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January 15, 2009
CONTACT: Amy Lunday

Big Ideas for Barack Obama

Lester Spence

All eyes are on President-elect Barack Obama during the countdown to Inauguration Day. Reporters seeking an African-American viewpoint for stories about this historic political moment should consider contacting Lester Spence, an assistant professor of political science at The Johns Hopkins University. Spence wants to look beyond Jan. 20 and has drafted a list of his favorite big ideas for the next President.

"Some of these ideas are ones Obama promoted on the campaign trail," Spence said. "Some of these ideas are technically not within the federal government's purview. Some of them are unworkable. So what? We've got to stop believing that the one thing government does well is punish black and poor men and women."

Spence's suggestions for President-elect Obama, in no particular order:

Free college tuition. "In order to meet the challenges the United States and the world are facing head- on, we need to take advantage of our greatest asset — our human capital. We can't do that if families are either unable to send their children to school because they do not have the financial resources, or bogged down in debt after doing so."

Promote micro-loans. "A sizeable gap exists between the developed and the developing world, even taking into consideration the economic challenges the U.S. faces. Giving individuals from the United States and other developed countries the ability to support the endeavors of entrepreneurs in developing nations can go a ways in alleviating poverty."

Universal preschool. "Universal preschool works. Participants read better, they write better, they understand math better, even when socio-economic background is considered. If our children really are our future, it'd be tragic not to fund programs that have been shown to work."

Make Election Day a Federal holiday. "The United States prides itself on its democracy and on the ability her citizens have to participate. But while over 50 percent of registered voters routinely participate in national elections, the U.S. ranks far below other developed nations here. Making Election Day a federal holiday would not only increase participation it would give the act of choosing our representatives the weight it deserves."

Support parental leave. "We continually emphasize responsible parenthood, but when we do not give parents the ability to take time off to raise their children like other developed nations, we do our parents and our children a disservice. Supporting parental leave would further emphasize the importance of family and further develop human capital."

Bring scientists back into government. "According to government reports, almost 900 Environmental Protection Agency scientists reported political interference in their scientific work. This has had horrible consequences for our environment, and has further reduced American trust in government. Bringing scientists back into government will not only help to restore legitimacy, and bring back respect for truth, but it will also help bring U.S. policy on the environment back in line with reality."

Stop trying youth as adults. "The United States has the one of the highest documented incarceration rates (and the highest total prison population) in the world. According to the Campaign for Youth Justice, over 7,500 youth are incarcerated in U.S. jails every day. The Center for Disease Control finds that placing youth in adult prisons is often counter-productive as these youth are more likely to commit crimes upon being released compared to youth in other types of prisons, and are more likely to be assaulted while in prison themselves. Ending this practice will go a ways in developing a saner response to crime and punishment."

Give 47 million Americans the ability to get sick. "Approximately 47 million Americans don't have health insurance. Of course this leaves them vulnerable to health challenges, but it also leaves those of us with health insurance vulnerable as well. Placing all Americans in the same risk pool by creating a single payer plan will reduce costs, increase coverage, and increase health."

Promote a living wage. "There is something dreadfully wrong with the image of a hard working citizen standing in a food line. But this is becoming more and more common as citizens across the country are struggling to make ends meet, working in jobs that keep them in rather than taking them out of poverty. There should be a floor to wages under which no society that claims itself as civilized should go."

An expanded list of Spence's suggestions for Obama is available online at blacksmythe.com/blog/2008/10/17/40-big-ideas-for-obama-and- everyone-else/. The professor's areas of expertise include black politics, race in popular culture, public opinion, political behavior, and the legitimacy of the American courts in the wake of the 2000 presidential election. Spence has appeared regularly on National Public Radio, has served as a source for news stories and offered commentary in such media outlets as the Washington Post, the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch, Africana.com and Salon.com. More information about Spence's projects can be found at his Web site, http://blacksmythe.com. You can reach Spence directly at 410-948-2709.