2009/01/11

Happy, happy, joy, joy

While the economic situation continues to deteriorate and while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has made some amazingly bad decisions, we've also seen some really astonishingly good news on the political front. I kept watching President-elect Obama's pick of Leon Panetta for CIA head to end up as a typical, clumsy, Democratic cluster----, but amazingly it didn't and America has thus made a very strong statement that the torture of people in US custody is a policy that will die a well-deserved death when the Bush Administration leaves office.

The first clue that Obama would take a different approach to the whole cluster of issues that the neocons have stood for was when he chose General Eric Shinseki to be the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. This was significant because Shinseki strongly disagreed with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld over how many troops would be needed to occupy Iraq after Saddam Hussein fell. But that personnel choice simply put a neocon opponent into a meaningful position. The pick of Panetta is even better because he's directly involved in making policy decisions concerning people in US custody and has had absolutely nothing to do with Bush's torture policies, in fact, he's spoken out against them.

When one learns that the actions of a politician are drawing opposition, well, that's not always a bad thing. The Wall Street Journal editorial page, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-CA, aka "DiFi") and Senator John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV, departing Intelligence Committee Chair, aka "Jello Jay") were all at least initially upset by the choice. Of course, as the two Senators' main complaint was that they weren't informed of the choice before it was announced and as they were both quickly mollified over it, they're perhaps better described as "peeved" or "miffed." The really good thing is that while Obama apologized to the Senators, he didn't back down! Panetta was announced as the Director of the CIA on the 9th.

People have noticed this and are taking advantage of Obama's apparent willingness to extract a real price from Bush/Cheney and their people over the torture issue. The Obama transition website (change.gov) is open for questions and 70,000 have pushed the question:

Will you appoint a Special Prosecutor -- ideally Patrick Fitzgerald -- to independently investigate the gravest crimes of the Bush Administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping?

Even though there doesn't appear to be a general national outcry over these two specific issues of presidential lawlessness and although it's really not clear what kind of game VP Cheney is playing by not wanting a presidential pardon, the issues don't appear to be going away anytime soon.

Senator John Kerry is running at Obama from the left on how to shape the economic stimulus bill. The bloggers Digby and dday are both convinced that he's doing a kabuki play, an elaborate playacting to open up some space to Obama's left and ultimately make it appear that Obama's a centrist who will take the "Goldilocks approach" of choosing some policy option between the two extremes. If so, this is something that the lefties of Z Magazine and The Nation have been pressuring Democrats to do for decades. Apparently, he's lowballing the size of the needed stimulus in the hopes that Democratic lawmakers will bid the size of it upwards. In other words, Obama is not going to take the approach of trying to do everything himself. He realizes the right wing is far too strongly entrenched into the nation's system for him to take it on all by himself. He's going to need the help of an active and engaged citizenry to succeed. It's also quite noteworthy that he appears to be taking the advice of economists like Paul Krugman seriously as Krugman was one of those who saw the Housing Bubble early.

No, the world is not all sweetness and light. Bush just backed out of a Gaza ceasefire resolution, condemning that unhappy part of the world to still more violence, death and destruction. Still, it's noteworthy that the political general David Petraeus is speaking about talking with Iran.

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