Thursday, December 31, 2009

Great Expectations

by Mort Malkin

Great Expectations

The Climate Change Conference (COP 15) in Copenhagen was set up so the rich & developed nations of the North could pay lip service, and only a few dollars, to stop the drastic changes in the Earth’s weather, waters, and lands, changes that are already threatening all life on the planet. Well, maybe insects are not yet threatened.

First, President Obama went to Oslo, Norway to give a nice speech as he accepted the Nobel Peace Price. He spoke of the need for peace, but back home he ordered 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Did he hope to receive accolades for creating 30,0000 more jobs?

Soon afterward he went to Copenhagen. There, he had to talk about climate change. He made a nice speech, calling for everyone to put aside their differences and come to agreement, but he forgot to say anything about the US signing the Kyoto Accords. Worse, according to a leaked “Danish text” the US has now graciously accepted a 17% reduction in CO2 emissions from (in very small print) 2005 levels. From 2005? All the European signatories to Kyoto had pledged 30% reductions below 1990 levels. US reductions of 17% below 2005 levels works out to about 4% below 1990. Barack The Devious.

The impending environmental disaster, unless we change our profligate fossil fuel ways, is only one of the major issues where Obama has not walked the talk. Let’s see where else he has failed our expectations.

During the campaign up to election day of 2008, the Obama campaign ran against special (corporate) interests and promised accountability on the part of all government agencies. After he took the oath of office he gave orders to prohibit waterboarding because it was torture. Even Attorney General Eric Holder said so loud & clear. We expected the inquisitors at Guantanamo, Bagram, and other “Black Sites” established in the last decade would be held to account — right up the chain of command. Then, a funny thing happened on the way to the Department of Justice. AG Holder, in an end run around the Geneva Accords and the US Army Field Manual, noted that in the B-C Office of Legal Counsel, attorney John Yoo, wrote a memo defining torture as causing severe body harm and the pain of organ failure or impending death. It was legal cover for CIA interrogators to OK waterboarding and walling if the prisoner was merely bruised up or had nightmares that he was drowning. Holder said he wouldn’t prosecute such Agency people if they didn’t go beyond the memo definition of torture. After all, they were just following orders to “soften up” the detainees. As to John Yoo, Esq, he would not be prosecuted because the memo was just his opinion and he, himself, didn’t violate the quaint Geneva Conventions. Holder speaks of the Yoo memo as a “mistake,” not a crime.

Legal issues abound in the expectations of an Obama presidency. We were led to expect respect for the principles of law from a man who taught Constitutional law at the University of Chicago and whose oath of office included allegiance to the Constitution. But, he has spoken nary a word about Habeas corpus. Nor was there a mention of the First Amendment when the G20 money bags nations recently met in Pittsburgh where the police were unduly repressive, using pepper spray, rubber bullets, intense sound projectors, and preemptory arrest. Obama has been silent, too, in failing to stand up for the First Amendment by pardoning Lynne Stewart. The legendary attorney had been convicted of aiding terrorism for speaking to Reuters on behalf of her client the blind Egyptian cleric. Beyond the Constitution, Obama failed to support Hammurabi’s great law code from the First Dynasty of Babylon. You know, the one chiseled in stone in the second millennium BCE..

While we’re speaking of laws and the Law, the Gramm Leach Bliley act needs to be repealed and Glass Steagall reinstated to limit different financial functions to separate banks so no “bank holding company” becomes too big to fail. A couple more matters of law: Libraries and bookstores must be exempted from the Patriot Act. The First Amendment can’t be abrogated by a mere law passed by Congress two centuries later — it’s the First Amendment. Similarly, the patenting of the building blocks of life, itself, is disallowed by the very rules of the US Patent Office — you can’t patent something that is not novel and original. Mother Nature was there first, even before the Jurassic era. If companies such as Monsanto insist on playing Rube Goldberg with the genes of our foodstuff, at least let them be required to say so on the label.

Finally — after skipping past health care, cap & trade gaming, off shore account sneakery, and the conflation of national security and national embarrassment — we come to a national identity of military might to set the world right. Obama has never spoken of a Department of Peace to balance the Department of War (all right, Department of Defense) or a National Peace College to pair with the War College. The Peace College would offer degrees in statesmanship and diplomacy and teach courses in conflict resolution, conciliation, and kindness. Barack may say he never promised such rose gardens — maybe we should look to First Lady Michelle for institutions promoting peace. She might even convince her husband to recognize the International Court of Justice. He could become Barack The Just.

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