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President-elect Obama has been smart about shifting the emphasis of our domestic economic policy from programs that almost solely help "Wall St." toward more populist efforts that help the middle class of America. His embrace of "Main St." both makes the best economic sense during this time of serious economic malaise, but it's also the right thing to do as middle class America is suffering the most from the rapacious economic elitism of the Bush years. As Obama continues to fill out his cabinet, he now has a unique opportunity to put his money where his mouth is - to 'walk the talk' about economic populism. The president-elect has just named his Commerce secretary; the person charged with maximizing the economic opportunity of American business. It's now time for him to create a cabinet level position with responsibility to execute his vision for supporting the American consumer. Obama should seize this unique time to create an institutional mechanism to safeguard the best interests of the American people and offset the inherent advantages of business. He should create a new Consumer Department with a cabinet level secretary at its head.

The Secretary of the Consumer Affairs Department would have responsibility to counterbalance our national lust for profit and greed - always keeping in mind the best interests of Americans in their role as "the consumer": to establish programs and policies in the best interests of the people as they struggle to breathe clean air, to eat wholesome and healthy food, and to otherwise purchase products and services that have their best interests at heart.

America has seen what happens if capitalism is left unchecked. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. And if things get really bad, those who are harmed most are then looked upon to 'bail out' the institutions that have screwed them most.

The Secretary of Consumer Affairs would lead a department designed to ensure that middle and working class Americans have a voice at the table against the noxious by-products of capitalism that frequently harm people. It will fight against the corners that frequently get cut in consumer health and safety and ask the hard questions of companies as they go about their business of making money. The office will carry the weight of the White House and should not only be there to push business to 'do the right thing' vis-a-vis consumers, but also act as the lead throughout government to protect consumers in the same way that the Department of Homeland Security coordinates inter-governmental efforts around national security.

President-elect Obama has a unique opportunity at this moment. The current times offer a perhaps once in a generation chance to reshape the economic landscape in ways that can create real, fundamental change. I encourage him to strike out boldly and create a cabinet level Consumer Department. Over time, it can become one of those foundational institutions - like Social Security - that future generations will look back and wonder how we ever did without.


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I like the idea.

During my career in (State) government, it became apparent money was often being given by the government to projects that conflicted with the best interest of the Commonwealth, and often contrary to law and regulation of some other agency.

A thing called an 'A-95 Review' was instituted.

This process required a permits, and all grants to be circulated through every cabinet agency, and all other agencies serving 'at the discretion of the Governor'.

The final requirements of the project had to meet the needs stated in the conclusions of that review.


I say that to say that a cabinet post may not be need, and in fact may be too cumbersome.

I think an agency in the model of the EPA, but with even more incisiveness (teeth if you will), with an 'eye' to minimizing internal review of projects without losing effectiveness.

The EPA was created, because the agency originally charged with the task (the U.S. Public Health Service) was too cumbersome, and mal-focused to be effective.

The standard for action in the 'Health Service' 'the occurrence of sickness, and/or death'.

In the environmental arena, the game was over when those standards occurred.

Prevention was the standard needed to be effective.

I believe 'Prevention and Restoration' is the standard for 'Main Street'.


Jim Chester
Alice Walker on expectations, responsibilities and a new reality that is almost more than the heart can bear.

Dear Brother Obama,

You have no idea, really, of how profound this moment is for us. Us being the black people of the Southern United States. You think you know, because you are thoughtful, and you have studied our history. But seeing you deliver the torch so many others before you carried, year after year, decade after decade, century after century, only to be struck down before igniting the flame of justice and of law, is almost more than the heart can bear. And yet, this observation is not intended to burden you, for you are of a different time, and, indeed, because of all the relay runners before you, North America is a different place. It is really only to say: Well done. We knew, through all the generations, that you were with us, in us, the best of the spirit of Africa and of the Americas. Knowing this, that you would actually appear, someday, was part of our strength. Seeing you take your rightful place, based solely on your wisdom, stamina and character, is a balm for the weary warriors of hope, previously only sung about.

I would advise you to remember that you did not create the disaster that the world is experiencing, and you alone are not responsible for bringing the world back to balance. A primary responsibility that you do have, however, is to cultivate happiness in your own life. To make a schedule that permits sufficient time of rest and play with your gorgeous wife and lovely daughters. And so on. One gathers that your family is large. We are used to seeing men in the White House soon become juiceless and as white-haired as the building; we notice their wives and children looking strained and stressed. They soon have smiles so lacking in joy that they remind us of scissors. This is no way to lead. Nor does your family deserve this fate. One way of thinking about all this is: It is so bad now that there is no excuse not to relax. From your happy, relaxed state, you can model real success, which is all that so many people in the world really want. They may buy endless cars and houses and furs and gobble up all the attention and space they can manage, or barely manage, but this is because it is not yet clear to them that success is truly an inside job. That it is within the reach of almost everyone.

I would further advise you not to take on other people’s enemies. Most damage that others do to us is out of fear, humiliation and pain. Those feelings occur in all of us, not just in those of us who profess a certain religious or racial devotion. We must learn actually not to have enemies, but only confused adversaries who are ourselves in disguise. It is understood by all that you are commander in chief of the United States and are sworn to protect our beloved country; this we understand, completely. However, as my mother used to say, quoting a Bible with which I often fought, “hate the sin, but love the sinner.” There must be no more crushing of whole communities, no more torture, no more dehumanizing as a means of ruling a people’s spirit. This has already happened to people of color, poor people, women, children. We see where this leads, where it has led.

A good model of how to “work with the enemy” internally is presented by the Dalai Lama, in his endless caretaking of his soul as he confronts the Chinese government that invaded Tibet. Because, finally, it is the soul that must be preserved, if one is to remain a credible leader. All else might be lost; but when the soul dies, the connection to earth, to peoples, to animals, to rivers, to mountain ranges, purple and majestic, also dies. And your smile, with which we watch you do gracious battle with unjust characterizations, distortions and lies, is that expression of healthy self-worth, spirit and soul, that, kept happy and free and relaxed, can find an answering smile in all of us, lighting our way, and brightening the world.

We are the ones we have been waiting for.

In Peace and Joy,
Alice Walker

© 2008, Alice Walker

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