SN&R readers’ letters to Obama

On the eve of his second inauguration, SN&R readers tell the president how it should go down over the next four years

Barack Obama might want to enjoy a few afternoons during the next four years tippling White House-brewed honey ale on the South Lawn while playing dominoes with Joe Biden, but it'll be some time until those salad days: Right out the gate, the frustrations and challenges of the president's first term are poised to mire his second.

The economy still reels from the housing-market collapse. And head-butting with GOP adversaries over debt, spending and taxes—which, in essence, are battles in the larger war over the size and role of government—persists. All this bogs the president down in a political time suck; there's little room for policy and legacy matters such as the environment and education. Let alone board games and brew.

And then there's also what the people demand of their president. Jobs and schools, drones and guns—SN&R readers' “Letters to Obama” reveal a diversity of expectations. The dozens of Sacramentans who participated this year spoke to a hopefulness similar to what Americans felt on the eve of Obama's first inauguration. Yes, people still believe Obama can change the country. But there's also doubt and uncertainty.

These are SN&R readers' words. Will the president hear them?

It's just common sense

Our most pressing need is for Americans to go back to work. I am not touting that more low-paying service jobs need to be added; on the contrary, since most Americans' earnings have remained flat over the last three decades, what we need is a greater abundance of fair- to good-paying jobs. Many of us cannot find work that matches our skills or educational qualifications. Many of us were forced to borrow student loans that we cannot pay back simply because we cannot find jobs that would enable us to do so. Consequently, we are then overburdened by capitalization added to the interest of our loans, further encumbering us with more money we will need to pay back to lenders. This alone could cause our next economic crisis.

Need I tell you, Mr. President, we are in very deep trouble as a nation? Need I also tell you that the only solution to restoring our economy, to help bring the domestic debt rate down, and to stimulate our economy by spending on goods and services, and to bring the national debt down through taxation, is to create good jobs for our citizens? It doesn't take a long-term study by economists to prove that this is common sense.

Janine R. Wilson


Stand firm against cuts

I'm old enough to remember the time before Medicare and Social Security—it was not pretty—and these were promises made to the American people. Will you please stand firm against any attempt to cut the life out of these?

Martha H. Oehler


Drive it over the cliff

Whatever happened to “We don't negotiate with terrorists”? If the only way to get a deal with the House GOP is to raise taxes on the middle class while gutting Social Security and protecting tax cuts for the wealthy, I want to see you drive over that “fiscal cliff” holding hands with John Boehner like you are Thelma and Louise. You can even be Thelma.

John Marcotte


Thank you, I can eat now

You managed to accomplish a great deal in your first stint in the Oval Office. First and foremost, you killed Osama bin Laden. You have succeeded in the honor of being the first African-American president. This in and of itself is a huge accomplishment. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would be proud, Malcolm X would be ecstatic and Don King would give you “daps.”

You have given hope to those people that need it and [provided] strength and power through your words. You have actually provided change to our country. For instance: 1. A $20 billion increase for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps (thank you, I can eat now). 2. $2 billion in new Neighborhood Stabilization Program grants that will allow ailing neighborhoods be maintained. 3. Health coverage can't be denied to children with pre-existing conditions. 4. As part of the 2010 tax extension, unemployment insurance was extended to the 7 million Americans who would have been without income. I personally thank you for this.

Kerry T. Hoefling


Trade all guns … for muskets?

Congratulations on your re-election. “Fiscal cliff,” Afghanistan, health care—honestly, at this point, I don't care. Let's focus on the defining issue of your second term: gun control. I have a simple one-point plan that can help:

Respecting the wisdom of our Constitution's framers, we must defend our Second Amendment right to bear arms. And the only firearms of any utility that were available to private citizens in 1791 were muskets. I suggest that you honor that vision and issue an executive order mandating that muskets be the only firearms legal for Americans to possess. Barrels shall measure 7-feet long, and balls and powder shall be sold separately in convenient single-use, childproof containers that take six minutes to open.

Americans shall have one year to exchange any and all guns for muskets. After one year, all other firearms shall be considered illicit and their possession or use grounds for incarceration.

There will be complaints, for instance:

“I'm a hunter. How am I supposed to hunt with a 7-foot-long musket that fires only one ball every six minutes? I might miss.”

Presidential response: “Practice. With luck, your ball will hit home.”

William Doonan, Ph.D.


Remember your campaign promises

In your first term, you promised openness, transparency, an end to Guantánamo Bay and a renewed protection of our basic human rights. Yet Guantánamo is still open; drone strikes have killed an estimated 282 to 535 civilians, including more than 60 children; and three American citizens were killed without due process, including a 16-year-old boy. Your administration pleads that we trust your judgment and that these actions are justified. However, your policies are nearly indistinguishable from those of your predecessor, and will allow the next president, whomever that may be, the same extraordinary license to kill. How have you so completely forgotten your campaign promises? One can only suppose they were abandoned as soon as it was no longer politically expedient to hold them.

