Despite the documents eaten, the computer glitches and snafus that have me contemplating my love/hate relationship with Mercury and the constant need to feed the gods of technology, this has been a very satisfying week. I’m not sure I remember the last one. I’m talking politically, of course, trying to recall when something progressive happened without hindrance from the regressives. I think we accomplished a few things with little effort some time in 2009 or ’10, before Congress was infested with government-hating Tea Baggers and their march toward obscurity. And despite the fact that they’ve captured even more law-making authority, it’s been a very good week, surprisingly, packed with positive signs and omens.
No, nothing actually happened on the floor of Congress except the House voting for the 56th time to kill off Obamacare, proving yet again that with so much that’s imperative to accomplish, little has changed in the party on the right (not to mention a striking lack of imagination). They’re as stuck in their retro agenda as is their senatorial leader, Mitch McConnell, when he pitches the necessity of coal to America’s future and touts the safety of mining to a public increasingly aware of its carbon footprint and newly convinced that corporations (think mining executives) are not their friend.
But this is also the week when the President let loose a progressive bombshell of a budget, putting to bed any speculation that he wasn’t serious about ending sequester. Obama wasn’t quite Greece to the horrified Pubs’ Germany, but close. The right met his optimistic proposal with a scramble for their own budget and national medical plan, which has turned out to be, thus far, bupkis. If they keep this up, they won’t be able to duck the truth that they have no talent for governance and a real disdain for public affairs.
Among some of Obama’s many proposals was a six-year $478 billion public works program to repair and replace national infrastructure, including highways, bridges and transit upgrades. Not a new idea or even a new proposal from this president, this qualifies as a ‘jobs plan’ of the kind the Pubs insist Obama never offers, while they laugh behind their hands and block implementation each time he suggests it. An invigorated economy — along with obviously collapsing infrastructure — makes it more difficult for them to deny such activity this time around.
Obama proposed paying for half of the program by imposing a one-time mandatory tax on overseas profits of U.S. companies, calling our attention, once again, to money sheltering and the enormous amount of corporate revenue the nation can no longer depend upon. The Pubs will lock up over the word ‘tax,’ but the truth is, government doesn’t run without renewing revenue, and taxing is how that’s accomplished.
Along with a full plate of progressive action, Obama has proposed a new government agency to watchdog food safety, not addressing the concerns of those of us working against Frankenfoods, but a move of the needle on inspection and national oversight, and — most importantly — its necessity. He’s proposing that Social Security benefits be extended to all married same-sex couples, he’s reassured the Dreamers that he will not abandon them or their cause (even as the Pubs ready their lawsuit), and he’s put billions in place for climate concerns.
Of course all of this has to make its way through a congress reluctant to even discuss most of it, so nothing is assured. Once again, it isn’t so much what the Republicans do that instructs, these days, it’s what they don’t do, and they’ve made it their focus in these early days of their mid-term ascendency to prove that they can govern (to which I say, good luck with that, I’ll believe it when I see it). There are a few topics — like tax reform — that the two parties might agree on eventually, but little else. Still, these are issues that illustrate the differences between what the nation wants and needs and what the Republican Congress intends to deliver. All part of the Cosmic Wake Up Plan, me thinks.
So while Obama’s budget offers progressive action, packed with the possibility of realization down the road, that wasn’t the best of it this week. Amid tragedy and brutality across the world, and continued international intrigues, a couple of long-term projects that many of us have supported and worked toward — and for so long that we’ve forgotten just how grueling has been the push — are finalizing with excellent prospects.
The first is the campaign to secure net neutrality, which has been a long-shot since the beginning, given the power of the telecom and cable industries. We’ve been petitioning, positioning and fretting for years now over the possibility that the interwebs would be turned into a pay-for-play commodity, the highest bidder getting the fastest access. This was a bit of a squeaker, since up until recently it appeared that FCC chairman, Tom Wheeler, was coming down on the side of big business.
A few weeks ago, Obama came out quite forcefully for net neutrality, which seems to have turned Wheeler’s attention toward its viability. In a recent opinion piece for Wired, Wheeler announced that he is going to propose that the FCC use its authority under Title II of the Communications Act to protect consumer broadband Internet, allowing the agency increased authority to police providers and equalize access. According to a Huffy article:
Until recently, a Title II plan was a pipe dream for net neutrality advocates. But President Barack Obama came out in support of Title II reclassification and bright-line rules in November, and Wheeler, who had reportedly been considering alternative approaches, appears to now be on board.
