Condemned to Repeat

EX PRAETERITO PRAESENS PRVDENTER AGIT NI FUTUR- ACTIONE DETVRPET

History is a living thing.

I first saw it come alive in Roz Ashby’s and Ken Meier’s hands. On the first day of Western Civilization I, they handed out a quote and asked us to date it. It was a typical “kids these days” rant, full of complaints about their manners, their dress, and their stunning lack of respect toward their elders. Most of the class guessed it had been written in the 1950s or 60s. Professor Meier revealed, with a delightfully sardonic smile, that we were all wrong. The rant had been delivered by Socrates more than two thousand years ago.

I still have the handout they gave us that day: “The Value of History” by Robin Winks. I’d signed on as a history major because I love the past. I hadn’t, until then, thought of it as something of urgent importance. But the professors’ prank, followed by their impassioned lecture on the vitality and relevance of history and Winks’ case for its value, changed my perception entirely.

History wasn’t just curiosity. It wasn’t simply tradition and heritage, important to preserve for its own sake. It was also essential in order to understand the present, and to navigate the future.

Image shows a painting done in dark colors. Three faces, two in profile and one centered, are above a wolf, lion, and dog who are likewise facing in the three directions, with the lion centered. An old man with a white beard wearing a red cap gazes to the left, above the wolf. A man with black hair and beard stares out from the center, above the lion. A young man with reddish-brown hair wearing a red tunic dotted with white gazes out to the right from above the dog's head. Above them are inscribed the words EX PRAETERITO/PRAESENS PRUDENTER AGIT/NE FUTURA ACTIONẼ DETURPET, barely visible in dark brown ink against a slightly lighter brown background.
Titian, The Allegory of Prudence.

“From the past the man of the present acts prudently so as not to imperil the future,” Titian inscribed on his famous painting. We should chisel that saying into every monument. Those who don’t take the past seriously, who treat history as a trivial handful of facts, interesting stories, and events that have no bearing on today, won’t have the wisdom to create a better future.

“Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it,” George Santayana wrote in The Life of Reason. Too many of us refuse to listen to that warning. How many times have we weathered a crisis only to discover that we’re repeating prior mistakes? Individuals, organizations, entire nations have rushed themselves over cliffs that others fell from before, when a safe way down had already been discovered.

It’s true that things change, and no situation is exactly the same as another. Some people seem to believe those cosmetic differences mean there’s nothing to learn. And so, mistakes get repeated. Safeguards get torn down because no one seems to remember why they were put in place to begin with. Blinded by the present, looking toward the future, we don’t see what history is trying to show us. We strip away the protections that people made wise by the events of their own day put in place in order to protect the generations to come. We’re seeing the effects of that now, in a myriad of ways: our failed imperial experiment in Iraq, the erosion of our Constitutional rights, the crisis in our banking industry brought on by the repeal of regulations enacted to prevent another Great Depression, the rise of a despot and the fall of a democracy. That was another age, those who disregard history say. Things are different now. We are different. And they plunge in, believing they’re blazing new trails when they’re traveling down well-worn roads.

The past is never truly past. “Great events have incalculable consequences,” Victor Hugo said in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Some of those consequences echo down through ages. You can’t understand what’s happening now if you don’t understand what happened then. The effects are still being felt. What we do now will impact generations to come. What our ancestors did centuries ago set the conditions for our time.

“This black page in history is not colourfast / will stain the next,” Epica warns in their song “Feint.” We can’t prevent that stain, but history can give us advice on how we might limit its spread.

Some things, perhaps, we’d rather forget. But as Chaim Weizman knew, “you cannot deny your history and begin afresh.” History comes with us, whether we will it or not. Denying it gets us nowhere. Embracing history, knowing it, allows us to accommodate its effects.

Image shows a painting in warm golden colors, showing an old man naked except for a strip of red cloth flowing around him, holding a scythe. A woman with angle wings, wearing a harvest orange dress, is floating in the sky behind him, resting a heavy book on his shoulders. She holds a pen in one hand and is looking over her shoulder.
Andrea Casali, The Personification Of History Writing On The Back Of Time

History is of great practical value, then. But that’s not the whole of its worth. It offers perspective and proportion. Knowing what others survived gives us hope for a future in dark times. It can put current events in context, just like your old dad giving you the yarn about having to walk to school barefoot in the snow uphill both ways as a kid. I often take comfort from that when the world seems like it’s coming apart at the seams. It has frayed, often torn, before. Not all of us make it. Things get worse before they get better. But we always manage to patch it back up somehow. Civilization has been through hell a thousand thousand times. As long as we avoid following the same paths that led other societies to grimmer outcomes, we’ll probably do just fine. I tell myself that a lot these days, and I have plenty of history to prove it. From history comes hope. Sometimes.

