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Column: Some Words Of Wisdom For Obama

This story was written by Bryan Murphy, The Daily Campus


What's up, Barack? Welcome to the White House. Hope you do a better job than your predecessor did - though really, I think you'd need to make a concerted effort not to.

First of all, Obama, I'm glad to have you with us. America's reputation in the world isn't exactly doing great right now, and in international politics, reputation is capital. A black president with a multicultural background will do wonders for America's image abroad. And if Islamic issues are going to continue to be a thorn in America's side, then it couldn't hurt to have a president who spent a good deal of his childhood growing up in Indonesia, the largest and most populous Muslim-majority country in the world. Surely, if the few minutes George W. Bush spent in Texas prior to his college graduation served well enough to sway the entire state in his favor, then perhaps there will be something of a "favorite son" Islamic kickback with Obama in power. Couldn't possibly be any worse than a president and a military staff who consistently allude to Crusader imagery, at any rate.

But it's not going to be all roses and puppy dogs for your administration.

Intrade.com, essentially a stock-market for predictions, has a $100 bond (which can be redeemed for, obviously, $100 if for the associated prediction comes true) for the prediction that "The U.S. Economy Will Go Into Recession During 2009" currently priced at $80. Not good. The economy could possibly serve as an "agenda-buster" for much of your first year in office.

Perhaps even more ominous, though, is a statistic which gets far less press than the G.D.P. and presidential polling data. The Programme for International Student Assessment, run by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, semi-regularly tabulates the mathematic and scientific proficiencies of students from member nations - essentially, the 30 most developed countries in the world - and compares that data. The U.S. fared, well, terribly. The richest and most powerful nation in the world finished 16th out of 30 participating nations in the science rankings, and 23rd in mathematics.

If analysts and politicos were willing to look beyond the next-quarter stock returns, this would be the doomsday number raining down upon everyone's heads. Obama, you gotta get on this. With our financial industry collapsed, our automotive industry on its death-bed and our oil reserves maxed-out, scientific development is more integral to America's economic security than ever before. The superpower of the future will be the nation that can produce the most tangible high-tech products, not the one that can trade the most financial derivatives. And the way things are looking, the superpower of the future is not going to be the U.S.

That can change, of course. It is still possible to overhaul America's education system. But it's gonna take a lot of work. Obama, you've made some promising gestures. In reference to lower-education, you said that as president, you would "launch a campaign to recruit and support hundreds of thousands of new teachers across the country," as well as push to have teaching treated "like the profession that it is," with the prestige and pay of any other profession. Vis--vis higher education, the first bill you ever introduced in the Senate was designed to raise the maximum Pell Grant from $4,050 to $5,100.

Both of these are pretty good ideas, but they don't go nearly far enough - especially in relation to the Pell Grant program, which was implemented in 1972. As recently as the early '80s, Pell Grants covered up to 75 percent of the cost of a public four-year college education. However, as college costs have risen far above inflation and Pell Grant values have stagnated, the current maximum Pell Grant - $4,050 - is less than a third of th annual tuition at an average public university, much less a private one.

Of course, I'm just a kid, and you're the president. And you've got time - four years at the very least. There's a lot you could get done, and I'm sure you've got a lot of ideas kicking around. Here's to hoping, though, that our nation doesn't get so sidetracked by energy and finances that it loses sight of the education of its own citizens.

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