Tag: Obama

Please, President Obama, Don’t Do This!

It is bad enough that President Obama counteracts his signing of a major new deal on global warming with China by making approving noises about the Keystone XL Pipeline. Now he’s apparently about to bow from industry pressure applied through his own Environmental Protection Agency and significantly weaken our nation’s alternative fuels efforts.

According to reporting by Evan Halper of the LA Times, the President is giving some thought to a “rollback of the 7-year-old green energy mandate known as the renewable fuel standard.” Such a rollback would have a devastating effect on investment in and development of the alternative fuels that must remain central to our nation’s contributions to fighting global climate change.

The suggested rollback is being initiated by the EPA, under pressure from the petrochemical industry. Their reasoning is that the program has so far failed to produce alternative fuels in sufficient quantity and quality to be a viable alternative energy source. That is unarguably true for the most part. But the answer to the problem is not to abandon or de-emphasize the program. On the contrary, the failures should drive further investment and research designed to overcome the obstacles we are discovering and have discovered. Nobody said or thought this was going to be easy. But if the Federal Government doesn’t lead on this vital issue, who will? Surely not the petroleum industry with its vested interest in the status quo so deep that it cannot even see the human extinction looming just over the next horizon.

So, please, Mr. President. Don’t do this. Don’t sabotage this vital program. Redouble our efforts and expenditures on alternative fuels. Before it is too late.

 

More Conservative Anti-Science Poppycock

The U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday passed a bill that would ban subject-matter experts from advising the EPA on regulations while opening the door to such advice from industry representatives with no specific expertise and a clear political, anti-regulatory agenda.

You can’t make up this kind of stuff.

As reported by Lindsay Abrams at Salon.com, the bill forbids scientific experts from participating in “advisory activities” that either directly or indirectly involve their own work. She went on to explain:

In case that wasn’t clear: experts would be forbidden from sharing their expertise in their own research — the bizarre assumption, apparently, being that having conducted peer-reviewed studies on a topic would constitute a conflict of interest.

Or, as Union of Concerned Scientists Director Andrew A. Rosenberg said in an editorial for RollCall:

“In other words, academic scientists who know the most about a subject can’t weigh in, but experts paid by corporations who want to block regulations can.”

President Obama has threatened to veto the bill, along with two others designed to interfere with the EPA’s work. One of those bills would ban what the GOP calls “secret science” by which it means science that hasn’t undergone testing beyond that required by accepted scientific practices. The other would put a rush on permit applications for permits by bypassing provisions of the Clean Air Act.

The trio, wrote Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, in an editorial for the Hill, represents “the culmination of one of the most anti-science and anti-health campaigns I’ve witnessed in my 22 years as a member of Congress.”

Obama Can Still Salvage His Presidency: His Top Priorities for Me…

…are, in order of importance:

  • global climate change
  • criminal justice reform
  • immigration reform

Global Climate Change

I am greatly encouraged by what I’ve seen and heard lately from the Obama Administration on global climate change. Several people inside his White House have indicated that he has settled on this as his signature issue, the thing he must get done in the final two years of his Presidency. Not that they care, but I agree.

Humanity is in peril. I know that sounds extremist. I know that most people disagree or have no opinion. Most people are wrong. The science is there. The math cannot be argued. The trend lines are all wrong. We are headed for catastrophe. We have already gone too far to avert it; all we can do now is minimize the damage from it. If everyone in America read Greg Craven’s book, What’s the Worst That Could Happen? A Rational Response to the Climate Change Debate, we could end the discussion and proceed to addressing the problem. He demonstrates with absolutely unarguable logic that the cost of doing nothing is far too enormous a risk to take.

But conservatives keep bringing out the same old short-term and short-sighted arguments. Climate reform, they say, will cost jobs, interfere with America’s global competitiveness, and hurt the economy. Those are opinions, not facts. But let’s grant for the moment — and only for the moment — that they are right. Global climate change must still be stopped. Because it is not a short-term problem, it is harder for people to grasp its significance. But what we are doing to the planet today will affect our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren. When faced with a chance to do something about a huge, long-term peril, a true leader sacrifices near-term goals as short-sighted thinking.

