Tag: Obama

Even Trump Can’t Destroy the Environment

Angry Donald Trump photoThe assault on the environment has begun in earnest. The effort to debunk and de-emphasize the global warming catastrophe looming just over the horizon is already moving into high gear.

A litany of all the steps Trump has already taken to reverse the minimal progress the U.S. has made on global warming during the eight years of the Obama administration would take up too much space. But here are some of the most disturbing highlights. In one week in office, he has:

  • named several cabinet nominees — including the centrally positioned Environmental Protection Agency — who are ostriches on the climate if not outright deniers;
  • overseen the removal from several government Web sites, including that of the White House, of any mention of global warming and climate change;
  • issued gag orders for the National Park Service and its employees to prevent them from talking about global warming’s impact;
  • signed executive orders resurrecting the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone XL Pipeline projects, two of the largest environmental-disaster-in-waiting monuments to our ability to ignore truth at the expense of exorbitant corporate profits; and,
  • decreed that EPA studies will now be reviewed on a case-by-case basis by Trump’s team, some of whom are known climate deniers.

Trump, in short, is proving to be — as promised — his own climate disaster.

But it’s important for those of us who are focused on the global warming problem to keep one thing in mind: the rest of the world is, broadly speaking, more concerned about the immediate impact of global warming than is the United States. This is true both at the level of the population and at the level of government. Just because the United States has a brief memory lapse and forgets the importance of the issue, doesn’t mean the problem just runs amok. Other nations — notably China, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK (if May doesn’t screw it up) and in fact most of the EU as well as Australia and New Zealand — will step into the leadership vacuum created by our temporary amnesia. Then, when we finally rid ourselves of this aberration and right the ship, we’ll see how it feels to be a second-rate nation playing catch-up with a world that has moved beyond us. And perhaps that loss of innocence, of that belief in America as the great power and leader in the world, of the claim of American Exceptionalism which has never been more than a patriotic slogan, is just what is needed to further the cause of world peace.

And, as a bit of an aside, it’s not going to be all that easy for Trump to reverse the progress we’ve made on global warming. Many, many American businesses have already recognized the significance of the issue and have made major investments in clean energy technologies, weaning themselves off fossil fuels, and building new infrastructure for a green future. They are going to push back against a man who appears at least to listen to other successful businessmen more than any other audience other than Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway and Ivanka Trump. He’s going to get an earful on global warming on his own golf courses.


Progressives Stick to Their Guns, Derail Obama’s Request for Fast-Tracking Trade Authority

I was delighted at the news today that progressive Democrats in solidarity with labor and environmental activists disrupted President Obama’s ill-considered attempt to get Congress to give him authority to fast-track a secret trade treaty with 11 Pacific Rim nations.

My congressman, Sam Farr, announced on Thursday on his Web site that he would vote with the Republicans and Obama on this legislation, which I wrote and phoned him urging a change of heart.

I don’t know whether the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is 100% bad or only more than half bad. But I do know it’s been negotiated in secret, its draft provisions are being guarded as if they were nuclear weapons plans, even our elected representatives in Congress have been cut out of the loop, and the draft provisions that have been leaked are uniformly bad trade policy. Today’s vote made it impossible, without further concessions by the Administration, for Obama to get the fast-track authority he sought for the treaty.

Even though the House followed the resounding 297-127 defeat of the first bill (Trade Adjustment Authority, or TAA) with the narrowest possible 219-211 win on what was generally seen as the main bill (Trade Promotion Authority, or TPA), the first vote essentially rendered the second meaningless. Without its provisions, TPA is a hollow shell of its former self.

This means that if President Obama wants to continue to negotiate the TPP and submit it to Congress, it won’t be for a straight up-or-down-no-debate-or-amendments procedure by the legislature. Which means it will be a more transparent process. Which is what Obama always said he wanted, except when being transparent was too inconvenient for him and his tightly secretive inner circle have been from Day One.


IMPORTANT: Bush’s Ex-Deputy CIA Director Admits Iraq War Based on Lies

This is explosive.

On MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews tonight, George Bush’s ex-Deputy CIA Director (and onetime Acting Director) MIchael Morrell admitted that when he briefed President George W. Bush on Iraqi activity around nuclear weapons in the run-up to the Iraq War, what he said on the subject “was not true.”

We’ve known this for some time, of course. But Morrell is the highest-ranking Bush Administration official to admit the truth in public. Morrell is the guy who was responsible for presenting the CIA’s intelligence analysis to Bush every day. And he now says his briefings, “in some aspects” at least, were outright lies and he knew it.

