Saturday, August 2, 2008

Obama Townhall on the Economy

Barack Obama

August 1, 2008

St. Petersburg, Florida

I've often said that this election is a defining moment in our history. On major issues like the war in Iraq or the warming of our planet, the decisions we make in November and over the next few years will shape a generation, if not a century. Nowhere is that more true than when it comes to our economy.

Just today, we learned that 51,000 jobs were lost last month alone, the seventh straight month of job loss - now totaling over 460,000 jobs lost since the beginning of this year. This follows yesterday's news that in the last year, wages and benefits fell further behind inflation than at any time in over twenty-five years. Meanwhile, gas prices are out of control. Food prices are soaring. If you're lucky enough to have health care, your copays, deductibles, and premiums are skyrocketing. College is becoming less affordable. And we've seen more foreclosures than at any time since the Great Depression. Back in the 1990s, your incomes grew by $6,000, and over the last several years, they've actually fallen by nearly $1,000.

So for many families, these anxieties are getting worse, not better. People are starting to lose faith in the American dream, which is the idea that if you work hard, you can build a better life not just for yourselves but for your children and grandchildren. A lot of people feel like that dream is slipping further out of reach. That's why I'm running for President of the United States - because America is supposed to be the place where you can make it if you try.

And a lot of people are trying, but they're having a tough time making it. Part of it has to do with changes in the way our economy works. Over the last few decades, revolutions in technology and communication have made it so that corporations can send good jobs wherever there's an internet connection. Children in St. Petersburg aren't just growing up competing for good jobs with children in Boston or Chicago, but with children in Beijing and Bangalore.

But what we also have to remember is that our economic problems aren't simply due to changes in how our economy works, and they aren't just a normal part of the business cycle. They're also due to irresponsible decisions that were made on Wall Street and in Washington. In recent years, we have relearned the essential truth that in the long run, we cannot have a thriving Wall Street and a struggling Main Street. When wages are flat, prices are rising, and more Americans are mired in debt, the economy as a whole suffers. When a reckless few game the system, as we've seen in this housing crisis, millions suffer and we're all affected. When special interests put their thumb on the scale, and distort the free market, the people who compete by the rules come in last. And when our government fails to meet its obligation - to provide sensible oversight and stand on the side of working people and invest in their future - America pays a heavy price.

So we have a choice to make in this election. We can either choose a new direction for our economy, or we can keep doing what we've been doing. My opponent believes we're on the right course. He's said our economy has made great progress these past eight years. He's embraced the Bush economic policies and promises to continue them. Well, our country and families in Florida cannot afford to keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. That's a gamble we just can't take.

It's time for something new. It's time to restore balance and fairness to our economy so it works for all Americans. That's why as President, I will put a middle class tax cut into the pockets of 95% of workers, provide relief to struggling homeowners, and eliminate income taxes for seniors making less than $50,000 a year. And I'll end tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas and give them to companies that create good jobs here at home. But you can't wait that long. You need immediate relief.

Now, I've already called for a stimulus package on two different occasions this year, and much of what I've proposed has passed in Congress. These efforts have made some difference. But with job losses mounting, prices rising, increased turbulence in our financial system, and a growing credit crunch, we need to do more. I discussed these issues with my top economic advisers at a meeting on Monday and we agreed that the main risk we face today is doing too little in the face of our growing economic troubles. That's why today, I'm announcing a two-part emergency plan to help struggling families make ends meet and get our economy back on track.

The first part of my plan is a $1,000 emergency energy rebate that could go out to families as soon as this fall. This rebate will be enough to offset the increased cost of gas for a working family over the next 4 months. Or, if you live in a state where it gets very cold in the winter, it will be enough to cover the entire increase in your heating bills. Or you could use the rebate for any of your other bills or even to pay down debt.

As we provide relief, we must also be mindful of the swelling budget deficit. That is why I am proposing that we pay for this rebate by taxing the windfall profits of oil companies like Exxon Mobil - a company that announced yesterday that it made nearly $12 billion last quarter, more than any U.S. corporation has ever made in a single quarter. It's time we used some of their record profits to help you pay record prices.

The second part of my plan is a $50 billion stimulus to help jump-start job creation and help local communities that are struggling due to our economic downturn. Half of this stimulus will go to state governments that are facing big budget shortfalls. When state governments are forced to cut spending on essential services like police or firefighters, it doesn't just undermine the safety of our communities, it makes our economic problems even worse. By offering $25 billion to state governments, we can help ensure that they don't have to let workers go or freeze their salaries or raise property taxes on families who are hurting. And we can also help ensure that they continue providing foreclosure counseling and other services to help families stay in their homes in areas that have been hard-hit by our housing crisis.

