of reality here. In a land of starving people where sacrifice is one way street, the king can't lead an opulent, far-removed existence. Unless, he doesn't really care about his ..subjects, in which case the latter have a job to do!