When President Obama took office, he almost immediately dismissed the idea of investigating or charging Bush or any of his cronies for their lies to the public about the war or for their role in carrying out illegal and immoral acts of torture. That was a huge mistake, as we are now continuing to see confirmed. In refusing to prosecute, Obama demonstrated that there is no fundamentally different moral compass for the two parties. It will always be policy based on their narrow views of what it means for America to do whatever it wants to get its way in the world.


So, Were They Wearing Pajama Footies?

camo-footiesPresident Obama promised us no “boots on the ground” in the latest round of the Mideast war he’s perpetuating without calling it a war. So when U.S. Special Operations forces yesterday reportedly killed a high-ranking leader of ISIL, I wondered what they were wearing.

Maybe the Army came up with some new hardened socks? It’s sandy out there, maybe they gave them snowshoe-like implements so they could avoid sinking? Or, given it was a night raid, maybe they just stayed in their PJs with reinforced booties?

It’s sad and I’m sorry to say it, but this is really starting to feel like 1968 all over again. I can’t just immediately trust anything Obama and his administration cronies say any more.

All-of-the-Above = Nothing-is-Left

climate-greenpeacePresident Barack Obama has been a mixed bag of results for people like me who are convinced that global climate change is largely caused by human behavior and is an existential crisis for humanity. He has done some good work in promoting renewable energy sources, but he has also maintained a politically safe and mostly unhelpful “all-of-the-above” energy policy. This approach allows him to continue to kowtow to Big Coal and Big Oil while making some measurable progress on climate change.

In the end — and make no mistake, there is an end to this strategy — it is far too little. Nothing short of a Green Revolution creating fundamental change and economic growth through the wholesale replacement of fossil fuels by wind and solar is going to have any chance of saving us.

Unfortunately, Hillary Clinton, for whom the Democratic Party nomination is hers to lose, is an advocate of those same not-enough policies. They have, after all, worked for Obama, so why not continue the course?

That’s why I’m voting Green in 2016. We need unequivocal anti-fossil-fuel policies and commitments. We cannot continue “all-of-the-above” until nothing is left.


Truths About Christian History Cause Right Wingers to Blow a Fuse at Obama

The Christian Right has its hair on fire. Again. Its target: President Barack Obama. Again. The extreme fringe partisan rhetoric that has become the watchword of American politics — particularly when any hint of religion is mixed in — is in the headlines. Again.

The President’s offense? He dared to tell the truth about early Christianity and the religion’s role in the slavery and black oppression movements in the United States. Without uttering a single falsehood, without overstating a single fact, the President drew the blistering fire of an unthinking right wing fundamentalist movement in this country.

He did it by reminding us Christians of our role in the Crusades, during which likely upwards of a million people died. It is impossible to know anything resembling exact numbers for a host of reasons but based on contemporaneous accounts, archeological findings and projective estimates, it was probably no fewer than 200,000 and could have been as high as 5 million.

He did it by reminding us Christians of our purely internal purge called the Inquisition in which at least 10-20,000 were reported to have been killed.

He did it by reminding us Christians of the number of African-Americans hanged, burned, shot and otherwise murdered during the days of slavery and up through the 1960’s, a social upheaval that continues to this day albeit at a much slower pace.

He didn’t even mention the Salem Witch trials or dozens of other wars, crusades, scourges and attacks carried out in the name of Christianity or its founder.

These are historic facts. But apparently if you bring them up, you are providing cover for those who brutally execute Jordanian air force pilots, behead dozens of Western captives, and kill thousands and thousands of their own in the name of Q’ran.

The President was attempting to bring historical and religious perspective to a significant world problem caused by religious and spiritual intolerance and bigotry. In doing so, he got his facts right.

For that, the Right would crucify or impeach him.

“The president’s comments this morning at the prayer breakfast are the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime,” said former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore (R). “He has offended every believing Christian in the United States.”

No, he hasn’t. He’s offended only every Christian who believes as Gilmore does. And this:

Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, called Obama’s comments about Christianity “an unfortunate attempt at a wrongheaded moral comparison.” What we need more is a “moral framework from the administration and a clear strategy for defeating ISIS.”

Yep, what we need as we attempt to emulate the God of Peace and the Christ of Forgiveness is a moral framework for war. Yeesh.

Bill Donohue, the president of the Catholic League, said in a statement that Mr. Obama was trying to “deflect guilt from Muslim madmen.” He said the president’s comparisons were “insulting” and “pernicious.”

Sound reasoning, that.


