Archives for: March 2010
By Randle Loeb on Mar 20, 2010 | In Caring and Surviving, Citizenship and Stewards By Randle Loeb
“Number of People Living on the Street in New York Soars,” According to the Point In Time in 2010 by 34%. Article by Julie Bosman of the New York Times March 20, 2010
WHY? When the anchor program has been used and there are many successful models of intervention including the Vulnerability Index Registry, Pathways, Ready, Willing and Able, and food salvage programs, work programs, Common Ground, Robert V. Hess, a long track record of community assistance, settlement houses, Covenant House, and the list of programs like the Catholic Worker House?
I stayed in New York City in Covenant House when I went to Bank Street College of Education in the middle of the 1970’s. I worked in the Greenwich Village Crash Pad and the East Side Housing program of Covenant House as a counselor. I never saw a greater number of distressed young people anywhere and I ran camp programs in North Philadelphia. In North Philadelphia the programs that existed were all directed at people living in poverty near marginalized areas of the south, north and west areas that have always been pockets of neglect near mass transit and highways. The areas are squatter havens where people lived in squalor in vast, thick carpets of humanity, near factories, bars and the rivers. Gentrification occurred in North Philadelphia those families moved farther and farther outside the conventional areas. In ghettoes in Latin America, which are on the outskirts of the business district, this type of squalor is pervasive and a number of children grow up with a barrio as their family. What happens when this occurs is that generation after generation of poor people become anesthetized to living as citizens who belong anywhere.
It is relevant to this question of the quality of life that leads to being homeless that the poor people are not grounded and are left to fend for themselves. A greater and greater number of children are raised by the streets and live out their lives destitute and hoping to be left alone. Hence there is an increase in homeless people across America.
What do we do about his dilemma? First and foremost we have to begin to change how we see poverty. It is not a phenomenon in a text book or a report, like the Point in Time Survey or the Homeless Management Information System, but an experience of this neighborhood and when all of the community sees that no matter what it has to be addressed than it will end. I believe in community models of control of poverty whereby everyone has a home, is safe and sound, works and is cared for throughout their lives. Another indispensible point is that we take the time and trouble to listen and pay attention to what a person wishes will help them solve these insurmountable obstacles to being safe and sound.
Even as I am writing this and looking around at my surroundings, I do not think any of this could remotely be possible without a pastor and a community who embraces my worth and supports me presence, no matter how contrary I am. I hear all of the time of the opposite approach whereby people are heaved onto the streets and feeling marginalized because of bottom lines, hubris and autocratic decisions made by people who are in charge. The more we give up on people the less likely people will have a safe, stable place to live, which is sustainable. This is what we have to over come to end homelessness.
This is the preface to this difficult article written by Julie Bosman as we enter the time of spring.
“The Bloomberg administration said Friday that the number of people living on New York’s streets and subways soared 34 percent in a year, signaling a setback in one of the city’s most intractable problems.
Appearing both startled and dismayed by the sharp increase, a year after a significant drop, administration officials attributed it to the recession, noting that city shelters for families and single adults had been inundated.
Robert V. Hess, the commissioner of homeless services, said in a subdued news conference that the city began feeling the increase in its vast shelter system more than two years ago. “And now we’re seeing the devastating effect of this unprecedented poor economy on our streets as well,” Mr. Hess said.
The city’s annual tally indicated an additional 783 homeless people on the streets and in the subway system, for a total of 3,111, up from 2,328 last year. That is in addition to almost 38,000 people living in shelters, which is near the city’s high.
The count came from an annual census of homeless people that is typically conducted on a cold January night, when more than 2,500 volunteers walk the streets and subway system between midnight and 4 a.m. to search for and identify the homeless. It took place this year on Jan. 25.
There were more homeless people found on the streets in every borough. The largest increase was in Brooklyn, where an additional 228 people were counted, more than double the total in January 2009. Manhattan had a 47 percent increase, or 368 more homeless people. In Staten Island, there was an increase of 45 percent, or 54 people; in Queens, a 14 percent increase, or 14 people; and in the Bronx, 6 percent, or 10 people.