We'll invest the other half of this $50 billion in our national infrastructure so we can create new jobs and save over one million jobs that are in danger of being cut. With construction costs rising, the Highway Trust Fund is facing a deficit for the first time ever - and that means that current infrastructure projects are being delayed and new ones are being postponed. This is part of the reason we've lost 600,000 jobs in the construction industry in recent years. So what we'll do is replenish the Trust Fund and make a down-payment on my plan to create a National Infrastructure Bank to rebuild our crumbling roads and bridges. We'll also invest some of this money to repair our crumbling schools - because that won't just help make sure our children are getting a world-class education, it will spur job-growth and boost our local economies.

Now my opponent has a very different economic philosophy. He's proposing to cut the gasoline tax paid by the oil companies and trust that they will pass on the savings in the form of lower prices at the pump. It's a plan that strips $9 billion from our highway construction funds, which means we will lose over 300,000 construction jobs. And he's also proposing tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest Americans in the hope that a little bit of it will trickle down to you.

Well, I do not believe that giving $4 billion in new tax cuts to oil companies - including $1.2 billion to Exxon-Mobil alone - will create any jobs or save you any money. Instead, I believe America is at its strongest when our economy is growing from the bottom-up. If we want relief for families, we should give relief to families. If we want to create jobs, we should do more to make work pay for ordinary Americans. That's what my plan does - because that's how we'll bring America the change we need right now.

But we have to do more than just provide short-term relief. We have to secure our long-term prosperity and strengthen America's competitiveness in the 21st century. It won't be easy. It won't happen overnight. But I refuse to accept that we cannot meet the challenges of our global economy. I'm running for President because I believe we can seize our own economic destiny.

But we do have a choice to make in November. We can choose to go another four years without truly solving our energy crisis; or we can make America energy independent so we're less vulnerable to oil price shocks and $4 a gallon gas. We can build an American green energy sector by investing in renewable energies like wind power, solar power, and the next generation biofuels. And we can create up to five million new green jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced. That's what we can choose to do in this election.

We can choose to go another four years with the same reckless fiscal policies that have busted our budget, wreaked havoc in our economy, and mortgaged our children's future on a mountain of debt; or we can restore fiscal responsibility in Washington by starting to wind down a war in Iraq that's costing $10 billion a month, by cutting wasteful spending, by shutting corporate loopholes and tax havens, and by rolling back the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

We can go another four years with a broken health care system; or we can say that if we're spending more money on health care per capita than any other nation on earth, we shouldn't have 47 million people without health care. We shouldn't have families going bankrupt just because they got sick. We shouldn't have businesses struggling to stay afloat because they can't afford rising health care costs. We should be guaranteeing health care for anyone who wants it, making it affordable for anyone who needs it, and cutting costs for businesses and their workers by picking up the tab for some of the most expensive illnesses and conditions. And that's what we'll do by the end of my first term as President of the United States.

We can choose to stay mired in the same education debate that's consumed Washington for decades, or we can provide every child with a quality education so they have the skills to succeed in our global economy. We can invest in early childhood education, recruit an army of qualified teachers with better pay and more support, and finally make college affordable by offering an annual $4,000 tax credit in exchange for community or national service. America will invest in you, you'll invest in America, and together, we'll move this country forward.

These are the choices we face in November. And yet, instead of talking about these real choices, my opponent is running an increasingly negative campaign that's distorting my record and using the same old Washington political attacks that are trotted out every four years. Just yesterday, your own St. Petersburg Times wrote that their campaign has taken a "nasty turn into the gutter." The American people deserve better. You deserve a serious discussion about our nation's challenges. And you deserve real solutions to our economic problems - solutions that will help ensure that here in this country, opportunity is open to anyone who's willing to work for it.

In the end, that's all most Americans are asking for. It's not a lot. You don't expect government to solve all your problems. You want to be self-reliant and independent. You want to be responsible for your own lives and take care of your own families. But what you do expect is a government that isn't run by the special interests. What you do expect is that if you're willing to work, you should be able to find a job that pays a decent wage, that you shouldn't go bankrupt when you get sick, and that you should be able to send your child to college even if you're not rich. You do expect that you should be able to retire with dignity and respect.

That's what you should expect. And that's why I'm running for President of the United States. And if you're willing to stand with me and work with me and vote for me, then we will not just win Florida, we will win this election, and then you and I together will change this country and change this world.

Barack Obama, a Democratic Senator from Illinois, is the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.


McCain's Weekly Radio Address -

John McCain

August 2, 2008

Good morning, this is John McCain. The differences between my opponent and me are coming into sharper focus. As the day draws closer, the choice becomes clearer.

