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Boise Weekly's Obama Wishlist

Welcome to Washington, Mr. President, Now Let's Do This Thing


Dear President Barack Obama: Welcome to the White House. Now don't scare us.

That's our first piece of advice to our new commander-in-chief.

That's also the first time we've typed President Barack Obama. Today is your first day on the job, and while we grant you some time to learn the voicemail system, sign the last page of the employee handbook and find the snacks in the Oval Office break room, it's time to get to work.

So the best thing you can do for us, Mr. President, as the leader of this great nation, is to end the steady stream of negative scary energy that has flowed from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. for the past eight years.

Even before your inauguration yesterday, we were pinching off that federal fire hose of fear; Americans are slowly letting out sighs of relief, releasing the tension in their shoulders and starting to get down with your hope thing.

In his final attempt at scaring the shit out of us, your predecessor, ex-President George W. Bush (first time we've typed that, too) revealed something about his presidency that few commentators picked up on: He's been scared out of his mind for eight years, frozen with fear, unable to think of anything but the fear.

He did not say all that, but his parting words on the Sept. 11 attacks indicate some degree of pathology: "As the years passed, most Americans were able to return to life much as it had been before 9/11. But I never did," the ex-president told us, going on to warn that all Americans remain in the crosshairs.

"Our enemies are patient and determined to strike again ... We must resist complacency. We must keep our resolve. And we must never let down our guard," Bush said.


Americans, and particularly we western Americans who live under big skies in relatively new towns full of youth, potential and vigor, rebuff this national policy of paternalistic, pathological nervousness and call on you to flip the script.

Give our young people something to look forward, and up, to again. As College of Idaho political scientist Jasper LiCalzi begged of you: "I want him to continue speaking correctly, eloquently, to use rationality to make decisions, to set an example for students that being educated is cool."

Idaho is an idea place. Many of us come here to think, to get away from the rat race, to exercise our rugged individualism and simultaneously greet our neighbors in the morning and participate in our communities.

We know you have lots of smart people working on the plans for your first day, your first week, your first month. We know that every interest group from San Francisco to New York City has already sent you a hot-off-the-press 10-point plan and that new virtual organizations are forming every 27 seconds to apply virtual pressure on your administration.

But what follows here is Boise Weekly's wish list for you, Mr. President, created in consultation with experts from many different sectors here in Idaho.

And yes, our list is in a particular order.

Use Your Internationalism to Our Advantage

People across the globe love American jazz music, country western classics, Coca-Cola, hamburgers and french fries. Our innovative spirit and openness remain the stuff of legends.

But our presidents have been Georges and Williams and Johns for far too long. Your international pedigree gives you a unique advantage among U.S. presidents: the shedding of our island mentality.

Which is ironic, since you are actually from an island.

But your ties to Africa, your experience living in Indonesia and your connections to immigrant communities across the United States position you to govern in a global, rather than isolationist, context.

You might ask, "Why is this Boise's first priority for my administration?" (And that would be a fine question, Mr. President. Thanks for asking.) After all, Idaho is one of the least diverse states with few ties to global culture. But repositioning America on the global stage is our best chance at ending the fear that Bush indicated in his final address—fear that drove us to a position of weakness on the world stage.

Obviously, dousing the fear means ending the wars that we are currently engaged in. It means pulling back from Iraq and Afghanistan and leaving something non-militaristic in the vacuum. It means landing on an aircraft carrier somewhere in the Persian Gulf and declaring an end to the War on Terror. But it also means the beginning of something else: a Pax Americana that includes massive investment in the developing world, a new and significant influx of foreign students to our universities (even to Boise State), and a renewed commitment to the United Nations and engagement in U.N. activities.

It means a new stance on the Middle East.

We know you have been holding your tongue on Gaza, and perhaps today you will speak out. But we hope your administration ends America's lopsided approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by acknowledging that Palestinians are an occupied people, throwing some weight behind their freedom struggle and jumpstarting a new peace process based on that framework.

Perhaps your secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, will find an appropriate envoy, one without baggage and plenty of time to carve out a bi-national agreement that allows Palestinians and Israelis to live, work and play together in their tiny Mediterranean digs.

Perhaps this envoy will even do some legwork in secret, prior to any grand pronouncements. May we suggest Idaho, with our decent falafel and finger steaks and the pioneering spirit referenced above, as a fruitful, out-of-the-way locale to bring the Israeli and Palestinian diplomats together for initial talks.

This peace in the Promised Land would, of course, form the bedrock of your entire Middle East policy, as it should have done with the previous five U.S. presidents.

Back in the Americas, you need to engage Latin America, reform the North American Free Trade Agreement and open up our southern border.

We have some suggestions for the Mexican border in our section on immigration below, but it's time to stop putting up walls and start breaking them down. Allow for a free flow of people along with goods and services along the Mexican border.

End the Cuban embargo so we can ship them some decent potatoes and microchips.

Call Hugo Chavez and see how he's doing, and take a tour of Brazil.

"The United States has completely neglected Latin America for eight years," said Brian Wampler, Boise State associate professor of political science. "Brazil's economy is booming, but who's benefiting from it?"

