Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The State of the Economy

Just as the Arab Spring attuned the collective imagination of the world to the possibilities of revolt and protest, the world slowed its tracks about a year ago to watch its economic institutions beset by masses of Guy Fawkes masks and discontented people bearing signs of the 99% vs. the 1%--the haves and have-nots. Even here in Athens-Clarke county, people in North Campus pitched their tents, rolled out their blankets and prepared to protest local and national economic conditions. But on the first anniversary of the Occupy Movement, the issues that incited the revolution still remain. The recession, though improved since recovery efforts began in 2008, has tightened purse strings and diminished prospects. Gas prices are rising with no sign of coming back down. Many recent graduates find themselves idling without a stable job prospect in sight. In Europe especially—as the fight to save the Euro rages on and the economies of several countries (e.g. Greece, Ireland, Spain) are still on the down and downs—it is apparent that the economic pressure America faces continues to be felt by the rest of the world as well.

The Fed released reports Monday saying that uncertainty over the economic outlook increased the unemployment rate by one or two points to where it is now, around 8 percent. According to an article from the Arizona Times, one of the job market’s main problems is a mismatch in skills and training, with jobs becoming increasingly technical. Others say that outsourcing has killed domestic tech and manufacturing fields. This bears bad news for Obama’s campaign as he struggles to relate his competency concerning the economy over this past term, but doesn’t bode much better for Romney, who, if elected, will inherit the same Sisyphean struggle of stimulating and maintaining economic growth.

Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, was trending all over the web recently for his statements urging for increased intervention from the Fed to boost the economy. To his credit, by September 14, stock prices were already showing signs of improvement after the Fed stepped in again to aid the ailing economy.  The Fed's action followed a decision by the European Central Bank to support debt-ridden euro zone nations by purchasing their debt.

“Policies from Congress, not more short-term stimulus from the Fed, are the ingredients necessary for restoring growth in the American economy,” statement Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) after Bernanke’s speech.

In response to this statement, though, can we even overcome partisan politics to enact lasting economic change?

An article by the Christian Science Monitor compares ways the two presidential candidates differ on issues like the government’s role in job creation, outsourcing, labor unions, and the minimum wage. Obama proposed last September to set aside about $450 billion to cover funding for teachers and improving rundown schools (citing education as most important for job creation) but the bill was quickly shot down in the Senate, which couldn’t determine how to pay for this plan. Romney has said repeatedly that Washington is an impediment to economic growth, but for different reasons. Saying that government regulation only harms the job market, Romney has said he will instead cut the corporate tax rate by about 10%.

But what do tax cuts and budget cuts mean in the grand scheme of the national economy?

Last week’s Russell forum on national security highlighted just how complex the issue of the national budget can be for the American people. Economic figures are tricky. They are difficult to digest and it’s hard to get numbers in context even when they are understood.  Though forum participants were very certain that the defense budget needed to be cut, no one was sure by how much. The same could be said of other sectors of the budget—including education, labor, and industry. Which sectors would we taper to balance the budget? What are the tradeoffs of these cuts? How should we stimulate the economy while keeping our costs down? Should we change our international trade policies and put more investment into American industry?

There is no easy answer. However, if you think you have some answers to these tough questions and want a chance to weigh in on the discussion, come out to the Russell Library’s economic forum on Tuesday, September 18, to engage in balanced discussion with members of your local community.

Post by Lori Keong, Student Worker/Blogger, Russell Library

Monday, September 17, 2012

So Close Yet So Far (from the DNC)

I spent most of the day on Wednesday September 5, 2012 daydreaming; in less than twenty-four hours I would ride to Charlotte, North Carolina to attend the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

I had found out only the week before, tipped off by a cryptic phone call from campaign staff in Atlanta asking for my mailing address. One of the perks of working for any political campaign is the opportunity to attend catered events and receptions where administration officials speak. But when the ticket arrived, a ticket that would admit me to the Bank of America Stadium to see President Obama accept the nomination of his party -- this particular opportunity was the best yet!