One difference is our willingness to break ranks with our own political parties when principle and good sense demand it. When a Republican administration was making terrible mistakes in Iraq, I spoke up against it. And I spoke for the new strategy that has saved us from a catastrophic American defeat in the Middle East. This was back when Senator Obama was speaking as if Iraq was a lost cause, confidently declaring the surge would fail and calling for an immediate withdrawal of our troops no matter how disastrous the consequences. I have seen war up close. I know its terrible costs. And, as president, I am going to end this war - by winning it.

When my own party turned out to be just as financially irresponsible as my opponent's party - spending recklessly and leaving more debt for your children to pay - I spoke up. When America needed reform in energy policy, the current administration and likeminded Republicans in Congress served up yet another energy bill stuffed with corporate welfare - and Senator Obama joined them. I spoke up for real reform to lower energy prices, and to gain energy security for our country.

My independence hasn't always made me friends in Washington. It hasn't always done much for my political prospects, either. The pundits and pollsters have written me off many times - and, now and then, they seemed to be on to something. But I don't answer to the pundits and pollsters. I answer to you. And even when we don't agree, you will always know exactly where I stand.

For his part, Senator Obama is an impressive orator, and it's a lucky thing for me that people aren't just choosing a motivational speaker. Washington is full of talented talkers. And Senator Obama is one of the best to come along in quite a while.

Unfortunately, on issues big and small, what he says and what he does are often two different things. Senator Obama says he's going to change Washington. But his plan to raise your taxes and expand the federal government is not exactly my idea of a solution to what troubles Washington. In fact, it bears a suspicious resemblance to the problem. Real change in Washington requires a top-to-bottom review to root out wasteful spending, and a willingness to veto bills with useless and costly earmarks. Senator Obama himself has requested more than a million dollars in pork per working day since he arrived in Congress. That is just the kind of abuse we need to end in Washington, and I know how to end it.

Senator Obama says he will raise taxes only on the rich. But in the Senate, he voted for tax hikes that would have impacted those taking home just $32,000 a year. He has proposed tax increases on income taxes, capital gains taxes, dividend taxes, estate taxes, and Social Security taxes. All of these tax increases are the fine print under his slogans, and they add up to more than a trillion dollars in new taxes over the next decade.

Raising taxes in a bad economy is about the worst thing you could do because it would kill more jobs in an economy thats already losing too many. I'm going to keep current tax rates low, and cut others, not because I want to make the rich richer, but because low tax rates keep jobs in America and create new ones.

Senator Obama says he wants energy independence, but he doesn't support anything that serves that goal. He is opposed to new domestic drilling, opposed to nuclear power, and wants to add taxes to coal producers. He has said the high cost of gasoline doesn't bother him, only that it rose too quickly. He believes every domestic energy source has a problem. I believe every energy source needs to be part of the solution.

We need to develop new advanced alternative energies like wind, solar, tide and biofuels, but we also need to develop more existing energies like nuclear power and clean coal. And we need to start drilling and producing more oil at home, and bring down the cost of gasoline that is killing our economy.

To summarize the Obama agenda: Government is too big, and he wants to grow it. Taxes are too high, and he wants to raise them. Congress spends too much, and he proposes more. We need more energy, and he's against producing it. We're finally winning in Iraq, and he wants to forfeit.

With an agenda like that, a knack for rhetoric comes in mighty handy. But good speeches aren't everything in politics - good judgment matters too. And that's what America is going to need from the next commander in chief. Thanks for listening.

John McCain, a U.S. Senator from Arizona, is the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.


Obama's Speech to the Urban League

Aug. 2nd 2008

Barack Obama

Orlando, Florida

I stand here before you today feeling no small amount of gratitude. Because I know that my story, and so many other improbable stories, would not be possible without all that the Urban League has done to put opportunity within reach of every American. It's because of the doors you've opened, because of the battles you've fought and won, because of the sacrifices of people in this room and all those who came before you, that I come here today as a candidate for President of United States of America.

And I'll never forget how my journey began. I'll never forget that I got my start as a foot soldier in the movement the Urban League built – the movement to bring opportunity to every corner of our cities.

As some of you know, after college, I moved to Chicago and went to work for a group of churches to help families that had been devastated when the local steel plants closed down. I knew change in those communities wouldn't come easily – but I also knew it wouldn't come at all if we didn't start bringing people together. So I reached out to community leaders, and we worked together to set up job training to get people back to work and afterschool programs to keep kids safe, and to help people stand up to their government when it wasn't standing up for them.

That work taught me a fundamental truth that has guided me to this day: that change doesn't come from the top down, it comes from the bottom up. Change happens when you teach a child to read, or get a worker a job, or help an entrepreneur set up shop. It happens when you send a young person to college or help a family keep their home. That's the kind of change all of you are making every single day.