A senior FCC official addressed the effect of the president’s announcement on Wheeler’s decision-making on a call with reporters Wednesday. “It was actually the aftermath of the president’s announcement that proved to be so important,” the official said, citing reactions from financial analysts and ISPs such as Sprint. “That reaction demonstrated convincingly that Title II could be tailored for the 21st century without harming investment.”
And on February 4th, Wheeler announced:
“. . .the strongest open internet protections ever proposed by the FCC. These enforceable, bright-line rules will ban paid prioritization, and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services. I propose to fully apply—for the first time ever—those bright-line rules to mobile broadband. My proposal assures the rights of internet users to go where they want, when they want, and the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone’s permission.”
Here in the US of A, where corporate influence is rarely bucked, this is a remarkable call from Mr. Wheeler. The FCC stands alone, not directed by the White House, but obviously influenced by it for the public good. In this particular instance, free speech and the best interests of the little guy seem to have won the day, but nothing is, as yet, written. If you have opportunity, reinforce Wheeler’s decision with continued letters, calls and petitions. Wheeler’s recommendations will go to vote by agency commissioners later in February. We need signatures on dotted lines before we can take that full, free cyber-breath.
The next bit of terrific news impacting a long-term project is the EPA’s long-awaited report on the environmental impact of the XL Keystone Pipeline. You may remember an early, and disturbingly benign, assessment by the State Department (the pipeline crosses international borders) that seemed to have been pulled together by Koch employees.
This week, spitting in the eye of State’s laissez-faire attitude toward the project, the EPA delivered a letter to them stating that, “Until efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production of oil sands are successful and widespread, developing the tar sands crude represents a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions.”
The business class is calling the EPA recommendation sabotage, but to those of us who have already assessed the projected damage to the environment, and to climate scientists who have warned about the proposed pipelines contribution toward global warming, the EPA’s review is a godsend.
Congress is ready to deliver a bill to the President’s desk approving the pipeline, but Obama has made it clear he will veto any legislation passed to him until he has a full understanding of the environmental impact, most importantly any increase in carbon pollution. He has already poked a stick at one of the Pubs’ talking points — job growth — by exposing the fact that only 35 long-term jobs would be created (job creation is the point my own Dem Senator has used as argument for her vote).
Since 2013, Obama has continued to promise that he will reject the TransCanada project if it leads to a significant increase in carbon pollution. The EPA just gave him cover to do so.
We can expect a continued full-blown lobbying effort to turn Obama’s head — even some dramatics — since the Kochs are knee-deep in this project and want, with all their grinchy little hearts, to close down the Environmental Protection Agency, which regularly thrusts a stick into their gears. This letter no doubt made them spit pea soup and renew their commitment to killing off environmental regulations. A growing public awareness is critical to keeping that from occurring.
And in a hail-Mary pass, TransCanada announced today that it will enter the oil-by-rail business, thumbing its nose at the possibility that it won’t have access to move its gunk across this nation. Not an actual ‘thing,’ as we’ve already seen the dangers of this kind of delivery system, which is neither feasible to meet TransCanada’s needs nor cost effective. While resisting the temptation of a shadenfreude moment, their discomfort is clearly a moment for celebration by climate scientists, environmentalists and any citizen still interested in breathing decent air and drinking clean water. While we must still support our Canadian brothers’ and sisters’ objection to tar sands, we may well have prevented their access here in the USA.
So, no — we don’t have a decision on XL or a clear win on net neutrality. We don’t have a public works program that could boost the chances of the long-term unemployed gaining a foothold, or a lock to reign in corporate money to pay for it. We don’t have a nod for needed billions to deal with climate change, threatening our very existence. All those things are in the ‘pending’ file, awaiting a final push toward completion.
But they’re also on our lips, in our conversation, displayed on websites and television screens around the world. Over 90 percent of the public understands that climate change has us in its cross-hairs, and wants government to deal with it in whatever way possible. Even many Republicans have come to sobriety over this issue, looking for answers to climate emergencies. As well, in November, pollsters found that over 80 percent of the public — Democrat and Republican alike, young and old, all races and religions — want net neutrality without interference from corporate overlords.
Those numbers — along with a clear message to come to the aid of the middle-class and make investment in a more environmentally sensitive future while strengthening our economy — can’t be ignored forever. While it feels as if this divide between parties has come to its widest breach, it also seems that the difference between the needs of real people in communities across the country and the needs of faux-people as the Supremes have designated corporations, has finally been noticed.
With this overwhelming disparity between the haves and the have nots — the machinery of government and the intent of governance — becoming more obvious by the day, can a Hundredth Monkey u-turn toward government of, for and by the people be far off?
Yes, it was a very good week.