Like everybody else I've been dazzled by the New President. Nothing like the old Bush, cooler even than Clinton in his best suit. I'm still charmed. Obama wow! Here's a guy who knows how to talk.

On the eve of his first hundred days I wonder if there's anything more to him than saying all the right things, at least to Democrats and European lefties and doggone it the G20 to boot. A huge accomplishment right there that eclipses the standard notion of American Literacy, doing great on a Spelling Bee or making a dumb feelgood movie about it.

I'd give him another 100 days to deliver on what he says so well, but some Americans don't feel that's a good idea I was mildly surprised to find out on a long train ride through the still glacial forests of North Ontario. In the Via Rail dining car the steward sat me down with a table full of Americans doing the continental tour east of BC.

It wasn't long before the small talk turned to Obama. What do Americans back home think of Obama? It's hardly scientific posing the big question to 3 Floridans on vacation who just might be representative of some other Floridans or Southerners or Americans at large or Americans in general. But they looked mainstream middle-aged, so it was worth a try. Is Obama as popular as he was at the Inauguration?

More popular outside the country. One hit, one miss. I didn't have to ask if they were Republicans, nor would you if you wanted to be polite and get at how they honestly felt, politics aside. Still I was a bit puzzled that the tone had changed at our table from yes we can to no we shouldn't have done it.

The odd thing was though if they didn't like Obama much, point after point, except for a few points, I kept hearing that Obama was doing more or less what Bush had done. Though they were for Bush they weren't for Obama.

Whatever Obama said, Obama like Bush was still pushing for a victory in Iraq with Bush's main man Gates. Leaving 50,000 soldiers behind after the pullout to make sure, is hardly the pre-election promise of our troops are going home. But that was a pretty good way out my friends agreed.

After the war and why hit Iraq in the first place, we digested the economy. If Bush started the bailouts -- I said, and they jumped in with -- what did Obama do except throw more money out the window? Bush didn't start the bailouts either, but his hands were tied by the Democrats who controlled the House and pushed for the bailouts. Which measure Bush could have vetoed I forgot to say.

But we were ready to admit to no easy answers on what to do and plenty of risks whatever was done to save the economy. Still for them it came down to Obama as the wrong man for the job. In America it always boils down to Republicans vs Democrats. So can you have a free debate? Not exactly, as R&D runs as deep as two religions at war over Sunday dinner.

Even if the bailouts worked which the table thought unlikely, the only safe money was in T-Bills or under your mattress. Not even bonds were a good bet. The bottom of the market was coming when commercial property prices were bound to be hit hard and printing that extra two trillion dollars was probably going to mean runaway inflation like Zimbabwe. And that was going to make the next generation, though I demurred here, hard-nosed and conservative. More like desperate I thought if worst came to worst, maybe a neo-feudalism emerging from an economic collapse like some Hollywood version of a grimy broken-down future. But I wanted to hear what they had to say.

Like it or not you have to pay the bills, they said. And we all agreed that leaving that problem for later while spending madly now, Obama was asking for trouble he wouldn't have to face after he left Washington.

All hypothetical like a possible economic recovery. But with the Bush record in, with Bush presiding over the biggest combination decline in American fortunes and prestige ever, I had to wince at the fair shake he was still getting from my new friends. Wasn't Bush running two miserable wars, usually enough to fix any economy, and wasn't he minding the store when it went bankrupt?

Clinton started it! Was I hearing things? Hillary? The other Clinton who did a nice job on the economy? With Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. That's when the bad loans started to people who couldn't pay.

Can't say I remember that? With Clinton pursued 24 hour a day by media bloodhounds over his sex life? With impeachment proceedings in Congress going on straight out of The Merchant of Venice? Who was watching anything else, who would know what Clinton did with Freddie and Fannie if anything? That's America for you. You can believe just about anything happening and find something to back it up. Bill Clinton did it! Hillary shredded the Double F Memo! First Lewinski's dress, then toxic assets as government welfare. Maybe somebody should check this?

Then Obama's tax relief, they said, more handouts from Obama for people who don't make enough? If they wanted to work more they could get more money.

Sure they should make more
, I said, but how? And what's wrong with a bit of welfare they need that sounds Republican?

It's not America. Every country has their way. Why can't we stick to ours? We're not Europe. We're not Canada.

I thought about that later. The big difference was share the wealth vs everybody makes their own in America. But with one in ten Americans on food stamps it wasn't working anymore. But I got the drift in time to add:

When capitalism fails, isn't it time to think a bit about socialism? Bailing out the banks, Wall Street and Detroit, isn't that socialism? Isn't Obama a socialist in the Canadian mode as the Washington Times called him before the election? Is that so bad? Isn't that why he was elected? To share the wealth even if he didn't cross that rhetorical line and promise it exactly, though promising just about anything else he just might be able to do?

