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The World Holds Its Breath

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January 19, 2009

All over the world, people are waiting with abated breath as the Obama Presidency begins.  Some thought it would never happen.  I have often wondered whether, at the last minute, the Bush-Cheney junta might decide that it does not want to give up its authority.  Would they contrive some sort of “national security emergency” as a pretext for declaring martial law and suspending the Constitution?  Such a tactic would be entirely consistent with what we have seen for the past eight years.  Surely, there must be some provision buried in the so-called “Patriot Act” allowing the Bush-Cheney regime to continue, despite the expiration of its Constitutionally-prescribed existence.  Constitutional restrictions to unlimited executive power have been ignored by the outgoing administration for the past eight years.  Why should now be any different?  My skepticism on this matter will continue until Barack Obama completes his recitation of the Presidential Oath.

In the mean time, there are those who question whether President Obama will really deliver on his promise of change.  From the liberal side of the political spectrum, plenty of opinions have been published (by reputable commentators) expressing apprehension as to what likely will happen and what actually may not happen during Obama’s tenure in the White House.

On January 18, Salon.com featured an article by David Sirota entitled:  “Obama Sells Out to Wall Street”.  Mr. Sirota expressed his concern over Obama’s accelerated push to have immediate authority to dispense the remaining $350 billion available under the TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) bailout:

Somehow, immediately releasing more bailout funds is being portrayed as a self-evident necessity, even though the New York Times reported this week that “the Treasury says there is no urgent need” for additional money.  Somehow, forcing average $40,000-aires to keep giving their tax dollars to Manhattan millionaires is depicted as the only “serious” course of action.  Somehow, few ask whether that money could better help the economy by being spent on healthcare or public infrastructure.  Somehow, the burden of proof is on bailout opponents who make these points, not on those who want to cut another blank check.

Discomfort about another hasty dispersal of the remaining TARP funds was shared by a few prominent Democratic Senators who, on Thursday, voted against authorizing the immediate release of the remaining $350 billion.  They included Senators Russ Feingold (Wisconsin), Jeanne Shaheen (New Hampshire), Evan Bayh (Indiana) and Maria Cantwell (Washington).  The vote actually concerned a “resolution of disapproval” to block distribution of the TARP money, so that those voting in favor of the resolution were actually voting against releasing the funds.  Earlier last week, Obama had threatened to veto this resolution if it passed.  The resolution was defeated with 52 votes (contrasted with 42 votes in favor of it).  At this juncture, Obama is engaged in a game of “trust me”, assuring those in doubt that the next $350 billion will not be squandered in the same undocumented manner as the first $350 billion.  As Jeremy Pelofsky reported for Reuters on January 15:

To win approval, Obama and his team made extensive promises to Democrats and Republicans that the funds would be used to better address the deepening mortgage foreclosure crisis and that tighter accounting standards would be enforced.

“My pledge is to change the way this plan is implemented and keep faith with the American taxpayer by placing strict conditions on CEO pay and providing more loans to small businesses,” Obama said in a statement, adding there would be more transparency and “more sensible regulations.”

Meanwhile, there is worldwide concern about what Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton can accomplish in the foreign relations and anti-terrorism arenas.  As discussed in an editorial from the January 18 Times of London:

Mr Obama’s biggest immediate challenge is in Afghanistan.  The president is hoping a troop surge, which he opposed in Iraq, will work. However, the prospect of a military solution in Afghanistan is remote and he may learn that the hard way.  In the meantime, he has to hope Iraq does not flare up again and that the Iran nuclear question remains one for diplomacy rather than military conflict.  His drive for a Middle East peace deal is not the first by a US president and nor will it be the last.

As the sun finally rises over the Obama Presidency, there are still plenty of clouds in the sky.  Does this mean we are in for more turmoil?  Some people might take this as a sign that it’s about to start raining money.

The Six Degrees Of Barack Obama

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July 28, 2008

Back in 1993, John Guare’s play, Six Degrees of Separation, made it to the big screen.   Shortly into the story, Stockard Channing’s character, Ouisa Kittredge, explained the following to her daughter:

I read somewhere that everybody on this planet is separated by only six other people —  six degrees of separation between us and everyone else on this planet — the President of the United States, a gondolier in Venice.  … Just fill in the name.   I am bound — you are bound — to everyone else on this planet by a trail of six people.

Not long afterward, three students at Albright College:  Craig Fass, Brian Turtle, and Mike Ginelli, were watching the movie, Footloose, on television.  The next movie to come on the television that night after Footloose was Quicksilver.   This led the trio to recall all the movies Kevin Bacon had been in, as well as all the people with whom Bacon had worked.   They developed their own party game called “The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”.   Their next step was to write a letter to Jon Stewart, expressing their theory that Kevin Bacon was “the center of the entertainment universe”.   This led to their appearances on Stewart’s TV show, as well as The Howard Stern Show and an article in Spy magazine.  Under the game’s rules, the number of degrees by which an actor is removed from Kevin Bacon, is referred to as that actor’s “Bacon Number”.   Although he was initially annoyed by all of this, Kevin Bacon (whose Bacon Number is  O) went on to from a charity called SixDegrees.org.

At this point in the Presidential campaign, the McCain camp must believe that their next attack strategy should be to connect Barack Obama to some Islamic terrorist and make him look more like that cartoon on the cover of The New Yorker.   McCain had tightened up the race for a while but his stupid “cost of gasoline” campaign ad, his desperate attacks on Obama’s patriotism and Obama’s successful world tour have put McCain behind by as much as 9 percent (Gallup, July 27).   As a result, the game is now on to find someone (some terrorist – hopefully Islamic) who can be connected to Barack Obama.   Since everyone in the world is connected by six degrees (as we learned from John Guare’s movie) McCain’s people are probably looking for the most menacing individual out there, with the lowest “Obama Number” possible.

This past weekend brought some publicity to a couple of men with an “Obama Number” of 1.   The first was Barack’s half-brother, Bernard, who was found by the British Sun tabloid.  Their article published on Saturday, July 26, referred to him as “Muslim Bernard”.   Bernard, a convert to Islam, runs a car parts firm in Nairobi, Kenya and is not a terrorist.  Nevertheless, McCain’s people must have been energized by the identification of someone who is a Muslim with an “Obama Number” of 1.   Who knows?   They might find that sought-after “Islamist terrorist” with an Obama Number as low as 2.

Not to be outdone, Sunday’s Times of London found another half-brother of Barack Obama, living in southern China.   The Times reported:

Mark Ndesandjo is the son of Barack Obama’s late father and his third wife, an American woman named Ruth Nidesand who runs the up-market Maduri kindergarten in Nairobi.

The Times article described Mr. Ndesandjo as someone who “has been helping to promote cheap Chinese exports in a low-profile business career”.  McCain’s people must have been delighted by the term “cheap Chinese exports”.   Now they have someone with an “Obama Number” of 1, a half-brother, whom they might try to link to the lead-painted toy scandal.  Nevertheless, this still isn’t juicy enough.   They need a terrorist with a nice, low Obama Number.   The McCain camp must have been encouraged by the statement in the Times piece that said “Barack Obama senior fathered eight children by four different women.”   Now, if only one of those eight could be connected by one degree to a terrorist   .   .   .