And sometimes, there’s delight in seeing ancient people behaving the same way we do. We tend to get only the broad brushstrokes of history in school. We don’t get the enchanting, everyday bits, the ones that tell us people are people everywhere. Read Socrates griping about the durned kids in ancient Athens, or Abu Nawais looking for his next drink, and you realize that they were people like us. There were fart jokes in the cradle of civilization and risque graffitti in Pompeii. The more you learn of history, the more you realize that the things we consider larger than life arose not from some golden age of supermen, but from mostly ordinary people doing their best to deal with times that were no more or less challenging than now. The best days are indeed behind us – but they are also now, and they are ahead. How much easier it is when we can pick the brains of our ancestors, pluck up their best ideas, and avoid their worst mistakes. It’s practically cheating!

“He who cannot draw on three thousand years is living from hand to mouth,” Goethe once said. When we neglect our history, we risk ourselves. History gives us a chance to live securely. When we can draw on thousands of years of knowledge and experience, we’re no longer condemned.

A version of this post appeared in En Tequila Es Verdad’s past.

Condemned to Repeat
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Adventures in Mental Health Care

You may have noticed from the fact I’ve flaked recently, but Wellbutrin stopped working in a big way. It did a great job removing depression at first – which unmasked an underlying anxiety that increased and increased and increased. Then it stopped working on the depression. Sigh.

My day job has spent the past several months jabbing the rage, depression, and anxiety buttons nearly constantly. It’s got to the point where I have nightmares about it, which added insomnia to the list. Double sigh.

And my doctor is on sabbatical so she can spend time with her kids. Triple sigh.

Image is a cat collapsed face-down on the back of a sofa. Caption says, "I love you, couch. You understand me."

It’s really hard to cope with change when you’re super-depressed and anxious, so it took me a while to work up the courage to go through the process of getting a new doctor. Luckily, a friend at work went from all storm clouds all the time to near-blissful happiness, and her doctor was accepting new patients. I saw her Tuesday. I bloody love both her and the new clinic. She was a lot more prompt and thorough than my previous doctor. She found me something that will, with any luck, destroy both the anxiety and the depression in one go. We’re phasing out Wellbutrin. I’ve got some Xanax to fill in the gaps while the new stuff gears up to full effect. She listened to me when I told her my tiny little body burns through ordinary doses of drugs in a flash, and dosed accordingly. And she also sent me down the hall to the lab to get my thyroid tested, which I’d meant to ask for and completely forgotten. I love docs who actually look for other underlying causes rather than just assuming you’re mental. Continue reading “Adventures in Mental Health Care”

Adventures in Mental Health Care

Grab Some Tissues and Watch This. Then Take Action.

JT Eberhard, my darlings. One of the bravest fucking human beings I know. Watch his Skepticon IV talk and read his post.

I’ve got nothing much to add to this. I wrote up a whole big post on it once and then never posted it, because honestly, my occasional tussles with depression are stubbed toes compared to what others go through. It may not always be like that. Bipolar disorder runs in my family right alongside the heart disease and cancer and Alzheimer’s. I’ve learned to watch the highs and lows with minute attention, because it’s off to the doctor the instant they cease to be within normal range. I refuse to go through what my mother did, descending into a hell we didn’t know enough to rescue her from until it was almost too late.

Continue reading “Grab Some Tissues and Watch This. Then Take Action.”

Grab Some Tissues and Watch This. Then Take Action.

Spines Developing Among Dems

I don’t know about you, but this comes as an absolute fucking shock to me: Harry Reid’s apparently located his spine somewhere deep in the detritus of his garage, and he’s gingerly trying it on:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has “ordered Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) to drop a proposal to tax health benefits and stop chasing Republican votes on a massive health care reform bill.” Roll Call reports:

According to Democratic sources, Reid told Baucus that taxing health benefits and failing to include a strong government-run insurance option of some sort in his bill would cost 10 to 15 Democratic votes; Reid told Baucus it wasn’t worth securing the support of Grassley and at best a few additional Republicans. …

Good on yer, Harry. Keep that spine on – it becomes you.

Meanwhile, Arizona’s got at least one pol it can be proud of:

Update: And the progressives in the House weigh in:

The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
1600 Pennsylvania Aye, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President,

I read with alarm and dismay the article in the July 7th edition of the Wall Street Journal, “WhiteHouse Open to Deal on Public Health Plan”. In particular, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel stated in the article that one of several ways to meet your health care reform goals is a mechanism under which a public plan is introduced only if the marketplace fails to provide sufficient competition on its own.

I want to be crystal clear that any such trigger for a strong public plan option is a non-starter with a majority of the Members of the Progressive Caucus (CPC). As the CPC has repeatedly stated, its Members cannot support final passage of any health care reform bill that does not include a robust public plan option, akin to Medicare, operating alongside the private plans.

Public opinion polls show that 76° o of Americans want a robust public plan option and I will stand in solidarity with them. Moreover, I consider it unacceptable for any of the cost savings that you are negotiating with hospitals and other sectors of the health care industry to be madecontingent upon a robust public plan option not being included in the final legislation.

