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Commentary Last Updated: Jan 29th, 2010 - 00:32:00

What Is it you said, Mr. President?
By Gary Simon
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Jan 29, 2010, 00:16

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During the 2008 presidential primaries I voted for Hillary. Obama�s refrain of tax cuts for America�s majority had an all-too familiar ring to the themes of Kerry�s (2004) and Gore�s (2000) campaigns and frankly I had other concerns.

Specifically I was irritated at the lack of any discussion over the possibility that the 43rd President of the United States might be guilty of criminal charges. I was particularly annoyed that Obama, as a front-runner, never took the lead on this matter or was even willing to commit to the idea that George W. Bush and Company could one day be under investigation. Instead, he hedged and sidetracked on the issue and shied away from any suggestion that he, a constitutional lawyer and presidential contender, would, if elected, initiate criminal proceedings against his predecessor.

For almost two years during the campaign, Mr. Obama talked about change. The majority of voters took Mr. Obama at his word and entrusted him to deliver on that word. They stood united in their support that he would take on the power players of Washington, and with a strong upper hand, move the country in a bright direction. Unfortunately, after the campaign those promises began to erode rather quickly, causing confusion and bewilderment among a soon-to-be withering base.

On Bush criminal charges though, Mr. Obama did not waiver or offer any false hope since it was obvious from the beginning he had no intention of investigating possible Bush-related crimes during the campaign. There was always the inference he might; yet the inference was so negligible that it was no surprise when he chose to bar any criminal investigations and instead to put this matter under quiet wraps.

Yet, herein lies my criticism (and I assume the deep torment for most progressives) since progressive change should be also about adhering to the law and holding offenders responsible for crimes against man, a nation and even a world. It is irresponsible to think that change would incorporate the notion that past executive offenses should be considered off-limits and forgotten. This is a bit too much history for any conscientious individual to sweep under the rug.

It is also a bit much to think Obama might have been an original when it came to change. There was little he said and less that he legislatively did in Congress to convince me this was a man about to set America on a historic new course. There is no disputing his language was convincing; but language does not necessarily translate into action and too often Mr. Obama fell short of the mark, especially when he spoke about �looking forward� and not backward.

To be forthright, I was looking for a candidate with a true progressive agenda. My concern with Mr. Obama was whether he intended to build on a past record or work from fresh beginnings and a new start. Judging from his prior performances I did not see how he could move forward aggressively when his own record reflected much the reverse.

For starters, as a senator from Illinois during the Bush years, Mr. Obama shied away from showing any opposition to the executive and his vice president as they defiantly and without opposition proceeded to violate and ignore this country�s laws. He did not criticize Bush �signing statements� which were used to circumvent the Constitution or take a firm position on other questionable matters such as Cheney�s private Energy meetings, Cheney�s ordering of the CIA to deceive Congress, Pentagon money contracts, Halliburton�s no-bid Iraq contracts and illegal NSA spying on innocent citizens. These are all suspicious legal matters that Mr. Obama should have publicly addressed.

During Obama�s senatorial term there is such an excess of immoral activities including Bush�s firing of Attorney Generals, the illegal editing of scientific papers, the sale of public lands to private industry and the interpretation of Bush martial law that it is perplexing how any senator could remain silent for such an extended time. It is even more astonishing how the scandal at the Interior (sex and drugs in exchange for government contracts) did not receive more attention for its grotesque (and ignored by the press) acts of outrage. This was a scandal of such appalling proportions, like Tea Pot Dome, that Mr. Obama should have insisted justice be applied to all lawbreakers.

As a U.S. senator from 2005 to 2008, Mr. Obama did not ask for censure or demand accountability for Mr. Bush�s questionable actions. Aside from the fact that America�s most popular non-scientific, non-evolutionary Christian President was undermining law and violating individual liberties, he was similarly unleashing havoc on the environment. During this unparalleled period, Mr. Obama had innumerable opportunities to lessen the Bush implosion on planet Earth, but here again said nothing.

