I cried when Barack Obama addressed the Chicago crowd on the night of his presidential election victory. Growing up a progressive in the deep South during the 1960’s, I’m accustomed to being part of a small minority. But now, for the first time, we were a majority. Obama’s victory felt like an embrace I had longed for, but been denied, my entire life. I was not alone. I will never forget the image of Jesse Jackson standing in the crowd that evening with tears streaming down his face. My emotions at that moment were overwhelming, but I cannot imagine how deeply a man who struggled alongside Dr. King must have experienced that event.

Like most American progressives, I continue to be thankful when Obama addresses the American people as if we are intelligent adults and marvel that, just six months ago, we were still governed by the Bush-Cheney team. I hope, like all of us on the left, that the real Obama is the community organizer who gets it. I want him to turn out to be one of us. But it is more than a bit disturbing that strong evidence to the contrary is mounting up.

Obama cradling Wall Street tycoon

First there were the shaky appointments to his economic team. Larry Summers, former Chief Economist of the World Bank, was named head of Obama’s National Economic Council. Timothy Geithner, head of the New York branch of the Federal Reserve and former Director of Policy Development at the IMF, was named Secretary of the Treasury. These are smart guys, but they are not agents of change. They are ultimate insiders, with serious long-term connections to Wall Street, the IMF and the World Bank.

And there’s the bailout. Geithner picked up right where Hank Paulsen, Bush’s Treasury Secretary, left off, shoveling money through every available crack in the wall between government and our insolvent financial institutions. Most disturbingly, the bailout of AIG that began under Paulsen and continued under Geithner turned out to be a front for protecting the economic assets of Goldman Sachs. Just days ago, Goldman Sachs reported record profits. That’s our money, folks. Goldman Sachs paid back their TARP funds, but the bailout money that the U.S. taxpayers sent to AIG went right out AIG’s back door and into the pockets of Goldman Sachs insiders in the form of huge bonuses. Schools are laying off teachers. Unemployment is approaching 10% nationally and still climbing rapidly. People are still losing their homes. But Goldman Sachs is doing just fine. I challenge anyone to make a convincing case for the fairness of those outcomes.

Check out Matt Taibbi’s appearance on Democracy Now for details on Goldman Sachs.

So far, Obama has been unwilling to say “no” to Wall Street and he’s kissing Goldman Sachs on the lips. Perhaps he can be excused for failing to pick that fight during his first six months in office. He was, after all, dealt an incredibly bad hand by the scofflaws who squatted in the White House for the previous eight years. And a case can be made that the economy had to be stabilized immediately, requiring some distasteful actions. But the honeymoon is now officially over and it’s time for Obama to put some distance between himself and Wall Street.

The issue of climate change highlights clearly the critical choices Obama must soon make. Higher than anticipated growth in greenhouse gas emissions along with climate impacts that have shown up more quickly and severely than predicted have made it clear that we no longer have time to mess around. In order to have a reasonable shot at avoiding disastrous climate impacts, large-scale greenhouse gas emission reductions need to begin soon, with most scientists agreeing that at a minimum the cuts in developed world emissions must be 25 to 40% below 1990 levels by the year 2020.

Unfortunately, what Obama is asking of Congress is nowhere close to that. The Waxman-Markey climate bill passed by the House of Representatives and endorsed by Obama would reduce emissions by roughly 4% below 1990 levels. Worse yet, Obama’s Special Climate Envoy, Todd Stern, was recently quoted as saying that cuts to 40% below 1990 levels by 2020 were “not necessary and not feasible”. We’ve heard the “not feasible” argument over and over again, but repetition has not made it any stronger. Roughly translated, “not feasible” means we don’t have the political will to take on this fight, and that is a question of priorities. Ironically, the day after Stern made his “not necessary and not feasible” comment, the Scottish parliament voted to adopt 42% below 1990 as Scotland’s 2020 emissions target. That contrast should be embarassing.

The “not feasible” part represents a disappointing but unsurprising economic and political calculation, but “not necessary”? That is truly disturbing and can only be explained in one of two ways. Either the Obama administration is picking a fight with climate science, or their plan is to meet the requirements of science in another way. Obama’s climate and environment team is incredibly strong and capable, so it is inconceivable that Todd Stern has an inadequate understanding of the climate science upon which the necessity for deep greenhouse gas emission cuts is based. That leaves only one possibility. Obama hopes to meet the requirements of science without the United States undertaking rapid emission cuts.

– must be able to make money on climate change / financial industry
– no sacrifice on the part of the wealthy
– transfer of obligations from the wealthy to the poor
– public option for financing okay as long as payments go through financial class
– easier if institutions we control are in charge. world bank and imf

Meeting the demands of climate change without any inconvenient adjustments to the status quo or distasteful domestic sacrifice appears to be precisely what both Obama and Congress are trying to achieve. In order to do that

“Most of the world’s emissions come disproportionately from the wealthy citizens of the world, irrespective of their nationality,” Chakravarty said, noting that many emissions come from lifestyles that involve airplane flights, car use and the heating and cooling of large homes. “We estimate that in 2008, half of the world’s emissions came from just 700 million people.”

(Connection is offsetting. let the poor do it, while the rich profit from the trading)


The most distressing element of the Obama administration approach to climate change is that, so far at least, it fits the pattern established by the bailout. As with the bank meltdown, there is clear danger that demands immediate action. Nevertheless, the action proposed in no way challenges the status quo. On the contrary, the model for action on climate change thus far appears to prioritize the enrichment of the same people who were rescued by the bailout.

Obama is a strong supporter of the cap-and-trade mechanism at the heart of the Waxman-Markey climate bill. The carbon marketMark Patterson, Timothy Geithner’s Chief of Staff at the Treasury Department, is a former lobbyist from Goldman Sachs. As Matt Taibbi pointed out in The Great American Bubble Machine, Patterson was part of the Goldman Sachs lobbying effort last year when the firm invested $3.5 million in climate lobbying.

American honors leaders, not politicians

Our good friends at Greenpeace recently called Obama out on climate change and dared him to lead instead of playing the politician. Our hats are off to Greenpeace for their creativity and guts, but with all due respect, I don’t expect or want Obama to lead. At their best, public officials are able to articulate and marshall the resources to implement a vision of the future for which people are already hungry. Obama’s potential greatness is entirely due to his willingness to be led by a different palette of people and articulate their vision. His continued openness to our leadership will ultimately determine the success or failure of his presidency. In other words, all I really want from Barack Obama is to be on the side of the people instead of the Wall Street gazillionaires. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

Obama Needs An Intervention

Please call Obama to let him know that you support strong emission cuts right here in the United States and you don’t want firms like Goldman Sachs profiting from climate change.

So what’s it gonna be, Obama? Are you the community organizer whose election brought tears to our eyes last fall? Are you one of us? Do you want to be the President who helped America see beyond the mythology of the market? Do you want to be the President who ushered America into a strong and fair global client deal? Or are you CEO of the Empire, sworn to protect the interests of the Goldman Sachs class?

It’s time for you to decide.

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