Too often when observing a long-standing unresolved policy issue combined with the desire for a dramatic change people become frustrated and give up. Giving up is never a solution to a complex problem. History has proven over and over again that when the desire for change is heard loud enough, action will follow in due time.
People have been influencing positive change for years. Remember the Civil Rights Movement? Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka. In a landmark case regarding segregation of schools, the Supreme Court ruled in 1954 that segregation in public schools violated rights established in the 14th Amendment. What about the Women’s Rights Movement? For example, during Roe v. Wade the Supreme Court established a woman’s right to safe and legal abortion, overriding the anti-abortion laws of many states. What about when, in 2009, President Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, which allows victims of pay discrimination to file a complaint with the government against their employer within 180 days of their last paycheck.
What are some important achievements of President Obama? Here’s a short list:
Passed Health Care Reform: After five presidents over a century failed to create universal health insurance, signed the Affordable Care Act (2010). It will cover 32 million uninsured Americans beginning in 2014 and mandates a suite of experimental measures to cut health care cost growth, the number one cause of America’s long-term fiscal problems.
Passed the Stimulus: Signed $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009 to spur economic growth amid greatest recession since the Great Depression. Weeks after stimulus went into effect, unemployment claims began to subside. Twelve months later, the private sector began producing more jobs than it was losing, and it has continued to do so for twenty-three straight months, creating a total of nearly 3.7 million new private-sector jobs.
Passed Wall Street Reform: Signed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (2010) to re-regulate the financial sector after its practices caused the Great Recession. The new law tightens capital requirements on large banks and other financial institutions, requires derivatives to be sold on clearinghouses and exchanges, mandates that large banks provide “living wills” to avoid chaotic bankruptcies, limits their ability to trade with customers’ money for their own profit, and creates the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (now headed by Richard Cordray) to crack down on abusive lending products and companies.
Repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”: Ended 1990s-era restriction and formalized new policy allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military for the first time.
Reversed Bush Torture Policies: Two days after taking office, nullified Bush-era rulings that had allowed detainees in U.S. custody to undergo certain “enhanced” interrogation techniques considered inhumane under the Geneva Conventions. Also released the secret Bush legal rulings supporting the use of these techniques.
Created Race to the Top: With funds from stimulus, started $4.35 billion program of competitive grants to encourage and reward states for education reform.
Increased Support for Veterans: With so many soldiers coming home from Iraq and Iran with serious physical and mental health problems, yet facing long waits for services, increased 2010 Department of Veterans Affairs budget by 16 percent and 2011 budget by 10 percent. Also signed new GI bill offering $78 billion in tuition assistance over a decade, and provided multiple tax credits to encourage businesses to hire veterans.
Boosted Fuel Efficiency Standards: Released new fuel efficiency standards in 2011 that will nearly double the fuel economy for cars and trucks by 2025.
Created Conditions to Begin Closing Dirtiest Power Plants: New EPA restrictions on mercury and toxic pollution, issued in December 2011, likely to lead to the closing of between sixty-eight and 231 of the nation’s oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants. Estimated cost to utilities: at least $11 billion by 2016. Estimated health benefits: $59 billion to $140 billion. Will also significantly reduce carbon emissions and, with other regulations, comprises what’s been called Obama’s “stealth climate policy.”
Protected Two Liberal Seats on the U.S. Supreme Court: Nominated and obtained confirmation for Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic and third woman to serve, in 2009; and Elena Kagan, the fourth woman to serve, in 2010. They replaced David Souter and John Paul Stevens, respectively.
Improved Food Safety System: In 2011, signed FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, which boosts the Food and Drug Administration’s budget by $1.4 billion and expands its regulatory responsibilities to include increasing number of food inspections, issuing direct food recalls, and reviewing the current food safety practices of countries importing products into America.
Expanded Wilderness and Watershed Protection: Signed Omnibus Public Lands Management Act (2009), which designated more than 2 million acres as wilderness, created thousands of miles of recreational and historic trails, and protected more than 1,000 miles of rivers.
Gave the FDA Power to Regulate Tobacco: Signed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (2009). Nine years in the making and long resisted by the tobacco industry, the law mandates that tobacco manufacturers disclose all ingredients, obtain FDA approval for new tobacco products, and expand the size and prominence of cigarette warning labels, and bans the sale of misleadingly labeled “light” cigarette brands and tobacco sponsorship of entertainment events.
Pushed Federal Agencies to Be Green Leaders: Issued executive order in 2009 requiring all federal agencies to make plans to soften their environmental impacts by 2020. Goals include 30 percent reduction in fleet gasoline use, 26 percent boost in water efficiency, and sustainability requirements for 95 percent of all federal contracts. Because federal government is the country’s single biggest purchaser of goods and services, likely to have ripple effects throughout the economy for years to come.
Expanded Health Coverage for Children: Signed 2009 Children’s Health Insurance Authorization Act, which allows the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to cover health care for 4 million more children, paid for by a tax increase on tobacco products.
Recognized the Dangers of Carbon Dioxide: In 2009, EPA declared carbon dioxide a pollutant, allowing the agency to regulate its production.
Expanded Stem Cell Research: In 2009, eliminated the Bush-era restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, which shows promise in treating spinal injuries, among many other areas.
Provided Payment to Wronged Minority Farmers: In 2009, signed Claims Resolution Act, which provided $4.6 billion in funding for a legal settlement with black and Native American farmers who the government cheated out of loans and natural resource royalties in years past.
Helped South Sudan Declare Independence: Helped South Sudan Declare Independence: Appointed two envoys to Sudan and personally attended a special UN meeting on the area. Through U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, helped negotiate a peaceful split in 2011.
One of the biggest issues facing us right now is Global Warming. The amazon rainforest, the world’s biggest rainforest, is threatened not only by illegal deforestation, but also the effects of drought and climate change. If we continue without any changes to the addition of CO2 into our atmosphere, nearly half of the jungle will be destroyed by 2050 and could be almost entirely gone by 2100. More than 2,000 native tree species face extinction in the amazon rainforest alone (1).
By 2050, with rapid climate change we risk losing 25 % of Earth’s species (1,2).
It takes more than a thoughtful president to solve important problems facing a nation. It takes a movement of people and a president who is capable of being moved to enact positive change.
“We have to have a president who’s willing to be moved, and you have to have a movement that’s willing to do the moving. And we have not had both at the same time.”
– Van Jones, founder of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights & Green For All, co-founder of Color Of Change, and 2009 Former Special Advisor for Green Jobs for President Obama
We hold a lot more power than we are willing to acknowledge and utilize. The power of our nation is not held by only the people at the top of the US government, the power also remains highly intact in the minds of the people who still believe that democracy and equality are worth the conscious effort.
We only have one extraordinary planet that supports life. Let’s change before it’s too late.