Volunteers found 109 additional people — an increase of 11 percent — on subway trains and in stations.
Some of the homeless were found in out-of-the way corners in Queens and Staten Island.
A higher-than-usual concentration of homeless people have been recently seen in Pennsylvania Station. And a pocket of homeless men in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, appears to be new immigrants from Poland, trying to find work as day laborers.
The homeless population on the streets this year was down 29 percent from 2005, the first year of the count. The numbers had been steadily declining each year until the latest tally.
New York officials said the city still had a relatively small population of homeless people on the streets when compared with other large American cities.
There is one homeless person for every 2,688 people in the general New York population, compared with 1 in 154 for Los Angeles, 1 in 1,810 for Chicago and 1 in 1,844 for Washington. Among other cities conducting homeless counts this year, only Seattle, which showed a slight decrease, has so far announced results.
Mr. Hess promised that there would be new measures to encourage more of the homeless to get off the streets and into shelters. In the next month, the city will open two new housing facilities with 105 beds. And street-outreach workers will survey people to help understand why they are homeless.
Mr. Hess said he wanted to allow more people to go directly from the street to a shelter bed without an intake process and to cut out some of the bureaucracy that deterred them from entering shelters.
Tim Marx, the executive director of Common Ground, a nonprofit organization that provides homeless street outreach services in Brooklyn, Queens and parts of Manhattan, said he was not surprised by the increase.
“It just says that we have to keep up our efforts and intensify them,” Mr. Marx said. “The more people we have on the streets, the more they are making demands of our emergency shelter system, emergency rooms, detox centers and jails.”
Bill de Blasio, the public advocate, said he saw the count’s results as a sign that the administration needed to revamp its policies.
“Based on the increase reported today, I hope we can agree that we need to change our approach,” Mr. de Blasio said in a statement. “I continue to believe that we can do more to take on the growing problem of homelessness, including expanding prevention programs, re-examining our housing policies and maintaining support for critical services — such as drop-in centers and faith-based shelter beds — that often are all that stands between single homeless adults and the streets.”
The count has attracted its share of skepticism since it was first conducted in 2005. Advocates for the homeless have questioned the city’s methodology and have frequently accused the administration of underestimating the number.
The city says it follows a national standard and includes decoys as a way to measure the accuracy. The decoys, who are volunteers, station themselves around the city and note whether the official counters come by. In January, 90 percent of the decoys were counted, so the city assumed that 10 percent of the homeless were missed and adjusted its tabulation accordingly.
Last year, city officials said that the count revealed a 30 percent drop in the street homeless population since 2008, an announcement that was made at an elaborate news conference attended by volunteers, formerly homeless people and Linda I. Gibbs, the deputy mayor for health and human services, who spoke briefly.
This year’s event was quiet and spare by comparison. Ms. Gibbs’s commissioner, Mr. Hess, made the announcement in a conference room, seated at a long table.
By helen on Mar 16, 2010 | In The Black Perspective of Views of America By Helen Burleson
THANKS OBAMA: A NEW LOW
By Helen L. Burleson, Doctor of Public Administration
Jealousy is one of the strongest of human emotions. Combine jealousy with fear, you now have a populace paralyzed and unable to think. The modus operandi of the perverted right-wing bigots is to brain wash the public by creating a total environment of fear.
One can’t help but remember the calming, soothing words of another wartime president, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, when he assured the country, “There is nothing to fear, but fear itself.” With these few spoken positive words, Americans rallied around our president and with fervor and zeal, we supported his programs. School children bought “defense stamps” which were sold in schools. As soon as children amassed enough stamps to total around $18.00 (eighteen dollars), they would trade them in for a “defense bond.” The defense bonds purchased at around eighteen dollars upon maturity would net $25.00. Schools conducted duck and cover drills in order for children to learn how to protect and save themselves in case of an enemy attack. Children were treated in a positive fashion to imbue in them a sense of fidelity, loyalty and patriotism.
