Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Not Going Quietly

He may go gentle, but he's not going quietly.  In his last weeks in the White House, President Obama has taken important action, and has made important statements.  That process may climax Tuesday night with his farewell address, but even then, he has 9 days more.

The NYTimes listed some of those actions:

He has banned oil drilling off the Atlantic coast, established new environmental monuments, protected funding for Planned Parenthood clinics, ordered the transfer of detainees from Guantánamo Bay, criticized Israeli settlements and punished Russia for interfering in the recent elections through cyberattacks.

Mr. Obama is continuing to fill the ranks of the government with his own appointees; since Election Day, he has named 103 people to senior Civil Service jobs, boards, key commissions and oversight panels, including the National Council on Disability, the Amtrak board of directors, the Holocaust Memorial Council and the boards of visitors at military academies.

Probably the most important--and lasting--was banning offshore drilling in the Arctic and much of the Atlantic seaboard.  As Time Magazine reported: "The White House maneuver relies on a little-used 1953 law that gives the President authority to block indefinitely oil and gas drilling in some waters controlled by the U.S. federal government. The move may be impossible to undo—at least in the short term. The law does not include a provision for a future president to undo the decision and no president has ever tried such a move. But energy interests could challenge that in courts or a Republican-dominated Congress could revise the original law."

In designating "two new national monuments in the desert landscapes of southeastern Utah and southern Nevada to protect some of our country’s most important cultural treasures,"  President Obama also protected not only physical but spiritual resources for Native peoples in the area.  Russell Begaye, President of the Navajo Nation, wrote:

"Today, President Barack Obama has signed a proclamation to protect this land as a national monument for future generations of Navajo people and for all Americans. Thanks to his action, this land will be finally given the legal reverence and protection it deserves.

This action reflects the President’s profound record on conservation: He has done more than any other president in history to set aside more land and water for the future."

Other actions may be ones that Rs will want to reverse, but it won't always be easy.  It will likely be politically difficult to reverse all of President Obama's measures to punish Russia for its (successful) efforts to control the US presidential election, which he announced in late December.

Probably the boldest foreign policy action was the US abstaining from the UN resolution condemning Israeli settlements as a substantial and aggressive barrier to a two state solution in Palestine.

Meanwhile President Obama has publicly and--meeting with members of Congress--privately talked about healthcare.  Publicly he's challenged Rs attempting to repeal Obamacare to say what their plan is and begin the process of improving the healthcare system, instead of undermining it and taking away coverage from millions of Americans.  He also urged those Americans who have benefited from Obamacare to tell their stories in public, especially in their own communities.   His long meeting with congressional Democrats reportedly got more political, as he urged them not to not help Rs devise a new health care law, and make them own any changes.

After all that, President Obama has been doing a series of interviews, including a personal one with David Axelrod, but also cogent policy statements such as the Vox interview on healthcare.  He also became the first sitting President to write a feature for Science magazine, in which he argues that the shift to clean energy is irreversible.  Whatever politicians might do, industries and the market are already committed.  There are twice as many people employed in clean energy than in jobs related to fossil fuels.  The US economy has grown in direct proportion to the drop in greenhouse gases emissions.

The Science article is here.  By including seed funds for clean energy in the 2009 Recovery Act to get the country out of the Great Recession, President Obama jump-started these industries. White House support for them continued throughout the Obama administration. They have their problems, but this move may turn out to be his greatest accomplishment.

No comments: