Obama’s First Address to Congress

Clips of Obama’s first address to Congress shows him translating his abilities as an orator into his new role. Although the chips are down he exudes confidence and determination to deal with pressing issues. Education and health care get an honourable mention and this appears to go down well with those assembled.
The promise to close down the adventure in Iraq was a relief, but U.S. foreign policy continues as before in Afghanistan and Pakistan. So once again there’s the promise of change belied by flashbacks to Bush and before, an imperialism which seeks to dominate and impose U.S. values across the globe.
It remains to be seen what response the U.S. will make, or indeed is making, to the emerging socialist states of Latin America. While Gitmo is closed in Cuba, presumably the U.S. will hand on to the base like glue. What will happen to the sanctions imposed on Cuba and the falsely imprisoned Cuba Five?

The news that U.S. officials visited Gaza and have reported back in exceptionally strong terms is of great interest. While this was not an official visit the question is how this relates to the White House and the President in particular: The following is from Jewish Voice for Peace:
“In what is certainly a hopeful turn of events, Senator John Kerry and Reps Keith Ellison and Brian Baird visited Gaza last week, the first US government officials to do so in more than three years. Their visit was not “officially” sanctioned by the Obama administration, but surely could not have taken place without at least tacit agreement. The three were by all accounts absolutely shocked by the devastation that they witnessed, and Reps Ellison and Baird, at least, have issued very strong statements..
Rep. Baird’s statement is printed below. He writes, for instance: “what went on here, and what is continuing to go on, is shocking and troubling beyond words.” In an extraordinary interview with the BBC (http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/news/2009/02/090220_gaza_visit_wt_sl.shtml), Rep. Ellison describes his impression in terms strongly critical of Israel, reporting:
“Devastation. Devastation and destruction of facilities that to my mind were not legitimate military targets in any sense of the term, for example the American International School of Gaza was hit, and it is not in a crowded densely packed area, it is kind of out in the middle of a field almost, and it is hard to see how it represented any sort of threat to anyone.”
Both Representatives were struck by (and deeply critical of) not only the massive suffering, loss of life, and destruction, but also the vicious and arbitrary manner in which Israel continues to block humanitarian supplies from entering Gaza, supplies such as lentils, tomato paste, and basic building materials.
In his BBC interview, Rep. Ellis was asked why he did not meet with Hamas during his trip. His answer is remarkably candid:
“The constellation of political forces in the United States at this moment would make a member of Congress who reached out directly to Hamas spend all their time defending that decision, and not be able to spend their time on other critical issues that need to be focused on. So for example if I were to make a move like that, I would not be able to focus my attention on the humanitarian issue, I’d have to defend myself to my colleagues, why I reached out to a terrorist organization. It would absorb all my time, I would spend a lot of time fighting off personal attacks and would not be able to achieve goals that I have.”
When asked if this state of affairs is likely to change, Ellison replied:
“Hamas has it within their power to make it easier to talk to them” by respecting a unity government with Fatah, for instance. “I hope that those European parliamentarians who are talking to Hamas behind the scenes can persuade them that if they soften their position it would be a lot easier for American politicians to talk to them.”
Senator Kerry also seems to be open to dialogue on Gaza. On a recent Democracy Now (Feb. 11), Mustafa Barghouti, an independent Palestinian lawmaker and democracy activist reported: “At the Senate yesterday, I had a very, very good meeting with John Kerry, the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.”
These are all very hopeful signs. The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation has put out an action alert asking (among other things) for people to thank Kerry, Baird and Ellison. (See http://endtheoccupation.org/article.php?id=1867)”
Sen. John Kerry: 202-224-2742
Rep. Brian Baird: 202-225-3536
Rep. Keith Ellison: 202-225-4755

Judith Norman

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