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Joseph A. Palermo Headshot

Promising Signs As Obama's Cabinet Shapes Up

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Hillary Rodham Clinton could be an excellent choice to be the next Secretary of State. It was said that only Richard Nixon could go to China, so maybe only Hillary Clinton can go to Palestine. A favorite slogan of the neo-cons who led us into Iraq was "the road to Jerusalem runs through Baghdad," but the real "road to Jerusalem" begins in Washington, runs through Washington, and ends up in Washington. Until the Israel-Palestine conflict is ended through a just resolution there can be no lasting "peace" or "security" in the Middle East. A real Israel-Palestine settlement cannot be brought about by a sham "Generous Offer" or by another delusional application of violence like the Birth Pangs War of 2006. It must be consistent with UN Resolution 242. Having as secretary of state with impeccable pro-Israel credentials might be the best chance of getting it done.

As secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton could play the heavy with the Israeli government (for once) and demand that it makes serious concessions toward creating an independent Palestinian state. Since she is such a good friend of Israel she might be able to convince the Israelis that it is in their best interests to compromise. Maybe she can convey to them that the conflict is a cause celebre for international terrorists and the demographics of the region are not on their side. If Clinton has the strength and foresight to settle finally that festering wound in the heart of the Middle East she would be remembered as one of the greatest diplomats in history. If she dithers along and demands no sacrifices from the Israelis she'll be just another Condi Rice.

The appointment of Timothy Geithner to be Secretary of the Treasury also could be an excellent choice. The gravity of the economic collapse requires a technocrat to fill that position, a technocrat who understands Wall Street. Geithner is a far better choice than Lawrence Summers (who is still part of Obama's economic team) and being 47 years old he has far less baggage than the baby-boomer financial wizards who caused the catastrophe. He also seems to be less wedded to market fundamentalism than most captains of high finance and far more sympathetic to what President-elect Barack Obama wishes to accomplish. Bill Richardson as Secretary of Commerce is a good choice because he is friendly with organized labor and he brings political savvy to a job that is usually only reserved for union-busting free marketeers. Janet Napolitano will do a fine job at Homeland Security because after Chertoff (who should have been impeached for his criminal negligence during Hurricane Katrina) almost anybody will be infinitely better. And Tom Daschle at Human Services is a terrific choice because the pharmaceutical companies and HMOs are going to try to break the kneecaps of anyone who tries to bring elementary health care reform to the American people and Daschle knows the ways of the Congress and he just might be able to fight back.

Obama's decision to appoint Eric Holder, Jr. to be Attorney General is also promising. Like Timothy Geithner at Treasury, Eric Holder has his work cut out for him at Justice. The Department of Justice is in shambles after the Alberto Gonzales-Michael Mukasey reign of error. These Bush appointees abused their power by being highly selective in choosing whom to prosecute and what laws to enforce, and they both are guilty of politicizing large swaths of the bureaucracy. If Attorney General Holder prosecutes even a tiny fraction of the public corruption cases perpetrated by Bush Administration cronies he will be a stunning success. And as the first African American to head the Justice Department Holder might reinvigorate the now moribund Civil Rights Division. I'm confident that even a cursory look at potential violations of the Voting Rights Act will bring to light more abuses of power from the Gonzales-Mukasey years. And what about Karl Rove and his wholesale violations of the Hatch Act?

Also encouraging is Obama's choice to help him deal with Capitol Hill. Phillip Schiliro will be Obama's liaison to Congress as Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs. Schiliro worked in Congress for over 25 years and was Representative Henry Waxman's chief of staff. I can't think of a better committee for the White House to coordinate its activities with than Waxman's House Oversight Committee. Waxman has been one of only a handful of Congressional representatives who is willing to take on corporate CEOs and high-ranking government officials. Schiliro rounds out the White House team with Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel who knows both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue better than almost anybody. Emanuel knows how to be an enforcer, but he also knows how to stroke the fragile egos of Representatives and Senators to get things done. Clearly, Obama is determined not to make the same mistakes Bill Clinton made in 1992 when his lack of understanding of the power centers on Capitol Hill tanked his critical first two years in office.