Today, children are being exploited, or at least I should say one child has been exploited by having a child pose with the middle finger extended upward. We all know what that symbolizes! Below the photo are the words in large type, Thanks, Obama. There are words accusing the President of the United States of spending her lunch money and 35 years of future paychecks. Then she concludes by calling the President a vulgar and profane name. Who are the sicko parents who would allow their child to be exploited like this?
Talk about juvenile delinquency! No, it’s adult delinquency! It’s politicians quitting their posts. It’s politicians engaged in lewd and lascivious acts. It’s politicians on the take. It’s politicians failing to live up to their marriage vows. It’s politicians and members of the highest judiciary branch, publicly and openly disrespecting the President of the United States during a State of the Union address. It’s the bigotry and blatant racism of those people so mentally ill that they cannot think or behave rationally. Racism has destroyed and fried their brains to the extent that they don’t even care that they are poisoning their children and their children’s children. What a legacy! What an example they are setting for those who in the future will be responsible for running this nation. What an example they are showing the world which is watching to see if there is any merit in our democratic form of governance.
All the while American blood is being spilled on foreign shores under the guise of guaranteeing and convincing these foreigners that they should embrace a democratic form of government, we, here in America are attempting to derail and overthrow an Administration because of racism.
By Andrea Juarez on Mar 15, 2010 | In Fork Fingers Chopsticks By Andrea Juarez
It's not that unusual to pair plantains with beans. Think of the delicious stewed black beans and platanos in Puerto Rico, Belize or Mexico.
I've created a lovely lentil salad for a modern twist on traditional Mexican lentejas y platanos (lentils and plantains), which is usually served more like a stew.
This salad can be eaten as a meal and would make an excellent lunch - it has lentils, wild rice, caramelized plantains, and crispy vegetables. Click to view the recipe & more pictures.
Andrea Juarez is an award-winning writer. She writes on a variety of topics, however, her food blog ForkFingersChopsticks.com is the nexus of her love for food, research and culture. There you’ll find recipes for cooking an ingredient several ways. She makes cooking both fun and interesting.
By Randle Loeb on Mar 15, 2010 | In Caring and Surviving, Citizenship and Stewards By Randle Loeb
The morning hours are tempered by fatigue and dizziness as everything begins to collapse. It is much like the collapse of the body due to being in shock. One cannot remember anything. Time elapses slowly and utterly, without purpose. One stands still, listless and unenergetic on the peripheral of life. Nothing escapes the brutality of the collapse of being. The stomach has shrunk down to a small fist. The temperature rises and falls with extreme fluctuations. The system cannot protect itself against the flashes, like a collapsed bag that flutters in the wind. Your head races, and your back throbs from pangs of pain as the bones recede from lack of calcium.
Fatigue robs you of sleep. Your body rests because it is spent but you cannot move. You’re wrapped in a fog of discomfort languishing in dull, aching pain, and resolute you push on but you can only with great effort.
It is a slow death; famine and starvation. There is nothing that you can do about it. There is no where to turn and nothing that one can do to escape the inevitable loss. You pray that someone will come and assist you to do the most ordinary functions like putting on and taking off your clothing, untying your shoes, taking small steps, going up and downstairs, keeping your balance, and even gasping for air.
Dying by starvation is one of the most fundamentally painful activities of existence. It shirks sustenance and sustaining life because one lets go of the will to eat, to drink to nourish and swallow. The mouth is always thirsty, and going from one place to another is untenable. Pain becomes greater as one exerts energy, and you simply want to lie there waiting for death.
It is easy to lull the body into a sense of stasis waiting and hoping to be released. One carries on as emaciated and decimated as possible until there is no way to evacuate wastes. One begins to smell like a putrid, open sore. The elements are awaiting the final outcome, and reclaim the rich resources that are left on the parched landscape.
Observing this apparition one makes an effort to touch the person and realizes that all of the skin and bone are fused together. There is no separation and no effort to account for the loss of color and movement other than the loss of will.
