The speech President Obama will deliver in a few hours may be his last chance to make a difference over the next three years.

In order to get elected he had to offer hope and belief in a change for the better.

After an inspiring Inaugural speech, instead of taking on a thousand windmills, he should have taken stock and then a few weeks later started to prepare citizens for the future.

The current administration inherited a incredible number of problems that have been mishandled and made worse over the past 37 years by both political clans.

In addition, the current administration inherited the smoldering ruins from specific responses to crises that arose over the past decade. It is as if someone (Uncle Dick?) said: “What is the worst way to respond to this event?”

And THAT became the administration’s policy: 11 September 01 (“go shopping,” while we start two wars) economic stagnation (lower the interest rates to stimulate ‘growth’ and subsidize Large, Private vehicles); citizen well being (Buy more house than you need in places you can only reach with a Large, Private vehicle); protect health and safety (Do not enforce existing health and safety regulations); the list is endless…

Today’s WaPo has a nice one pager (A-4) that outlines seven broad categories of Obama promises and how far he has gotten. Not far.

There is a bigger problem:

Joel Achenbach nails that problem in “Americans are all for being against everything” also in today’s WaPo

Citizens are not prepared for the Transformations that will be necessary to achieve a sustainable trajectory for civilization. They want an economic ‘recovery’ that will take them back to where they think that they do not have to worry about anything beyond optimizing their short term profit and pleasure form Mass OverConsumption and Business-As-Usual.

After all, that is what both major political clans have promised would happen if you vote for “our” candidate.

We will explore why this is the case in more depth in “What the Future Holds” forthcoming, but here is a quote from the rough draft:

“Lets start with what is behind and beyond ‘The current fiscal status of nation-state, state and municipal Agencies.’ In the comments following Peter’s 30 November post “Going Vertical,” Groveton said:

“In the end, a nation only has so much wealth. We have overspent our asset base many times over. Our exploding entitlement programs get the current politicians votes at the cost of our country’s future.”

“From the example given, it appears Groveton is equating “nation” and federal Agencies. There is solid fact behind that statement but it is only the tip of the iceberg.


“The problem with Groveton’s observation, the MainStream Media headlines (omitted here) and Ruth Marcus’ first grim reality (a brief paraphrase of Jim Bacon’s Boomergeddon) is that they are not comprehensive enough.

“It is NOT just nation-state Agencies or even ALL Agencies that have over spent. That is still just the first layer – to use the Hazel Henderson analogy. It is the tip of the only iceberg THAT IS NOT MELTING.

“Not just Agencies but Citizens, Households and Enterprises have overspent. They were led to believe “a growing economy raises all boats” regardless of what makes it ‘grow.’ Mass OverConsumption is sinking all boats. It is sinking the private boats of the vast majority of citizens and their Households. It is also sinking the collective boats of citizen’s Organizations – Enterprises, Institutions AND Agencies.”

EMR tends to agree with what Peter and the early comments on his Obama post (“Its Really Business As Usual”) but how is that grim reality going to change / Transform? Only if citizens believe it must change / Transform.

Can Obama pull it off? If he does not, it may be a decade before citizens are ready to listen again and in a decade how much of the once bountiful resource base will be left to support the Transformation?

As readers of Chapter 1 of The Shape of the Future know, Clinton’s State of the Union speeches play and important role in depicting why Clinton / Gore were not able to understand human settlement patterns or contribute to evolving a sustainable trajectory. Hopefully Obama will do a better job.

The best preparation for tonight’s speech may be to reread (surely you have read it at least once) Amitai Etzioni’s 17 June 09 The New Republic essay “Spent” that has been republished by Utne as “Get Rich Now” in the Jan / Feb issue.

Etzioni does an incredible job of laying out the difference between consumption and consumerism (aka, Mass OverConsumption) the Green Menace. In four pages he wraps up the Communitarian and Transcendental alternatives to Mass OverConsumption. The essay outlines the fundamentals of “A New Metric of Human Well Being” (PART V of TRILO-G)

We can only hope Obama read Etzioni when he was framing what he was going to try to communicate in preparing citizens for the future.


