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A Busy Busy Obama

April 1, 2009 1 comment

So, in his first couple of months and what has he done…? Well, how about leading an effort to spend trillions (check out my article on big numbers, if you can’t count this high – I know I had some trouble) of dollars of tax payer money to help boost the U.S. economy, lay out plans to tackle the housing market, propose a budget outline of historic proportions, re-organize a broken financial sector, and oh, all but nationalize an American icon. Guess what, he’s not done yet. President Barack Obama is now on an international trip that will see him visit the G-20 Summit in order to bolster international support for solutions to the ailing global economy; he’ll meet with leaders who at one point or another had it in for the United States, as well as those who love and support us; and he might even give us a great speech as he ends his visit in Turkey (that is just my speculation). Is this guy for real? I think after his first 100 days, he will have laid the groundwork for a historic presidency, and a change to U.S. political and societal culture that will take us into the next generation. (If you couldn’t guess I support him.)

I just want to say that people need to get their acts together because this brotha ain’t showin’ up on colored peoples time. Presidents and CEOs beware, he will do what it takes to get the economy going. That said, if you honestly work with him, he will work with you. Remember, he is one of the rich guys as well. Case in point of this proactive attitude, he “nudged” out the president of GM. Some may say this is a dangerous precedent. I say, if you can’t stand the heat then get out of the kitchen. The auto industry, more than any other, fuels the U.S. economy and job market. From car makers to part suppliers it touches everything. It can’t fail, and Obama knows that. He needs to worry about this. Whether bank CEOs get bonuses or not is small peanuts compared to if GM lives or dies. Bernacke and Geithner will see to the banks. And with all the authority they’ve been granted to oversee the financial system – no worries mate. The auto industry is entirely different. No czars there, so Obama has to be the czar.

At first I was a bit skeptical and wondering if he was going too far, but I realize his vision of what government can do is different, and sorely needed. He sees government as being an engine of creation that when used wisely, responsibly, and proactively can cause good things to happen. The big thing, which I hope happens, is people have to believe and not be afraid. We have to shed the old paradigms and muster the will to believe. If people do that, everything will be okay. Maybe we are seeing what smarter government can look like, at least coming from the Executive Branch. Now only if Congress can follow suit.

Read up on Obama’s deals, and politics in general via the New York Times politics section. This is just where I start. Please follow-up if you have the time. And most of all, ask questions, and demand answers.

Peace

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Buy American Clause Not So Bad

March 8, 2009 1 comment

So as I’ve been following the recent downturn in the world economy, and paying a special note to the blame being given to the United States for being the cause of this bleak situation. I guess turnabout is fair play. I mean, U.S. leaders try to dictate to the rest of the world how it should act, and we often play the blame game, so I guess it’s our turn. We took some stupid risks, and now everything is messed up…Sorry. I would like to hear more concrete solutions than blame, but what do you expect it’s human nature, right?

Within this time of note, I’ve been paying particular attention to how this new administration is going about things. President Obama and his team seem to be trying to get the U.S. back in shape, not only for the short term, but for the long term. This brings me to the subject of this post.

In the new stimulus package, that was recently signed into law, there is this little clause headed, “Buy American – Sec. 1605. Use of American Iron, Steel, and Manufactured Goods.” This little clause seems to be getting all the attention, as it apparently rings of protectionism towards U.S. industries. Interestingly enough, since this whole global downturn started many countries seem to implementing “protectionist” policies. From Sarkosy looking to help French automakers by floating them money to Russia raising tariffs on imported cars to India restricting certain ‘made in China’ products from entering its nation, the protectionist swing is going on, and it seems to be the hippest move.

Okay, back to the ‘Buy American’ clause. I don’t know what the problem is? If you read the whole thing, it’s really not that bad. Check it out:

BUY AMERICAN
SEC. 1605. USE OF AMERICAN IRON, STEEL, AND MANUFACTURED
GOODS.
(a) None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made
available by this Act may be used for a project for the construction,
alteration, maintenance, or repair of a public building or public
work unless all of the iron, steel, and manufactured goods used
in the project are produced in the United States.
(b) Subsection
(a) shall not apply in any case or category
of cases in which the head of the Federal department or agency
involved finds that—
(1) applying subsection
(a) would be inconsistent with the
public interest;
(2) iron, steel, and the relevant manufactured goods are
not produced in the United States in sufficient and reasonably
available quantities and of a satisfactory quality; or
(3) inclusion of iron, steel, and manufactured goods produced
in the United States will increase the cost of the overall
project by more than 25 percent.
(c) If the head of a Federal department or agency determines
that it is necessary to waive the application of subsection (a) based
on a finding under subsection (b), the head of the department
or agency shall publish in the Federal Register a detailed written
justification as to why the provision is being waived.
(d) This section shall be applied in a manner consistent with
United States obligations under international agreements.

The heading is all tough and protectionista like, but the actual body of the clause sings a different (at least in my opinion). First of all, this clause is referring to PUBLIC BUILDINGS OR PUBLIC WORKS. The private sector can do whatever it wants, and if a project is found to be INCONSISTENT WITH THE PUBLIC INTEREST things can change. Not convinced that this leaves the door open for foreign competition, well how about if the manufactured product you want is in short supply, too expensive, or just downright sucks? You can opt for an alternative. Oh, and to top this all off this clause states that it SHALL BE APPLIED IN A MANNER CONSISTENT WITH UNITED STATES OBLIGATIONS UNDER INTERNATIONAL AGREEMENTS.

Can I get some relief, and some calm? Of course any project manager that wants to waive this clause so he/she is not in violation of U.S. law, will need to put everything in writing (small price to pay…okay more paperwork – say it…Bigger Government!).