Because you know that civil rights and equal treatment under the law are necessary, but not sufficient, to seize America's promise – as Dr. King once said, "the inseparable twin of racial justice is economic justice."

You know that you can't take that seat at the front of the bus if you can't afford the bus fare. You can't live in an integrated neighborhood if you can't afford the house. And it doesn't mean a whole lot to sit down at that lunch counter if you can't afford the lunch.

You know that there was a reason why the march your fourth executive director, Whitney Young, addressed forty-five years ago this summer wasn't just called the March on Washington; and it wasn't just called the March on Washington for Freedom; it was called the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

On that hot August day, Whitney Young declared that the civil rights for which they were marching were "…not negotiable…." But he also described other marches that lay ahead: the march from "ghettos to decent, wholesome, unrestricted residential areas"; the march from "relief rolls" to "retraining centers"; the march from "ill-equipped schools which breed dropouts and which smother motivation" to "well-equipped, integrated facilities throughout the cities."

And he concluded, "Our march is a march for America."

Our march is a march for America.

Not black America or white America. Not rich America or poor America, rural America or urban America. But all America. An America where no child's destiny is determined before she's born – and no one's future is confined to the neighborhood he's born into. An America where hard work is still a ticket to the middle class – and you can make it if you try.

But somewhere along the way, we got off course. Somewhere along the way, we let a reckless few game the system, we let special interests tilt the scale and distort the free market, we stopped making the investments in our children and our workers to help us all rise together.

And today, we're all paying the price. Today, we stand at a defining moment in our history. With seven straight months of job losses; with the highest percentage of homes in foreclosure since the Depression; with family incomes down $1,000 and the costs of gas, groceries and health care up a whole lot more than that – so many people are looking at their children, wondering if they'll be able to give them the same chances they had.

Our cities have been especially hard hit – facing shrinking tax bases, growing budget deficits, and social services that just can't keep up with people's needs.

And let's be very clear: when more than 80 percent of Americans live in metro areas; when the top 100 metro areas generate two-thirds of our jobs; when 42 of our metro areas now rank among the world's 100 largest economies – the problems of our cities aren't just "urban" problems any more.

When rising foreclosures mean vacant homes, abandoned streets and rising crime that spills over city limits – that's a suburban problem and an ex-urban problem too.

When tens of millions of people in our cities are uninsured, and our urban emergency rooms are overflowing – that's a suburban and ex-urban problem too.

When urban roads, bridges and transit systems are crumbling; when urban schools aren't giving young people the skills to compete, so companies decide to take their business and their jobs elsewhere – that's a suburban and ex-urban problem too.

As President Kennedy once said, "We will neglect our cities to our peril, for in neglecting them we neglect the nation."

So we've got a decision to make. We can continue President Bush's economic policies – the policies that got us here in the first place. That's the course Senator McCain would have us follow. He's said we've made "great progress economically" under President Bush.

Well, I disagree. We face serious issues in this election – and have real differences. But I'm not going to assault Senator McCain's character. I'm not going to compare him to pop stars. I will, however, compare our two visions for our economic future.

Senator McCain wants to keep giving tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas. I want to end them and start giving incentives to companies that create jobs here at home. Because I don't think 463,000 lost jobs this year is economic progress.

He wants to give $300 billion worth of tax breaks to big corporations and the wealthiest Americans. Under his plan, more than 100 million middle class families won't see a penny in direct tax relief. I want to put a tax cut of up to $1,000 into the pockets of 95% of working Americans. And if you're a family making less than $250,000 a year, my plan won't raise your taxes one penny – not your income taxes, not your payroll taxes, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes.

Senator McCain is opposed to regular increases in the minimum wage – I want to index it so that it rises with rising costs. He thinks the Earned Income Tax Credit is fine as it is – I want to expand it. He has no plans to make childcare more affordable or help people get paid sick leave – while I do.

In the end, Senator McCain's plans, if you're doing spectacularly well now, you'll do even better. Otherwise, you'll likely be stuck running in place – or fall even further behind.

Well, I don't think that's good enough. Those policies haven't worked for the past eight years, they won't work now, and it's time for something new. It's time for policies that reflect the fundamental truth that we rise or fall as one nation. That's the truth at the heart of your Opportunity Compact – that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street and a struggling Main Street. That when wages are flat, prices are rising, and more and more Americans are mired in debt, our economy as a whole suffers. Our competitiveness as a nation suffers. Our children's future suffers.