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12 responses to “OBAMA’S LAST CHANCE?”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    "Joel Achenbach nails that problem in “Americans are all for being against everything” also in today's WaPo"

    Yeah, let's see what happens in Oregon.

    For years, Oregonians have voted against every tax increase, while dismantling their government and schools.

    Then when the recession hit they find they no longer have the services that they suddenly are in need of.

    So they finally passed atax on the Rich and on Corporations.

    WE will see how well that works.


  2. Anonymous Avatar

    "the difference between consumption and consumerism "


    Yeah, well, the President and everyone else but EMR seems to think that jobs mean GROWTH in the economy and consumption, not more conservation and savings.


  3. Anonymous Avatar

    "Citizens are not prepared for the Transformations that will be necessary to achieve a sustainable trajectory for civilization."


    Maybe we just don't reach that trajectory.

    Maybe it just takes a catastrophe and that is actually the fastest and cheapest way.

    Hundreds of thousands of Haitains simply left Port au Prince and went back tothe country. Hundreds of thousands more are dead. and more will leave or die before it is over.

    As terrible as this is, it may have been the cheapest way to fix Port au Prince, and its next trajectory may be a little more sustainable for a little longer.

    It will STILL be sittin on a fault zone.


  4. A leader can really only lead people in the general direction they want to me led.

    See.. that's that little connection between leading and getting votes…

    I strongly suspect that ANY candidate that promised to enact Functional Settlement patterns if elected would be …within the hour of uttering such pap – consigned to the dustbins of history now and forever.

    Leadership is not tyranny.

  5. E M Risse Avatar

    Larry G first said…

    “A leader can really only lead people in the general direction they want to me led.

    “See.. that's that little connection between leading and getting votes…”

    Exactly! That is why education is so important and why citizens coming to understand their enlightened self-interest – individually and collectively – is so important. The future of democracies with market economies depends on it.

    Larry G ended by saying:

    “Leadership is not tyranny.”

    Also right on!

    In between Larry G demonstrated once again his Geographic Illiteracy and Spacial Obliviousness. He still, after all this time, does not have the faintest notion of what functional human settlement patters are or why human settlement patterns have a controlling impact on economic prosperity, social stability and environmental sustainability.

    Here are thoughts on his attempt to again avoid facing reality.

    “I strongly suspect that ANY candidate that promised to enact Functional Settlement patterns…”

    One does not ‘enact’ settlement patterns, they EVOLVE driven by billions of daily economic, social and physical actions of citizens, Households and their Organizations (Agencies, Enterprises and Institutions).

    “if elected would be …”

    No one would be elected on a platform of “enacting functional settlement patterns,” they would be elected because the majority of the citizens finally came to understand that settlement patterns are important.

    “…within the hour of uttering such pap – consigned to the dustbins of history now and forever.”

    Anyone elected to office by citizens who understood the importance of settlement patterns would not consider a discussion of these patterns to be “pap.” The ones who do discount these discussion are primarily the 12.5 Percenters. They fear that if they admitted the cumulative impact of their location decisions they would have to pay the cost.

    By the way, from the transcript and the summaries EMR has seen, it looks like President made a nice speech but did not take the opportunity to lay the groundwork for helping citizens come to grips with future reality.

    It is going to be a long winter – three more years and then what?


  6. E M Risse Avatar

    EMR has never been a big fan of James Howard Kunstler. He has demonstrated a wonderful ability of making fun of the settlement patterns that have evolved over the past 60 years but little ability to chart a course towards a sustainable future. See citations in The Shape of the Future.

    However reading a re-review of his 2005 book The Long Emergency suggests that he has a good grasp of the larger picture. This would have been another good pre State of the Union prep for the speech writers.

    Also, even thought the speech is over, some of the most important pages printed in the past decade contain Amitai Etzioni’s 17 June 09 The New Republic essay “Spent” that has been republished by Utne as “Get Rich Now” in the Jan / Feb issue. (Both are accessible for free download at the publications web site – 11 pages in large print and unedited at The New Republic and 2 in small print with curious omissions in Utne) .


