President Obama’s Speech – What did you think?

Here’s my quick take on the President’s acceptance speech at the Dem Convention last night, but I’d love to know what you thought of it as well. (The New York Times has the transcript and video of the president’s speech with sidebar analysis from Times reporters).

Overall, there was a pretty good “feel” in terms of connecting with Democratic Party and even broader American values (several strong nods to the importance of investing in education, for example, though there are lots of critics of Administration education policies). But often, as when describing environmental and energy policy (more on this later), it sounded like the president struggled to reconcile progressive, pro-people policies with the priorities of the party’s corporate overlords (as he spoke in the Time Warner Cable Arena, moved from Bank of America, oops we mean Panthers, Stadium!). To be sure, this is the reality of the struggle within the party all the time, and I think most neutral observers would posit the corporate interests are overwhelming the progressive elements of the party. Which is why Peace Action and other peace and social justice, environmental, human rights and other progressive forces need to maintain our integrity as independent, nonpartisan advocates for a better world.

Starting with the good on wars/Pentagon spending/re-investing in priorities here at home, the president said, “And while my opponent would spend more money on military hardware that our Joint Chiefs don’t even want, I’ll use the money we’re no longer spending on war to pay down our debt and put more people back to work – rebuilding roads and bridges; schools and runways.  After two wars that have cost us thousands of lives and over a trillion dollars, it’s time to do some nation-building right here at home.”

Pretty good, let’s hold him to it. And of course the logic of this would lead to efforts to end the war in Afghanistan ASAP, not at the end of 2014. Also very troubling (unmentioned by POTUS in his speech) are plans in the works to keep 10-15,000 U.S. troops there for at least another 10 years after that.

Also not bad was the fact there was relatively little fear-mongering about “threats” the country faces. Yes, China was mentioned twice as a bogeyman, but in economic, not military terms. Al Qaida, the Taliban, generic “terrorists” and Iran were mentioned, but almost as a pro forma “well we have to mention some threats out there” exercise.

Not so good or truthful – the president claimed credit for ending the Iraq war. True, he did oppose the war before it started in 2003 (when he was an Illinois State Senator) and consistently spoke out against it, but as president all he did was accept the agreement to withdraw our troops President Bush had made with the Iraqi government. Well, actually there is controversy even about that, as the president and others in his administration sent up at least trial balloons, and perhaps more serious overtures, about keeping troops there longer if the Iraqi government asked for it (perhaps knowing full well it couldn’t do that).

Lastly, I was struck by huge contradictions on energy and environmental policy, but allow me to turn to folks who know these issues much better than I do (thanks to the Institute for Public Accuracy for these quotes):

DAPHNE WYSHAM, via Lacy MacAuley, lacy@ips-dc.org, daphne@ips-dc.org, http://www.ips-dc.org

Wysham is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and is the founder and co-director of the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network. She said today: “While it is heartening to hear President Obama affirm that climate change is not a hoax, he — like his Republican opponent — seems to place a higher value on achieving ‘energy independence’ via expanded oil and gas drilling than on action on climate change. The Obama administration has promoted policies that will result in enormous greenhouse gas emissions being released from the expanded mining and burning of coal — regardless of whether it is burned via unproven ‘clean coal’ technology — and via the poisonous and dangerous practice of fracking for gas, as well as via expanded offshore oil drilling. He has also signaled that, after the election, it will be full steam ahead for a pipeline for the dirtiest of all fossil fuels — tar sands from Canada. This is what happens when moneyed fossil fuel interests, like the Koch brothers, maintain their grip on our nation’s politics.”

