Friday, November 14, 2008

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

The Good

Rock star Obama. He’s loud, he’s proud and he’s black; the first African American leader of the free world in fact. Exaggerated superlatives and cheesy clich├ęs aside, this really is a momentous occasion and as mainstream politics go, it doesn’t get much better than this.

People are excited about “democracy” again and many hold high hopes for his presidency; some say it could be the most important project in human history. That would be a lot of pressure for Joe the Plumber but won’t be an issue for the unflappable (just don’t follow him around during Halloween) Obama.

He’s young but seemingly wise and intelligent. He’s frighteningly charismatic yet seems to escape looking insincere or sleazy. He’s well educated and holds the distinction of being the Harvard Law Review’s first black president.

Well versed in Saul Alinsky style community organizing, he spent several years, after graduating from Columbia, working in the south side of Chicago cutting his teeth on grass roots politics while working on the Developing Communities Project.

After Harvard, he turned up his nose at cushy job offers from corporate law firms and even turned down a prestigious clerkship with the Federal Appeals court; all so he could return to Chicago and continue fighting for reform.

Then, while in the midst of ‘rubbing raw the source of everyone’s discontent’ he decided to run for a senate seat representing his Chicago turf and ended up winning over long time community stalwart Alice Palmer. Obama initiated an investigation which uncovered fake signatures on the ballot initiatives of Palmer and the other candidates and ended up winning by default; he was the only candidate left in the race.

This was his first act of political Jiu-jitsu.

During his time in the senate he distinguished himself by championing the cause of health care, ethics and welfare reform while also fighting police abuses of power by introducing legislation designed to monitor racial profiling by police during “routine” traffic stops and subsequent detentions of young black males.

In 2002, a couple years before he ran for state senate, he stood up on the house floor and voiced his resistance to the criminal invasion of Iraq; a move which put him in the sights of hawkish republicans and right wing members of his own party. It also put him on the anti-war crowd Christmas card list, however, and this act of providence provided Obama with a large, diverse and progressive fan base from which he drew enough support to win the election.

According to, Obama has reached out to this core constituency by promising the following reforms:

* Withdraw all combat troops from Iraq within 16 months and remove all permanent bases in the country

*Close Guantanamo Bay detention center

*Open diplomatic talks with countries like Iran and Syria, to pursue peaceful resolution of tensions

*De-politicize military intelligence to avoid ever repeating the kind of manipulation that led the US into Iraq

*Establish a clear goal of eliminating all nuclear weapons across the globe

*Launch a major diplomatic effort to stop the killings in Darfur (Congo could be added to that list now that war has started up there again)

*Double US aid to cut extreme poverty in half by 2015 and accelerate the fight against HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria

*Reduce US carbon emissions 80% by 2050 and play a strong, positive role in negotiating a binding global treaty to replace the expiring Kyoto Protocol.

*Invest $150 billion over ten years to support renewable energy and get 1 million plug-in electric cars on the road by 2015

*Only negotiate new trade agreements that contain labor and environmental protections

Obama is quoted on his website as saying, “I’m asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington…I’m asking you to believe in yours.”

This key point is crucial. For fundamental change to take place, Obama will need unprecedented levels of public pressure focused in strategically significant ways in order to initiate the changes expected of him. The PR machine wants us to believe Obama’s “our man on the inside” but Obama himself is equally vocal about needing popular support to accomplish his goals.

This might be possible. Millions of people were mobilized out of their political apathy during his campaign and the bewildered herd trampled to the polling stations in unprecedented numbers during the election and made themselves a force to be reckoned with. Young people, blacks, Hispanics and formally disinterested members of the general public logged out of Facebook and came together in droves; congregating in huge lines while waiting hours to cast their vote.

This was really an awesome spectacle but it’s only the beginning. They will need to stay vocal and become increasingly more active, ramping up the pressure as resistance rises and becomes more militant. History tells us that those who hold power do not willingly abdicate their privilege unless forced to do so.

Obama and the left are not alone, however. On the world stage, opinion polls clearly suggest Obama is popular among the majority of the world’s 6.5 billion people who care to pay attention to such matters. Even Iran’s “Axis of Evil” President Mahmoud Admadinejad has congratulated Obama on his victory and has made an overture through the press suggesting a willingness to co-operate with the new administration.

These are all positive signs and only the most cynical among us would ignore them.

The Bad

Sauntering onto stage “left” is charming Joe Biden and congressional pit-bull Rahm Emanuel. Biden will be Vice-president and Emanuel has been offered the “Josh Lyman” slot.

This seems like an odd casting call when you consider Biden was an early and ardent supporter of the Iraq invasion and “Rahmbo” has proven himself a staunch pro-war, pro-Israel (his hobbies include pandering to the AIPAC crowd) and big business supporter.

In fact, Rahm most recently distinguished himself by sheep-dogging left of center democrats, Obama and Biden among them, into supporting the $700 billion dollar bailout heist; the most blatant swindling of taxpayer money in recent history.