“President Obama has made no secret that his climate crusade will proceed irrespective of what the American people want or what other global leaders caution,” said Laura Sheehan of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, which represents the coal industry. And so it should! What the American people want cannot be paramount, not now, not in the face of this impending crisis for the entire planet. We don’t get to cast the only vote.

Affordable energy, jobs, and freedom from regulation are all short-term and short-sighted goals that ignore the reality that the human race is in peril. It is at times like these that true leadership emerges. To refuse to do the popular thing, the easy thing, to pursue the path of least resistance in the face of enormous obstacles is to pursue doomed policy. What will it matter if unemployment ticks up another point or two — and 50 years from now everyone is in peril? This is Big Picture Time and only a “lame duck” President willing to risk the judgment of history and with a vision big enough to ignore the near term politics is suited to it.

But it will take courage and stubbornness and a willingness to be attacked repeatedly, possibly even impeached. “Yet even some of Obama’s existing steps could well be repealed by ascendant Republicans in Congress, who also have plans to stop the president from going any further,” according to this AP story today. “Republicans are finding common cause with many Democrats in trying to force Obama to approve Keystone XL, a proposed pipeline that would carry tar sands oil from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast. And with the GOP set to take over the Senate in January, Republicans are already pursuing a concerted effort to gut his Environmental Protection Agency’s rules on power plants….”

Renewable fuels must be the cornerstone. It’s not enough to reduce pollution and reliance on carbon-based fuels because our economy still needs energy to be sustainable. What has to change is the kind of energy we produce and use. Conservatives don’t seem able to imagine a country in which many if not most of the jobs being shed by an industry that is literally a dinosaur can be replaced by jobs producing the next century’s energy. This is not policy, it is short-term politics.

I hope — and fervently pray — that President Obama will have the courage and the vision to see this through to the maximum extent he can in the face of withering blind opposition stuck in the next election cycle.

 Criminal Justice Reform

I rank this ahead of immigration reform for three reasons:

First, it affects a far greater number of people.

Second, there appears to be somewhat broad bipartisan support for it.

Third, it is a much more complex problem that requires a clear-headed thinker and while I’ve not always agreed with Obama nor considered him clear-headed, he seems likely to be more clear-headed than anyone from either major political party I see as viable candidates in 2016. Thus, I think immigration reform is more likely to get done in 2-3 years.

Immigration reform is the smarter political choice. Many of those who would be affected by criminal justice reform can’t vote. Of those that can, perhaps most are not Democrats. And I am not discounting the impact of a proper immigration policy on the 11 million undocumented workers in America. But the criminal justice system is out of control and it’s going to take a major shift in thinking to bring about the needed reforms.

Katrina vanden Heuvel took a close look at this issue in the Washington Post today. Here is her succinct summary of the problem’s components.

During the past four decades, the U.S. prison population has quadrupled even as the crime rate has dropped. We have some 2.4 million people behind bars, far more than any other country, costing about $80 billion a year to maintain. Worse yet, as result of racial disparities in sentencing, more than half of U.S. prisoners are minorities. These staggering statistics stem from the failure of the “war on drugs,” the true impact of which can only be measured in destroyed lives and devastated communities, especially among the most marginalized segments of society.

If you multiply 2.4 million behind bars by an average of eight people in their families who are also dramatically affected, this is a 20-million person problem. And that’s just the prison part of the issue, which has far more tentacles than that one.

There are strong appeals to both conservatives (fiscal impact and moral obligation) and progressives (who see it as a racial justice issue). Already two major bills have been introduced in the Senate with plenty of bipartisan (or what vanden Heuvel calls “transpartisan”) support.

But she also says that getting any legislation passed in 2015 is going to be tough sledding. Not because of a lack of support but because of conflicting and overcrowded agendas between the parties and inevitably between Congress and the White House.

This is a place where Obama can use his bully pulpit to influence some key votes and perhaps get something meaningful, if not comprehensive, done.