TYSON SLOCUM, bholzer@citizen.org, http://www.citizen.org

Director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program, Slocum said today: “It was important that President Obama made clear his belief that climate change remains a major threat — a contrast to Governor Romney’s use of climate change as a punchline to a joke in his speech. But more important will be what policy solutions President Obama proposes to tackle climate change — and how his ‘all of the above’ strategy may undermine that commitment. This election, fossil fuel corporations will spend millions to not only shape voters’ opinions of the candidates, but their attitudes on energy policy –- namely that producing and using more fossil fuels will liberate our economy. The fact is that the longer we remain with the fossil fuel status quo, the farther we fall behind on the sustainable era of renewable energy. There is no such thing as benign fossil fuel production and consumption, and the future of fossil fuels will only become more expensive.”

RICHARD STEINER, richard.g.steiner@gmail.com, http://ricksteineralaska.com

A retired professor at the University of Alaska, Steiner was deeply involved in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. He said today: “Neither the Republican Party, nor the Obama administration seem to grasp the severity of the energy/climate crisis we are in. While the Republicans are further from an energy plan that addresses the situation, both are playing games with something that is truly a life and death situation.

“That Romney belittled sea level rise and the global ecological crisis in his convention speech one night, and the very next day toured southern Louisiana, flooded with sea water from Hurricane Isaac, was one of the most spectacular ironies in the history of American politics. I suppose we expect this sort of delusion from the Republicans.

“But the Obama administration has had several years to make serious inroads into our carbon-intensive economy, and their performance has been an utter disaster. With only a few small achievements to tout, such as the recent auto fuel efficiency standards a decade or so in the future, this administration has failed miserably to live up to what those of us who voted for them expected.

“In energy efficiency and alternative fuels, we are now at a place we should have been at 40 years ago. Here in Alaska, and across the Arctic, we are presently experiencing the lowest sea ice extent since records have been kept. Walrus and polar bears are struggling on thin ice, and in open water. At this rate, the Arctic Ocean will be ice-free in summer within a few years.

“But instead of a crash emergency program to do everything possible to save the Arctic Ocean ecosystem from this unfolding disaster, the administration just approved Shell’s oil drilling in offshore waters. In addition to the chronic degradation from increased industrialization in the Arctic, and the very real risk of a catastrophic oil spill, every carbon atom produced from the Arctic Ocean seabed will simply wind up in the global atmosphere and oceans, further exacerbating the death spiral from climate warming. It’s a lose-lose proposition, and everyone who knows this issue knows that.

“In fact, the administration’s offshore drilling program for the coming five years is worse than that of the former Bush administration. It harkens back to the 1980s days of James Watt and Ronald Reagan.

“We cannot continue dancing around the edges of this beast, and if we care about our common future, we need immediate, emergency action on the part of the U.S. government, and world governments to reduce carbon emissions some 80 percent. Nothing short of this will do. The continuing denial of the severity of this crisis by both main political parties could be our collective undoing.”

4 Responses to President Obama’s Speech – What did you think?

  1. Joe Valentino says:

    He lied the last time,What makes you think he changed.He has nothing to care about but himself no re election,no regard for life .

  2. KevinMartin says:

    from Peace Action national board member Lauri Kallio:

    Kevin, I am responding to your invitation to give an assessment of President Barack Obama’s renomination acceptance speech. Since I started a blog last September on why the renomination of Obama would not be good for the Democratic Party nor for the country, I could write a lengthy ment of Obama’s speech but will confine myself to a few major observations.

    I. Pentagon Spending
    Although I agree with you, Kevin, that Obama uttered some encouraging words about reducing military hardware and I applaud the fact that he continues to insist that the sequestration agreement to reduce the Pentagon’s spending by close to half a trillion dollars must be honored, we will continue to have a bloated Pentagon budget when Obama leaves office, should he win a second term. Notable in this regard is that in his 12-year plan, Obama proposed a total cut of $400 billion for the Pentagon, a small percentage cut in the accumulated 12-year spending, not even considering military-related spending.

    President Obama sees military spending as a major job creation engine, evidenced by his claim that the last major arms sale to the Middle East was responsible for the addition of 55,000 jobs. Obama seems not to understand that spending on the military is one of the poorest ways for the government to create jobs.