I chose my clothes for the next day carefully, ironing each piece and laying them out for the early morning drive. I packed my bags and charged my camera in preparation for the festivities. It wasn’t until about 9 p.m. Wednesday night that I heard plans might change. Staff from Obama for America called to say that unfortunately, due to severe weather forecasts, the convention would be moved to the indoor Time Warner Center, a venue with more limited seating. He assured me the decision was for the safety of all attendees.

Even with this disappointing news, some fellow summer staff members and I decided to wing it, making the drive to Charlotte to see what else might be in store. When we arrived early Thursday, excited and boisterous fans filled the streets—all ready to celebrate this official moment with the delegates, political leaders and community organizers. 

Once in town, we confirmed with campaign staff that our community credentials would not guarantee us entry into the Time Warner Center. Instead, we were invited to a conference call with the President at 1:20 p.m. and were promised an additional opportunity to attend a more intimate event with the President at a time closer to the November election. Once on the line, the President assured us that while a phone call couldn’t replace seeing his speech in person, this moment was what campaigns were really all about -- community, fellowship, and the undying perseverance that comes from those with a common goal.

While we couldn’t see Barack Obama in person, he reminded us of the work we had left to do in this hard fought political race. And in the end, I think he was right. It is often the little moments that make the campaign trail so special. I spent most of my day in Charlotte talking with other convention hopefuls as well as local citizens. There was the pastry shop owner who had seen her highest sales ever since the convention started. Also, there were crews of volunteers who had flown in from Tennessee, Ohio, New York and more hoping, like me, for a chance to meet the President they campaigned hard for all summer long. That night we all gathered together for a watch party and although we didn’t see the speech live, we were all inspired together and felt connected to a campaign dedicated to change.

Post by Beatrice Pollard, student worker/blogger, Russell Library

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Day in the Life of a Campaign Staffer

All that jazz - some campaign ephemera from the collections
Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies.
While a typical day for a campaign staffer isn't quite as glamorous as Jim Messina's job (campaign manager for the Obama for America) it can definitely get exciting. Beyond the glitz and the glam you might see on TV -- campaign jargon, catchy slogans, patriotic t-shirts and banners-- the behind the scenes work of campaigning is very different.

I started volunteering for the Obama campaign in the summer of 2012, glittery eyed and star struck thinking I might even walk hand and hand with the President himself. I had a rude awakening my first day. Not only was I highly unlikely to meet the President, but most of my time would be spent making phone calls – lots of them!

From the outside looking in, the campaign trail can seem like a breeze. You see staff members running around with political leaders and walking through crowds of rallying Americans excited to cheer the candidate (and you) on. In reality, a campaign is a lot of work and it takes a while to get to the rallies and election night. Not only do you have to believe in your cause, but you have to show others that they can believe in it too. That task requires lots of resources, stamina and sleep.

As staffers, our job was to connect with people by telling them about the candidates strengths. Through various one-on-one meetings with people in communities throughout the Southeast region, making phone calls, hosting catered events, and door-to-door canvassing, I was able to connect with people on a more intimate basis. Essentially, just letting them know we were on their side and that the candidate needed their help. The citizens appreciated the time we spent reaching out and as we planned events and talked with voters, campaign staff members, as a group, became more unified in working toward our common goal.

Most of my time on the campaign trail was focused on communication. That meant making phone calls to gauge people’s support or stance on key issues, communicating this collected data to campaign HQ, and sharing the importance of voting using tested Get out the Vote methods like door-to-door canvassing and community outreach initiatives. This was not a journey for the shy or weak hearted! Campaign staff and volunteers must be prepared to talk a lot, share experiences with others and use their hands! So, here's a quick break down of the day-to-day...

