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That Obama Glow

by JOSHUA FRANK

Barack Obama, hoping to shore up major victories in the delegate rich states of Texas and Ohio early next month, is going after Hillary Clinton’s ever-dwindling base of working class voters. The Illinois Senator is hoping to stimulate their passion for his campaign by proposing to stimulate the weak economy by spending $210 billion on new jobs. Obama says his government sponsored employment program would allocate $150 billion over 10 years to create 5 million jobs in environmental industries.

Sounds Keynesian enough. Obama would couple his lavish government spending with investments from the private sector to produce work for many of America’s underemployed. The number of jobs he seeks to create is significant to be sure, but the real question is in what “environmental” capacity would these so-called “green collar” jobs be created? Many critics argue that Obama’s plan doesn’t exactly create jobs, but only redistributes money from one part of the economy to another. Even so, there may be far more sinister tenets to Obama’s economic plan.

Unfortunately the Obama campaign is light on the details of his stimulus program, only referring to these government gigs as working to develop more environmentally friendly energy sources. At face value this may all sound like a noble venture — one greens and others concerned with the environment might consider getting behind. But given Obama’s track record, voters can’t be too certain his plan is all that “green”. In fact it may be just the opposite, for the senator’s ties to the nuclear industry are stronger than any other candidate in the hunt for the White House this year.

In 2006 Obama took up the cause of Illinois residents who were angry with Exelon, the nation’s largest nuclear power plant operator, for not having disclosed a leak at one of their nuclear plants in the state. Obama responded by quickly introducing a bill that would require nuclear facilities to immediately notify state and federal agencies of all leaks, large or small.

At first it seemed Obama was intent on making a change in the reporting protocol, even demonizing Exelon’s inaction in the press. But Obama could only go so far, as Exelon executives, including Chairman John W. Rowe who serves as a key lobbyist for the Nuclear Energy Lobby, have long been campaign backers, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars dating back to Obama’s days in the Illinois State Legislature.

Despite his initial push to advance the legislation, Obama’s office eventually rewrote the bill, producing a version that was palatable to Exelon and the rest of the nuclear industry. “Senator Obama’s staff was sending us copies of the bill to review, we could see it weakening with each successive draft,” said Joe Cosgrove, a park district director in Will County, Illinois, where the nuclear leaks had polluted local ground water. “The teeth were just taken out of it.”

Inevitably the bill died a slow death in the Senate. And like an experienced political operative, Obama came out of the battle as a martyr for both sides of the cause. His constituents back in Illinois thought he fought a good fight while industry insiders knew the Obama machine was worth investing in.

Obama’s campaign wallet, while rich with millions from small online donations, is also bulging from $227,000 in contributions given by employees of Exelon. Two of Obama’s largest campaign fundraisers include Frank M. Clark and John W. Rogers Jr., both top Exelon officials. Even Obama’s chief strategist, David Axelrod, has done consulting work for the company.

During a Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works hearing in 2005, Obama, who serves on the committee, asserted that since Congress was debating the negative impact of CO2 emissions “on the global ecosystem, it is reasonable — and realistic — for nuclear power to remain on the table for consideration.” Shortly thereafter, Nuclear Notes, the industry’s top trade publication, praised the senator. “Back during his campaign for the U.S. Senate in 2004, [Obama] said that he rejected both liberal and conservative labels in favor of ‘common sense solutions’. And when it comes to nuclear energy, it seems like the Senator is keeping an open mind.”

The rising star of the Democratic Party’s ties to the nuclear industry run deep indeed, but Obama may not only be loyal to Exelon and friends. The Senator is also cozy with Big Coal.

Last year Obama pushed to get a FutureGen “clean coal” plant built in Illinois. The company is a public-private partnership that is intent on building “zero-emission” coal plants. FutureGen’s energy production is less than a zero-sum game, however, as the company doesn’t count the energy used prior to or after the coal is burned, not to mention tallying up the disastrous consequences of coal extraction.

In 2005 Obama also voted in favor of Bush’s Energy Plan which included many favors for Bush’s oil cartel connections. To top it off Obama even opposed a House bill that would have radically altered the disastrous 1872 Mining Law that continues to allow companies to mine our public lands while they skate the costs of cleaning up their environmental wreckage.

Barack Obama’s “job creation” plan may well be code for building taxpayer-sponsored nuclear and coal plants across the country. While Obama’s industry pals may profit from his shady deal, it is safe to say the environment won’t.

JOSHUA FRANK is the co-editor of DissidentVoice.org, and author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush, and along with Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor of the forthcoming Red State Rebels, to be published by AK Press in June 2008.

 

 

 

 

 

JOSHUA FRANK is managing editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, co-edited with Jeffrey St. Clair and published by AK Press. He can be reached at joshua@counterpunch.org. You can follow him on Twitter @joshua__frank

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