So we all have a stake here. That's why your opportunity agenda is a compact – not a guarantee, not a promise – but a call to responsibility. Because we know that government can't solve all our problems, and government can't and shouldn't do for us what we should be doing for ourselves: raising our kids the right way, being good neighbors and good citizens, becoming leaders in our industries and communities. We know that the American dream isn't something that happens to you – it's something you strive for and work for and seize with your own two hands. And we've got a responsibility as a nation to keep that dream alive for all of our people.

That's what I was trying to do working with folks on the South Side of Chicago all those years ago. Those folks weren't asking for a handout or an easy way out. They wanted to work, they wanted to contribute, they wanted to give their kids every opportunity to succeed. They just needed a chance, an opportunity to start climbing – the same thing we all want in life. And that's what this election is about.

This election is about the 47 million people who don't have health care – including 1 in 5 African Americans – people for whom one accident, one illness could mean financial ruin. That's why, when I'm President, we'll bring down health care costs by $2,500 for the typical family and prevent insurance companies from discriminating against those who need care most. We'll guarantee health care for anyone who needs it, make it affordable for anyone who wants it, and ensure that the quality of your health care doesn't depend on the color of your skin.

This election is about the couple I met in North Las Vegas who saved up for decades only to be tricked into buying a home they couldn't afford – and all those families whose dream of owning a home has been shattered by that grim foreclosure notice in the mail.

Unfortunately, Senator McCain's housing plan doesn't do anything to help many of the 2.5 million homeowners facing foreclosure – even as he supported spending billions to bail out Wall Street.

I've got a different approach. Two years ago, I offered a proposal to crack down on mortgage fraud. I worked with Senator Chris Dodd and Congressman Barney Frank to pass a housing bill that will help families refinance their mortgages and stay in their homes. And I support tax credits to help low and middle-income Americans afford their mortgage payments. Because if we can bail out the investment banks on Wall Street who helped create this crisis, then we can certainly extend a hand to folks bearing the brunt of it on Main Street.

This election is also about every child sitting in a crumbling classroom; every child taught by a teacher who isn't getting the support he or she needs. It's about the 1.2 million students who fail to graduate high school each year – including 100,000 last year in Florida. It's about the "catastrophe," as Colin Powell put it, of children in our nation's largest cities who have a 50-50 chance – literally a coin toss – of graduating on-time.

Now, I think it's interesting that Senator McCain came before you yesterday and attacked my record on education reform. For someone who's been in Washington nearly 30 years, he's got a pretty slim record on education, and when he has taken a stand, it's been the wrong one. So I'm happy to put my record and ideas up against his any day.

He voted against increased funding for No Child Left Behind to preserve billions in tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans – tax breaks he wants to extend without saying how he'd pay for them. He voted against increasing funds for Head Start, and Pell Grants, and the hiring of 100,000 new teachers again and again and again. He even applauded the idea of abolishing the Department of Education.

In fact, his only proposal seems to be recycling tired rhetoric about vouchers. Now, I've been a proponent of public school choice throughout my career. I also believe that well-designed public charter schools have a lot to offer. That's why I helped pass legislation to double the number of charter schools in Chicago. But what I do oppose is using public money for private school vouchers. We need to focus on fixing and improving our public schools; not throwing our hands up and walking away from them. We need to stop the tired old attacks, and start getting results for our children.

That's why I've been working to reform our schools for years. That's why I introduced a comprehensive plan last fall to recruit, prepare and retain effective teachers across America and why I added a program to the education bill that passed just yesterday to prepare high quality teachers in urban areas. That's why I introduced legislation to lower the dropout rate, starting in middle school. That's why, when I'm President, we'll give every child access to high quality pre-kindergarten programs, recruit an army of new teachers for our communities, stop leaving the money behind for No Child Left Behind, and make college affordable for anyone who wants to go. That's how we'll give every young person the skills to get a good job; that's how we'll ensure that America can compete in the twenty-first century global economy.

And if people tell you that we can't afford to invest in education or health care or good jobs, you just remind them that we're spending $10 billion a month in Iraq. And if we can spend that much money in Iraq, we can spend some of that money right here in America, in cities all across this country.

We know the difference we can make when we work together to open the doors of opportunity wide enough for everyone to walk through. Today, I'm thinking of one particular example from your history.

Back in January of 1949, the Urban League brought representatives from General Electric to Howard University to recruit graduating seniors. It was the first time in history that a company like that had come to a black university campus to hire students. The next year, thirteen companies recruited at Howard. Soon after that, more than 500 corporate representatives came to half a dozen other colleges and universities. And today, national and multinational companies recruit African American students at HBCUs and colleges and universities across this country.

Think about all the careers launched, the wealth built, the homes bought, the tuition paid, and the dreams realized – think about all the grandparents looking back on their achievements with pride, and the children looking forward to their futures with hope – all, at least in part, because of what the Urban League started on a winter day nearly 60 years ago.

