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Book Review: The Audacity of Help: Obama’s Economic Plan and the Remaking of America by John F. Wasik

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The Audacity of Help: Obama’s Economic Plan and the Remaking of America offers a journalist’s take on the compelling issues facing the 44th president of the United States, and the long road from campaign promise to reality.

Author John F. Wasik, a Bloomberg News columnist, brought this book out at lightning speed, encompassing an overview of Obama’s major campaign promises, pitted against their outcomes. The introduction includes a section on Obamanomics and a chronicle of Bush-Era Bust with a balanced explanation of the factors leading to recent issues such as “The Age of Froth Ends,” “Mortgage Madness” and “Reality Show Time.”

This is a lively and relevant look at the critical turning point in American history we’ve lived with in the past year. Wasik’s meticulous research in The Audacity of Help provides an analysis of all Obama’s major  promises, then looks at what legislation was actually passed by Congress. Going further, the book shows who benefits most from various legislation, and what needs to be done next.

Obama’s promise to make college affordable is a prime example of the value of this book to consumers, business owners, and those who want more clarity that they get through news soundbites:

“While Obama proposed an American Opportunity Tax Credit of $4,000 toward free college education, Congress actually adopted that name for the former Hope Scholarship, offering only as much as $2,500/year, just through 2010. Eligibility stipulations include an income limit. Congress also did nothing to simplify the cumbersome financial aid process, which Obama promised to eliminate.”

Wasik is an expert on housing issues, as I recently reviewed here in his The Cul-de-Sac Syndrome: Turning Around the Unsustainable American Dream. As population growth forged ahead, homes became more elaborate and expensive. By 2006 an average of 37 percent of monthly income went to housing expenses. The realities of “house lust” meant people were no longer keeping up with their parents' lifestyles and no longer able to stop the debt spiral.

In The Audacity of Help, Wasik skillfully weaves Obama's policies and plans throughout an entire chapter entitled: “Restoring Home Ownership.” This should be required reading for all Americans interested in getting to the heart of the housing crisis.

All of Obama’s promises require capital, and Wasik looks at the obstacles, including the enormous political capital Obama needs to push his agenda along.

Wasik walks us through what a new economy agenda would look like and how it may reshape America. Top points are:

  • People come first, not markets
  • Corporate democracy is key
  • Phantom wealth should be taxed
  • A pluralistic partnership should displace patrimony and corporatocracy.

The progressive manifesto and bottom-up approach to lifting the middle class and poor up the economic scale can potentially motivate and mobilize an entire nation. Here, Wasik quotes Obama:

“Just as a family has to make hard choices about where to spend and where to save, so do we, as a government. There are times when you can afford to redecorate your house and there are times where you need to work on rebuilding its foundation. Today, we have to focus on foundations.”

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About Helen Gallagher

  • Dear Obama
    Within the frame of the liberal economy, trade and commercial relations between merchants are carried out by means of post-dated checks in Turkey. The banks give out blank checks to their customers and the merchants use these checks in trading of goods and services by filling them out by giving 6 months, 1 year or longer periods of maturity to them.

    The financial crisis in the world has affected profoundly our country; as a result, the merchants were unable to pay their post-dated checks on their due dates.

    According to Article 38/8 of the Turkish Constitution, as amended in 2001 taking into regard the European Convention on Human Rights, “no one can be detained from his/her freedom due to only his/her failure to fulfill a contractual liability”. As such, prohibition of detainment of freedom due to only failure to fulfill a contractual liability (i.e., provision for “no imprisonment for debt”) has been added to our constitution. This provision, taken from the Article 1 of the Protocol constituting the 4th Annex to European Human Rights Convention, underlines that imprisonment due to failure to perform a contractual relation will be contrary to the human freedom and honor.

    However, the legislator in Turkey has lately acted cunningly to circumvent this above referred provision of the Turkish Constitution. According to the current laws of our country, the businessmen who are unable to pay their checks are sentenced to imprisonment. If this is their first incident, the person who gives out a kite check is punished with a Judicial Fine equal to the amount written on each kite check and is sentenced to imprisonment only if he/she is unable to pay such Judicial Fine. To be more specific, the Judicial Fines in Turkey are fines that are paid to the Treasury of the State. In case a person indebted to the Treasury of the State because of a Judicial Fine is unable to make this payment within 30 days, he/she is punished by imprisonment for such number of days, which cannot exceed 730, equal to any unpaid amount divided by a figure varying between TL 20,- and 100,- to be determined by the judge based on the financial and other conditions of the debtor.

    However, if the incident repeats, the person is then directly sentenced to imprisonment from 1 to 5 years.

    It goes without saying that any merchant with good intentions would be able to pay out the check amount if he had the means, but if he/she could not indeed have made that payment, that merchant shall also be unable to pay the said Judicial Fine and inevitably end up in prison even as a result of his/her first incident.

    As the merchants of Turkey, we are facing sanctions of imprisonment which cannot benefit from any probation and that are clearly contrary to the principles and standards of universal law.

    In addition to that, the Constitution Court of Turkey has also resolved that the above referred sanctioning is not against the provisions of Turkish Constitution.

    In Turkey there are currently around 168.000 people in prison while the total capacity of all correction facilities is only around 80.000. Therefore, you can easily imagine merchants lying on top of each other in jail and are facing all kinds of epidemic diseases, are living in difficult conditions, and some even die due to health problems given the circumstances.

    In addition, by the effect of the financial crisis, the number of merchants who are currently sought by the authorities is around 200.000 and if all those persons are arrested, the population of the correction facilities will then reach 370.000.

    Some of the merchants facing these conditions as a result of a penalty contrary to both the European Convention on Human Rights and the human honor commit suicide. We receive the death news of several persons everyday. Several of them sought by the authorities also attempt the same practice. In addition to all that, their household goods are attached by the execution officers because of the unpaid checks. Such practice has its effects not only on the merchant himself, but also on their families resulting in the loss of their homes, suspension of their children’s education, etc.

    Please kindly try to make your best attempts to stop this cruel penalty applied to the bankrupt merchants in Turkey which is contrary to the principles of universal law and the European Convention on Human Rights in all respects. We see that as a humanity mission.

    Best regards,

  • Please kindly try to make your best attempts to stop this cruel penalty applied to the bankrupt merchants in Turkey which is contrary to the principles of universal law and the European Convention on Human Rights in all respects. We see that as a humanity mission.

    Help me