Wednesday, April 23, 2008

When I am President

Here’s the first thing I’ll do when elected President of the U.S.A.
I’ll appoint a Blue Ribbon Commission on Rebuilding America

by Charlie Leck

If I was the President of the United State, here’s one of the first things I’d do upon taking office. I’d put together a blue-ribbon panel on Rebuilding America, I’d ask them to figure out how we ought to invest our money in order to make our nation great again. Finally, I’d ask that panel to let me know how much money it would cost to do the job correctly and to lay out a plan for gathering that money.

I’d invite a number of wise and compassionate Americans to make up that body. I’m tired of listening to half-pint, simple-minded, narrow-visioned politicians who damn all taxes and government spending. How in blazes do they think we got to be, for at least a time, the greatest country in the world?

We got there because we asked the American taxpayer and American corporations to help us set aside funds to make our nation the wonder that it was. It called for some sacrifices along the way, but we knew that these sacrifices would reap enormous future returns.

It’s a flat-out simple fact that we have stopped doing that. The conservatives – who are supposed to believe in conserving America and the American way – fight investing in our nation’s future at every turn. That does not conserve America. America is virtually falling apart.

Back to my blue ribbon panel! I will allow those who sit on the council to establish the agenda; that is, to name those institutions and that infrastructure in America that need to be rebuilt. Nevertheless, in case they need stimulation, I will outline some of my suggestions at the end of this blog.

If I were President, here are the citizens I’d invite to the panel.

Bill Gates is invited
He is a man to be admired. I certainly admire his enormous achievements.

Gates, I think, will want to make our education system one of those institutions to be rebuilt and that reflects a bias on my part. America’s public education system was one of the great wonders of the world. The system was so outstanding that it won our nation praise around the globe. Now, listen to Bill Gates on America’s education system:

“When I compare our high schools with what I see when I’m traveling abroad, I am terrified for our work force of tomorrow.”

Take a look at this column that Gates wrote for the Washington Post. Gates holds nothing back. He speaks candidly and from the heart. He is frightened for America. He wants us to do more and it will have to start in Washington.

Government investment in research, strong intellectual property laws and efficient capital markets are among the reasons that America has for decades been best at transforming new ideas into successful businesses.

“The most important factor is our workforce. Scientists and engineers trained in U.S. universities -- the world's best -- have pioneered key technologies such as the microprocessor, creating industries and generating millions of high-paying jobs.”

“…But if we are to remain competitive, we need a workforce that consists of the world's brightest minds.

“…we must demand strong schools so that young Americans enter the workforce with the math, science and problem-solving skills they need to succeed in the knowledge economy. We must also make it easier for foreign-born scientists and engineers to work for U.S. companies.”

“Education has always been the gateway to a better life in this country, and our primary and secondary schools were long considered the world's best. But on an international math test in 2003, U.S. high school students ranked 24th out of 29 industrialized nations surveyed.”

“Our schools can do better. Last year, I visited High Tech High in San Diego; it's an amazing school where educators have augmented traditional teaching methods with a rigorous, project-centered curriculum. Students there know they're expected to go on to college. This combination is working: 100 percent of High Tech High graduates are accepted into college, and 29 percent major in math or science. Contrast that with the national average of 17 percent.”

“To remain competitive in the global economy, we must build on the success of such schools and commit to an ambitious national agenda for education. Government and businesses can both play a role. Companies must advocate for strong education policies and work with schools to foster interest in science and mathematics and to provide an education that is relevant to the needs of business. Government must work with educators to reform schools and improve educational excellence.”

Unless you want to get totally frustrated, don’t look at the comments from readers in response to this column by Gates. It reflects the kind of climate and selfish attitude that neo-conservatives have raised to be the standard in this nation. How sad!

I’d also invite Warren Buffet to sit on the council
Warren Buffet, the richest man in America and, perhaps, also in the world, believes in the wealthy paying their fair share of taxes. I want to see America’s system of taxation streamlined and returned to the progressive system we formerly followed. Buffet is also one of the kindest and most generous citizens in the nation.
Here’s how the matter of taxes was put in an interview Buffet had with ABC News:

“Now one of those certainties is under attack from an unlikely source: Warren Buffett. Wednesday, the billionaire founder of the investment firm Berkshire Hathaway Inc. went to Washington to ask Congress not to cut his taxes. Buffett says the super-rich should be taxed more, not less.

“In particular Buffett urged the Senate Finance Committee not to repeal the estate tax. It is scheduled to come up for a vote, perhaps as soon as this week.

“He told the committee that he recently compared how much he pays in taxes in terms of a percentage of his salary to what his employees pay.

“The results? Buffett says he pays 18 percent of his salary to the IRS while the rest of his staff pays nearly twice that — 33 percent, a lopsided equation that put Buffett in a Robin Hood frame of mind.