That is the march for America that Whitney Young spoke of all those years ago. The march that led so many of our parents and grandparents north to our cities, looking to start a new life, unafraid of hard work, determined to give their children opportunities they never had. As the poet Alice Walker once wrote, "…they knew what we must know without knowing a page of it themselves."

That's what we've always done in America: dream big for ourselves – and even bigger for our children and grandchildren. And if you're willing to work with me, and fight with me, and stand with me this fall, then I promise you, we will build a nation worthy of their future.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.

Barack Obama, a Democratic Senator from Illinois, is the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.


McCain at the National Urban League - Transcript

John McCain

2008 National Urban League Annual Conference
Orlando, Florida

Thank you, Marc, for the introduction. I appreciate your kind invitation and this warm welcome to Orlando and to the Urban League. Through all the business cycles and political cycles of almost a century, this organization has championed an agenda of economic growth and opportunity. You've never lost your sense of mission, or your commitment to bettering the lives of African Americans and of all citizens. I'm honored to be with the men and women of the Urban League.

You'll hear from my opponent, Senator Obama, tomorrow, and if there's one thing he always delivers it's a great speech. But I hope you'll listen carefully, because his ideas are not always as impressive as his rhetoric. And this is especially true in the case of the Urban League's agenda of opportunity. Your Opportunity Compact speaks of the urgent need to reform our public schools, create jobs, and help small businesses grow. You understand that persistent problems of failing schools and economic stagnation cannot be solved with the same tired ideas and pandering to special interests that have failed us time and again. And you know how much the challenges have changed for those who champion the cause of equal opportunity in America.

Equal access to public education has been gained. But what is the value of access to a failing school? Equal employment opportunity is set firmly down in law. But with jobs becoming scarcer -- and more than 400,000 Americans t hrown out of work just this year -- that can amount to an equal share of diminished opportunity. For years, business ownership by African Americans has been growing rapidly. This is all to the good, but that hopeful trend is threatened in a struggling economy -- with the cost of energy, health care, and just about everything else rising sharply.

As in other challenges African Americans have overcome, these problems require clarity of purpose. They require the solidarity of groups like the Urban League. And, at times, they also require a willingness to break from conventional thinking.

Nowhere are the limitations of conventional thinking any more apparent than in education policy. After decades of hearing the same big promises from the public education establishment, and se eing the same poor results, it is surely time to shake off old ways and to demand new reforms. That isn't just my opinion; it is the conviction of parents in poor neighborhoods across this nation who want better lives for their children.

Just ask the families in New Orleans who will soon have the chance to remove their sons and daughters from failing schools, and enroll them instead in a school-choice scholarship program. That program in Louisiana was proposed by Democratic state legislators and signed into law by Governor Bobby Jindal. Just three years after Katrina, they are bringing real hope to poor neighborhoods, and showing how much can be achieved when both parties work together for real reform. Or ask parents in the disadvantaged neighborhoods of Washington, D.C. whether they want more choices in education. The District's Opportunity Scholarship program serves more than 1,900 boys and girls from families with an average income of 23,000 dollars a year. And more than 7,000 more families have applied for that program. What they all have in common is the desire to get their kids into a better school.

Democrats in Congress, including my opponent, oppose the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program. In remarks to the American Federation of Teachers last month, Senator Obama dismissed public support for private school vouchers for low-income Americans as, "tired rhetoric about vouchers and school choice." All of that went over well with the teachers union, but where does it leave families and their children who are stuck in failing schools?

Over the years, Americans have heard a lot of "tired rhetoric" about education. We've heard it in the endless excuses of people who seem more concerned about their own position than about our children. We've heard it from politicians who accept the status quo rather than stand up for real change in our public schools. Parents ask only for schools that are safe, teachers who are competent, and diplomas that open doors of opportunity. When a public school fails, repeatedly, to meet these minimal objectives, parents ask only for a choice in the education of their children. Some parents may choose a better public school. Some may choose a private school. Many will choose a charter school. No entrenched bureaucracy or union should deny parents that choice and children that opportunity.

We should also offer more choices to those who wish to become teachers. Many thousands of highly qualified men and women have great knowledge, wisdom, and experience to offer public school students. But a monopoly on teacher certification prevents them from getting that chance. You can be a Nobel Laureate and not qualify to teach in most public schools today because they don't have all the proper credits in educational "theory" or "methodology." All they have is learning and the desire and ability to share it. If we're putting the interests of students first, then those qualifications should be enough.

If I am elected president, school choice for all who want it, an expansion of Opportunity Scholarships, and alternative certification for teachers will all be part of a serious agenda of education reform. I will target funding to recruit teachers who graduate in the top 25 percent of their class, or who participate in an alternative teacher recruitment program such as Teach for America, the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence, and the New Teacher Project.

