OK Barack, Time to Hit the Ground Running.

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons - Michael Pittman

AlterNet asked dozens of writers, experts and activists on key issues to write about where the country needs to go, and the priorities for Barack Obama’s early days in office. 

Michael Ratner, President, Center for Constitutional Rights:

It is historic. A black family in the White House that slaves built. Yes, slaves were used in the construction of the White House. When I was a child this never could have happened. In the 50’s when I visited Florida, even after Brown v. Board of Education, there were separate drinking fountains and bathrooms for Blacks. When Center for Constitutional Rights was founded in the 60’s there were only three elected Black officials in the Black belt; today there are thousands. So we are seeing an amazing moment in American history.

This is not to say our work is done. Obama is not a progressive. But he is certainly more liberal than Bush and McCain. He will redistribute some of the vast wealth that has gone to rich in a county that has plundered its poor since Reagan in 1981. It will not be a social democracy, but it will better than what we had. The disastrous economic crisis is pushing him in this direction, but citizenry will need to keep up the pressure.

Obama has been disappointing regarding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. These must be ended and time is now; the time to revive our anti-war movement is now. We cannot await what Obama might do: he has already told us about wanting to send more troops in Afghanistan. We must push him to end the current wars and eradicate the poison of aggressive war.

Obama has promised to close Guantanamo and end torture. We must hold him to that promise. He must close secret CIA sites and off shore prisons. He must end the kangaroo courts called military commissions. He must end the massive surveillance state America has become.

Finally, he must appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the war crimes of the Bush administration: the aggressive war in Iraq, torture and warrantless wiretapping. In short he must bring America back into the world of civilized states where fundamental rights and the prohibition on aggressive war are not just slogans but guide U.S. actions.


Dahlia Lithwick, contributing editor at Newsweek and senior editor at Slate:

Hit “control+ alt + delete” on the Rule of Law. Literally restart the whole system like its 2000 again. That means: Close Guantanamo and either try or release the remaining prisoners in real tribunals. Renounce water-boarding. Re-assert that the Geneva Conventions still matter. Do away with the Patriot Act reforms that allowed abuse ranging from “national security letters” to terrorizing librarians. Restore FISA. Stop using the “state secrets” to shield judicial scrutiny into government wrongdoing. Ditto for blanket claims of executive privilege for anyone who’s ever muttered a word to the president. Stop with the cryptic and deceptive signing statements. Stop snipe hunting vote fraud.

A lot of new “law” was invented over the past eight years. But legal?

Not so much.


John Cusack, Actor, Director (War, Inc., Grace is Gone):

The world looks to America. The planet sighs in relief. It deserves a righteous party. And now, the real work begins.

The first thing Obama should do is pray. I would hope he would start to dismantle the infrastructure of the occupation of Iraq. And make transparent the gorging on the state — cut off these corporate interests and start reallocating money back into the United States infrastructure and people.


Antonia Juhasz, author, The Tyranny of Oil: the World’s Most Powerful Industry — And What We Must Do To Stop It (HarperCollins Publishers, October 7, 2008).

To President Elect Obama:

Be Bold. Take on Big Oil and undo the disastrously failed economic, military, energy, and deregulatory policies of the past. Big Oil has guided public policy down a disastrous road, standing as an obstacle to the fulfillment of critical social movements against war, a failing economy, and global warming. Renounce and undo the use of the U.S. military as an oil protective force beginning with immediately and unequivocally ending the Iraq war. Make the reintroduction of regulation, enforcement, and taxation of this industry from the production, refining, marketing, transport, to the disposal of its products a vital heart of your administration. Reintroduce the moratoriums on offshore drilling and shale oil development. Fully and finally close the “Enron Loophole” and consider whether it is appropriate to trade a good as fundamental as crude on futures exchanges. Rather than “cap and trade” pollution, ban it through regulation. Eliminate industry subsidies, collect royalties, implement a windfall profits tax, increase gasoline taxes, and increase corporate taxation broadly to help Americans reduce consumption of all oil products by using this money to fund a massive public works program (à la the WPA) in clean sustainable local public transportation and to fund local sustainable green energy alternatives. Reform lobbying, conflict of interest, and campaign finance laws to remove the stain of Big Oil’s money from our democracy and fully embrace the Separation of Oil and State. Lead the world by example by making diplomacy, cooperation, negotiation, and international law–not war–the center of our international energy plan.


Amie Newman, writer for RH Reality Check

Hope is on the horizon. For the last eight years, women have suffered under an administration that has elevated ideology and politics above women’s health and lives. In opposition to the expertise of the medical community, scientists and reproductive health advocates, the Bush administration has chosen to sacrifice women’s health to advance its own agenda. To begin to turn the tides, in the first 100 days of a new administration, there are many pro-prevention, pro-education policies that should be implemented to improve the health outcomes for women and young people worldwide: overturning the Global Gag Rule, taking action on ensuring the availability of publicly funded contraception for low-income women, defunding failed abstinence only programs in favor of proven, effective comprehensive sex ed programs, passing the Freedom of Choice Act.

