Kerry’s American Vision

One year later, and the residents and businesses of the Gulf Coast are still waiting for assistance. For example, take the SBA ‘s disaster loans to homeowners and businesses. Out of the more than $10 billion in disaster loans that have been approved, only a mere $2 billion has made it into the hands of victims for rebuilding their homes and businesses. The ability to help these folks is there, but the Administration still lacks the leadership to get the job done.

BSN: What is your vision for America after George Bush’s term expires and how can we make that a reality?
John Kerry: What Langston Hughes wrote so many years ago still rings true — we need to let America be America again.  From setting a clear path forward in Iraq that has the Iraqis standing up for themselves; to making sure that every child in America has health care coverage; to cutting pollution and committing to environmental justice; to not leaving people stranded – literally and figuratively – on all those rooftops during Hurricane Katrina; to promoting instead of vetoing the hope of stem cell research; to ensuring that every single American’s vote counts and that every vote is counted – Americans deserve all these things.  They are the hope and promise of America.  We can make that a reality by making the issues we care about the issues that decide elections, starting with this November.  We need to make our issues voting issues, and we only do that by getting the word out and going to the polls.

BSN: Do you believe that the U.S. is bogged down in Iraq and what would you propose as a solution that addresses U.S. security concerns and the needs of Iraqis?
 [Background NOTE:  John Kerry called for a redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq in a major address at Georgetown University in October of 2005.  This June, Kerry offered the Kerry-Feingold amendment to redeploy U.S. troops from Iraq by July 1, 2007.]
John Kerry:  The U.S. is bogged down in Iraq – just look at the situation on the ground.  We’re spending over $2 billion every week in Iraq and this administration is sending more American troops, in spite of the President’s promise that “as the Iraqis stand up we will stand down.â€?  Well, where’s the standing down?  That’s why I believe we need to set a deadline to redeploy U.S. troops from Iraq – it’s necessary for success in Iraq and victory in the war on terror.  Iraqi politicians have proven they only respond to deadlines – a deadline to transfer authority, deadlines to hold two elections and a referendum, and a deadline to form a government.  Now we need another deadline to get Iraq up on its own two feet.  Our troops have done their job in Iraq.  It is time to redeploy – to help increase stability in Iraq, and more importantly, to strengthen the national security of the United States.  A strong national security policy begins with recognizing that our massive presence in Iraq weakens our security and gives Iraqi politicians a crutch to avoid creating stability in their country.  As long as 133,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq indefinitely, that country will remain what a series of mistakes has made it — a crucible for the recruitment and development of terrorists determined to fight Americans and an obstacle to an Iraqi government capable of governing and securing its country. 
A deadline gives Iraqis the best chance for stability and self-government, and most importantly, it allows us to begin refocusing on the true threat of al Qaeda and the terrorist networks that threaten the security of all Americans.
BSN: Do you think an Iraqi government acceptable to the U.S. can survive after U.S. troops are withdrawn?
[Background NOTE:  On June 22, 2006, the Senate passed John Kerry’s amendment calling for an Iraq summit – part of Kerry’s plan to get Iraq on its own two feet.  Kerry’s amendment was passed as part of the Defense Authorization Bill, and calls for the President to convene a summit that brings together everyone with a stake in Iraq’s future.  John Kerry’s amendment (S.A. 4204) calls for the President to convene a summit as soon as possible that includes the leaders of the new Iraqi government, the countries bordering Iraq, the Arab League, the Secretary General of NATO, the European Union, and leaders of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council; to reach a comprehensive political agreement for Iraq that addresses fundamental issues including federalism, oil revenues, the militias, security guarantees, reconstruction, economic assistance and border security.]
John Kerry:  Absolutely.  Our troops have done an amazing job.  Now we need to honor their efforts with a serious diplomatic effort to achieve stability in the country.  It’s time for the Iraqis to come together to end the daily bombings, get rid of the foreign terrorists and run their own country.  It’s also time for the rest of the world to realize that we all have a stake in the future of Iraq.
BSN: When would you like U.S. troops to be withdrawn?
John Kerry: Our own generals tell us the large presence of American troops in Iraq fuels support for the insurgency.  We can begin redeploying U.S. troops out of Iraq immediately, with the vast majority out by July 1 of next year.  We’ll be smart about how we redeploy out of Iraq – we’ll have a rapid reaction force staged elsewhere in the Middle East; and troops to conduct targeted counter-terrorism operations, those essential to finish training Iraqi security forces, and those needed to protect U.S. personnel and facilities would remain in Iraq.  Look, it’s time for a Congress that shares responsibility for getting us into Iraq to take responsibility for finally getting the policy right in Iraq.  Half the names on the Vietnam Wall are there because old men in Washington were too proud to admit a mistake, so they kept sending young men to stay a course they knew was not working.  ‘Stay the course’ is not a strategy for victory in Iraq.  This administration is wrong.  It is time to get Iraq right.

