It’s getting harder and harder to figure out how President Obama is going to win re-election when his administration continues to abandon its base in favor of traditional Republican supporters. Nothing illustrates this better than two recent incidents. OnThursday, Aug. 25, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told reporters labor is planning to scale back involvement in the Democratic Party. Then the State Department, headed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, gave a green light to construction of 1,700-mile Keystone XL Pipeline that will carry crude oil from Canada’s tar sands across Montana, to refineries in Texas and Louisiana. Ironically, the latter decision comes as hundreds of America’s top environmentalists are being arrested for protesting to stop that pipeline.
The reasons for the two actions are different, but the effect—losing long-time allies–is the same.
As Politico’s Byron Tau reported, Trumka made his comments during a breakfast speech sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor. They must have Obama’s campaign staff sweating bullets. “We’re going to use a lot of our money to build structures that work for working people,” Trumka told reporters. “You’re going to see us give less money to build structures for others, and more of our money will be used to build our own structure.”
What Trumka was referring to is the union’s plan to launch a so-called Super PAC, now authorized by the Supreme Court’s decision that allows entities such as corporations and unions, among others, to spend unlimited funds on campaigns. The reason, he said, is that “the day after Election Day,” in 2008, “we were no stronger than we were the day before.” Trumka said some of the member unions intended to skip the 2012 Democratic Party convention altogether.
Big Labor’s gripes with Obama primarily focus on free-trade agreements that ship jobs overseas to cheap labor while America’s workers are abandoned. Trumka told reporters that Obama “started playing on the Republican ground,” adding: “As we approach this Labor Day, our working-class people are looking for three things: jobs, jobs, jobs.”
Yet, even as the AFL-CIO filled the air with ominous threats to Democrats and Obama, Obama’s administration deemed it prudent to not just abandon environmentalists, but to do so with a slap in the face.
So far, more than 300 people have been arrested in front of the White House in what is easily the longest and largest environmental protest in recent times. Among those were a number of Montanans, including Livingston’s Margot Kidder, who is best known for playing Lois Lane in the Superman movies and who in real life is a super advocate for women and the environment.
The concerns of the pipeline protestors are not theoretical. The State Department’s conclusion in its final Environmental Impact Statement is that the pipeline would have “no significant impact on the environment.” Both the Environmental Protection Agency and some of the nation’s leading environmental scientists disagree.
The EPA estimates that extraction of oil from Alberta’s tar sands creates 80 percent more carbon emissions that extracting and refining oil from more traditional sources. Add to that the destruction of Alberta’s boreal forests, the ongoing pollution of major rivers like the Athabasca and the enormous toxic storage ponds, and giving the Keystone XL pipeline the green light to enable and enhance tar sands extraction is anything but environmentally benign.
NASA’s lead climatologist, speaking to the National Press Club recently, laid it out rather bluntly: “We have a planetary emergency,” Dr. James Hansen said, stressing that if we continued to burn oil at our current rate, we would lose 20 to 40 percent of all species on the planet within the century, see an increase in disastrous weather events and “ruin the future for our children.” Following his remarks, Hansen accompanied 60 religious leader to protest in front of the White House and joined the ranks of 140 more people arrested Aug. 29 for trying to stop the pipeline.
Adding insult to injury, Paul Elliot, Hillary Clinton’s former campaign manager for her presidential bid, is now a lobbyist for the Keystone XL pipeline. And, according to emails released by WikiLeaks, the State Department’s former energy envoy, David Goldwyn, “alleviated” the concerns of Canadians about getting approval for the pipeline and went further by coaching them to improve their “oil sands messaging” by “increasing visibility and accessibility of more positive news stories” on the issue. In a disgusting demonstration of the inbred corruption that plagues D.C.–and which Obama pledged to stop—Goldwyn left the State Department and went to work for a Washington lobbying firm, recently testifying in favor of the pipeline before a Congressional committee.
One might wonder how the State Department could claim to be objective in its review of the pipeline, given the ongoing political manipulation to push the project through.
The Koch Brothers, who already import a quarter million barrels of tar sands oil per day, and have funded endless efforts to deny global warming, are pushing approval of the pipeline—which only makes the actions of the Obama administration more puzzling. A New Yorker investigative report last year said the Koch Brothers were “waging war on Obama.” They stand to profit immensely should the pipeline be built.
While telling Americans he would change the way business is done in the White House, Obama has continued the oil-baron, big-corporate policies of the last President Bush. If it’s goodbye to labor and goodbye to greens, come the 2012 elections, it’ll be goodbye to Obama.
George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Missoula Independent, where this column originally ran. He lives in Helena, Montana. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.