That's stumbling block number one. In America it's OK to be a capitalist or a failed capitalist, but not a socialist. Deep down inside the conservative streak in the USA, you can't be a socialist. Obama has got to fail like Rush Limbaugh wants him to. Not strictly on economics, as that will hurt everyone, but on his politics. Obama's been going after Bush. That's stub your big toe for some Republicans.

Publishing the Torture Memos. Obama flips the nice guy Obama wild card for the jackpot. Bush loses, Republicans and Americans lose or that's how these people from Florida took it. America didn't do anything wrong and Obama's going after Bush for doing a good job he had to do that was tough and dangerous and dirty.

We were up against people who killed all those Americans at the World Trade Center, who cut off people's heads. They weren't fighting a war. We weren't fighting a war. The Geneva Conventions don't apply.

Simple explanations are hard to beat. If you disagree all you can do is get long winded or say hey you're wrong. I made a stab at it. Yeah, but. Then you get atrocities on both sides, was about all I could manage. Here's what I thought while while they were talking about what the terrorists were doing and how we had to as tough on them:

That's what Bush thought. Certainly Al Qaeda didn't follow Geneva Conventions. Aggressors often don't in any conflict, but that's no reason to fight terror with terror or start a war with Rumsfeld's Shock and Awe against an Iraq that never fired a bullet at the USA.

What's America anyway if not a champion of justice and liberty? Do you throw that away to fight a dirty war? When the battleground is far from home and you have overwhelming firepower, how do you look in the history books when you torture and humiliate suspects you make prisoners in Abu Graib, in CIA Secret Prisons, in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba?

You lose that war morally. No one can trust you again, not your friends either. The rule of law is fundamental to a democracy. It's no wonder that Obama does want to do the right thing and insists on it. He values America. Words do mean something. The American Constitution means something. America means something.

Before the wars and the bailouts, when America spends 40% of the federal budget on the military, other countries and other people worry, was about all I managed to say. And then with all that firepower you still play down and dirty. No way to get respect from the world or your enemies.

Where did you get 40%? I guess that includes the Coast Guard and the National Guard? We also spend a lot on foreign aid. Or maybe we should do what that comedian George Carlin said and close all our bases and bring home all that money. Would that be better? Might be better for us? But he was joking.

We had a laugh about that. After all we were having a friendly holiday dinner on a train through the snowy woods of a late spring far from the reality of power politics. Though there was a more serious coda of sorts, back in the shambles of the economy.

I mentioned Haliburton's move from Houston to Dubai, where this push for globalization by governments and business literally led to exporting jobs and whole industries to freewheeling unregulated poorer countries where it's also cheaper to do business.

That started the home-grown recession, I said. First Nixon's visit to China slowly cooked up to a boil on Wall Street, fueled further with tax incentives by the Bush Administration into an outsourcing adventure of more empire building.

Instead of a stronger America there was a new and powerful China, a new middle class over there with corresponding higher prices for the local poor and fewer and losier jobs at home. You think that governments could see it coming? That globalization wasn't good for everybody. Good for corporations though.

Wait a minute, said my friends. Was that why Haliburton-KBR went to Dubai? Cheney's Haliburton. Donald Trump might have a laugh at that. Sometime ago he said something like whatever happens the smart people like me can move on with their money.

So why did Haliburton move? I asked.

Let's say they wanted to avoid legal trouble.

Then I remembered all those no-bid cost-plus contracts in Iraq, with $10 Billion missing, as Al Franken the former comedian used to joke about. What if Obama looks into that?

Can't say any of us were laughing, but we smiled and called it a night.

Hope the new Senator Franken by-a-hair of Minnesota remembers to remind him. With Obama taking on just about everything, he might have Haliburton for breakfast.

--Alan Gillis


  1. Alan Gillis // May 30, 2009 at 8:25 AM  

    Relevant links to news sources on Obama's First 100 Days from NewsHammer:

    * ABC: Obama sidetracked . . . [Campaigning for 2012]

    * BBC Diary

    * BBC News Coverage

    * CBS: First 100 Days

    * CNN Money: Obama spends

    * Reality hits Obama Express

    * The highs and lows . . .

    Links to Obama videos:

    Obama on NBC: The Tonight Show with Jay Leno 3/19/2009

    Kev busted by The Man? [photo]

    Obama on CBS: Obama reviews his First 100 Days