China is benefiting from our failure to engage in Brazil, not to mention in Africa or assorted Asian countries. Rather than competing with China, let's team up to make the stuff demanded by the new economy.

Stuff like electric cars and windmills.

Which brings us to our second priority for your administration ...

Recharge Our Batteries

We're not saying you have to do this today, or even in your first year, but stop letting oil companies and the military drive our energy policy and hand over the reigns to innovators.

Your pick for the Department of Energy, Steven Chu, has a strong science background and comes from a hotbed of innovation, the San Francisco Bay Area. And his Chinese roots, widely noted in China, could bring about the types of collaboration that we should enjoy with that superpower.

Chu's nomination shows a commitment to science that many people we spoke with felt is key to your success.

Rick Johnson, executive director of the Idaho Conservation League, asked that you "simply bring credibility and people back into our government."

Chu's Nobel Prize in physics, his clear statements on global warming and his advocacy for alternative energy certainly lend credibility to your administration.

When you begin to roll out research dollars in renewable energy for better wind turbines, geothermal exploration and more efficient solar panels, we hope that someone in Idaho will rise to the challenge. The West is ripe for this type of research and has the ideas, the resources and the space for alternative energy development.

We have room for industrial scale projects and an inclination for small-scale, neighborhood energy projects that promote independence and personal responsibility.

And as the Snake River Alliance, Idaho's nuclear watchdog, reminded us, energy conservation will be key to your success as well. "The plan must prioritize weatherization and retrofitting millions of buildings and homes in the United States, starting with school and government buildings," Snake River Alliance Executive Director Andrea Shipley wrote.

Shipley also warned against continued reliance on nuclear power, though you have regularly reminded us you are open to nuclear technology. We hope that if your Department of Energy does pursue more nuclear power that it will be the result of serious study and not the spin of a nuclear renaissance; that it will not be propped up by wads of subsidies; and that it won't kill us nor storage of its offal slowly give Native Americans or visitors to Las Vegas cancer.

Along with new forms of energy, we expect that you will encourage new forms of technology that take advantage of clean energy. Like cars. As you force bailed out banks to lend again, consider a crackdown on gas-guzzling cars and their Detroit makers.

Give all the governors matching battery-powered black SUVs.

Change the Conservation Equation

Everyone we spoke with who works in the environmental field hailed a return to science at the nation's land, air and water management agencies.

"I'm sure there's going to be a far more open and honest discussion in the agencies," said Craig Gehrke, Idaho's regional director at the Wilderness Society.

The Wilderness Society, one of many groups that recently sent you large .pdf files chock full of ideas, recommends that you recommit to keeping roadless areas roadless, slow the pace of new oil and gas leasing and, in Idaho, protect bighorn sheep.

Johnson, at the Idaho Conservation League, wants you to light a fire under your agency heads and under Congress to implement conservation plans that have been discussed for years.

"It should not take six, seven, eight years to pass an Owyhee bill, to pass a Boulder-White Clouds bill," Johnson said. "I think that Obama will bring to government a 'let's get moving' approach."

The Owyhee Initiative is already moving through Congress as part of the new public lands bill and the Boulder-White Clouds is picking up momentum. Delicate compromises between ranchers, county commissioners, recreationists, congressmen and environmentalists have been a fad in Western conservation in the past decade, a practice you yourself can appreciate, cloaked in bi-partisan rhetoric as you are.

Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo, who brokered the Owyhee deal, knows that fact well and carefully commends your overtures to Republicans and to diverse interest groups, including some of your more moderate cabinet appointments.

But we urge you to use both your bully pulpit and your novel way of looking at problems to leverage conservation gains. We are open to new ways of looking at wilderness, particularly from an environmental justice stance—how can preservation create green jobs and protect vulnerable communities?

Stop treating wolves like ping pong balls. And don't compromise when the law is in your court.

"Our current federal laws have broad mandates to protect wildlife, water, air quality," said Laird Lucas, a Boise environmental attorney who has several lawsuits pending against the Bureau of Land Management and hopes for settlement negotiations. "There are good enough laws that if they were emphasized, we could do a lot of good, positive things."

And as you restore the departments of Interior and Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency to their original roles, perhaps you could infuse both with a healthy environmental justice mission as well, so that all Americans remember why we need roadless areas and clean, free-flowing streams.

And frozen polar ice caps.

Obama, Please, It Hurts

Speaking of the environment and justice, we are sure that our national health will improve as we climb out of the fear-laden depression of the past eight years. And we know you know that health-care costs in the United States are out of control, affecting both our physical and mental health as well as our bottom lines.

Based on a public forum Boise Weekly held earlier this month, many people here would like to see guaranteed quality health care that is affordable to everyone.

Offer every American comprehensive health care, and make it as good as the plan members of Congress enjoy. Not only will this improve our quality of life, but it will stop breaking the backs of small businesses struggling to do the right thing for their employees.

We will be waiting with bated breath for this, so don't take too long figuring it out—if we pass out, it will just cost you more in the long run.

Get Local With Us

We would like you to join us in choosing local foods, first of all, and localism in general.