Meanwhile, Iraqis are burning effigies of Bush in Firdos Square, the sight of the famous toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue in April 2003. The Shia government of Nuri al-Maliki is so corrupt it recently fired all of its anti-corruption inspectors. Parts of Baghdad and other Iraqi cities have undergone "Gazafication" where they've become labyrinths of blast walls, earthen berms, checkpoints, and snipers' nests. The plummeting price of oil due to the global economic depression probably means Iraqis will be fighting each other over dwindling foreign exchange revenues.

The American people changed the channel on the Iraq war long ago. But it's still going to be politically dicey for Obama to begin withdrawing U.S. troops. The Right and the corporate media will blame him when fighting breaks out as the absence of American soldiers leads to power vacuums in some areas. Obama is going to need bipartisan cover. He'll need Colin Powell, Chuck Hagel, and Richard Lugar. He might even need Defense Secretary Robert Gates to stay on for a while to provide a Republican face to the American people as things get messy in Iraq. I have already written that I think Gates should resign to "spend more time with his family." I don't want Obama to keep him on. Gates is just Rumsfeld-Lite. But if Obama chooses to keep Gates for a time I will support his decision because he's going to need all the bipartisan cover he can get to end the occupation. And getting out of Iraq is the single most important foreign policy project facing Obama.

And speaking of Donald Rumsfeld. The New York Times thought it would be a good idea to run an op-ed by the former Defense Secretary in yesterday's Sunday edition. Amazing. Here's a guy who pulled facts and figures out of his ass for three years regarding the Iraq war telling Times readers: "The singular trait of the American way of war is the remarkable ability of our military to advance, absorb setbacks, adapt and ultimately triumph... Thus it has been throughout our history. And thus it will be in Iraq and Afghanistan... if our leaders have the wherewithal to persevere even when it is not popular to do so." Rumsfeld writes as if George W. Bush's war of choice in Iraq is something akin to World War Two. I don't know what history books Rummy is reading but the fact is the United States has never "triumphed" in a war that was unpopular at home -- Remember Vietnam?

(And can we please put James Baker III out to pasture once and for all and strip him of his ubiquitous corporate media presence as a commentator and "senior statesman?" Mr. Baker already spent all of his "political capital" in 2000 when he did everything in his power to saddle the nation with his best friend's moron son as president. And his best friend's moron son, for eight years now, has done everything in his power to devastate the middle class in this country. Eleven trillion dollars -- Poof! So, please NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN et al. -- drop this Texas charlatan from your rosters of "experts"; having James Baker III comment on the current economic crisis is like having Ari Fleischer comment on all the lies leading up to the Iraq war -- Oh, I forgot, CNN has him too.)

I'm also curious to see who Obama appoints to head the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC might not sound as glamorous as "State" or "Defense" or "Justice" but I think the implications of who controls that body can affect our nation's health and politics just as much as those sexier departments. We can no longer seriously call our nation a "democracy" while our public discourse is so thoroughly dominated by an oligopoly of narrow corporate financial interests. Every dire problem facing us today -- from the economic catastrophe and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the health care crisis and global warming -- are all flattened, framed, fragmented, and filtered through corporate media lenses. We cannot afford to allow this dismal status quo to continue.

Media reform must be a front-burner issue. We must revisit the disastrous 1996 Telecommunications Act, break up the monopolies in TV and radio, and reintroduce some form of the Fairness Doctrine. A current FCC commissioner, Michael Copps, would be a great FCC Chair, but maybe the media scholar Robert McChesney could be given a seat on the commission; he's from the President-Elect's home state. I dream of a day when Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, and all the other right-wing propagandists are just a few of the many voices operating within a wide, varied, and diverse spectrum of opinion on our public airwaves. (You can't blame a guy for dreaming.)

But all of this speculation might be moot. People who have lost their homes, their jobs, their pensions, and their children's futures are politically unforgiving; they can turn on Obama in an instant. Working with the Congress, Obama must do all he can to stop the home foreclosures; and he must provide cash bailouts directly to the states and municipalities. These state and local governments provide vital services to millions of people and the positive effects of direct aid will be felt immediately. He must also start up as soon as possible his infrastructure rebuilding projects.

He'll get his 100 Days. But Obama's goose will be cooked if he cannot deliver real economic relief to millions of hurting Americans -- AND FAST!

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