Change We Can Reasonably Assess

Terry J. Allen

Initially, Barack Obama seemed the rare politician with the guts and vision to shred failed systems and to develop solutions that transcend quick fixes and political expediency. But as the campaign progresses, the senator is morphing into a conventional, if exceptionally charismatic, political animal. Whether his calibrated stances are evidence of savvy or traditional Democratic sell-out centrism remains to be seen. 

'I'm asking you to believe,' reads the headline on Obama's website. And that is the beginning of the problem.

Yet neither Obama’s rhetoric of hope nor John McCain’s folksy belligerence will solve 21st century problems: escalating economic crises, rising food and fuel prices, global warming, the dangers of Christian and Islamic fundamentalism, the vast wealth gap, crumbling infrastructures, and failed treaties and regulatory mechanisms. 

A sustainable future requires America to radically redefine security from winning the war on terror” and maintaining global dominance to becoming an international partner.

Sadly, while advocating negotiations, Obama still invokes outdated national security models based on military might. For example, he wants to cut troop levels in Iraq only to redeploy them to a different illegal and doomed war – in Afghanistan. Aside from that country’s centuries-honed knack for swallowing invading armies, Afghanistan offers well-armed warlords, endemic corruption, narco-trafficking and a border with Pakistan – an unstable nuclear power whose interests conflict with both Washington and Kabul. Afghanistan is no more a good war, and no less a stupid one, than Bush’s war in Iraq.

But while appearing soft on defense is a political third rail, there are policy areas where Obama could stand for systemic reform without risking political death. One is the fatally compromised bureaucracies that use censored science to bring us dangerous food, drugs and safety standards. (See Feeding the Beast,” page 32.)

An egregious example of the manipulation of science is climate change – a threat that rivals terrorism. The Bush administration has suppressed and manipulated hard evidence of potentially disastrous fluctuations and how they will impact public health. 

In 2007, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) created a devastating 14-page report, Climate Change and Public Health.” Vice President Dick Cheney’s office altered and redacted it to six bland pages.

Gone were warnings in the original version that climate change is a serious public health concern” that will trigger air pollution-related health effects, allergic and chronic diseases, water- and food-borne infectious diseases, vector-borne and zoonotic diseases, food and water scarcity, mental health problems and death. 

The pre-censored report said the consequences of climate change-related events – such as hurricanes and floods – would range from loss of life and acute trauma, to indirect effects such as loss of homes, large-scale population displacement, damage to drinking water and sewage systems, interruption of food production, damage to the healthcare infrastructure, and psychological problems such as post traumatic stress disorder.” 

The original also predicted that the greatest harm would fall on the elderly, children, people with chronic conditions, migrant populations, people of lower socioeconomic status” and members of racial and ethnic minority groups.” 

Pretty strong stuff.

The redacted version was considerably more cheerful. Delivered to Congress and defended by CDC head Julie Gerberding, it omitted even the dry fact that scientific evidence supports the view that the earth’s climate is changing.”

If McCain is elected, the best we can expect is different high-level hacks in thrall to the same industries and politics. Obama will certainly do better. But what is in doubt, especially given his embrace of a 20th century military strategy in Afghanistan, is whether he has sacrified, on the altar of electability, the guts and vision that thrust him to prominence in the first place.

I’m asking you to believe,” reads the headline on Obama’s website. 

And that is the beginning of the problem. Belief belongs in church; good policy rests on facts, clear thinking and evidence. 

Sure, science doesn’t have all the answers, but until Obama commits to reason over belief; facts over ideology; realistic assessments over hope; science over political expediency, he will likely disappoint. 

But, yeah, he will do it with style.

Terry J. Allen is a veteran investigative reporter/​editor who has covered local and international politics and health and science issues. Her work has appeared in the Guardian, Boston Globe, Times Argus, Harper’s, the Nation​.com, Salon​.com, and New Scientist . She has been an editor at Amnesty International, In These Times , and Cor​p​watch​.com. She is also a photographer. Her portraits of people sitting in some of the 1900 cars lined up outside a Newport, Vt., food drop can be seen on www​.flickr​.com/​p​h​o​t​o​s​/​t​e​r​r​y​a​l​l​e​n​/​a​lbums. Terry can be contacted at tallen@​igc.​org or through www​.ter​ry​jallen​.com.
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