Unofficially, Net Neutrality Scores Huge Win

While it’s not yet official public policy, FCC Chair Tom Wheeler’s op-ed piece in Wired signals the strongest possible government support for Internet neutrality. It has advocates of the Open Net jumping and dancing and shouting with glee. If my knees weren’t so bad, I’d join them!

Wheeler, who had earlier indicated strongly that he was leaning against full support for Net neutrality and even favored some restrictions on the long-sought policy, planted both feet firmly on the side of President Obama and advocates in his piece. He said he would bring the Internet under Title II of the Communications Act, which means it will be treated as other public utilities in the same space.

That sounds the death knell for cable companies, phone companies and other major ISPs who wanted the right to provide multiple tiers of service based on who was willing to pay for priority access. In essence, it was a pay-to-play strategy that would ultimately make it all but impossible for smaller content providers to deliver their products and services over speed-restricted Internet connections while the Big Guys got their content sped through on wider pipes.

I have soured on President Obama as a Chief Executive in the past couple of years but this one goes squarely to his credit. He did the Right Thing and that pushed his appointed chairman to the right side of the regulatory decision-making.

It’s the harbinger of a grand day for the Internet!

Conspiracy Theories, False Beliefs and the Echo Chamber

Today’s news brings a report about a study of political beliefs and conspiracy theories conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson University. The poll finds surprisingly high levels of belief in conspiracy theories and other false beliefs about politics. According to the poll, Republicans and Fox News viewers are more likely to hold false beliefs about topics like the President and the Iraq war.

For example, a majority (51%) of Republicans and a surprising minority (42%) of all those polled believe the U.S. found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. We didn’t. You can read a story about the poll here and the entire poll report here.

Dan Cassino, a professor of political science and the director of experimental research for the poll, said, “This sort of motivated reasoning is pretty common: when people want to believe something, they’ll twist the facts to fit it.”

And that’s the problem. People who “want to believe something” not only twist facts, they deliberately isolate themselves from contrary facts, as I’ve written about here before. The echo chamber of the Internet and 24-hour partisan cable news means it is not only possible, but easy, for anyone who wants to hold a particular opinion regardless of its accuracy to find plenty of “facts” to support them and a complete absence of contradictory evidence.

This is precisely the same problem as that caused by government propaganda, only its origin is not the government so much as it is private corporations driven by greed and unenlightened self-interest.

I don’t think this problem has a solution. But I think it has far-reaching and almost entirely negative repercussions. We are all forced to live in a world where most of our fellow citizens are intentionally uninformed or misinformed about the important issues of the day, whether by Fox News or MSNBC. Having discovered that blurring the line of distinction between facts and opinions draws loyal viewers and readers, the media are certainly not going to go on a diet of objectivity. The death of objective news reporting and factual information being readily accessible to and understandable by the average voter marks, I suspect, the beginning of the end for the type of democracy that ha been our governing principle for more than 200 years,

What comes next, I can’t even imagine.


Driven by Fear, American Leaders Did Unspeakable Things. But Should They Be Punished?

Clicking on the above image will download a PDF of the 525-page unclassified executive summary of the report.

Clicking on the above image will download a PDF of the 525-page unclassified executive summary of the report.

Now that the nation and the world have had some time to read and digest the Senate Intelligence Committee’s massive report on the U.S. use of torture in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, it seems clear that grievous and heinous international war crimes were committed. These crimes were known and sanctioned by President George W. Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney and other high-ranking Administration officials.

As the New York Times opined on today’s editorial page:

These are, simply, crimes. They are prohibited by federal law, which definestorture as the intentional infliction of “severe physical or mental pain or suffering.” They are also banned by the Convention Against Torture, the international treaty that the United States ratified in 1994 and that requires prosecution of any acts of torture. (Emphasis added)

We have participated many times in recent decades in the hunting down and prosecution of other nation’s leaders for committing acts of torture. Our — and specifically President Barack Obama’s — refusal to even consider conducting a criminal investigation into these outrages is unconscionable and indefensible.


On the other hand, the situation with our former President and his Administration may well qualify for somewhat different treatment. Where others who have been prosecuted for such crimes sought personal power and gain, there is little doubt in most peoples’ minds — including this fairly strongly Leftist writer — that what was done by Bush et al was done primarily out of fear and from a complete lack of understanding of how to react to terrorism on our own turf. We, uniquely among nations, had seldom been the victims, historically, of such attacks. There were no clear precedents for our dilemma.