Maybe what the Obama administration is trying to do is motivate U.S. industries to raise their product quality, while making sure things remain fiscally sound. Again, this is pertaining to public projects, so maybe Obama is trying to make the Federal Government fiscally sound?

Personally I think the central government should use homemade products. I would take it as a source of great pride to know that my tax dollars when to the construction of a building that uses quality American goods, produced by my fellow citizenry.

So this doesn’t pertain to fuel, cars (unless built for government use), homes, cotton, food, etc (at least that’s how I interpret it). If China can spend billions upgrading it’s physical infrastructure, and encourage its population to buy Chinese made goods, why can’t we do the same?

In any case, I hope the global community doesn’t get in too much of a huff (I might be too late on that one) over the ‘Buy American’ clause. It’s not as tough as people have been making it out to be.

Peace

Recklessness, or Will to Succeed?

In these first months of Barack Obama’s presidency we have seen him take his campaign rhetoric to the Oval Office. He has lobbied for his programs and seems to be using his mandate given by the American people to do what he believes is necessary to improve the status of the United States. One might say enacting a huge measures that target areas for stimulus, but also lay foundations for future stability, plus tackling the financial sector, the housing market, budgetary deficits, and now health care is a reckless venture into the unknown – he’s doing too much at once. I disagree with those pessimists.

I would say Obama is exercising the will to succeed that has defined great U.S. American Presidents, and the country as a whole. I simply ask, “Why can’t we ‘fix’ the healthcare system to work for everyone? Why can’t Wall Street work for ‘Main Street’ without destroying it; there is such a thing as healthy risk taking? Why can’t we remain the most robust economy on the Earth – a superpower; and at the same time not ostracize the world at large?” I think this is how Obama thinks. Instead of always saying, “That’s not possible,” he’s saying, “Why can’t we…!”

Isn’t that what we want from our leaders? Of course we want them to have thoughtful dialogue and not be overbearing demagogues, but we at least want them to exude a confidence that shows they have the will to succeed.

If you look at the United States objectively (just try); it has a wealth of natural resources (either in low amounts or great amounts); it has ample open land which can be use to feed its own population, and have bounties leftover for others; it has been the home to great innovations (believe it or not the car was invented in the U.S.); it is home to some of the greatest universities and think tanks on the planet (Harvard, MIT, UC-Berkeley, The Brookings Institution, the American Enterprise Institute, etc.); major industries from film to finance, movies to motors, energy to environmental have bases of action within it’s borders; some of the wealthiest people in the world reside within her borders, and don’t seem to want to leave; I could keep going.

Yes, the epicenter of the global recession we are in is the United States, but what would one expect when so many entities large and small rely on this nation? If the U.S. sneezes then everyone catches a cold, or even the flue. We were foolish in our spending habits, and reckless in trying to make our visions realities. Transparency was anything but; regulations were on permanent vacation; and greed was the order of the day. That said, the drunken party seemed to extend to nations far and near. Some stayed sober, but some did not. They hold some of the fault. But let’s just place the blame where it started – The U.S. We’re adults and can handle our responsibility.

Now looking at all those positives, and the current amount of negatives, why should any leader with an ounce of confidence and ability be pessimistic in the U.S.’s ability to get out of the current quagmire and back on firm ground that will carry it, and the world into the future? Because one thing is for certain, take the U.S. out of the global economy and who is ready to replace it?

I will continue to watch, listen, read, and where necessary criticize Obama and his lofty ambitions, but I will never let my support wane because I know he is saying, “Why can’t we…,” and that means, at least to me anyway, he has the will to succeed, and believes the United States does as well.

Peace

Learn Your Big Numbers Kids

March 4, 2009 4 comments

Recently I’ve been amazed at the kinds of numbers I’ve had to digest. When I teach, I usually talk about news and such things to get warmed up, and as many of us know the headlines are dominated by this global recession. One thing I’ve found I have to review with my students are large numbers.

In Japan large numbers are a way of life, but Japanese people have real trouble figuring out large numbers in English (not to criticize because large numbers in Japanese are my nemesis). When translated into yen they become even larger. So, I have to explain large numbers; and I’m not talking about just millions. Those are digits of the past. These days I’m talking about billions and trillions. I sware I saw a figure like “1.5 quadrillion” in some newspaper. What is that? Help me out!

With the release of President Obama’s first budgetary figures for the United States it seems we should just get used to talking in billions and trillions. No longer is the norm to strive to become a millionaire. Old standards friends. Now we have to adjust everything to billions. How many billionaires are there within the borders of your nation? That’s where we are starting. Becoming a trillionaire will be the new exclusive club for all to reach for. Scary!

Just FYI, billions = 9 zeroes (1,000,000,000); and trillions = 12 zeroes (1,000,000,000,000); and I speculate quadrillions = 15 zeroes (1,000,000,000,000,000). I’ll vouch for only the U.S. system since I am a U.S. American. I’m sure there are different ways of counting…Isn’t it always that way.

Welcome to the new reality.

Peace

American Recovery and Reinvestment???

February 15, 2009 4 comments

Check out the new U.S. “stimulus” package that passed through Congress by clicking here. It’s not all 1100 pages of the bill, but thankfully the NYTimes Online gave decent-easy to follow summaries of the major areas. It should give you a good grasp of the bill.

Crazy what 787 billion U.S. dollars gets you. I agree with the Republicans that it is a huge spending bill, but I also agree with the Democrats that it has the potential to increase jobs, and prepare the United States for the future. Let’s hope the money and programs are implemented wisely. That will dictate how much bang for the buck we get.

Peace