Day-to-Day Campaign Staffer Run down (The Less Glamorous Side)
•    Making Phone Calls
•    Performing Data Entry using Vote builder, valuable data software of all registered voters
•    Soliciting Donations in person through catered events
•    Canvassing door-to-door
•    Communicating on Dashboard (a Social Network for supporters and interested volunteers)
•    24/7 hr. work days. Lots and Lots of pizza, chips, cookies and other quick junk food

The Perks:
•    Meeting political leaders in the community
•    Attending fundraising receptions
•    A chance to attend the party convention AND Inauguration
     (should the candidate be elected)
•    Friendships forged with fellow staff members
•    Feeling like I made a difference!

So if you’re interested in volunteering for a political campaign, try to remember while you are out there canvassing and making phone calls that your work is not all in vain. Adopt an alter ego, become a super hero taking on the challenges of a new world, and remember to get some sleep! Wanna get involved in a campaign this season? Check out your local political party headquarters for more information on candidates running for office and how you can volunteer.

Post by Beatrice Pollard, student worker/blogger, Russell Library

Monday, September 10, 2012

Redefining U.S. Foreign Policy

“Sometimes to understand where you are, you need to ransack the past,” says Tom Engelhardt, acclaimed author and Fellow of the Nation Institute, where he runs a news commentary website called Tomdispatch.com.

America’s role in the global community is a double-edged sword. The United States has had a hand in so many different countries, whether with an open palm to provide aid or a clenched fist to proclaim war—or a dangerous combination of both, that it is hard to determine all the costs of our dominance abroad.

What we do know is that with continually shifting international trends comes the need for a redefinition of American foreign policy. Previously, “waves of democratization and sectarian strife across Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Africa” at the end of the Cold War pushed America—as the reigning superpower—to the fore in an “experimental era of international peacekeeping,” said a recent GulfNews article. Later, 9/11 encouraged another shift in diplomatic strategy towards combating international terrorism. The destabilization of some regions of the world with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction also forced us to become more aware of our international adversaries, strengthening our desire to control and influence exterior forces.

In a thorough article that he wrote for Tomdispatch, Engelhardt explains his personal viewpoint on the troubles America faces with national defense now. Recalling the language of emperors of the Hellenic past, Engelhardt describes the recent international counterinsurgency regimes under Bush/Cheney and Obama as attempts to impose a Pax Americana on the world through dominion overseas, in nations like Pakistan and Afghanistan. 

Engelhardt counts these as the components and effects of the Pax Americana:
•    A commander-in-chief with almost unlimited control over domestic defense policy (even at the expense of the American people and the welfare of foreign civilians)
•    Cooling of international relations in response to America’s global peacekeeping attempts
•    Expansion of covert ops--Special forces can be sent wherever the president wants and whenever the president wants; Expanding use of drone air forces against foreign nations can be lethal, given their destructive effect and the president’s extensive power to launch them
•    Expense of millions of dollars to national defense, while other sectors like education are being cut in the national budget
•    Growing detachment of American people to wars and operations launched on America’s behalf

Today, in response to these controversial defense tactics and criticism over continual global peacekeeping efforts, in what ways could we reform our foreign policy? How do we respond to pertinent international trends like the Arab Spring (particularly the continuing crackdowns in Syria), the collapse of the Euro, and the emergence of Africa as a strong trading partner? Can our new president redefine our international policy to adapt to these changes?

According to political reporter Kurt Shillinger, “an abiding feature of foreign policy is continuity from one president to the next,” so he said that though Romney’s plan of action was uncertain, Obama would likely deliver a fairly straightforward plank building on nuclear containment in Iran and North Korea, encouraging continued reforms in budding democracies like Myanmar, continual combat of Al Qaeda members, and strengthening economic partnerships with  the big players on the Pacific Rim.
    The key to asserting influence abroad, though, he said, would be determined by whether the incoming president could find a healthy balance between the rising U.S. debt and the cost of infrastructure and education, with the presidential debates in October providing “the last big opportunity for candidates to address these issues.”
To discuss what global security means in the 21st century and possible solutions to our global relations issues, come out to the Russell Library’s national security forum, “America’s Role in the World,” on Tuesday, September 11. 

Post by Lori Keong, Student Worker/Blogger, Russell Library