Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Change Comes to Washington?

On January 20, 2009, Barack Obama, the enigmatic celebrity darling turned divine savior of the leftist media, was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. Indeed, being the first African-American to hold the highest office in the country, his election is quite possibly as significant as, if not more than, Washington or Lincoln. Everyone knew that it would happen; it was just a matter of when. With a rather atypical flat inaugural speech, Obama continued his campaign rhetoric of bringing change to Washington and to the country as a whole. The question is, as the most expensive inauguration in Presidential history, were the obvious excesses necessary at a time when Americans are looking to the U.S. government, and its leaders, for fiscal restraint and responsibility? To some, on both sides of the political aisle, it simply sent the wrong message.

While Joe Biden, the long-serving U.S. Senator from Delaware, will be Vice-President, who has “Team Obama” picked for the rest of the Administration to usher in the new era of “hope and change”?


Chief of Staff - Rahm Emanuel

Emanuel is a former senior advisor to President Bill Clinton. He is known as a firebrand, lashing out at those who cross him. He also has documented associations with the corrupt of Illinois politics, from the current scandal-plagued Governor, Rod Blagojevich, on down.

Director of the Office of Management and Budget - Peter Orszag

Orszag is former Director of the Congressional Budget Office. Professors Alan Blinder, of Princeton, and Joseph Stiglitz, of Columbia University, who served in the Clinton Administration as part of Clinton’s economic advisory team, and Robert Rubin, the former Secretary of the Treasury under Clinton, mentored and influenced him. As the current Director and Senior Counselor of Citigroup, Rubin orchestrated Citigroup's strategy of taking on more risk in debt markets that by the end of 2008 led the firm to the brink of collapse and an eventual government bailout. All things considered, a former student of a man who helped bring about the Wall Street collapse in the first place does not seem the solution needed at present.

Ambassador to the United Nations - Susan Rice

Rice is a former staff member of the National Security Council and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs during the Clinton Administration. A senior foreign policy advisor, accusations have swirled around her concerning the failure to act against, and potentially neutralize, Osama bin Laden and his terrorist organization, al-Qaeda, while he was in Sudan in the mid-1990s.

Director of National Intelligence - Dennis C. Blair

A retired Navy admiral with 34 years experience, Admiral Blair was the CIA's military liaison in the mid-1990s. Upon occasion, he advised Obama while the latter served in the U.S. Senate, and was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University with former President Bill Clinton.

Director of the Central Intelligence Agency - Leon Panetta

Panetta is former White House Chief of Staff under Clinton. A veteran Congressman, he is a bureaucratic "outsider" known more for administrative concerns over personnel and budgets with little to no experience in national security matters. He served on the Iraq Study Group, which recommended a phased withdrawal of troops from Iraq in opposition to proposals by the Bush Administration, and General David Petraeus, to increase troops in order to stabilize the country. Only time will tell whether his "outsiderness" will aid or hinder his task of implementing change in an agency that has been under a negative microscope throughout the Bush Administration. As Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the incoming chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, stated, “I believe the agency is best served by having an intelligence professional in charge at this time.”

Solicitor General - Elena Kagan

Kagan was most recently Dean of the Harvard Law School, from which Obama graduated, and former law professor, working alongside Obama, at the University of Chicago. Her scholarly work focuses on administrative law, including the role of the President of the United States in formulating and influencing federal administrative and regulatory law - undoubtedly something needed by an inexperienced President such as Obama. Having previously served as an associate counsel to President Bill Clinton, it may be recalled that Clinton nominated her for the U.S. Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia in 1999. The Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee declined to bring her nomination forward for a hearing, making it one of two D.C. Circuit nominations not acted upon before the end of the Clinton Administration. Later, President George W. Bush nominated John Roberts, the current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, to the seat to which she had been nominated; even more, Obama, as a junior U.S. Senator, voted against Roberts’ confirmation to the high court in 2005. For those not understanding the irony of the entire situation, the Solicitor General is charged with arguing for the United States in front of the Supreme Court.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot…

Another year has passed, and another has begun. More memories gained and further memories, unfortunately, lost to time and age. The question is, have you started your Christmas shopping? Keep in mind, only eleven months until we do it once again. Fortuitously, the astronomical necessity in adding an extra second to the closing year presents an opportunity to reflect on it that much longer.

Intrinsically, the reality of life shows that with the good comes the bad, and vice-versa. Hardly unique, 2008 was witness to moments woefully forgotten – soaring gas prices, global recession, further worldwide terrorism – and those eminently remembered – Fidel Castro stepping down, Michael Phelps surpassing Mark Spitz in Olympic gold, the first African-American elected U.S. President. Locally, there was no less a noteworthy mix as well – tragic, unprecedented shootings; perennial flooding and an early morning earthquake; the ongoing, remarkably hassle-free major highway overhaul. Of course, the sale of Anheuser-Busch may take precedence as the foremost local event to occur during the year. With that in mind, and although we may want some of these moments “never brought to mind” again, we should surely toast the more pleasant with “a right goodwill draught.”

Is it truly a “new” year though? According to the accepted, fairly universal Gregorian calendar, yes – the calendar turned two weeks ago. However, for those countries that still follow the “old” Julian calendar, the New Year actually starts, well, today. The Chinese New Year does not begin, typically, for another week, but may not start from then until sometime in late February. Depending on where one resides in India, the New Year could begin in March or April. Yet, the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, started last September, and because the Islamic calendar is shorter than the Gregorian, Muslims celebrated Muharram (“Islamic New Year”) twice last year.

Thus, have we really rung in “the New Year”? With all the different ways to track time around the globe, it is amazing we even know the day let alone the year. Perhaps that explains, in part, why international diplomacy seems so difficult? Is the real barrier to global peace that no one knows the meeting time? Certainly, the world could use “a cup of kindness yet,” having indeed “wandered many a weary foot.”

No matter the time when one celebrates, there is the inherent hope of a fresh start at the New Year. Regrettably, it is too optimistic to believe that as one is chased away the latest will usher in only the good. Even so, it would be difficult to overcome those unforeseen, dire times without such confidence. Ultimately, we should remember what came before when looking to what is to come, because far too soon, we will face yet another year gone by. Just make certain to have your shopping done before the last second, particularly for those you may have since forgotten.

©2009 Steve Sagarra