Immigration Reform

The framework is already in place for the President to use his Executive powers — which Republicans, who are now predictably howling about his “abuse of power” demanded for their guy when he sat on the throne — to accomplish important work here. I presume he will soon implement that set of policies and the debates and threats and arguments and irrationality will already have begun in a small number of days.

Beyond those reforms, however, Obama still must find more that he can convince a semi-reluctant Congress to do in this important area. His proposed actions, from what we know so far at least, only affect about 5 million undocumented workers, mostly those who are parents of kids who already have citizenship or where brought here too young to be subject to deportation under any sane and humane policy.

We still need a comprehensive immigration policy shift across the board. It must be aimed at striking a balance that neither overburdens our economy and political system nor unnecessarily rejects those who seek an improved life and can contribute to our success as a nation. This is a major tightrope walk and only a lame duck President with no fear of political consequences can lead the walk across it.

Obama Must Either Veto Keystone XL Or Look the Fool on the World Stage

Keystone XL Pipeline MapComing fresh off a stunning announcement of a new agreement on global climate change with China, President Obama was almost immediately faced with the biggest environmental bugaboo of his Presidency: the Keystone XL Pipeline.

The House passed a bill approving the environmental catastrophe that would make it more difficult for the United States to meet the obligations it just made in the deal with the Chinese. The bill now goes to the Senate where passage is unlikely in this lame-duck session.

If the bill does get through the Senate — now or next session — President Obama should not wait more than 10 seconds before vetoing it. It is bad policy from every angle. It will create relatively few new jobs, most of which will be temporary. It raises the possibility of a horrendous leak along a huge swath of America’s mid-section. And it results in our facilitating bringing to the surface a huge amount of oil that all scientific thought insists ought to stay in the ground.

Should the President decide against all of those reasons to sign the bill (perhaps in a misguided attempt to help Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu in her Louisiana seat runoff), he will lose significant face and credibility with the nations of the world who are more primed than ever to respond in a helpful way to global climate change in the light of the US-China deal. That deal, whatever its weaknesses, is a huge political deal internationally because it removes the biggest excuse other nations have had for not engaging the issue.

Here’s hoping that President Obama puts the fate of humanity ahead of petty politics and does The Right Thing here.

 

Of Course the Democrats-Lite Lost

Huffington Post's Headline in the Aftermath of Tuesday's Crushing Democratic Defeat

Huffington Post’s Headline in the Aftermath of Tuesday’s Crushing Democratic Defeat

In the aftermath of yesterday’s Democratic Party bloodbath at all levels of government, one White House aide summed up best why the party in power during a perceived economic uptick, however slight, managed such a crushing defeat. “We gave Dems no reason to run,” said an adviser to President Barack Obama. “We ran as Dems-lite,” according to the Huffington Post analysis from Sam Stein and Ryan Grim.

Exactly.

There were dozens, perhaps hundreds of tactical mistakes from local Congressional races to the Senate. The distrust of the Obama team for the Senate’s Democratic leadership became palpable (and will be a much bigger influence on the next two years than anyone yet sees). Americans’ ability to see beyond the watery statistics to the real economy was too keen and drastically underestimated. There were ten times as many reasons, explanations and excuses for what happened as there were offices up for grabs.

At the end of the day, we got the kind of government we wanted…and deserved.

Low voter turnout, an historic fact of midterm elections, was clearly a major factor. But we often treat low voter turnout as a separate cause of electoral defeat when it is actually the barometer of effects. As the Obama aide said in the HuffPo piece, the party gave Democrats no reason to turn out.

I don’t see a remedy in sight. Not for the rest of my lifetime. And that’s a tragedy. I’m not using hyperbole here; it matters only a little which of the major political parties is in charge any more. But on some issues, it does matter a little. And the overriding issue of the day in this world we’ve created is climate change. With Sen. James Inhofe in charge of a key Senate committee and science deniers all over Congress, it is all but a guarantee that the next two years will see no real progress on that front. We don’t have two years to waste. The American people last night all but sealed the fate of humanity. Barring a massive awakening by the grass roots all over the globe, the clock’s ticking is now virtually unstoppable. Within 100 years, humanity’s slide to extinction will almost certainly be a sure thing. And when that realization dawns, historians will look back on the midterms of 2014 as a key turning point in the defeat of humanity.