"I've been very, very disappointed that public officials across the board have failed to include food as part of a strategy for our society," said Idaho organic farmer and farm activist Janie Burns.

Burns mainly wants you to get out of our way on this one.

"The federal government has a huge role to play in not standing in the way of local food," she said. "We like to think that we're so independent, but Idaho gets this huge amount of crop subsidy money from the federal government and much of that money comes with strings attached."

You were swept to power on a huge wave of popular support, and we hope that you recognize the move toward localism building in cities and towns across America.

We want your Department of Agriculture to make us growers of food again and not just traders in commodities.

Farm economist Ben Gisin has an idea for spurring the farm economy and boosting America's food stocks: build up a three- to four-month rotating stock of basic grains, legumes and dried goods within 50 miles of every urban area in the United States.

"If you have 1 million bushels of wheat up in northern Montana and you need it in Mississippi, it's not going to do any good," Gisin said.

These food stores would provide security against natural disaster and poor harvests, regulate the free market for food which has driven millions to hunger and give American farmers a shot in the arm, preserving good soils and farming traditions.

Bienvenidos a Washington

Within your first year, see to it that the millions of immigrants who managed to get into the country without permission slips are made right: green cards, citizenship, amnesty, whatever it takes.

The undocumented population of this country is already part of our national fabric, and millions of naturalized citizens voted for you. Now you must give others a chance to thrive as Americans, too.

And you must eliminate the conditions that created this huge immigrant underclass in America. Give our immigration system the tools to work again. Separate it from the Department of Homeland Security (consider disbanding the department, or even just changing its name; we didn't used to have one). Let people into the United States to work and study without having to wait a decade or more for a visa. Reunite families.

Tyler Moran, employment policy director for the National Immigration Law Center, said there are two Bush policies that you could quickly overturn: End immigration raids and stop sending businesses Social Security Administration "no match" letters.

The raids have torn apart communities. The no match letters, which are based on flawed data and put employers in the position of policing the borders, are not effective.

Idaho Community Action Network organizer Leo Morales gives you until about Thanksgiving '09 to fix immigration and wants you to keep your eye on civil rights as you do it by maintaining access to courts for migrants.

The American Civil Liberties Union also sent you an aggressive timeline for restoring Constitutional protections, including suspending the REAL ID Act—which amounts to a national identity card—and ending the practice of local police and deputies enforcing immigration laws.

Good economics is the simple reason for doing all these things, and Idaho farmers understand that better than most, but we prefer that you remain motivated by human rights: End the stigma of being illegal and you end the debate on immigration.

Ban Bubble Sheets

Another theme that emerged in our conversations with community leaders is an expectation of access to government. People working in various sectors want to be able to pick up the phone and call the federal government when they need something.

And that includes your Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

"We think that he'll be much more approachable than what we've had to deal with in the last eight years," said Bert Marley, Idaho Education Association policy director.

Bush's education policies seemed to come out of a laboratory or a vacuum. Or a corporate boardroom.

"Educators just felt like whoever was making these decision, whoever was putting these rules in place, were pretty clueless about educating children," he said.

Duncan already sat down with teachers, indicated a desire to hire more of them and expressed concerns with the punitive parts of the No Child Left Behind Act, Marley said.

"For Idaho, we have to be able to have the funding that's necessary to meet the accountability," Marley said.

And that also means less emphasis on testing. In fact, we'd like to see a return to music and arts and fun in school. Let's recycle all the leftover bubble sheets or use them for an origami lesson—10 million paper cranes.

Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna asked your transition team to consider full funding of education initiatives that are already in place before rolling out new programs.

"I'm not one that goes around talking about unfunded mandates because that's not my mantra," Luna said. But the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act has never been funded by more than 23 percent, Luna said, and if it were fully funded by the federal government, it would allow states to do more with their education dollars.

Let Gays Marry

Or do whatever they want. Just remove federal and state restrictions on equal marriage rights and put in place equitable restrictions on workplace discrimination and harassment for all sexual orientations.

Gays, lesbians and their communities are not quite sure what to think of you right now.

"We experienced this great jubilation at his election and then we experienced the passage of Proposition 8 in California," said Jody May-Chang, editor of

And then you picked an anti-gay minister to pray on your inauguration.

"We're just going to hold his feet to the fire," May-Chang said.

Speaking of fire, Mr. President, a slew of interest groups are already knocking on your door.

The people who reserved the domain way before you set up your recently had 656,991 people vote on a list of top change ideas. They are trying to start groups to push for each agenda item.

You hosted a similar process on your own government Web site, and strangely, in both cases, marijuana legalization has appeared as a top priority, at least among obsessive Web users who supported you.

You just do whatever you think is right with that one.

But the point is—and we think you totally get this—we know you are talking to the corporations and moneyed interests, and by all means, you should talk to them. You are the Washington elite now. But since you asked, and since you are setting up the tools to listen to the answers, we're pretty confident that regular folks—the thousands who turned out to see you when you came to Boise State, the millions across the country who have your back—will have the ear of administration.

And participation is the best antidote to fear. We the people cannot be afraid of ourselves.

Thanks for reading, President Obama. Now, like we said, let's do this thing.