The final outcome for most of the world is stark and foreboding. We stand at the brink of what it is like to live in this way as a person. There is no food and there is no water. Life is like a drowning baby swallowing its own wastes and sputtering. There is no escape from suffocation, which is slow and deliberate. The mother clinging to her carcass with sunken eyes and bony hands, clinging to her dried breasts, and hopelessly stares at what was once within her trembling flesh.
How can we believe that this scenario is justified when we have nothing to offer but everything, which is within our grasp? We must believe that this situation can breed nothing except brutality and pain for the growing nightmare of a desolate and inconsolable world, devoid of hope, passion and spirit. What we must do is awaken the sleeping consciousness; saving the earth before everything else is swallowed and perishes due to affixation.
The seers say, “peace be with you,” the refrain is always, “And also with you.” What more can we wish for than to assuage the consciousness and gnawing appetite? We shuffle off to our protected circles of isolation and safety thinking that we have escaped. We let out a mournful gasp and shudder that we do not have to endure the ignominious harshness and bitterness of that world. In this state of awareness we shirk both responsibility and connection. There is no tomorrow for the world’s starving orphans, and we're content to slumber at peace with our full bellies and conviction that we are chosen, special and privileged.
Our dreams carry us away from this earthly morass to a place of refuge and at once, solicitude for the condemned as though this way of life for the majority of the earth’s citizens was a fantasy concocted by a piece of undigested chocolate pudding still clinging to our rotund esophagus. We expel a satisfied belch, while rolling over and turning away from the sight with confidence. When we open our eyes all of this unfortunate phantom will have vanished in the air as a wisp of fog in the misty dawn.
All too well understanding the inevitable that most sentient beings will be sacrificed for our safety and well being, we yawn and stretch like a tabby on its throne.
By Randle Loeb on Mar 14, 2010 | In Caring and Surviving, Citizenship and Stewards By Randle Loeb
"Bless Each and Everyone and Restore Faith Through Beneficence."
Over the last three weeks people have been solicitous and kind bringing me dishes, books, their comfort and care, looking in on me and making sure that I am safe and comfortable. Many have offered every service from transit to helping with my tasks. I have felt bathed in the mantle of human kindness and generosity.
I have had a laproscopic surgery that has frozen a tumor in my left kidney and we are still awaiting the decision with respect to the outcome. Meanwhile I have developed a n inguinal hernia and that too will require a surgical process for repair. What has occurred to buoy my spirits more than the wonderful care I received at Denver Medical Center, where my youngest child was born in 1979, is the connection and dignity of the village of people who lovingly and genuinely extended themselves.
If we're ever to over come poverty and to end the scourge of homelessness we must treat all citizens alike in this beneficent way with loving kindness.
How many people I recall have been at my side and lavished care and comfort is innumerable and I cannot say enough to all of you, Thanks for being here through everything.
By Randle Loeb on Mar 14, 2010 | In Caring and Surviving, Citizenship and Stewards By Randle Loeb
How we examine one another as citizens of the communities in which we are living and who we are presently defines what matters.
"In the Pew, Peace and Reflection"
By JULIE BOSMAN
Published: March 11, 2010
"Linda I. Gibbs, 50, one of the city’s six deputy mayors, has a portfolio that includes homelessness, child welfare, aging, hospitals and juvenile justice. On Sundays, she mostly sticks to more cheerful pursuits in Brooklyn. Ms. Gibbs lives in a loft in Brooklyn Heights with her husband of 17 years, Tom McMahon, 55, a government relations consultant, and their two children, Ryann, 16, and Leo, 14.
READING AT DAWN Five o’clock is a typical get-up time, which I actually like, because until 7 or 8, it’s totally quiet. And it’s a chance to do reading. I hesitate to say it, but I’m in three reading groups. And so one is mostly fiction and two are nonfiction. One of those is a whole range of disciplines by intention, so there’s anthropologists and sociologists and psychologists. I’m the token lawyer. And the idea is to try to bring different perspectives to things that we read, and we read a lot of history, philosophy and science. We just finished Sir Thomas Aquinas’s political writings.