With ruthless executive plunder and lack of congressional oversight, thousands of miles of rivers are choked by national mismanagement and entire eco-systems made uninhabitable by industries� captains. Power plants, with no regulation or enforcement, are permitted to empty deadly emissions (nitrogen dioxide) into the air. Wildlife is hit with almost unsustainable setbacks over the gutting of the Endangered Species Act. Kyoto is ignored and global warming churns up our oceans and melts our glaciers. In Bush�s first four years industry perpetuates more harm on the environment than mankind did in its previous hundred years.

Under no previous administration had our environment been so bitterly abused. Yet, during this irresponsible fiasco, Mr. Obama kept out of the fray and on the sidelines.

When Obama left the Senate and campaigned with his message of change, I remained cautious knowing full well whatever glowing promises he intended to make to the general public (his base), his foremost responsibility would still be to special interests and corporate partners. There was nothing in his past voting performance to prove otherwise. I also believed he would take to the high road and personify himself as a leader with a different message, one that America could support and rally around.

And rally it did. After eight years of Bush, many felt the system, with the right commander, could �fix� the wretched blunders created by Dubya and company. But not to forget, it still was a campaign and campaigns are not always true to the promises they pledge. Nevertheless, this was a country hungry for genuine change and Obama was set to lift the American spirit and establish a fresh tone. With progressive notions like single-payer health insurance, employment for all and carbon dioxide reductions placed before an electrified audience, Obama was preparing the stage for a renewed democratic agenda.

And yet I was still skeptical. I conceded that what he pledged to his hopeful base would take time to materialize, if those intentions were real and thus, I was willing to wait. However, after more than one year I have not seen any honest change occur and do not believe any far-reaching progressive programs will dot the American landscape. I have heard soundings and bytes, and while there has been minor progress, it is the overall picture I find disturbing. Major issues that call for strong, progressive leadership and a willingness to take this country in an enlightened direction have not been put forward. Let me be more specific.

Mr. Obama, for whatever reasons, continues to remain in the shadow of his predecessor and displays little difference in terms of doing what is constitutionally correct. Specifically, Cheney and Bush are still not under investigation for possible war crimes (and other constitutional violations) because Obama (who took measures to avoid a protracted inquiry), and most members of Congress, do not wish it.

Specifically, while Obama might allow the possible prosecution of Bush administration officials who devised legal authority for terror-suspect interrogations, the case against those who provided justification for those methods remains in the hands of Eric Holder.

Specifically, Obama, like Bush, has Blackwater on the government payroll and Halliburton (Cheney�s privatization efforts of our military�s logistical support has never been investigated, even though two years after approving such a program Cheney became CEO of Halliburton and was paid $44 million during a five year period before becoming vice president) continues to reap obscene profits in Iraq.

Specifically, the White House has not veered from the Bush policy of imprisoning, without trial, enemy combatants captured abroad, while a Pentagon study commissioned by Obama found that the prison at Guantanamo Bay met the standards of the Geneva Convention.

Specifically, Obama, like Bush, believes detainees in Afghanistan have no constitutional rights and has also ordered that his predecessor�s rendition policies remain basically untouched.

Specifically, Obama has retained Bush�s secretary of defense, Robert Gates, which has not scored him many points. The same can be said for his pick of cattle-rancher Ken Salazar to the Interior. These are choices to which Obama backers would have yelled foul during the primaries.

Healthcare, Afghanistan, financial reform, conservation and global warming are issues this administration is attempting to tackle, but has fallen short on all accounts. Sadly, there is so much overlapping of Mr. Bush that it is difficult not to be disparaged.

With regard to the environment, I never credited Mr. Obama for being an environmentalist, and to date his record on planet Earth is not only dismal, it is shameful. Who could think it possible to fall behind Mr. Bush in environmental stewardship, but it has actually happened, and this president�s ecological scorecard is almost reckless.

