A Serious Question and a Bold Reply

Oct 23, 2008 | Updated May 25, 2011

What would you say if the new president of the United States asked you what to do first? Well, you'd say, Mr. President, I have a little list. You have a short time. Honeymoons are brief these days and the ship of state is taking on water fast. The alarm is ringing. Your first response will determine whether we keep our ship afloat and sailing on or whether it joins the Davy Jones locker crowd.

If it is a President Obama, you already have Robert Rubin and Paul Volker advising you on the financial crisis... a good start. Now about stabilizing the lending mockery. You know the old saying: "Follow the money." Well, no one knows where that debt money is any more. We can't follow it through the labyrinth. It has disappeared down Alice's rabbit hole. The original loan from bank to lender is passed around and repackaged so many times that you cannot figure out who owes what to whom. Make the buck stop with the lender, at least to the second power, and then no package deals of random loans. No more passing the buck, literally. Lenders and borrowers will both share responsibility for good and bad loans. No fine print. No shuffling the cards. Simple, straightforward language for borrowers on loans. No floating rates below a certain income level. You can't eliminate all risk, but it is time to minimize it for our economic stability. No more institutionalized loan sharking.

Yes, some risk is necessary for growth. When slippery greed compounds without oversight and safeguards, however, then legislation and regulation need to put that excess in lock down. We have to prop up the big banks and lenders, not for the sake of their CEOs, but for all the jobs and homes that would be forfeited if we do not. Bad loans at the highest banking level are connected in a spider's web to everyone. There is plenty of blame to go around, but first we need to untangle the web that was woven around us, cut our spending, save, and recycle. While the financial debacle is not our fault, it is our problem. It is like a surprise disease that comes upon us and for which we must accept unpleasant treatment for recovery.

Which leads me to the next problem: energy and the environment. Sea level rise and sea temperature rise are causing more potent storms; carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions are the large part of the problem. Water in our western states is waning as development waxes. Yes, we will drill for more oil. But really, what we need for independence, safety and economic viability is a new industry built around wind, sun, natural gas, and new technologies. We need to stop sending our shrinking dollars to the countries that would destroy us. We need a national grid supplied by a combination of renewables. We need electric cars and a commitment from all of us to save energy. A new energy bill that just passed the House is on its way to the Senate, and it supports renewable companies with tax credits. That is critical. It is hard to make up a business plan if you do not know what the tax and credit conditions are.

A new president will need independence from the oil companies to formulate bold, nation-saving new policies. Our leader needs to tell the car and truck manufacturers to improve their mileage standards now, not later. He needs to garner information from experts on energy: Tom Friedman, former Senator Tim Wirth, Dr. John Holdren of Harvard, and Dr. James Hansen for starters.

He will need to call us to action in a compelling voice. Carbon emissions come largely from automobiles. High time to convert to non-polluting vehicles. Particles of carbon are increasing in our atmosphere. As the level of particles increase, so does the temperature. We need to confront the situation and not minimize it because certain companies and money interests oppose change or challenge. When we hear the cry, "Drill, Baby, Drill," just substitute, "Burn, Baby, Burn," and you sum up the situation. It is no time for faint heartedness. Our new leader can call up the ingenuity we need to be an exporter of technology, not an importer of oil. Let's have the wealth transfer flow toward us instead of away from us to Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Venezuela.

Health care costs are breaking a lot of families and we need a remedy. But those first two issues are emergencies.

Of the three branches of our government, the executive is the most powerful. It can go to war willy-nilly and rewrite laws that circumvent both Congress and the Supreme Court. Our choice of President reflects our aspirations and our self-respect. The rock bottom cynicism of the Palin choice for the vice presidency mocks our values of seeking excellence in science and education. It thumbs its nose at personal integrity and esteem for excellence. As a result, a President McCain has shown that he would reflect on serious advice with the same derision he demonstrated in his choice for his potential successor. He would look at advice through the eyes of expediency, not of preserving this big bountiful country that we love.

A President Obama just might hear you. He listens and has a keen aptitude for understanding what we have to do in the situation in which we find our country and ourselves.