    II. Nuclear Weapons
    Although Barack Obama made an inspiring speech early in his administration about a world without nuclear weapons, all of his actions since then, with the single exception of the nuclear weapons reduction agreement with Russia, have been to increase the nation’s nuclear weapons capability — even pushing back the completion date for the destruction of warheads called for in previous treaties. He has added many billions of dollars to the modernization program, which will quadruple the capability of the United States to build plutonium triggers. Built into his long-range planning is a new nuclear weapons-armed bomber and a new nuclear weapons-armed submarine, operational until about 2070.

    III. Bombing Iran
    Under either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, the U.S. would be committed to bombing Iran if it achieved, or was close to acquiring a nuclear bomb. Obama has said he is not bluffing about bombing if certain red lines are crossed. Obama continues to say that all options are open but he has eliminated the option of living with an Iran in the nuclear weapons club.

    Even present and former Israeli security and defense officials are warning of dire consequences from bombing Iran; also, recent polling shows a strong majority of Israelis opposed to bombing. There is a computor model that forecasts up to 3 million deaths from blast and radioactive effects if nuclear weapons are used to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities, several of them deeply buried.

    IV. Stopping Wars
    President Obama did end the troop commitment to Iraq but he ended it on the scheduled Status of Forces agreement reached by George W. Bush with the Iraqi government. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama never gave a hint that a large contingent of U.S. troops would be in Iraq for just under three years after he took office.

    As Rep. Barbara Lee so energetically and wisely made the case, the Status of Forces agreement with Iraq had all the attributes of a treaty and should have been under treaty ratification provisions in the Constitution. It should also be noted that if the Iraqi government had given U.S. troops immunity from prosecution under Iraqi law, we would still have from 3,000 to 15,000 troops based in Iraq, according to Pentagon projections agreed to by President Obama.

    Although candidate Obama talked about increasing the U.S. troop commitment to Afghanistan, when he got more specific, he talked in terms of a brigard or two — about 8,000 troops at the maximum. He never intimated that the increase might be four or more times greater. Also, even though the currrent campaign claim is that the U.S. troop commitment will end in 2014, there is no firm agreement. The still-not-completed agreement governing U.S.-Afghanistan relations after 2014 should be submitted to Congress for treaty ratification.

    V. Civil Liberties
    The Obama administration has adopted virtually the entire panoply of the Bush II administration positions on civil liberties. On indefinite detention, the only difference between George W. and Barack is that Obama has proposed a periodic, case-by-case review of those indefinitely detained.

    Even President George W. Bush did not claim the authority to target U.S. citizens for death. It is an appalling imagery that President Obama sends time determining which U.S. citizens should be targeted for death.

    When Obama administration officials testified in congressional hearings on reauthorizing the most onerous provisions of the Patriot Act, they refused to spell out the administration’s positions in open hearings — they wanted closed hearings to do that. The provisions were reauthorized without any significant changes.

    Extending this subject to include Guantanamo and torture, under neither Obama nor Romney will it be likely that Guantanamo will be closed by the end of 2016; however, civil libertarians might be more comfortable with Obama, because Romney once said he wanted to double the size of Guantanamo.

    In regard to torture, which both President Obama and his strongest supporters have claimed is no longer practiced nor authorized, the claim is very questionable in regard to practice and false in regard to authorization. Both the Associated Press and human rights groups have made convincing cases that there are U.S.-run prisons in Afghanistan, where some torture techniques continue to be employed. Once more, U.S. officialdom has turned a blind eye to the Afghan government’s use of torture against its own citizens.

    Authorization for the use of torture continues to exist in the Military Commissions Act of 2006. When the act was amended in 2009 to give detainees more legal rights, there was no change to the provision giving the president the authority to allow the CIA to use torture under a national security rationale.

