Invitation: Book Discussion– The Last Great Senate: Courage and Statesmanship in Times of Crisis

The Program on America and the Global Economy Presents a Book Discussion:

 The Last Great Senate:

Courage and Statesmanship in Times of Crisis

 Thursday March 1, 2012  4:00 – 5:30 p.m.

5th Floor Conference Room, Woodrow Wilson Center


  Ira Shapiro, Greenberg Traurig and Author, The Last Great Senate


Janet Hook, Congress Reporter, Wall Street Journal


 In The Last Great Senate Ira Shapiro describes how Senators of the 1960s and ’70s overcame southern opposition to civil rights, passed Great Society legislation, and battled the executive branch on Vietnam, Watergate, and its abuses of power. The right’s sweep of the 1980 elections shattered that Senate, leaving a diminished institution in its wake.

Shapiro spent 12 years working for Senators Gaylord Nelson, Abraham Ribicoff, Thomas Eagleton, Robert Byrd, and Jay Rockefeller. The Last Great Senate is his vivid portrait of the statesmen who helped steer America during the crisis years of the late 1970s, transcending partisanship and overcoming procedural roadblocks that have all but strangled the Senate since their departure.


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White House Science Fair

President Barack Obama hosted the second annual White House Science Fair last week. The fair featured original student research and inventions. Thirty student teams were represented by approximately 100 students from over 45 states. Also in attendance were senior Administration officials as well as leading STEM advocates and educators, including Bill Nye and Linda Rosen (CEO of Change the Equation).

The fair honored winners in a broad range of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics competitions across the United States. President Obama made statements address the need for more students to study these critical areas: “When students excel in math and science, they help America compete for the jobs and industries of the future… That’s why I’m proud to celebrate outstanding students at the White House Science Fair, and to announce new steps my Administration and its partners are taking to help more young people succeed in these critical subjects.”

In his address to the attendees, Obama expressly thanked the parents, teachers, and noted the incredible work of the students, who presented work that most of us couldn’t have dreamed of when we were in middle or high school. He also remarked on the importance of recognizing achievements in STEM subjects, especially those of young people.

“The belief that we belong on the cutting edge of innovation, that’s an idea as old as America itself,” Obama said. “We’re a nation of thinkers, dreamers, believers in a better tomorrow.”

The President also announced a few new initiatives to increase the number of students in STEM subjects and prepare teachers to meet the need including:

  • Priority on undergraduate STEM education reform in the President’s upcoming budget, including a $100 million investment by the National Science Foundation to improve undergraduate STEM education practices.
  • A new K-16 education initiative jointly administered by Department of Education and the National Science Foundation to improve math education
  • Commitments from private sector groups and coalitions to do more to get students excited about STEM-related
  • New policies to recruit, support, retain and reward excellent STEM teachers, along with an $80 million investment in the President’s upcoming budget to help prepare effective STEM teachers.
  • A new $22 million investment from the philanthropic and private sector to complement the Administration’s teacher preparation efforts.
  • One million more students graduating with degrees in STEM subjects in the next ten years.

Some of the outstanding research and inventions presented at the fair were: dissolving sugar packets, designed to reduce paper waste; a landmine detecting device; and improvements to Cancer treatments by overcoming chemotherapy resistance. The President also took the time to participate in a few of the projects. Watch the President launch a marshmallow cannon in the State Dining Room.


Posted by: Devon Thorsell


Photo credits: President Obama and participant at the 2010 Science Fair by flickr user cerebus19

Combating High Dropout Rates

A New York Times op-ed published in January put forth a convincing argument for the investment of tax dollars in reducing the number of high school dropouts. The authors, Henry M. Levin and Cecilia E. Rouse, estimated that “each new graduate confers a net benefit to taxpayers of about $127,000 over the graduate’s lifetime,” and concluded that increasing the graduation rate is indispensable to achieving long-term economic growth and reducing income inequality.

Although the authors did not specifically state how taxpayer money should be used to reduce America’s noticeably high dropout rate, they did mention a few ideas that could help.

“Rigorous evidence gathered over decades suggests that some of the most promising approaches need to start even earlier: preschool for 3 and 4 year-olds, who are fed and taught in small groups, followed up with home visits by teachers and with group meetings of parents; reducing class size in the early grades; and increasing teacher salaries from kindergarten through 12th grade.”

Levin and Rouse made it clear that despite a lack of consensus on the most effective methods of improving the U. S. education system, it would be folly not to invest in reducing the number of high school dropouts. President Obama, in his State of the Union Address, has asked “every State to require that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn eighteen,” but according to the authors, it is not enough.  Programs that embrace small learning communities and “individualized instruction from dedicated teachers” would go much further in producing more qualified and productive graduates.

Posted by: Pokyee Yu

Sources: The New York Times, C-SPAN

Photo Credit: Graduation courtesy of flickr user ajschwegler

World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report 2011-2012

The United States once again found itself slipping on  the list of the world’s most competitive economies, compiled by the World Economic Forum. The United States fell one spot to #5 on this year’s rankings, after dropping two spots to #4 last year.  The Global Competitiveness Report of 2011-2012 ranked a record 142 countries on “twelve pillars of economic competitiveness,” which included metrics on institutions, infrastructure,  macroeconomic environment, health and primary education, higher education and training, goods market efficiency, labor market efficiency, financial market development, technological readiness, market size, business sophistication, and innovation.

