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Year of the shoe 

With Obama's inauguration, no matter what happens next year, it's got to be better than Bush.

Time to bid farewell to 2008, Year of the Flying Shoe. “This is a gift from the Iraqis; this is the farewell kiss, you dog!” Iraqi TV reporter, Muntader al-Zaidi shouted at George W. Bush during a recent Baghdad news conference. He then hurled a shoe that narrowly missed the US president’s noggin. Bush was on a last visit to the scene of his war crimes. When Bush finally slithers out of office on January 20, Barack Hussein Obama, the first African-American commander-in-chief, will move into the White House, the whiter-than-white presidential mansion that slaves helped build. Obama’s election victory made him the obvious choice for Time magazine’s 2008 Person of the Year. “He hit the American scene like a thunderclap, upended our politics, shattered decades of conventional wisdom and overcame centuries of the social pecking order,” a Time wordsmith declared.

Obama won the world’s top political office promising that “change can happen.” That was a welcome message for millions of poor and middle-class Americans fucked over royally by more than 25 years of pro-Big Business politics that began with Reagan and continued full throttle with the Bushes and Clinton. But how sweeping will Obama’s brand of change really be? So far, his choices for cabinet posts have disappointed many supporters. Obama’s nomination, for example, of former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture led to an outcry from sustainable farming activists, including the Organic Consumers Association. The OCA launched an online petition urging the US Senate not to confirm Vilsack because he supported factory livestock farming while promoting genetically engineered crops and animal cloning. “Equally troubling is Vilsack’s support for unsustainable industrial ethanol production, which has already caused global corn and grain prices to skyrocket, literally taking food off the table for a billion people in the developing world,” the OCA adds. Vilsack supporters, on the other hand, argue that the former governor has a reputation for open-mindedness, strongly supports land conservation and understands the need to reduce the huge amounts of greenhouse gases that US agriculture emits. If the Senate confirms Vilsack, he and Obama will have to be judged of course, by what they actually do in office. But so far, Obama’s cabinet choices suggest that although “change can happen,” it will likely come in small, cautious steps.

That may also be true of Obama’s pledge to withdraw US troops from Iraq within 16 months. That promise is not quite as decisive as it seems. As journalist Amy Goodman pointed out recently during her Democracy Now broadcast, “Obama’s plan would still leave tens of thousands of US troops behind in a so-called ‘support’ role to the Iraqi army.” Even worse, the new president plans to send thousands more US troops to Afghanistan, prolonging a futile war that has already lasted more than seven years in a volatile region where India and Pakistan regularly rattle their nuclear sabres. Obama also seems likely to continue his uncritical support for Israel, the region’s other nuclear power, in spite of its ruthless and systematic oppression of the Palestinian people. Obama could force Israel to the negotiating table by threatening to cut off US military and financial support, but so far there’s no sign that he will.

The truth is Obama, like US presidents before him, will have to be pushed to pursue more progressive policies. Abe Lincoln had the anti-slavery movement behind him. FDR had organized labour while the civil rights movement pushed LBJ. Here’s hoping a broad coalition including environmentalists, peace groups and social activists will pressure Obama to make real change happen. One thing’s already in his favour, though. No matter what he does, he’s bound to seem better than George Bush, the shoe-ducker of Baghdad. “This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq!” the Iraqi TV journalist shouted. Then hallelujah, his other shoe flew. Happy New Year!

Who do you want to throw a loafer at? Let Bruce know via brucew@thecoast.ca.

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