But you know what I would most love to see from our new president in the first 100 days? Honestly? A new way of talking about sexual and reproductive health and rights that shows that he gets it. Give a substantive, sincere Agenda For Women’s Health speech that makes the link between safe, legal abortion and maternal mortality rates. Talk about the connection between access to contraception for all women and unintended pregnancy rates. Let the young people of this nation know that you trust them enough to push for science-based comprehensive sex ed. Set the stage for a new way of approaching critical sexual and reproductive health and rights issues that tells the rest of the world that the United States is ready to become the health and rights leader it needs to be.


Roberto Lovato, Roberto Lovato, frequent Nation contributor, New York-based writer with New America Media.

Before anything, I’d like to congratulate Sen. Obama for his astonishing campaign. First and foremost, I’d like to see an Obama administration bring rationality and transparency back to the art of government, the science of statecraft. Obama should, for example, end immediately the dangerously irrational rise of miltarized immigration policy — deploying heavily-armed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to terrorize gardners, maids and their children in their homes, schools and workplaces, denying these families habeas corpus and jailing hundreds of thousands of them under the Guantanamo-like conditions of jails run by corrupt companies. Rather than try to reform ICE, one of the most violent, inefficient and militarized branches of government, the Obama Administration should take government immigration functions out of the massive and militarized bureaucracy of the Department of Homeland Security. For most of the history of immigration policy, immigration-related matters have been handled by non-militarized branches of government like the Department of Labor and others. Lastly, an Obama Administration should set a more humane and rational tone around immigration, a tone that shuts down the borders of irrationality and violence in government while also fostering greater understanding of and openness to the geopolitical, legal and other complexities of immigration today.


Dean Baker, Co-Director, Center for Economic and Policy Research

President Obama is coming into office at a time of great risks and enormous opportunity. He can turn the current economic crisis to his advantage by extending national health care insurance as the centerpiece of a major economic stimulus package. Offering generous tax credits to businesses that don’t already insure their workers (along with matching credits to businesses that improve their coverage) will quickly extend coverage to the vast majority of people who are not already covered.

The extension of health care coverage should be accompanied by an opening up of a Medicare-type program to the whole country. This is important both because it will make it very easy for small businesses to simply opt for the Medicare program instead of spending hours comparing the details of various plans and also because a Medicare-type program will provide a mechanism to restrain costs.

President Obama has a huge agenda to fill his terms in office, but if he succeeds in providing universal health coverage, he will have qualitatively changed peoples’ lives in a way that will always be remembered.


Ethan Nadelmann, executive director, Drug Policy Alliance What can a President Obama do about drugs?

First, appoint a drug czar who will be more surgeon general than military general.

Second, insist that science trump politics and prejudice. That means federal support for needle exchange programs that prevent HIV/AIDS and overdose prevention programs that save lives. It means eliminating the ideological barriers that criminalize the prescription of marijuana as medicine, and that prevent doctors from treating pain and addiction with whatever drugs work best. And it means stimulating honest and informed debate on all drug policy options, including decriminalization and legal regulation of drug markets.

Third, eliminate harsh and racially discriminatory drug sentencing laws.

Fourth, stop throwing taxpayer money down the drain on international drug control programs that can have no impact on drug problems within the United States.

And fifth: boldly proclaim a “new bottom line” in U.S. drug policy — one that rejects the empty rhetoric of zero tolerance and a drug free society, that acknowledges the reality that drugs are here to stay, and that insists upon policies that reduce the harms of both drug misuse and our failed prohibitionist policies.


Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNet Senior Fellow

As historic, energetic and emotional as Tuesday’s vote was, there are still many things that public officials need to do to improve how we vote in American to make the process more accessible, transparent and trustworthy.

To start, every state should offer universal same-day registration, so qualified citizens can show up — on Election Day or during early voting — and present the necessary identification to register and then vote. Early voting should also be extended throughout the country, although there should be more voting centers so people do not have to wait half a day or more as was seen in Florida this year. Voters need to be accommodated, not made to jump through unnecessary bureaucratic hoops.

Privatizing the voting process should be reversed, whether it is third-party groups paying workers to register low-income people — because state social welfare agencies are not fulfilling their obligation to do so under federal law — or private vendors that program the voting machinery itself. Software used in these computers should not be proprietary so the process can be more transparent to restore the public’s trust. The nation needs to return to a paper-based voting system, where voters’ marks on ballots leave no ambiguity who voted for who — and vote count audits can be conducted to ensure that computer scanners are properly working.

Election officials finally need the resources to make voting easy and accessible, instead of being a government backwater that only get attention several days a year. Similarly, the presidential public financing system needs to updated so it is a viable choice in modern campaigns, in tandem with federal requirements that open up the airwaves for more debates and opportunities for competing views to be heard.

There are many other ideas on an election reform to-do list, but making voting more accessible, dignified, transparent and elevating the possibility for more detailed public debate would be a very good start.