COFFEE, BAGELS, PAPERS I do one coffee in the morning, and then I try to drink herbal tea for the rest of the day. And Tom goes out and gets bagels, and then the papers come, and everybody starts getting up, and then the action begins.
TO CHURCH I get really stressed if I don’t have my weekly visit to St. Boniface. It’s just a really, really fabulous parish that we’ve been going to for close to 20 years now. It’s this very old-school choir and incense, but a very new-school manner of preaching. It gives me a chance to reflect on the work that I’m doing, and how I’m doing it, and why I’m doing it, and how to do it better and to think about the reason why I come to work every day.
PARENTAL NAGGING It’s homework day, so the afternoon is usually the kids focusing on their homework and their projects and sort of helping them do that. Some of it is beyond me at this point, so it’s just doing the annoying parent thing of, “What homework do you have? O.K., let’s see what you’ve got done. Now go back into your room and keep working.”
REPORTS FROM THE MAYOR Usually a weekend call would only be if there’s a crisis, and you know, thank God, there aren’t too many of them. The mayor is my most regular reporter on street homeless individuals. People that he sees that he wants to know that we’re reaching out to. So I’ll get weekend reports from him on that.
E-MAIL CATCH-UP My work stuff over the weekend tends to be working with my commissioners and helping them deal with anything that’s sort of evolving. Maybe I should put e-mails in the queue and save them to send at 9 a.m. on Monday, but I don’t. I just sort of send them off. And I don’t mean to be putting people into weekend work unnecessarily, but sometimes it’s the only time you have to catch up.
FAMILY MEAL We try as many nights of the week to actually have dinner with the kids at home, but Monday to Thursday it doesn’t end up being many. Sunday night is the night that you pretty much can be sure that everybody will be home. Ryann’s a vegetarian, so that really screws everything up. We always have lots of shrimp on hand, a big bag of Costco shrimp in the freezer. We tend to eat dinner pretty late, so usually after dinner is a little reading in bed. We’re not a TV-watching family."
We must be astute not to judge the quality and character of another based on the past. Instead let us examine what we're doing at this moment, this morning. Blessings.
By Randle Loeb on Mar 14, 2010 | In Caring and Surviving, Citizenship and Stewards By Randle Loeb
Sustaining, and affirming work in itself is a means to self-sufficiency. This government has spent too little energy on creating opportunities for all of us to work. We need “Doctors Without Borders” for 50 million Americas without adequate health care, and we need “Ready, Willing and Able”, Bayaud Enterprises, William Strickland's program for job development in Pittsburgh, Pa., and many more opportunities for people to have a purpose and to live in community. In Pheonixville, Pa. there is a program sponsored by the Community Partnership of Phoenixville for people with disabilities to learn to run businesses. Many programs are small non-profits, but others like the latter are a Community coalition of business associates, non-profits like the Colonial Theatre, and Citizen Advocacy of Chester County, that are making sure that people earn a living wage. We need to put America back on its feet and that will require all of us to roll up our sleeves and volunteer to create a practice of mentoring and guidance for all of our citizens to thrive. We need community models of recovery that means that no one is left behind, out in the cold, or forgotten.
Partying to Change the World
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
BeadforLife, which teaches entrepreneurial skills to
impoverished Ugandans, is an example of how Americans can make a difference.
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Published: March 13, 2010
Maybe the most common question I get from readers is: What can I do?
Beads made of scrap paper by Ugandan women enrolled in BeadforLife.
They’ve read about malaria, or mass rape, or AIDS orphans, and they want to make a difference. Should they call the White House? Write a check? Howl in hopeless despair?
There’s never a perfect answer, but here’s one ingenious approach: Throw a party!
Let’s back up. In 2004, a Colorado woman named Torkin Wakefield, a Peace Corps veteran with a lifetime of experience in aid work, was temporarily living in Uganda. Her daughter, Devin Hibbard, then just out of graduate school, came to visit, and they strolled together through a slum in Kampala, the capital.
