Curtain Raiser

The Other War We’re Losing, Colltalers

It may be a tad premature, but it’s fair to consider the Affordable Care Act President Obama’s signature accomplishment, one on which he’s invested most of his two terms advocating and defending. It was his greatest political gamble but also one with the biggest potential dividends to his legacy.
On the environmental front, however, the president’s record is dismal, if not downright disastrous, having shown an inconceivable lack of resolve and political will. Two recent major developments may not just overshadow that legacy but also undermine his accomplishments.
First, about Obamacare. It’s still a work in progress, warts et al., or it’d better be, but its beneficiaries can be already counted in the millions. It’s also short of the free universal care citizens of most western societies enjoy, and far from the effectiveness of other comparable government initiatives such as Social Security and Medicare. But as far as government policy is concerned, it has its heart in the right place and it’s bound to be improved.
That being said, the really startling fact about Obamacare is how it became one of the president’s few moments of clarity and forward thinking. From the start, there was the idea, the needed steps to be taken, and minimal political unwavering to accomplish it. And he did go through with all of it.
No other crucial issue he was confronted with got that kind of personal commitment from him. And arguably, no other one stands to be greatly enhanced by future administrations. Not the same luck greeted his timid initiatives towards job creation, curbing Wall Street, providing for Vets, etc.
One may argue, yeah, but the Republicans, Congress, the Koch Bros., the Washington establishment, even former officials of his administration who went on to work as lobbyists, stood firmly on his way, preventing most of his initiatives from even making it to the floor. Who are we kidding here?
Take an issue such as immigration, for instance. The current set of bills, slated to be once again sabotaged by the GOP, happens to have a lot of leftovers from, you guessed it, Republican administrations (from Reagan all the way to George W.) in it. And it’s still dead on the water.
Consumer rights? Wasn’t this administration the first to undermine the person it had groomed to lead a federal agency, Elizabeth Warren, the moment she starts showing some willingness to bite? That she now stands as a rock in Hillary Clinton’s presidential shoe is just rope for another hanging.
One can go on about an ‘economic recovery’ that leaves out some 20 million Americans from its calculations, an increasingly powerful oligarchy of wealth individuals dictating self-benefiting policies, a hesitant foreign policy that seems to know only two instances, state of pre-intervention or full-blown war, and at the end of a nauseatingly long pipe of missed opportunities, there’ll still be a president unsure about what to do next.
That brings it all back to that polluted, industry-controlled, profit-driven, vision-challenged environmental front, which’s also about rusty pipes and fatal leaks, of chemical and radioactive waste spills and an absolute appalling record at convicting the big guys responsible for them.
When the Interior Department published a study minimizing the impact on marine life of air gun blasts to be conducted in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico by oil companies, the administration confirmed the worst fears that its policies continue to serve the fossil fuel industry first and foremost.
Similarly, when the Department of State released a report on the Keystone XL pipeline, all but denying the evidence of its potential for pollution, it was signaling to the president to sign it into a law, never mind the environmental scientists who have been begging him for months not to do it.
In the case of the gun blasts for yet more oil to be extracted from the bottom of the sea, the study contradicts even the Navy’s own research, which has confirmed in more than one occasion that the noise of its deep water sonar tests disturb some species of whales and dolphins and their habitats.
The Navy actually not just estimates but expects that tests in Hawaii, the California and Atlantic coasts, and the Gulf of Mexico, to be conducted through the next five years, may deafen or even kill thousands of whales and dolphins, who depend on sound to navigate and live.
But that doesn’t matter for oil and gas corporations, interested only in survive the threat of obsolescence represented by the development of alternative means of energy. They’ll keep blasting their way through land and sea, raising even more the levels of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere.
As for the official review of the Keystone pipeline, there’s yet another troubling aspect to it: the firm hired to make the assessment, which straight-faced concluded that the giant tar sand oil duct won’t increase pollution on its route, has actually been subcontracted by TransCanada, which owns an 875-mile leg of the project, a glaring conflict of interest. That’s when the president steps in and declares it unacceptable. But did he?
Not yet, and, judging by biased-media reports, he’s actually preparing to sign on the project, environmental concerns be damned. The point that the project has little benefit for the U.S., that it’ll create only a few dozen permanent jobs in American soil, and that’s an even harder form of cheap oil processing, has yet to be raised by the Obama administration’s public statements about the pipe and its energy policy, for that matter.
Which, come on, it’s shameful. The president who faced the worst environmental disaster in the U.S., the BP-caused Gulf of Mexico oil spill of 2010, and who also presided over an unprecedented string of oil spills all over the land just this past year, can’t seem to make it a central issue of neither his two-terms
By the way, BP, which reportedly had an over $10 billion tax-cut on the account of the ‘accident,’ and has continued to post profits on multiples of that figure ever since, keeps on fighting (and spending millions in ads) the agreement it signed with those hurt by its tragic mismanagement.
So, yes, it may be too early to be gloomy about an Obama legacy, as what was greeted with such fervor by so many all over the world may be turning into just another unfulfilled set of promises that, as time recedes, reeks of vote-gathering tactics only. Heaven hopes it is not.
Ironically or not, the environment, along with the outlook for a more peaceful world, weighted much more than health care for Americans, on the minds of those around the globe who placed so much expectations on the president. Truly, they’re not alone in their disappointment.
What may be remembered about the administration of the first African-American president, long after 2016, may not have anything to do with the greatest challenge of our age, climate change, a battle he should’ve started at his first day leading the country home of the world’s biggest polluters.
His may be a way more prosaic accomplishment, even if not minor by any stretch: the right for every citizen to see a doctor without having to pawn a leg in the process. It’d be an even greater accomplishment if we were living in 1850s, a time when the sense of human dignity was solely conditioned by the color of one’s skin. Have we really traveled far from that nightmare, or was just the race card thrown in the mix that still makes us all cringe?
It is unfair to place so much responsibility on President Obama’s fatigued shoulders, but it may be a last ditch effort to call him into task to take a meaningful stand about these two crucial environmental issues, marine life protection and phasing out fossil-fuel projects. After all, he owes that on the account of all that hope for change he once inspired all over the world and rode on to Washington. The clock is ticking, Mr. President.
About that 800-pound bear in the room: we simply had to duck the issue of what’s happening in Ukraine, at least for now. For it’s hard, and probably pointless, to comment on what sadly reinforces our losing faith on mankind: peace, that other world-relevant cause, besides the environment, has once again slipped into the realm of impossible dreams.
Wiser minds may advise temperance at this time but to many, that’s simply not an option anymore. Have a safe March ahead. WC

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