Friday, November 7, 2008

My to-do list for President Obama

This is the period every four or eight years when everyone weighs in with their ideas of what the incoming president should set as his priorities. It's a tough call. There are a whole lot of issues out there to be addressed. There's the increasing popular resentment of corporate greed, the downturn in the economy, the threat of global warming and other environmental concerns, Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, the so-called "Global War On Terror," civil liberties, energy independence, free trade, fair trade, media reform, gay rights, tax reform, abortion, universal health care, and myriad other issues. But I'll take a whack at it. Here's my list of the top five things the new administration should do.

1. Declare a new policy of openness and accountability in government.
The abuses of the Bush-Cheney era have been conceived, planned, and largely executed behind an unprecedented veil of secrecy. From the clandestine meetings with oil company executives to define the administration's energy policy, to the secret and unwarranted snooping on citizens' email, phone conversations, and reading habits, to the secret prisons at Guantanamo and elsewhere, the government has been sneaking around behind our backs far too much for far too long. The Obama administration should make transparency and disclosure the default. Policy discussions, cabinet meetings, and inner workings of all government agencies should be open to public inspection, except when there is a certified national security reason for secrecy. And by certified, I mean there should be a governing body, to include representation from the judicial branch, from both major parties in Congress, and properly vetted members of the general public, which has the power to review and either approve or overturn any claim of a requirement for secrecy. FOIA requests should be granted as a matter of course, unless the requested information has been explicitly designated as classified.

2. Make survivability of life on the planet priority number one.
Of course the economy is important. So is health. And war is abominable. But if the economy is humming, and everyone has free access to all the health care imaginable, and the world is at peace, it's all for naught if the planet cannot sustain life. We can argue over whether global warming is man-made, and whether it threatens our survival, but let's at least agree that if anything does threaten the long-term survival of the species, that trumps all other considerations. Peace, freedom, and prosperity are secondary considerations next to survival. Explicitly saying so helps to set the stage for serious discussions about the environment.

3. Initiate a 10-year program to achieve 100% clean electricity, and work to eliminate dependence on foreign oil.
Obama has said he wants to create jobs that can't be outsourced, rebuilding America's energy infrastructure. An effort similar to that which followed JFK's pledge to go to the moon in 10 years could get us to an electric grid with a zero carbon footprint within 10 years; it would have a huge impact on carbon dioxide emissions, while helping the economy by creating those millions of jobs. At the same time, improvements in our transportation system - modernizing and promoting mass transit, development of more efficient cars, and other measures could reduce our dependence on petroleum to the point that we could satisfy our own needs without having to import a drop - this latter goal may not be met in ten years, but we can make signifcant progress in any event.

4. Begin building a bottom-up economy.
With the mortgage industry already on life support and the automobile industry begging for transfusions, the time has come to recognize that "too big to fail" is simply too big. The solution to this problem is not consolidation of the survivors into bigger and bigger entities, it is to rebuild our economy around the small businesses that have always been the backbone of the American economy. Rather than bailouts of megacorportations, the economic recovery should concentrate on revitalizing small businesses. A condition of bailing out any too-big-to-fail corporation should be its breakup into smaller units that can be allowed to succeed or fail on their own merits.

5. Take steps to restore America's moral leadership in the world.
This is a long-term project; we cannot reclaim our honor overnight. It starts at home with restoration of habeas corpus, due process for all defendants, and enforcement of the Posse Comitatus Act, and with moral treatment of the less fortunate among us (including universal health care and social programs such as Project Head Start). It continues with the closing of Guatnánamo and termination of the indefensible practice known as extraordinary rendition, and with holding both our military and the mercenaries we hire to supplement our military accountable for war crimes and for abuses committed in occupied countries. And it culminates with predicating our support of foreign governments as much on their legitimacy and their human rights records as on their willingness to do our bidding or their ability to turn a profit for well-connected American corporations.

There's much more to be done. Get the money out of politics. Break up the media monopolies. Reinstate the Fairness Doctrine. Bring back the separation of church and state. Guarantee a woman's right to choose. Allow adults who love each other to marry. Allow responsible adults to gamble online if they so choose, and use the intoxicants of their choice in the privacy of their own homes. Correct the mistaken notion that corporations, which do not suffer from human limitations, deserve the same rights and privileges as flesh and blood human beings. And on and on. But with transparency in government and a guarantee of free speech, many of these things will take care of themselves.

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