Friday, January 23, 2009

First-week Obama reforms and miscellaneous tidbits

This needs no introduction. I'll start with the most important:

This week, President Obama signed an execution order closing Guantanamo Bay and secret CIA prisons, and enforcing the Army Field Manual for interrogations, citing the "false choice between our safety and our ideals" offered by the previous administration. European governments commended him for this action, as they've been ferrying our "enemy combatants" over their airspace for years. Obama will, of course, have to address the damage done by imprisoning people without charges, as well as what to do with those about whom a legitimate case could be built. Huge step in the right direction. (Viewers interested in some of the rationale for keeping Gitmo prisoners behind bars may enjoy/get riled up at this little aside.) Thankfully, the CIA promises to withhold the new rules on suspected terrorist detention and interrogation "without exception, carve-out, or loophole."

Large steps were taken to bring back transparency in government and reversing FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) restrictions enacted by John Ashcroft under Dubya, taking the attitude that information should be released on a timely basis by governmental agencies without waiting for a public request, in stark contrast to earlier policies encouraging information to be withheld unless no possible objections could be found.

Obama also blocked some (but not all) of the "last-minute environmental decisions" of Bush, including looser regulations and a removal of the gray wolf form the endangered species list.

Rush Limbaush and Sean Hannity decided to start putting a U.S. President under scrutiny for the first time since 2000. As Limbaugh seems desperate to prove that he's not a racist in his opposition of Obama (something the American people can probably accept), he freely admits that he wants Obama to fail and damage the country with his left-wing policies. SITYS. I guess he was only joking when he criticized Democrats for wishing death on Bush's shortsighted policies; Republican Kool-Aid cares not for race, as long as you're wearing the right hat!

Immigrants Rights Groups voiced their concern that Obama will raise the level of discourse concerning illegal immigration rather than just signing a reform bill. Americans have been notoriously fickle on their views of immigration, even considered in the aggregate: a large Gallup poll found a vast majority of Americans either glowingly supporting or concerned about immigration depending on the questions asked. How can Obama use his "power of words" without patronizing Americans who may not agree with him? (For the record, I support full amnesty for individuals with no record of violent crimes, a permanent streamlining of the immigration process and then tightening the border. I doubt that will be on the table.)

Obama is now held to the job of reforming entitlements (SS and government healthcare, among others), a task about which he's been characteristically vague. I predict it's very unlikely he'll arrive at a satisfactory solution to this problem, one that existed long before Bush. Raising requirements or mandatory contributions will be unpopular, and "universal health care" may turn out to be nothing more than a reshuffling of the numbers. Let's hope I'm wrong and next month's economic summit bears some sort of practical fruit.

Obama still needs to do his part to reverse the lapses of civil liberties in America. I'd like to see something done immediately about NSA-sponsored spying on American citizens and journalists, as well as legal immunity for telecom corporations complicit in illegal wiretaps and unconstitutional surveillance. Bush first insisted that warrants were required for every instance or surveillance. This later turned out to be either a lie, or something Bush wasn't paying attention to during those boring cabinet meetings. Whoops! (For further information on the NSA whistleblower in the above link, I highly recommend his Wikipedia page, which goes into detail on the electronic tracking, sham psychological evaluations and demotions he was forced to undergo as he attempted to reform the system.)

Still, I'll be more interested in what Obama does as he really settles into office. These early decisions are fairly uncontroversial; coming out in opposition to torture, war and corruption is hardly controversial. Will Obama continue his winning streak or will he falter when he runs out of Bush flops to fix? Will his scant few years of experience in the corrupt Washington waterworks turn out to be an asset or a fatal flaw?

Find out next week, in another exciting edition of. . . sorry, I was on autopilot there for awhile.

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