They stumbled upon a woman named Millie Akena making jewelry beads out of trash paper outside her mud-walled home. They bought a few necklaces from Millie, for about 75 cents each.
Over the next few days, mother and daughter received many compliments on the necklaces — especially when they explained where the beads came from. Jewelry from garbage!
Hmm. A gleam in their eyes, Torkin and Devin returned to the slum, asked Millie to gather her friends and bought up more than 225 necklaces.
American friends loved the beads. So Torkin and Devin, with their friend Ginny Jordan, formed BeadforLife. It’s a nonprofit seeking to promote entrepreneurship through an international jewelry manufacturing operation.
They returned to Uganda to work with the women on improving jewelry designs and assuring quality. To cut costs, they asked friends traveling back to the United States to smuggle bags of necklaces in their suitcases.
Then they began marketing the jewelry through bead parties in the United States — a bit like Tupperware parties. Typically, one woman invites her friends, and they come to her home to buy necklaces, bracelets and earrings for between $5 and $30. Last year alone, Torkin says, there were 3,000 of these parties, attended by about 100,000 people.
“It’s not a handout; we’re totally opposed to that,” said Devin, who is now based in Uganda for the project. “This is a symbol for us of women really working hard.”
BeadforLife recruits women who are earning $1 a day or less, and who seem particularly hard-working and entrepreneurial. Once enrolled, they get training in how to cut strips of scrap paper, roll them tightly, glue them and seal them — and, presto, a beautiful bead.
The beads are not painted, and their color comes from the paper itself (with writing sometimes faintly visible). Magazine ads and aid group brochures are prized for their rich colors. Torkin remembers wincing when she saw women making beads from brochures explaining how mothers can prevent AIDS transmission to their babies. “I just hope that someone had looked at them before they were cut up,” she said.
Bead makers earn about $200 per month, half of which is deposited in brand-new savings accounts (one huge problem for the world’s poor is that they lack a safe way to save). The women are also encouraged to trade their beads to the program for antimalarial bed nets, condoms, deworming medicine and family planning supplies.
The centerpiece of the 18-month BeadforLife program is training bead makers to start small businesses. They get coaching in business management, and some learn trades like making jam or raising chickens.
The bead makers get about $600 to open their own shops or start some other small business, and after a year and a half they graduate and new bead makers are enrolled. The aim is not to create lifelong jewelry manufacturers, but to turn women into bustling entrepreneurs.
These days, Torkin and Devin are no longer smuggling their merchandise (it turned out that the necklaces weren’t subject to American duty, they say, so subterfuge was unnecessary). Their biggest challenge is how to manage $4 million in annual jewelry sales so that it makes the most difference.
BeadforLife reflects several fascinating trends in the battle against global poverty. One is the increasing interest in using businesses and entrepreneurship to create jobs and a more sustainable economic liftoff. A second is a focus on women, because of evidence that they are more likely than men to invest business profits in their children’s education and health. A third is the growing attempt to engage American supporters by asking them to do something other than just writing checks.
Increasingly, Torkin and Devin have also been using the bead parties to try to educate the jewelry buyers about Africa. To go with the beads, they’ve developed a curriculum on global poverty for American schools. They’ve also been taking Americans to Africa to see the work firsthand.
“At first, we thought BeadforLife was just for Ugandans,” Torkin said. “Then we realized that a lot of this was about helping Americans get involved.”
By Randle Loeb on Mar 12, 2010 | In Caring and Surviving, Citizenship and Stewards By Randle Loeb
"Getting Obama Right"
David Brooks is a conservative op-ed columnist for the New York Times. This was published this morning and it bears scrutiny because the message is clear: America is bickering about ideology and partisanship not the overarching issues of 9.7 trillion dollars of debt and making it possible for all of us to work in jobs that pay a living wage. In light of the emerging caucuses next week, which is a Colorado trademark, we have an opportunity to exalt our local process of grassroots political consciousness and support the candidates and policies that we hold to be honorable and valued. How many will participate remains to be seen but a participatory democracy or republic cannot represent us unless we responsibly act as citizens, both now and in November. We all have to engage in the support of the census for the same noble purposes:
"We are born here and we are citizens."