And it will be both major parties’ fault.

Fantastic Interview with Jon Stewart

I highly recommend you take the time to read this excellent New York Magazine interview with news comic Jon Stewart. It’s interview at its best with a guy who has a very clear idea who he is and what he’s doing and why it’s important for now.

My favorite pull quote:

So am I disappointed in Obama, am I disappointed in the Congress? Honestly, I think I’m just in shock. I think I’m a little stunned that we can’t do better than this, because I know we can. I’m a little stunned that Republicans continue to, if it’s not their ball, refuse to play. I’m a little stunned that Democrats, given their opportunities, haven’t been able to be more effective.

That is so reflective, well-stated that I wish I’d said that.

Stewart’s an icon who refuses to rest on his laurels.

 

Mississippi Presents Best Argument for National Single-Player Plan

MississippiPity the poor people of Mississippi. And that includes a huge number of people who live in that state. Close to one-quarter of the population (22.3%) live below the poverty level, compared to the national average of 14.9%. Not coincidentally, African-Americans make up 37.4% of the state compared to a national average 13.2%.

When the Affordable Care Act was adopted, the Obama Administration was forced to include provisions that would allow states to opt out of federally funded support for improved health care in the form of extensions to Medicaid. Mississippi is one of a handful of states — all in the South — which opted out. And the figures a year later tell a tale of inhumanity and imbalance that is staggering.

In the state with the highest mortality rate in the nation (962 per 100,000 against a national average of 747.0), the number of uninsured residents actually went up after the enactment of the ACA. It was the only state in the Union where that happened.

I could go on and on with statistics but the story just gets more and more depressing.

All of this might have been avoidable. Perhaps not. But we’ll never know. Because President Obama, in a misguided attempt at mollifying the conservative forces that have always opposed health reform, opened his negotiations with them by taking the only really viable solution off the table unilaterally. Single-payer health care — also known a Medicare for everyone — was the plan that had the best chance of helping most Americans obtain a level playing field in health insurance. By leaving the private insurance companies intact, and giving the states the right to modify or pre-empt key provisions of the law, the Administration effectively crippled its own marquee legislative accomplishment. Don’t get me wrong; Obamacare is still better than anything we’ve ever had in this country. But it is far, far short of what could have been.

This is what happens when the people don’t have visionary leadership. This is what happens when political compromise corrupts the public good at its core. This is what happens when the American free enterprise of nearly unbridled capitalism encounters a critical social need. The Libertarians tell us that if we just get the government out of the way, private enterprise and charity will carry the water. That is demonstrably untrue and the message is nowhere louder than in Mississippi.

Until and unless we scrap Obamacare and replace it with a true single payer system — yes, I’m talking socialized medicine here — there will always be large numbers of people in this nation of vast wealth condemned to live lives of poverty, despair and disenfranchisement.

I don’t understand the politics of Mississippi. But what I do know is that health care and life-or-death situations should not be left in the hands of states where the political agenda is demonstrably inhumane. And the only way to accomplish that is with a single national set of standards and plans.

It’s too bad Obama didn’t have the conviction of that truth in him when the negotiations started. He might not have been able to accomplish everything we needed that way, but he could have accomplished a lot more.

 

Panetta, the Republicrat Ex-CIA Director and SecDef Hawk, Blasts Obama as He Flogs New Book

panetta

Leon Panetta

Former CIA Director and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta — who hails from my home on the Monterey Peninsula of California — is flogging his new book, Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace. The book is apparently highly critical of President Obama’s behavior with respect to national security and, particularly, foreign relations in the Middle East and Northern Africa.

I’ve always viewed Panetta as a Republicrat. He’s such a Hawk that this particular criticism carries no weight with me at all. His answer to every world crisis is more power, more troops, more war, more violence.

While I find myself agreeing with at least some of what he says, coming from him, it’s the same as coming from a Republican. The problem is, as this piece points out, Panetta has managed to retain the image of a “stalwart Democrat,” which I don’t believe he’s ever been, at least not on national security or foreign affairs.

