Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama acts on his Progressive Promises

by Norman Markowitz

Whatever was happening on Wall Street, this was a good day in the life of the United States of America. President Obama did something politicians in the U.S. particularly are not distinguished for doing. He promptly kept his word on some of his campaign promises.

The president signed an executive order closing Guantanamo and abolishing the CIA's "secret prisons" abroad which have disgraced the U.S. in the eyes of the world's people. He also banned the use of the torture techniques under interrogation that the Bush administration both practiced and defended. The order was signed in a ceremony with a group of retired admirals and generals who campaigned for it--those no longer under military discipline but with the understanding that these policies had brought the military itself into disrepute. The order also specifically calls upon U.S. authorities to make sure that the prisons in which detainees are held conform to Geneva Convention standards, whereas the Bush administration had denied that the Geneva Convention really covered much of anything in its "war against terrorism."

While the CIA will continue its activities(hopefully not using bureaucratic means to circumvent the order as J. Edgar Hoover did to executive orders he didn't like) and prisoners will still be taken and interrogated, this is a big step away from the abuses of water boarding, rendition, subcontracting torture to third party nations, that Americans have become so accustomed to that they are regularly themes on television drama and action adventure series.

President Obama also put a rapid end to the conflict in Iraq on the table as a major priority for his administration.

Finally, in an act applauded by animal rights supporters (including myself) the Obama administration issued a memo halting a screwball Bush administration maneuver that would remove grey wolves from the Endangered Species Act in the Northern Rockies, except for Wyoming, which, I guess, rightwingers would contend that the superior wolves would then enter, thus upgrading the grey wolf population. Unfortunately, the Bush administration, in a parting shot, was able to file and publish last minute regulations which not only undermine the Endangered Species Act but which threaten the environment, including provisions that allow mining deposits to be dumped within 100 feet of flowing streams and exempt agribusiness farms from having to notify public officials when they release unsafe levels of toxic emissions into communities. Earth Justice, an environmental rights public interest law group, is suing on these and other last minute Bush maneuvers. Hopefully, the Obama administration will support the suits.

In his inaugural address, President Obama used some words from an old roadway song when he said, "we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin the work of remaking America." As in the entire speech, his tone was measured and practical. These first acts against those who under Bush violated human rights in the name of "national security" and those who as always deny that there is such a thing as animal rights and welfare or environmental issues that restrict business profit are steps in the direction of remaking American policy, without which one cannot remake America as a civilization.