  7. Anonymous Avatar

    EMR – New urbanism is a fraud. After years of trumpeting new urbanism, the Tysons landowners and their lackeys are now arguing that it's too expensive to include workforce and affordable housing within the Transit Oriented Development areas, i.e., within one-quarter mile of the transit stations. If fact, the push is to reduce housing, except in the outlying areas of Tysons, i.e., the non-TOD areas and for some million dollar condos, and to increase office buildings.

    Also, keep in mind that Tysons Corner is the poster child for new urbanism. It's all fraudulent.


  8. E M Risse Avatar


    We have a Vocabulary problem!!!

    NEVER identify SYNERGY or EMR as an advocate of New Urbanism as currently practiced.

    Read what we have written about the topic in The Shape of the Future and in TRILO-G.

    And about Tysons Corner see the many columns we wrote on the topic including "A Picutre is Worth a Thousand Lies" or last (8 September 2008) BR Column.

    The term New Urban Region was service marked by SYNERGY before New Urbansim became a widely recognized, overused and misused term.

    EMR cannot claim to have coined the phrase, however. It turns out the call for "a new urbanism" was first sounded in a HORIZON mag story by Grady Clay in July 1959.

    EMR was a senior in college that year and becoming interested in human settlement patterns after transfering from wildlife management to physics and studying sociology, philosophy and anthropology.

    We admire the work of Clay, and of may who are associated with 'New Urbanism' but New Urbanism is NOT a comprehensive Conceptual Framework.

    We have praised the work of some New Urbanists for their work at the Dooryard, Cluster, Neighborhood and Village scale.

    But back to Tysons. Not only do I agree with you that the all the Tysons plans I have see since Blueprint are a DISASTER, no one I respect holds any of these plans as a 'good' example of New Urbanism or any other 'ism.'

    You are welcome to disagree with EMR but please do not grossly mischaracterize his views.


  9. Anonymous Avatar

    EMR – May I suggest that you file a lawsuit against the Tysons landowners and their lackeys, as they are certainly using the term "new urbanism" and in a way much different than you intended.

    I would readily agree that it would be possible to develop a level of urban buildings at Tysons with the TOD area that contained residences, offices, retail, recreation, etc., that would make good use of transit; put some people much closer to their places of work; and reduce traffic congestion. But that is not happening. Tysons redevelopment will make traffic worse.

    If you don't want to file a lawsuit, how about writing an op-ed for the WaPo?


  10. E M Risse Avatar


    EMR believes we have always pretty much agreed on Tysons Corner plans.

    It is the Congress of New Urbansim that should file the suit.

    A OpEd from you and those withwhom you agree would be more effective than from someone from a far corner of the Virginia SubRegion.


  11. Anonymous Avatar

    Suppose Tyson's operators promised to give back 50% of their profits as direct cash stipends to every household within 7 miles of the project.

    Would you still be opposed to Tysons owners maximising their profits?


  12. Anonymous Avatar

    Ray, most people would support the Tysons landowners making good profits from building attractive buildings that rent or sell well. What some of us object to are their making profits by doing nothing beyond manipulating the zoning process, distorting facts and passing on the cost for the infrastructure to everyone else.

    The Route 28 landowners stepped up and agreed to pay 75% of the infrastructure costs that are improving the road in excess for added density and a better transportation system for their tenants and buyers. I've never heard anyone complain about these landowners. There was a reasonably fair bargain cast.

    The Tysons crowd, on the other hand, have not put up a single dime for infrastructure despite the fact that the plan is close to being recommended by the Planning Commission and adopted by the Supervisors. There is a big difference.

    Let them pay the same 75% of the costs for as much infrastructure as is needed to support their added density, while maintaining level of service and let 'em earn as much as they can.

    BTW, Clark Tyler, chairman of the Task Force, is now arguing that level of service for transportation should not be considered in making land use decisions. Huh!


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