We will pay bonuses to teachers who take on the challenge of working in our most troubled schools -- because we need their fine minds and good hearts to help turn those schools around. We will award bonuses as well to our highest-achieving teachers. And no longer will we measure teacher achievement by conformity to process. We will measure it by the success of their students.

Moreover, the funds for these bonuses will not be controlled by faraway officials -- in Washington, in a state capital, or even in a district office. Under my reforms, we will put the money and the responsibilities where they belong -- in the office of the school principal. One reason charter schools are so successful, and so sought after by parents, is that principals have spending discretion. And I intend to give that same discretion to public school principals. No longer will money be spent on rigid and often meaningless formulas. Relying on the good judgment and first-hand knowledge of school principals, education money will be spent in service to public school students.

Under my reforms, parents will exercise freedom of choice in obtaining extra help for children who are falling behind. As it is, federal aid to parents for tutoring for their children has to go through another bureaucracy. They can't purchase the tutoring directly, without dealing with the same education establishment that failed their children in the first place. These needless restrictions will be removed. If a student needs extra help, parents will be able to sign them up to get it, with direct public support.

Some of these reforms, and others, are contained in a Statement of Principles drafted by a group dedicated to finally changing the status quo in our education system. The Education Equality Project has brought together leaders from all across the political spectrum, including school Chancellor Joel Klein and Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City. Chancellor Klein is a strong supporter of charter schools, because he understands that fundamental reform is needed. As he puts it, "in large urban areas the culture of public education is broken. If you don't fix this culture, then you are not going to be able to make the kind of changes that are needed." Among others who share this conviction are Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, Chancellor Michelle Rhee of Washington, and Harold Ford, Junior. You know that a reform movement is truly bipartisan when J.C. Watts and Al Sharpton are both members. And today I am proud to add my name as well to the list of those who support the aims and principles of the Education Equality Project.

But one name is still missing, Senator Obama's. My opponent talks a great deal about hope and change, and education is as good a test as any of his seriousness. The Education Equality Project is a practical plan for delivering change and restoring hope for children and parents who need a lot of both. And if Senator Obama continues to defer to the teachers unions, instead of committing to real reform, then he should start looking for new slogans.

Over the years, the Urban League has brought enormous good into the life of our country -- by broadening the reach of economic opportunity. There was a time when economists took little if any notice at all of the poverty of black communities. Even in times of general economic growth, many lived in a per petual recession, and the jobs available didn't promise much upward mobility. Our country still has a lot of progress to make on this score. But with 1.2 million businesses today owned and operated by African Americans, more and more are no longer just spectators on the prosperity of our country. They are stakeholders. As much as anyone else, they count on their government to help create the conditions of economic growth -- and, as president, I intend to do just that.

Senator Obama and I have fundamental differences on economic policy, and many of them concern tax rates. He supports proposals to raise top marginal rates paid by small business and families, to raise tax rates on those with taxable incomes of more than 32,000 dollars, raise capital gains taxes, raise taxes on dividends, raise payroll taxes and raise estate taxes. That's a whole lot of raising, and for million s of families, individuals, and small businesses it will mean a lot less money to spend, save and invest as they see fit.

For my part, I believe that in a troubled economy, when folks are struggling to afford the necessities of life, higher taxes are the last thing we need. The economy isn't hurting because workers and businesses are under-taxed. Raising taxes eliminates jobs, hurts small businesses, and delays economic recovery.

Under my plan, we will preserve the current low rates as they are, so businesses large and small can hire more people. We will double the personal exemption from $3,500 to $7,000 for every dependent, in every family in America. We will offer every individual and family a large tax credit to buy their health care, so employers can spend more on wages, and wo rkers don't lose their coverage when they change jobs. We will lower the business tax rate, so American companies open new plants and create more jobs in this country.

There are honest differences as well about the growth of government. But surely we can find common ground in the principle that government cannot go on forever spending recklessly and incurring debt. Government has grown by 60 percent in the last eight years, because the Congress and this administration have failed to meet their responsibilities. And next year, total federal expenditures are predicted to reach over three trillion dollars. That is an awful lot for us to be spending when this nation is already more than nine trillion dollars in debt or more than thirty thousand dollars in debt for every citizen. That's a debt our government plans to leave for your children and mine to bear. And that is a failure n ot only of financial foresight, but of moral obligation.