In the days and weeks following 9/11, the intelligence community in disarray as it played a collective game of CYA to avoid the blame for the attacks that it collectively richly deserved, there was undoubtedly a sense in the White House that these attacks could well be the precursor of many more and harsher onslaughts. As we should have but didn’t learn in Vietnam, fighting an invisible enemy who shines your shoes by day and bombs your barracks by night is an almost impossible thing to be called upon to do.

Charged with protecting what has now become — frighteningly, for historical reasons — known as the “Homeland” against further terrorist attacks was first and foremost in the minds of Mssrs. Bush and Cheney. They reacted rather than pausing, thinking and planning. They almost certainly felt they didn’t have the luxury of time. In the process, they missed a huge opportunity to gain global support and admiration, but that was not their focus: they were intent on one thing and that was stopping another attack.

While it is clear that these men knew precisely that what they were doing were war crimes and illegal even under U.S. law, they undoubtedly felt pushed to the wall where the call of duty overrode their sense of legality.

None of that excuses what they did. But it does make it more understandable.

President Obama should order a full-scale investigation of these war crimes. Anyone found criminally liable should be convicted and sentenced. And then he should grant full pardons to those at the top out of an understanding for the horrible dilemma they faced, the lack of information and experience on which to base horrifically difficult and complex decisions, and their presumed good, unselfish motivations.

But it is important that we as a nation uphold the treaty on torture or we lose all credibility in criticizing and prosecuting other nations’ leaders for such conduct. It’s important that we establish ourselves as a nation governed by laws even when those laws produce difficult or rancorous results in our ranks.

President Obama has said repeatedly that, “we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards,” which is an empty statement with no meaning or purpose. It is possible to do both, as the Times points out. I would argue that it is necessary to do both.

Today, the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch are to give Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. a letter calling for the appointment of a special prosecutor. I would strongly urge President Obama to approve the idea and make that appointment. The new Republican Congress will, of course, oppose him and ultimately no prosecution or investigation may take place. But let the blame for that inaction, that tacit sanctioning of anti-human crimes fall where it belongs and not on this President whose only fault so far is to conclude wrongly that we as a nation couldn’t weather such a probe.

It is time, Mr. President, to act as the leader and Constitutional lawyer you are.

In a Victory for Sanity, Obama Restores Relations With Cuba

In an historic move, President Obama today announced the restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba, a nation we have shunned mostly out of spite for a full half-century. The decision is akin to Richard Nixon’s June 1972 recognition of the People’s Republic of China.

cuba-embargoEver since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1961-2, the United States has blockaded the island Communist nation, believing against all evidence that it could topple the Fidel Castro regime. Fidel gave way to his brother Raoul and still the blockade continued. The people of Cuba suffered in many ways but they also boasted some of the best health care and education systems in the world. In lifting the completely ineffective blockade and opening up mutual relations, the President closed an ugly chapter in American history. The tide of public opinion has been running against continuing the chill for the past 15-20 years according to polls conducted by Florida International University. Their 2014 poll shows 52% of Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County opposing the embargo and 68% favoring establishing diplomatic relations. (You can download a PDF of the report summary here or the full report here.)

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a real, live anachronism

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a real, live anachronism

The only thing that kept the Cuba embargo alive as long as it did was the strong opposition of the powerful Cuban-American lobby. Until this generation, that community was bitterly opposed to anything that would help the country from which many of them were exiled, forcibly or voluntarily. No politician — and particularly those with a Florida constituency — could support diplomatic relations with Cuba and live politically to tell about it. True to form, Florida GOP Senator Marco Rubio — a hard right-winger whose name is on the medium-long list of prospects for the 2016 Presidential nomination — immediately denounced Obama’s decision and vowed to see that Congress never allocates funds to build an embassy in Havana or support one there. He is obviously out of touch with his own constituents (see the FIU poll, above), and such a militant, combative person that he can’t be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st Century.

Clearly, Cuba still has a long way to go on the human rights front. The Department of State will review the nation’s status as a state sponsor of terrorism (a label that was probably never deserved but served a political purpose) and, presumably, revoke that ill-considered and unfounded ruling. This does not mean, of course, that we should decrease our pressure on Castro to live up to human rights commitments of the United Nations, but rather it gives us a better and clearer channel through which to pursue those concerns and pressure for appropriate reforms.

There was a token prisoner exchange bundled into the deal but the real purpose was simply to restore sanity.

I have found more and more to disagree with Obama about as his Presidency has lurched along in the past four years particularly, but I heartily applaud this humane and intelligent decision. And I join with several members of my family who were born in Cuba or had Cuban parents in rejoicing over this resolution. It is a wonderful day for peace on Planet Earth.