In the report, Singapore took the top spot, with countries from Northern and Western Europe dominating much of the top ten.  The United States and Japan filled out the highest positions ranking 5th and 9th respectively.   Emerging economies also continued to climb the list – notably China, South Africa, and Brazil – as “competitiveness in advanced economies has stagnated over the past seven years.”

For the United States, there was both good news and bad news coming out of the report.  As expected, the United States received high rankings in technology, innovation, and business sophistication, highlighting its status as one of the world’s most advanced economies.  It also ranked high in what the Report calls “Efficiency enhancers,” which are factors that aid in the continued development of more advanced societies.  The United States was ranked near the top for the quality of its research, tertiary education enrollment, university-industry collaboration, and its investment in workers.  Despite this, the report shows that the United States had trouble with the basics, ranking in the middle of pack on healthcare, primary education, and a solid macroeconomic environment.  In addition, the Report noted that “aspects of the United States’ institutional environment continue to raise concern among business leaders, particularly relating to low public trust in politicians and concerns about government efficiency.” In reference to trust and faith in the government, the United States ranked number 50, astonishingly behind countries such as Syria and Iran. Interestingly, the Report shows that much of what ails the economy seems to be much more structural than cyclical.

Posted by: Brian Gowen

Sources: World Economic Forum

Photo Credit: Global Competitiveness Report 2011-2012 courtesy of flickr user World Economic Forum

Eastern Job-Hunting on the Rise

Jonathan Levine recently urged Americans not satisfied with their careers to turn their job prospects to China. Levine himself was stuck with a “dead end job,” even with degrees from NYU and Columbia University, but found success as a teacher at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

As more young professionals seek opportunities in burgeoning economies, we might be reminded of “brain drain,” a phenomenon in which a developing country’s potential growth is hindered because those who go abroad to study do not return to their home nation to utilize their skills, having little economic incentive to do so. Instead, they find higher paying jobs in developed nations.

Young people today are still coming to the United States for higher education, but there may be greater incentives to find work in countries like China. What impact this could have on the U.S. economy remains uncertain.

Posted by: Pokyee Yu

Sources: The New York Times

 Photo Credit: Beijing, China 2006 courtesy of flickr user torres21

2012 State of the Union Address: “An America Built to Last”

On January 24th President Obama gave the 2012 State of the Union address. He highlighted moments of the past year including withdrawing from Iraq, the death of Osama bin Laden, job increases, and a recent increase in “insourcing”- bringing jobs back to America.

“…the CEO of Master Lock told me that it now makes more sense for him to bring jobs back home. Today, for the first time in fifteen years, Master Lock’s unionized plant in Milwaukee is running at full capacity.”

Looking ahead, President Obama focused on manufacturing in America, tax code reform, access to and paying for higher education, and reforming big business. The title of the speech emphasized the importance of American endurance in the future: “An America Built to Last.”

Read the full speech here.

In the President’s remarks on higher education he stressed that “Higher education can’t be a luxury – it’s an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford.” He also urged K-12 schools and teachers “to teach with creativity and passion,” and “stop teaching to the test.”

In regards to the uneven and complex tax code, Obama said “let’s change it.” He spoke at length about reforming the code to give incentives to American companies to keep their manufacturing in the United States and stop rewarding businesses that send jobs overseas. On personal taxes, the President said “if you make more than $1 million a year, you should not pay less than 30 percent in taxes.” He cited Warren Buffett, whose tax rate is lower than that of his secretary, which, according to President Obama doesn’t make sense.

The theme of the evening was “shared responsibility” and doing your “fair share” to make America strong, enduring, and prosperous. The President ended the speech with a reminder that we have a common future and if we “maintain our common resolve…the state of our Union will always be strong.”

See Wilson Center’s Director, President, and CEO Jane Harman’s reaction to the State of the Union.


Posted by: Devon Thorsell

Sources: C-SPAN, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

Photo Credit: WWICS/David Hawxhurst

You are Invited: Book Launch–The Swing Vote: The Untapped Power of Independents

ImageThe Program on America and the Global Economy Presents a Book Discussion:

The Swing Vote: The Untapped Power of Independents

Thursday February 9, 2012

4:00 – 5:30 p.m.

Moynihan Boardroom, 6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center


Linda Killian, Author, Journalist, and Senior Scholar, Woodrow Wilson Center

Commentator: Kevin Merida, National Editor, The Washington Post


  Forty percent of all American voters are Independents who occupy the ample political and ideological space in the center.  In The Swing Vote: The Untapped Power of Independents, author Linda Killian looks beyond the polls and the headlines and talks with the frustrated citizens who are raising the alarm about the acute bi-polarity, special interest-influence, and gridlock in Congress, asking why Obama’s postpartisan presidency is anything but, and demanding realism, honest negotiation, and a sense of responsibility from their elected officials.

Killian focuses on four key swing states and demographic groups that she predicts could determine the outcome of the 2012 election.  She paints a vivid portrait of the swing voters around the country and presents a new model that reveals who they are and what they want from their government and elected officials. She also offers a way forward, including solutions for fixing our broken political system.


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