Katelyn Sills


More jobs, cleaner planet

In your second term, I ask you to carefully conserve your political capital by drawing upon your roots in community organizing. I ask you to work on the following:

1. Provide or create jobs for everyone who is able to work. Our local colleges and universities can be awarded for innovations that make use of alternative energy sources, which create engineering and manufacturing jobs that can be done (and must be done) right here in the United States.

2. Prepare the future on this planet for our children. We can protect the lives of our children by ensuring that they have all the clean water they will need for drinking, cleaning and agriculture by keeping creeks and streams in our communities free of plastic and other toxins and refuse.

3. Maintaining our land base. As we saw in the fury of Hurricane Sandy, our shorelines are threatened by climate change. We need to keep our community intact by decreasing consumption of fossil fuels and lowering global temperatures to prevent further ice melting. We need to at least let our children know that we cared enough to try to maintain our land base upon which our communities are built.

Kathleen DeVries

Fair Oaks

Keep kids in school

As a father, you know the importance of providing the best foundation possible to give our children the opportunity to pursue their dreams and achieve success as adults. Concentrating our efforts on building strong families and the health and welfare of our kids is both the best short-term and long-term strategy for creating safer, healthier and more economically sustainable communities.

Here in California, and across the nation, we face a problem not yet acknowledged in many circles, let alone adequately addressed. Too many of our young people are being suspended or expelled from our schools. In California alone, over 750,000 students are suspended per year—more than the number who graduate. Not only is the sheer number alarming, but we know the impact is severely disproportionate, with three and a half times as many African-American children suspended or expelled as Caucasian children, for example, according to a recent U.S. Department of Education study. Worse still, kids who have been suspended or expelled are five times more likely to drop out and 11 times more likely to turn to crime.

I urge you to put the weight of the federal government behind efforts to keep kids in school and to end the school-to-prison pipeline. If we fail to do so, we are sadly condemning a significant number of our youth to unproductive, problem-filled lives that not only threaten their own well-being, but also the well-being of entire communities. We know what the solutions are to avoid these results: to maintain necessary classroom and school discipline; to keep young people in school and on track to graduate; and [to keep them] out of the criminal justice system by addressing behavioral issues with alternative means of correction. But we need the leadership and resources that only the federal government can provide to support our efforts at the local and state levels.

Our work to create a better world will be handed off to our children and grandchildren. Help us give them the best chance we can to succeed.

Assemblyman Roger Dickinson


Make us care, make us proud

I've had this recurring nightmare for the last 10 years. Half of my life. A little girl with black curls and huge blue eyes stares at me. The whites of her eyes are red and moist. Then, a white flash. Her father with sunken eyes is comforting her as she is overcome by her tears. She doesn't understand why these people keep attacking her. Why did her brother die? Why was her city destroyed? What did she do? Why do they hate her?

Then I wake up. And then I hate you. And I hate President George W. Bush. And I am filled with this horrible feeling of embarrassment and shame for being an American.

And I don't want to feel this way anymore. I want to be proud to be an American, because there are a lot of things that I actually do really love about this country. I love that while we fight over the idea of what it means to be an American, the fact that we disagree is what makes this country what it is. We are a collection of diverse belief systems and cultures. While some countries embrace homogeneity, here, everyone's Thanksgiving is a little different from their neighbors. And when I do feel proud to be an American, it is one of the warmest, fuzziest feelings you can have growing in your heart.

And I know that you feel this way, too. And that is the problem.

Americans actually really like you. They may disagree with you. Be pissed about drones. Pissed about health care. Pissed about gay rights. Pissed about the economy. Pissed about weed reform. They may hate what you're doing or not doing, but when you're shaking hands and your daughters stand behind you, literally beaming, the cuteness factor wins. You are still our president. At least you're trying.

So for your next four years, you need to re-evaluate what your purpose in office is. You were deemed “The Great Communicator.” Then you fell flat on your face. I know you have heard this already. But come on. Make us care. Make us feel like if we wrote you a letter on your White House “We the People” page, you would respond. If we could text you, you would text back. Because you represent all of us.

You are being thwarted by politics in Washington. Rise above it. Go to the people, and make us feel proud of our country again.

Natasha vonKaenel


End the entitlements

Kudos to you for finally passing much needed health-care reform. Now can you please let politically powerful seniors know that providing both Social Security and Medicare benefits after the age of 65, or even 67, is simply completely unsustainable (even today)?

When Social Security was first established, more than 90 percent of recipients never lived to 65 anyway, so it was really just a luxury benefit. How about Americans get to choose only one benefit or the other until age 75?

Americans would be wise to remember that the Roman Empire crumbled from within (not due to being overrun or attacked by enemies or external armies), but rather due to an overly entitled, entertained and war-hungry populace.

Jeremy Bailey


Save our homes

I need your help in my mortgage-loan modification. I am still struggling with my high mortgage payment, and I am sure there are thousands of other people like me having the same problem. I do not want to lose my house. I bought my house for $480,000, and now it is worth only $230,000, or maybe less. I am on Social Security income. Please help and give us a program for people who are on permanent Social Security or disability so we can save our houses and stay in our houses for a long time.

Rosie Prasad

Elk Grove

Let's talk about race

You have a unique opportunity to advance the conversation about race in our beloved USA, but your administration has not led with affirmative messages or assumed much leadership of consequence.