In Monterey, he runs the Panetta Institue, along with his wife. They host some incredibly interesting and powerful speakers on important subjects during their annual symposia. He strives for real balance between progressive and conservative views and features a number of centrist speakers as well.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with that. But to hold himself out as a “stalwart” (a word he didn’t use but wouldn’t reject) Democrat is just a bit disingenuous.

How Many More Ways Can Obama Disappoint? Now He’s Re-Engaging the Arms Race!

mushroom_cloudAccording to this piece in the New York Times today, the Obama Administration is engaged in a trillion-dollar refurbishment and extension of our nuclear weapons storehouse and facilities.

This is the same man who came to office on a promise of ending nuclear proliferation. The same guy who won a clearly vastly premature Nobel Peace Prize (there’s a scandal there that will come out next generation) before the ink was dry on his acceptance speech for the White House. The same guy who has been heralded around the world for his efforts to reduce tensions and spread peace and love and hope. The same hypocrite.

The nation is engaged in a largely invisible, unpublicized effort to update “aging weapons that the United States can fire from missiles, bombers and submarines,” according to reporters William J. Broad and David E. Sanger. “It is part of a nationwide wave of atomic revitalization that includes plans for a new generation of weapon carriers. A recent federal study put the collective price tag, over the next three decades, at up to a trillion dollars.”

My God, Mr. President! Have you gone mad? Have you lost your compass? Or are you just being manipulated by badly chosen and malevolent advisors bent on creating a new war footing for an economy they sank? I’m actually starting to entertain the idea that the economic collapse of the early 21st Century wasn’t a standalone conspiracy but part of a broader effort to more firmly establish “American exceptionalism” the way it was first claimed: with death and destruction and war.

My good friend Tony Seton, a retired broadcast journalist and one of the cooler heads and clearer thinkers I know, is now wondering aloud whether it’s time for us to consider impeaching this President. I haven’t reached that point yet. It’s probably too late anyway. But the fact that I now listen when Tony suggests this indicates how far, in my mind at least, this President has sunk.

“He knows things you don’t know,” is the frequent refrain from the shrinking pool of Obama boosters in my circle of friends. I’d remind them that that’s what Nixon and LBJ and others said during the Vietnam Era.

If the NYT piece is to be believed, Mr. Obama started out with good intentions. He felt that by refurbishing the nuclear arsenal already in place, he would improve the perception of their reliability and thus set the stage for a reduction in new arms development which could then lead to an overall reduction and cutbacks. If that’s the case, he is or was extremely naive and vastly underestimated the political and geopolitical forces that would twist his well-meaning policy into the grotesque picture of an America re-arming for nuclear war.

Frankly, I don’t buy it. When this President took office, he was perhaps too young and too inexperienced. He was certainly too unaware of the political process and the exercise of political power. On reflection, he probably needed some seasoning. But he was a breath of fresh air. Six years into his Presidency, he’s developed halitosis of the worst kind.

We’ll survive him. We survived Bush. But I have to tell you, virtually all of the shine is off his Presidency, and he has unwittingly teamed up with a GOP that is abysmal on so many levels to nearly excise from my soul any interest or hope in politics that might have remained after the Bush Years.

Obama Takes Significant Executive Action on Solar Just Before Big Climate March

President Obama has announced 14 separate Executive Actions and 30+ partnerships of various stripes around renewable energy in one of the biggest news days for the subject in recent memory. Some of the actions actually have immediate or near-term practical consequences; others are just symbolic. But that doesn’t mean they’re not important. Sometimes the non-verbals, the metaphoric have greater impact than the practical.

Cynics will say that he made these announcements all at once to appease his critics from the Left just in time for tomorrow’s big Climate March. I’m sure there’s a lot of that in here. But that’s OK. As someone on Daily Kos pointed out, “That means we can point to it and say ‘We made  you do that.'”

I am somewhat encouraged by these developments. In announcing the initiatives, the White House said they would:

cut carbon pollution by nearly 300 million metric tons through 2030 – equivalent to taking more than 60 million cars off the road for one year – and will save homes and businesses more than $10 billion on their energy bills.

That’s not enough but it’s not nothing either.