"’Frankly, an economy where my receptionist pays a lot higher tax rate than, than I do does not strike me as a just economy’ he told lawmakers.

“Buffet has challenged the elite members of the Forbes 400 list to do their own calculations and compare their tax rate with their receptionists, and then consider his challenge that the rich should pay more.

"’I see nothing wrong with those who have been blessed by this society to give a larger portion of their income to the society than somebody that's working very, very hard to make ends meet,’ Buffett said.”

See why I’d make sure Buffet is on the commission to rebuild America. He also gets along smashingly with Gates.

Michael Bloomberg would also get invited
Bloomberg is a “get the job done” kind of guy. Sure, he’s made several billion dollars, but his wealth is only evidence of the fact that he’s bright and can implement a plan. My commission will need bright people, planners and implementers.

One of the first things Bloomberg did upon taking office as mayor of New York City was to make Joe Klein the head of schools.
Take a look at this story in U.S. News & World Report about Klein’s approach. One of Bloomberg’s great talents is in picking the right person for the job. Here’s the kind of guy Bloomberg has in Klein:

"A systematic worker, Klein started from the premise that the most crucial people in a school system are teachers, and the most important change agents are principals. ‘Schools are the basic unit that needs changing,’ Klein says, ‘and if we can empower the principals to lead their schools, we can reform the system from the top down and the bottom up.’ At the same time, Klein keeps in touch with the troops by visiting two or three schools a week, typically unannounced. ‘I'll ask [students] things like 'How many of your teachers care about you?'’ he says. ‘It's a very illuminating question.’"

My commission needs people who can spot talent. And education is one of the foremost jobs I want my commission to tackle.

How I wish Bloomberg had run for President of the U.S.A.. Had he, he certainly would have been my choice and I think he would have won as either a Republican, Democrat or Independent.

Who else would I put on the commission?

Rob Reiner
I’d ask
Rob Reiner to serve on the panel also. Reiner’s obviously creative. He’s also intelligent and compassionate. I don’t know what his politics are, but I know he’s concerned about America and he wants it to be a fair, just and cooperative nation. He’ll put global warming on my panel’s agenda and he’ll get along well with my first three choices.

Ellen Goodman
I’d put Ellen Goodman on my panel because I’ve been reading her newspaper columns for years and she’s got the right mix of compassion and practicality. She’s very wise and doesn’t pull the trigger quickly. She thinks things through. She won’t allow other panel members to get verbose. She’ll keep things on track by asking the proper questions at the correct time. If you don’t know about Ellen Goodman, you really ought to
go read about her. And, anyone who can write like she does belongs on this elite panel.

Garrison Keillor
I’m sure it’s no surprise to my regular readers that Keillor gets put on the panel. My reason may surprise you, however. It’s mainly because he’s from Lake Wobegon, that town “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” This is what we want for all of America. Keillor will help us understand how to do it. Beyond the fact that he is a native of this distinguished community, where I now live and from which I always post these blogs, Keillor is also a very bright and witty guy. He’ll keep Goodman laughing and give Reiner great stuff for an upcoming movie. He’s also nearly as wealthy now as Buffet. I start every Sunday morning by reading his column in our local paper. They’re always very good. Sometimes they’re great! If you don’t know who Garrison Keillor is, you’re not breathing!
Go see him on You Tube. You can also go to You Tube to see Keillor’s endorsement of Barack Obama. Want to read about my town, Lake Wobegon?

Stanley Fish
I’d ask Stan Fish to be on this commission also, because every group like this needs one real, honest-to-goodness intellectual – a Mensa kind of guy. That’s Fish. He’ll analyze where the group is and where it appears to be going. If you haven’t gotten to know Stanley Fish you aren’t a regular reader of my blogs. If you have, I’m sure you’re very grateful that I introduced you to his blog,
Think Again.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Supreme Courts justices are mighty busy, but
Ruth Bader Ginsburg will recognize the importance of what I’m trying to do and she’ll pitch in. I don’t believe anyone would say no to me on this important challenge. Our future is at stake. Ginsburg has been the intellectual heart and soul of the Supreme Court since the moment she joined it. I believe she is the epitome of fairness and justice. This panel simply needs her.

David McCullough
I struggled at great length trying to find a qualified conservative, of great intelligence and energy, to serve on my panel. I rejected many ideas recommended to me by my aides. The Congress has no conservatives who are up to the job – certainly none intelligent enough and likely none resourceful enough. Though highly regarded at the NY Times, David Brooks has been very disappointing. It seems to me that he lacks consistency and changes his opinion on many matters at whim. None of the talking heads on the radio are really any good when they try to think in a cooperative way with people who aren’t like them. Same thing for all the TV guys like Hannity and O’Reilly. They’re just jerks.