By DAVID BROOKS
Published: March 11, 2010
Who is Barack Obama?
If you ask a conservative Republican, you are likely to hear that Obama is a skilled politician who campaigned as a centrist but is governing as a big-government liberal. He plays by ruthless, Chicago politics rules. He is arrogant toward foes, condescending toward allies and runs a partisan political machine.
If you ask a liberal Democrat, you are likely to hear that Obama is an inspiring but overly intellectual leader who has trouble making up his mind and fighting for his positions. He has not defined a clear mission. He has allowed the Republicans to dominate debate. He is too quick to compromise and too cerebral to push things through.
You’ll notice first that these two viewpoints are diametrically opposed. You’ll, observe, second, that they are entirely predictable. Political partisans always imagine the other side is ruthlessly effective and that the public would be with them if only their side had better messaging. And finally, you’ll notice that both views distort reality. They tell you more about the information cocoons that partisans live in these days than about Obama himself.
The fact is, Obama is as he always has been, a center-left pragmatic reformer. Every time he tries to articulate a grand philosophy — from his book “The Audacity of Hope” to his joint-session health care speech last September — he always describes a moderately activist government restrained by a sense of trade-offs. He always uses the same on-the-one-hand-on-the-other sentence structure. Government should address problems without interfering with the dynamism of the market.
He has tried to find this balance in a town without an organized center — in a town in which liberals chair the main committees and small-government conservatives lead the opposition. He has tried to do it in a context maximally inhospitable to his aims.
But he has done it with tremendous tenacity. Readers of this column know that I’ve been critical on health care and other matters. Obama is four clicks to my left on most issues. He is inadequate on the greatest moral challenge of our day: the $9.7 trillion in new debt being created this decade. He has misread the country, imagining a hunger for federal activism that doesn’t exist. But he is still the most realistic and reasonable major player in Washington.
Liberals are wrong to call him weak and indecisive. He’s just not always pursuing their aims. Conservatives are wrong to call him a big-government liberal. That’s just not a fair reading of his agenda.
Take health care. He has pushed a program that expands coverage, creates exchanges and moderately tinkers with the status quo — too moderately to restrain costs. To call this an orthodox liberal plan is an absurdity. It more closely resembles the center-left deals cut by Tom Daschle and Bob Dole, or Ted Kennedy and Mitt Romney. Obama has pushed this program with a tenacity unmatched in modern political history; with more tenacity than Bill Clinton pushed his health care plan or George W. Bush pushed Social Security reform.
Take education. Obama has taken on a Democratic constituency, the teachers’ unions, with a courage not seen since George W. Bush took on the anti-immigration forces in his own party. In a remarkable speech on March 1, he went straight at the guardians of the status quo by calling for the removal of failing teachers in failing schools. Obama has been the most determined education reformer in the modern presidency.
Take foreign policy. To the consternation of many on the left, Obama has continued about 80 percent of the policies of the second Bush term. Obama conducted a long review of the Afghan policy and was genuinely moved by the evidence. He has emerged as a liberal hawk, pursuing victory in Iraq and adopting an Afghan surge that has already utterly transformed the momentum in that war. The Taliban is now in retreat and its leaders are being assassinated or captured at a steady rate.
Take finance. Obama and Tim Geithner are vilified on the left as craven to Wall Street and on the right as clueless bureaucrats who know nothing about how markets function. But they have tried with halting success to find a center-left set of restraints to provide some stability to market operations.
In a sensible country, people would see Obama as a president trying to define a modern brand of moderate progressivism. In a sensible country, Obama would be able to clearly define this project without fear of offending the people he needs to get legislation passed. But we don’t live in that country. We live in a country in which many people live in information cocoons in which they only talk to members of their own party and read blogs of their own sect. They come away with perceptions fundamentally at odds with reality, fundamentally misunderstanding the man in the Oval Office.