Believe us, we do get it: In more ways than one, perhaps your job as the first black president required nothing more than to be black, and to do it with at least moderate success so that other black candidates and Fortune 500 executives stand a chance in the future. Nevertheless, we await with anticipation a bold move and quantum leap in leadership. Should the federal government and public universities recast affirmative action? How will the gains of affirmative action be preserved, or should they? And more to the point: How shall fairness of opportunity be defined in a more complex and multiracial society?

Owing to the rapid advancement of smartphones, high-tech gadgets, social media and wireless connectivity, the world has become smaller and our worldview much larger. This new generation of young people that turned out to vote in record numbers secured your second term as president. They are the offspring of a many-colored society, both in terms of interracial marriages and in the images they see on TV, in sports, entertainment and politics. Help us unlock that blessed potential and write a new chapter in U.S. history.

Al Hernandez-Santana


Just. Stop.

Stop killing innocent villagers with cowardly drones.

Stop running up the debt.

Stop prosecuting whistle-blowers.

P. Cernac


Peace in the Middle East

Remember Palestine and Israel! It was disheartening to see peace in the Middle East become more elusive during your first term. Yet I maintain my audacity to hope that you will use your second term to exert pressure on the Israeli government to end its settlement-expansion policies that are making a two-state solution unviable and to grant Palestinians their rights.

Camil Raad


Let the fresh air in

I believe you can persuade this country in the wake of so much gun violence to finally ban the sale of automatic assault weapons to the general public. When innocent children cannot be safe in their classrooms, we have a serious situation that has to change.

Secondly, how many tax dollars must we U.S. citizens fork over every time there is a natural disaster in this country? This is especially tiresome when you consider the entire United States' infrastructure of worn-out bridges and roads that go dangerously unattended.

Speaking of resources: We need to protect our environment and limit our reliance on oil. All consumer vehicle manufacturers should be held to a mandatory 40 mpg on all models by the end of this decade. Not only that, but all new commercial-building construction should include mandatory solar capabilities to cut waste, pollution and energy dependence.

Lastly, I would like to see you pursue term limits to congressional representatives. Open the windows of the musty old Washington attic and let the fresh air in!

C.W. Kelly

Turn swords into plowshares

Now is the time to do something truly meaningful for the country, begin the process of turning our swords into plowshares—or, to put it into modern idiom, turn our battleships into schools and hospitals.

Defense spending is strangling our economy. We have no real military enemies that justify spending up to 50 cents of every federal dollar on military and defense-related stuff. The Cold War is over. Current (and possible future) threats to this country do not require battleships, atomic weapons, massive armies, intercontinental ballistic missiles and hundreds of foreign bases. We no longer need (if we ever did) to spend as much money on defense as the entire rest of the world. It's time to go on a defense-spending diet.

John C. Reiger

president, Veterans for Peace, Chapter 97

A short list of goals

Thank you so much for your deep compassion for all people and your passion to advance the state of human culture. You are smart and I have confidence that you have learned much from a couple of serious errors in your first term. You handled the “fiscal cliff” excellently, which evidenced your learning and enhances your power to accomplish the following in your next term:

Equitably balance the budget—while there is reasonable dispute on the means, the conservatives are right on this. It is not fair that we live off the hog and leave inordinate debt to future generations

Raise the eligibility age for the able-bodied (and minded) significantly for retirement entitlement programs—these programs were conceived when life expectancy was at least 15 years less than [it is today] and should not be providing 20 or 30 years of noncontribution to the collective well-being.

Lower the medical costs of dying—if people are at the end of their life, let them pass. We operate too much in fear of death.

Eliminate corporate subsidies—especially those that perpetuate an unsustainable future and hurt the Main Street economy.

Fix education policy—this is the key to the American Dream of equal opportunity for all.

A carbon tax—clean and simple and allows our free enterprise system to do what it does best and figure out the most efficient ways to reduce use.

Focus on urban quality and efficiency to get us out of cars for a multitude of reasons—this will also address many of our other environmental challenges such as loss of farmland, air and water quality, and obesity. The most important federal means to this end is to redirect all infrastructure and housing funding programs away from subsidizing the automobile and sprawl, and to transit, bike and pedestrian modes and redevelopment of our existing communities.

David Mogavero


Go for the gold

With due respect, I offer this second-term agenda for your consideration:

1. Prosecute assault weapons smugglers who supply guns to known murderers. Start with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

2. Prosecute corporate CEOs that fleece the U.S. Treasury for billions of dollars in subsidies for fruitless, dead-end enterprises. Start with your friends at General Motors Co., General Electric Co., Solyndra, et al.

3. Suspend pay and benefits for employees of any federal government organization that can't balance a budget and permanently reduce costs by 10 percent. Start with Congress.

4. Adopt the same climate-friendly, carbon-free energy policy for the United States that has succeeded in your home state of Illinois for decades: 40 percent nuclear power.

This will keep you pretty busy. If you get it all done, make another run at the Chicago 2020 Olympic Games. What have you got to lose?

Greg Vlasek

Del Paso Heights