I finally settled on David McCullough, the highly regarded historian. I believe I’ve read all his books and he’s damned good. I was relieved to find out that he considers himself a conservative, because he’ll fill the need I have. This fellow has won a Pulitzer and a National Book Award. He’s as sharp as a tack on the history of our nation’s founding. He’ll be damned good at recording this remarkable event in American history. Here’s his publisher’s home page about him.

Shelby Steele
This is the second of my two conservatives on this panel. I haven’t put them there to be patronizing or inclusive. Both are there because they are amazing thinkers and will be helpful in fulfilling the mission.
Shelby Steele is a fellow of the Hoover Institute at Stanford University and a prolific writer. He’s a very clear and logical thinker and he spots phoniness from miles away. He will demand that this panel be realistic and he will also keep it on its purpose. Finally, Steele is a great communicator.

Bill Moyers
There was no hesitancy about this one. He’s one of my all time favorite people. He’s a man of great vision and creativity. No one wants our nation to be fair and to live up to the founders’ dream any more than this man. His book, Listening to America, was terribly good and is extremely important. We need people on the panel who have listened to America. If you don’t regularly read his blog, you probably should. It’s called
Bill Moyers Journal.

Jim Leck
Now this is a guy you don’t know, so you’re just going to be required to trust me on this one. It’s kind of a nepotism thing, but I do want the interests of the family to be represented on this panel. It’s the kind of self-interest thing presidents should be allowed to dabble in. Jim lives in Boston and works at Boston University. No, he’s not a janitor! So what if he was? He heads up the foreign students department there. I’m putting him on the panel because he’s hilariously witty and Keillor will be highly entertained by him. He looks an awful lot like Reiner and the movie dude will be intrigued by that. He reads Goodman regularly and he’ll probably try to sit next to her and get her autograph. Jim will also get a free swing at getting some money for Boston U out of Gates, Bloomberg and Buffet. But mostly, he’ll add knowledge about bringing good students to America and finding ways to keep the best of the best of them here to help us with our plan.

Jeffrey Sachs
I made this choice on my own. I needed someone to represent the interests of the planet – good, old Mother Earth. Jeffrey Sachs is the author of the book, Common Wealth. I thought it was terrific. He is the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. He’s concerned about the elimination of poverty and about questions regarding the sustainability of the Earth. We’ll need to figure out some of these knotty problems that revolve around global warming and Sachs will be helpful.

Patricia Schroeder
This will be a very important appointment to my distinguished commission. Pat Schroeder (I hope she’ll forgive me for calling her Pat, but I consider her a friend.) is a woman who I thought would become the President of the United States. She would have had the gonads for it, let me tell you. She’s one tough babe! No question about that. She’s a former congresswoman from Colorado and she was on the fast track in politics. She got burned out, however, and had to get away from it. Too bad! She would have been a great President – right up there at my level. Currently she is the Chairperson of the Board at the
Council for a Livable World’s PeacePac.

Tiger Woods
My final appointment will probably be my most controversial, but it’s fully logical. Tiger Woods needs to be on this commission and Buffet, Bloomberg and Gates may need get some golf lessons from him; if, that is, they have enough money to pay Tiger for his tutorials. Tiger also needs something to do since he turns up at PGA golf tournaments so infrequently. Seriously, Woods is a special human being with international reach and recognition. He doesn’t have the limited mind of your average athlete. There’s no one on this commission who’ll be able to make Tiger blink. I believe Tiger, in his heart, wants to be a social revolutionist and this will be a perfect spot for him to scratch the itch. Finally, maybe I can get him to take me down to Augusta for a round of golf.

Here are the institutions and topics I want them to address. I’m not going to explain these items. I’ll let the panel start from scratch. Needless to say, they’re listed here because they need to be addressed.

  • Public School Education in America
  • Immigration in America and how to encourage talented people from every part of the world to make America their home
  • America’s transportation systems, roadway infrastructure and building high-speed rail
  • A system of fair and simple taxation of the people
  • A first-class, responsive health care delivery system
  • The elimination of poverty in America
  • Encouraging and supporting the arts in America
  • Removing racial, sex and gender barriers
  • Making America environmentally sensitive and sustainable
  • Making America a good environmental partner in the world
  • Building peace among the nations
  • Keeping America economically competitive

The list above is not arranged in any priority order. Each time the list is published it should be scrambled so that no topic seems to always sit at the top.

Now, this idea of mine is the kind of initiative a really alert, sensible President would jump all over. Let’s get America rolling again. Let’s make it once more the greatest nation on the earth.

Let’s invest the money to do it.

The panel will be completely self-funding and won’t cost the American taxpayer a penny. Americans would voluntarily contribute millions of dollars to support such a commission. It will have the finest staff and research support possible. If there is an expense-overrun, Buffet, Gates, Bloomberg, Reiner and Woods will pick up the tab. Jim Leck will throw in a buck or two also.

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