Wednesday, January 9, 2008

How are the Baileys doing?

Sen. Chuck Schumer had introduced us to a fictional family, the middle-class Baileys—Joe, Eileen and their three kids in his recent book "Positively American". So my question to Sen. Schumer when he met the Editorial Board on 01/08 was "How are the Baileys doing?". Turns out that the Baileys who were distinctly upbeat a decade ago are now slightly despondent about the state of the economy, gas prices, and college tuitions and seem to think there are tougher times ahead for their kids. However they still have not lost their resilient spirit and continue battling on notwithstanding the odds.

The major reasons for this despondency as per Sen. Schumer were the reduced funding available to support education and health initiatives. The 2 big causes for a decline in funding as per him were the reduced tax burden on the super rich (those making over $ 1 million a year) and the $ 200 Billion a year spending in Iraq. The Senator had spent New Year in Iraq with the US troops and waxed eloquent about their valor and commitment. He was pleased with the progress made on the ground under the NY born Gen. Petraeus but described the state of Iraqi civil society as still being fragmented by sectarian differences and a very weak & unpopular central administration.

For us in Rochester, Sen. Schumer had some good cheer to share. He mentioned an emerging trend of US corporations moving some of their high-end manufacturing work back to the US. He felt Upstate NY in general and Rochester in particular was well poised to benefit from this trend given the availability of trained & highly educated workforce, population concentration and low office space rent. He spoke about his efforts to boost the local economy by helping local companies for specific initiatives; developing niche opportunities like Fuel Cell Technology, Center for Photonics; Grants in the Budget for corporate, county and city endeavors; and overall by making the business climate better (e.g. by better air services)

The issue which bothers the Senator the most is the declining standards of the US education esp. Math and Science education. He feels that declining education standards will significantly reduce America's competitiveness in a global economy. He discussed his initiatives to get more qualified people interested in Science and Math teaching. He highlighted a grant for establishing a Center for Math and Science teaching excellence at the Nazareth College. In response to a question he also promised to research about the low attractiveness of teaching as a career amongst people of color.

How will the Baileys vote in this year's presidential election? Definitely for the Democratic Party, the Senator said, but for which Democratic contender? Sen. Schumer the quintessential politician suavely sidestepped the question.

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