For starters, the Obama administration recently gave the go-ahead to triple the number of endangered loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles that can be caught by industrial fishing fleets off Hawaii�s coastline. This same administration has also stripped away protections for the northern Rockies gray wolves and has invited oil drilling in polar bear habitat. Regretfully, it has followed Bush on not allowing the polar bear�s Endangered Species Act status to actually protect it from global warming and endorsed G.W.�s anti-jaguar policies. To date, the Obama administration has protected only two new U.S. species while hundreds more desperately need to be added to the threatened and endangered lists. If we are to have a viable Earth, these cannot be the positions of an environmental president.

On other matters, Mr. Obama�s appointment of Tim Geithner to the Treasury and the absence of any correction within the SEC demonstrates more a lack of separation of old ties than a serious re-ordering of an ailing system. With healthcare reform, Congress was forced to carry the major weight on this score while Mr. Obama made his case to physicians, pharmaceutical CEO�s and directors. How much executive pull he used to persuade others to come on board is still to be determined. What we do know though is that since his election, Mr. Obama has downplayed the public option and has conceded more to the insurance sector than his campaign statements would indicate. (And yes, Mr. Obama, you did speak forthrightly of single-payer on the campaign trail).

Mr. Obama�s gesture at Copenhagen was just that�a gesture. If ever there was a time to step forward for the people, and the planet, the United Nations Climate Change Conference was that moment. However, America represents capitalism and Mr. Obama is its leader; thus if history is any indicator, not much change can be expected. Therefore, if we do not reverse our positions, we will undoubtedly continue to cut down trees and consume 1.4 times more than the earth can produce. We will stay the course and protect industry but not the 5.4 more earths that will be required if we do not abandon our present wasteful path. We will keep endangered and threatened animals and plants out of the spotlight and forgo any real framework for a greener universe. Within this scenario, America�s executive will possibly try to appease the general public and put forward some limp plan (and not even broach a mandate for reducing C02 emissions), albeit without any specifics for saving planet Earth and possibly the human race.

Mr. Obama�s performance at Copenhagen was not surprising. The environment was one of this president�s priorities during the campaign, yet when he returned from Europe, he came back with yet another non-binding resolution. He had the perfect opportunity to bring other world leaders on board and set this planet on track with true environmental direction. That would have been his moment to prove to the world and disgruntled progressives, such as myself, that he was sincere about change and not another stamped signature of corporate cronyism and pacification.

It is safe to suggest that Mr. Obama belongs to the camp that acknowledges the fact that global warming exists. This is no longer a topic for debate and he knows that. He should also be aware of the negative consequences to plant, animal and man if we do not initiate some prudent action soon. America is still the leader at-large and much of the world respects this country�s new president. However, his tabling any consequential reforms and refusal to utter the crucial number 350 (the desired level of parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere) was the closing chapter in 2009 that significant change may only come in increments, however slow and measured they may be.

Moving into 2010, there has been some change on Wall Street although the banks still hold the bulk of that wealth. Strong healthcare reform is not likely, yet in trying to reach this goal, Americans have witnessed how insurance companies operate as monopolies and how easily senatorial votes are bought so this monolithic industry can thrive.

State projects to benefit schools, infrastructure, colleges and small business are mostly invisible and our withering wildlife and desecrated lands remain under the tutorship of department heads sympathetic to oil, gas and industry chieftains. To his credit, Mr. Obama never promised to end the war in Afghanistan, although he did give the impression that was the direction in which he was headed. To his discredit the Bush administration�s culpability relating to war profiteering, domestic wiretapping, covert crimes, no-bid contracts and torture will never be tried in a court of law.

If all this is the precursor or groundwork for change, then somewhere along the way I misread the message. Or maybe this is the best we can expect from a government where real change is not necessarily change, but a gradual shift or redirection of priorities. As change, these priorities may materialize, in one fashion or another, over possibly an extended period of time. That is not the change most of us voted for in 2008. Yet, that would be closer to the notion of change we can only expect from Washington.

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