    VI. Energy and the Environment
    President Obama’s record is very mixed in this topic area. He included significant funding for renewables in the major stimulus funding plan; however, some of that funding, especially the vehicle battery component, has proven to be money wasted. The EPA has approved more stringent standards on arsenic and pushed for authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions. On the more questionable side, the EPA has approved some mountaintop removal plans and opposed others; also, Obama put politics over science when he nixed new smog control rules.

    Candidate Obama said he would oppose any further oil and gas leases until drilling is done on leases already held and then proceeded to greatly expand oil and gas leases. Obama’s current “all of the above” energy policy includes more drilling leases, at least timid support of fracking for natural gas recovery, and “clean coal,” an animal that many energy experts say does not exist.

    I previously thought that the higher vehicle gasoline mileage standards that Obama negotiated was perhaps his greatest achievement in regard to both environmental protection and oil usage; however, after reading Peter Bergel’s article on the subject, I realize that Obama could have been much bolder.

    On climate change, Obama at least believes that human agency is a causative factor, while Romney remains unconvinced that human activity is a factor.

    VII. Education
    In his renomination acceptance speech, President Obama spoke about the important role of education in building a better society. Obama’s sentiments are good but his basic policies are not. He has proposed some needed changes in No Child Left Behind (NCLB) but he continues to support high stakes testing. The major problems with high stakes testing, exemplified by NCLB, are that it provides a strong incentive for teachers to “teach to the test” and consequently takes time and resources away from instruction devoted to the full educational development of the child.

    The Chicago Tribune did a study on how NCLB has impacted Illinois public school districts. What they found was that some districts had lengthened the school day to devote more time for preparation on taking tests; other school districts had dropped a course to devote more time for preparation on taking tests; one district had added a course on test-taking; and one district was giving TVs, stereos and other electronic gadgetry to students who had done well on standardized tests. The Tribune also found, as has an evident practice in many school districts, that teachers were giving their students test problems closely modeled on what they would find on standardized tests.

    The biggest scandal of all fostered by NCLB was revealed by the report in July 2011 that over 70 teachers and principals in the Atlanta, Georgia school system were involved in changing answers on student standardized test papers.

    President Obama is a big champion of charter schools; yet charter schools are proving to be another educational reform that is failing. A University of Stanford study found that only 17 percent of charter schools perform as well or better than traditional public schools. A University of Chicago study found that charter schools have not brought about the improvements they were created to bring; also, they performed poorly in meeting the non-academic needs of the children. A September 2010 report described charter schools as floundering in Ohio, Arizona and California.

    Charter schools are also reintroducing segregation into the education of children. A January 2010 report by the Civil Rights Project found that 70 percent of black students were enrolled in charter schools that were 90 to 100 percent black.

    What should concern President Obama as both president and standard bearer of the Democratic Party is that only about five percent of charter schools employ unionized teachers. Unionized teachers have been a bastion of Democratic Party strength and as standard bearer, Obama is hurting his own party by reducing their ranks. Looked at in the broader context of the national interest, any movement in the direction of reducing the ranks of unionized workers also reduces the demand for goods and services from a poorly paid workforce. One reason the U.S. is in the economic duldrums is that the rewards of productive labor go overwhealmingly to a tiny slice of the population at the top of the economic pyramid.

    Race to the Top is President Obama’s major educational initiative. School districts that qualify to participate must not have caps on charter schools; must make student test scores a major part of teacher evaluations; and agree to conform to national teaching standards.

    There have been several studies on what has the most impact on student educational performance. All of the studies I’ve seen reach the same conclusion that the home and family have the greatest impact. Thus, to base teacher evaluations to a considerable extent on student test scores penalizes teachers who have a large number of students who come from poverty-stricken, dysfunctional or broken homes. Why would teachers want to teach in a school where they start with a big handicap to getting a satisfactory or outstanding evaluation?

    I will do a separate reaction to the Obama renomination speech on the subject of taxes, as I feel that Obama has done and will continue to do great harm to the nation with his shifting and inadequate positions on taxation.

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