BSN: How would a Kerry Administration approach differ with the current administration’s handling of the Mid East crisis, between Israel and Hezbollah? How would a Kerry Administration approach differ with the current Administration’s in handling the situation with Iran? And North Korea?
John Kerry:  We are bogged down in Iraq, and that is affecting America’s ability to adequately deal with Hezbollah, Iran, North Korea and a range of other problems.  America should be galvanizing Europe, Russia, China and India into a coalition against these threats but we can’t because our president has no moral authority to the rest of the world.  That has been shattered by his performance in Iraq.  This isn’t my perception – it’s the reality.  For three and a half years we weren’t even trying to work with our allies to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons.  For a whole period of time we are not involved with the Palestinians and the West Bank, trying to help them become legitimate partners so that Hamas didn’t win an election.  And now we have what our own government labels a terrorist organization winning an election to govern part of the Middle East.  If you look at Egypt and Saudi Arabia, huge percentages of their populations are under the age of 25 – and they don’t have jobs and are taught hate for America in their madrassas.  And this administration has not done anything near the level of involvement that Republican and Democrat presidents have done historically to address these kinds of problems, because they are completely preoccupied with Iraq.

BSN: You have been critical of the Bush Administrations response to the Katrina disaster, in terms of the initial abysmal rescue (or lack of) effort and the subsequent rebuilding. Point out some of the things that can still be done differently and also talk about your plans to empower African American businesses?
John Kerry: Yes, I’ve been critical of the President’s response to Katrina, but it’s not partisan. The response has been such a failure that many of the President’s fellow Republicans have been critical. One year later, and the residents and businesses of the Gulf Coast are still waiting for assistance. For example, take the SBA ‘s disaster loans to homeowners and businesses. Out of the more than $10 billion in disaster loans that have been approved, only a mere $2 billion has made it into the hands of victims for rebuilding their homes and businesses. The ability to help these folks is there, but the Administration still lacks the leadership to get the job done.
What can still be done?  Make sure the SBA doesn’t keep running out of money. Get out the remaining $8 billion in loans to the people needing the money. Contract with small businesses to haul off the debris and rebuild the homes and businesses. Make sure the big businesses with the billions in federal contracts subcontract with small businesses in order to cultivate new entrepreneurs and to create jobs. 
This is the perfect opportunity to help African Americans start their own businesses, or grow their businesses. It would be so easy for President Bush to direct the SBA to work with minority entrepreneurs in the Gulf Coast, helping them access capital, helping them manage a business, helping them navigate the complex contracting world. While President Bush has touted increases in lending to the African-American business community, the SBA has done little to address stagnant minority lending figures. In fact, loans through the government’s popular 7(a) program have decreased from 28 percent in 2001 to 21 percent in 2005. In terms of contracting opportunities, the Administration has failed to meet its statutory goal of awarding five percent of all federal contracts to socially and economically disadvantaged businesses. The President could, if he wanted to, improve the track record immediately by awarding contracts to small businesses to do debris clean-up in the Gulf. That would not only create jobs, but generate taxes so important to providing services that these neighborhoods need. And I can assure you that it wouldn’t take them one year.
Cultivating minority businesses in the Gulf could help rebuild communities AND help minorities reach financial independence and allow them to accumulate wealth. There is a “wealth gap” between white and black America that is unacceptable. When a white family’s net worth is $67,000 but a black family’s is only $6,100, we have a real problem in this country. Working together, we can change this. Congress must pass my number one priority – the Minority Entrepreneurship and Innovation Pilot Program that targets highly-skilled students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges, and Hispanic Serving Institutions and encourages them to choose entrepreneurship as a career path. We also need to enact my proposal to create an Office of Minority Small Business Development in the SBA, similar to the agency’s existing offices that focus on veterans and women. This Office will provide minority entrepreneurs with an advocate within the agency who has an annual budget, the authority to aggressively monitor the outcome of SBA’s programs, and the capacity to ensure the SBA’s state offices have money to market to minorities.
The Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship has passed these two proposals, and now it’s time for the full Senate and the House to act so we can make them law this year. We shouldn’t wait another day to do more to foster innovation and entrepreneurship in all of our communities. Even with a micro loan, as little as five or ten thousand dollars, an entrepreneur could start a business to help patch his or her income, send a child to college, or to buy a home. These opportunities are falling through the cracks at a time when there is so much to be gained. Yes, I’m critical of how Bush and his aides have handled the rebuilding of the Gulf because it’s a huge opportunity wasted and so many continue to suffer.

BSN:  Do you believe that the Bush Administration has been the most harmful so far to Americans and how so?
John Kerry:  That will be for history to decide.  But I’ll tell you one thing – if you look at Iraq, our energy security, our children’s education, the skyrocketing number of uninsured Americans on this president’s watch – it’s clear that America can do better.

BSN: Do you believe that this Administration sees race matters and the prevalence of institutional racism as still major problems in this country?
John Kerry: This administration’s education, small business and health care polices do not help level the playing field in America.  First of all, we need to work together to tackle the ‘wealth gap.’ When a white family’s average net worth is $67,000 and a black family’s is $6,100, we have a real problem.
Frankly, I don’t think the Bush Administration is doing enough to ensure minority-owned firms are able to remain innovative and competitive. Lending to African Americans – dollar for dollar – is stagnant compared to the rest of the population where there have been strong increases. We need to expand the economic empowerment of African American businesses and communities all across this nation.  And for the past six years, that has not happened.

BSN: Will you be a candidate for President in the next elections.
John Kerry:  I’m putting all my energy and effort into getting Democrats elected to the House and Senate and as governors of states, so we can turn this country around.  That’s the most important thing right now.

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