Coincidentally, Obama has received enormous contributions from big league corporate and special interest players, many of whom lobbied hard for this latest taxpayer extortion, so having Rahm as chief of staff could be a clear indication of corporate purse strings at work. Just as likely though, Obama choose Rahm because Republicans are afraid of him and Rahm claims to wake up and even hate himself, so he’s just the kind of barroom brawler Obama will need in the trying times ahead.

A clearer sign of backroom dealing would be Obama’s refusal to support a single payer health care system and his calls for increasing the nations already bloated defense budget but whether this means “President Obama” will allow powerful corporate interests and defense lobby groups to influence his policies isn’t clear but it’s a fair question and reasonable concern.

This brings us to the next cast of characters.

The Ugly

It will be interesting to see how Obama will staff other key positions in his cabinet. Rumors persist that Colin Powell will be offered employment. Something tells me that Mr. Powell, who failed to get an Oscar nod for his lackluster performance before the UN General Assembly during the b-movie days of evidentiary value mushroom clouds and invisible Weapons of Mass Destruction, will feel more at home in a center-left household than he did with the Bush clan.

Then there’s river boat hero and flip flopper extraordinaire, John Kerry, who might be called upon to navigate the murky depths of foreign policy.

As Obama attended his first Presidential Daily Brief last week and received a good dose of scare from the National Intelligence Estimate, his choice of Defence Secretary, who will be press-ganged into dealing with the Iraq and Afghanistan mess, was probably on the forefront of his mind.

Other than dealing with an economy heading into a depression, the challenges such as extracting American forces from Iraq, making distasteful deals with various tribal drug lords or the Taliban, keeping Pakistan from disintegrating completely and dealing with a more bellicose Russia will be his biggest immediate task as Commander-in-Chief.

Most telling will be Obama's pick for Attorney General. This might provide some early indication as to whether Obama has an appetite for upholding the constitution by prosecuting the Bush administration for criminal wrongdoing or the FBI for its gross violations of privacy during investigations aimed mostly at Muslim Americans.

Obama didn’t say much about Gitmo, CIA water-boarding, kangaroo courts AKA military tribunals or abuse of civil liberties during his campaign speeches or debates with McCain, so the choice for AG will be revealing.

Obama has waffled and reversed decisions on off shore drilling and the use of coal (the latter made necessary during Virginias vote wooing) so it will be interesting to see who is appointed to the EPA or what policies emerge from his cabinet on climate change initiatives.

In a bi-partisan, made in Hollywood twist, it’s been rumored that tinsel town favorite “Aw-nold” might be re-cast as Energy Secretary due to his success in reducing California’s carbon emissions while Governor.


However it turns out, real change or just more status quo, it will be a win-win for the lefties. Intellectual juggernaut Noam Chomsky, no fan of the current electoral system, recently stated, “Elections are extravaganzas, essentially run by the public relations industry with the goal of marginalizing issues and voters.”

But voting can make a difference he insisted, as long as one votes “without Illusion” and sees the process for what it really is.

“Presidents make differences. In fact, over time there are systematic differences between Republicans and Democrats. So, for example, if you look over a long stretch, fairly consistently, when there is a democratic president, there is a level of benefits for the majority of the population. Wages are better; benefits are a little better, for the large majority. When the Republicans are in office, it’s the other way around. There are benefits, but for the super rich. The same is true of civil rights and other things. It’s a consistent difference, even though they’re within a narrow spectrum.”

This narrow spectrum Chomsky characterized as essentially consisting of two factions within the same party of super elites vying for control in an election where no real third party alternative is permitted to exist. By definition, if not in resemblance, this is more like a dictatorship than a real democracy.

The rival clan glaring at Obama with steely eyes from across the saloon include hired guns from the congressional military industrial complex, captains of industry and representatives from 1500 or so special interest groups currently lobbying a besieged and well fed group of 535 congressman and senators.

Senator Obama, as judged by his voting in the senate (which has been carefully reviewed by a number of credible independent media sources), has a very poor record of standing up to power such as this.

With those facts in mind, it’s still my ardent belief….No, scratch that….Its still my exuberant hope, that Obama is just playing good jiu-jitsu; pulling guard, defending himself, doing whatever is necessary to outmaneuver his opponents, then slowly over time gaining position and once in the top spot, using the advantages of his position to leverage his opponents from the inside out.

Any good jiu-jitsu or judo player knows the value of patience, timing and proper technique and surviving politics requires the same approach.

Whether our hero beats up the bad guys or receives the help he needs from the public is anyone’s guess, but one blogger recently suggested, “Take up yoga, lefties, because you’re gonna need an awful lot of flexibility to perform the contortions necessary to explain and justify President Obama’s actions over the next four years”.

I don’t much like yoga so I hope Obama has a good ground game.

This report courtesy of freelance commentator and imaginary pundit Steve.

The Brazen Head Press


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