There will come a day when the road reaches a dead-end. And it won't be today's politicians who suffer the consequences. It will be American workers and their children who are left with worthless promises and trillion-dollar debts. We cannot let that happen. As President, I'll work with every member of Congress -- Republican, Democrat, and Independent -- who shares my commitment to reforming government and controlling spending. I'll order a top-to-bottom review of every federal program, department, and agency. We're going to demand accountability. We're going to make sure failed programs are not rewarded ... and that discretionary spending is going where it belongs -- to essential priorities like job training, the security of our citizens, and the care of our veterans.

To get our economy running at full strength again, we need to stay focused on creating jobs for our people, and protecting paychecks from the rising costs of food, gasoline, and most everything else. Above all, we need to get a handle on the cost of oil and gasoline, and to regain energy independence for America.

All across our country, people are hurting. Small farmers, truckers, and taxi drivers are unable to cover their costs. Small business owners are struggling to meet their payrolls. The cost of living is rising, and the value of paychecks is falling. Yet even now, with the price of gasoline still around four dollars per gallon, the Congress has done exactly nothing.

Most Americans understand that producing more of something will lower its price. And if I am elected president, this nation will move quickly to increase our own energy production. Last month, the President finally lifted the executive ban on offshore oil and gas exploration, and called on Congress to lift its ban as well. Lifting that ban could seriously lower the price of oil -- and Congress should get it done immediately. We need to drill more, drill now, and pay less at the pump.

Under my energy plan, the Lexington Project, we will also make use of America's vast coal reserves. As president, I will commit this nation to a concerted effort to make clean coal a reality and create jobs in hard-pressed regions. And America will pursue the goal of building 45 nuclear power plants before 2030, which will generate not only much-needed electricity but some 700,000 jobs as well. We will also accelerate the development of wind and solar power and other renewable technologies, and we will help automakers design and sell cars that don't depend on gasoline. Production of hybrid, flex-fuel, and electric cars will bring America closer to energy independence. And it will bring jobs to auto plants, parts manufacturers, and the communities that support them.

Regaining control over the cost and supply of energy in America will not be easy, and it will not happen quickly. But no challenge to our economy is more urgent. And you have my pledge that if I am president, we're going to get it done.

Our country is passing through a very tough time. But Americans have been through worse, and beaten longer odds. The men and women of the Urban League know more than most about facing long odds, and overcoming adversity. For 98 years, this organization has been at the center of the great and honorable cause of equal opportunity for every American. I'm here today as an admirer and a fellow American, an association that means more to me than any other. I am a candidate for president who seeks your vote and hopes to earn it. But whether or not I win your support, I need your goodwill and counsel. And should I succeed, I'll need it all the more. I have always believed in this country, in a good America, a great America. But I have always known we can build a better America, where no place or person is left without hope or opportunity by the sins of injustice or indifference. It would be among the great privileges of my life to work with you in that cause. Thank you all very much.


Political Links RCP

Real Clear Politics

An Unstable Presidential Campaign - Michael Barone, US News & World Rpt
Low Road Hurts McCain, But It's His Best Chance - J. Heilemann, NY Mag
When Is McCain Going to Get Serious? - Dick Morris & Eileen McGann, Fox
Dems Anxious for Obama to Widen Lead - Edward Luce, Financial Times
Pollsters Try to Navigate Tricky Race Issue - Ellen Gamerman, WSJ
Running While Black - Bob Herbert, New York Times
McCain's Rewards of Wisdom - Matthew Continetti, Weekly Standard
Obama Thinks, McCain Feels - Richard Reeves, RealClearPolitics
A GOP Choice: Tom Coburn or Ted Stevens - John Fund, Wall Street Journal
In Senate, GOP Bracing For Cold November - Jennifer Duffy, National Jrnl
Behind the Indian Embassy Bombing - Robert Kaplan, The Atlantic
How the US Can Get Its Groove Back - John Shattuck, Boston Globe
Don't Weep For Doha - Daniel Ikenson, The Australian
Making Capitalism More Creative - Bill Gates, Time Magazine
40 Years After Selling of a President - Richard Byrne, American Prospect
1864: One of History's Most Consequential Elections - Ken Walsh, US News
The Price of Saying Sorry - Christopher Caldwell, Financial Times
'08 Videos: Plouffe Hits 'Gutter' Campaign | McCain Ad Mocks 'The One'
National Tracking Polls: Gallup: Tied | Rasmussen: Obama +1


Will McCain's Negative Blitz Do Him Any Good? - The Economist
Anthrax: Still No Answers - New York Post
Time For Real Fuel Economy - New York Times
Obama's Phony 'Emergency' - Investor's Business Daily

Political News & Analysis

Obama Softens Stance on Drilling - St. Petersburg Times
McCain Talks Drilling, Vouchers at Urban League - Miami Herald
Race Proves to Be Persistent Issue - Washington Post
House GOP Revolts Over Gas Prices - The Politico