Thank you for your thoughtful consideration.

Sincerely,

Raul Grijalva

And Raul has Rahmbo running for the hills:

After initially indicating his support for a public plan “trigger,” White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel reassured House Democrats tonight that he strongly backs a public plan. Progressive Caucus Co-Chairwoman Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) said she told Emanuel that support for a “trigger” would cause health reform to lose Democratic votes:

“We have compromised enough, and we are not going to compromise on any kind of trigger game,” Woolsey said she told Emanuel. “People clapped all over the place. We mean it, and not just progressives.”

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) said Emanuel reassured him that he “doesn’t stand by that trigger.”

Nice shooting, Rep. Grijalva and fellow progressives. Nice work, AZ’s 7th. Keep that fellow around, would you?

Spines Developing Among Dems

Encouraging Developments


I might as well just tip the shot glass to Steve Benen right here – he finds the bestest stuff. Both of these links came from him. Thanks for some good news floating happily in a sea of stupidity, Steve!

First up, science gets some champions in the Obama administration:

The Senate on Thursday confirmed an expert on global climate change as President Obama’s top adviser on science and technology policy.

John Holdren became the president’s science adviser as director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. He has advocated sharp government action on climate change policy and is a former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the nation’s largest science organization.

[snip]

The Senate also confirmed former Oregon State University marine biologist Jane Lubchenco to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees ocean and atmospheric research and the National Weather Service.

Lubchenco, who specialized in overfishing and climate change at Oregon State University, is the first woman to head NOAA. A member of the Pew Oceans Commission, Lubchenco has recommended steps to overcome crippling damage to the world’s oceans from overfishing and pollution and had expressed optimism for change after George W. Bush’s presidency.

Don’t know about you, but I’m feeling pretty optimistic just now meself. These two folks were spectacular choices, and I’m glad to see they’re now able to get to work.

And Attorney General Eric Holder’s taking a step very much in the right direction:

The Obama administration advised federal agencies yesterday to release their records and information to the public unless foreseeable harm would result.

Attorney General Eric Holder issued new guidelines fleshing out President Obama’s Jan. 21 order to reveal more government records to the public under the Freedom of Information Act, whenever another law doesn’t prohibit release.

The new standard essentially returned to one Attorney General Janet Reno issued during the Clinton administration. It replaced a more restrictive policy imposed by the Bush administration under which the Justice Department defended any sound legal argument for withholding records.

“We are making a critical change that will restore the public’s ability to access information in a timely manner,” Holder said in a written statement.

And Holder did it in a timely manner himself – Obama said he had until May to get this done. Here’s hoping this is a sign of even better things to come. I wouldn’t mind a bit if the woodshed fell into disuse.

Not that it’s likely to with so many Cons clamoring to get in, alas. But you know what I mean.

Encouraging Developments

Science Hero

I know all of you have probably seen this in one form or another, but I just want to point out that our new President is a champion for science:

As expected, President Obama today reversed Bush-era restrictions on stem-cell research, but that’s not all he did today. While hosting a White House ceremony to announce the change, the president also explained a new memorandum addressing scientific integrity itself.

“Promoting science isn’t just about providing resources, it is also about protecting free and open inquiry,” Obama said. “It is about letting scientists like those here today do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it’s inconvenient especially when it’s inconvenient. It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.”

He said his memorandum is meant to restore “scientific integrity to government decision-making.” He called it the beginning of a process of ensuring his administration bases its decision on sound science; appoints scientific advisers based on their credentials, not their politics; and is honest about the science behind its decisions.

Alex Koppelman noted that this carried with it an “unsubtle … repudiation of the Bush administration and its attitude towards science.”

Good. The previous administration’s efforts to subvert science were unprecedented, ridiculous, and kind of dangerous. Melody Barnes, director of Obama’s Domestic Policy Council, told reporters yesterday, “The president believes that it’s particularly important to sign this memorandum so that we can put science and technology back at the heart of pursuing a broad range of national goals.”

It feels so good to have a President who wholeheartedly supports science again. Now if we can just usher the fundies, Cons and other assorted lunatics out of the way, America might once again become a country on the cutting edge.

Thank you, President Obama.

Science Hero

Thankees and Spankees

I dream of blogging. Seriously. I took a nap this evening, and dreamt I was reading a very interesting post by Steve Benen (aren’t they all?), and writing several posts of my own. I wish I could remember most of them.

One I do remember, though, was a thank-you letter to President Obama. And even in the dream, I was thinking, “Yeesh, isn’t that a little much sap?” After all, I have concerns. Some of his DOJ’s arguments recently have been concerning. I’m not at all sure over his Treasury Department. But, of course, every time I go to haul him to the woodshed, he does something that mitigates the concern, and then a little more. So I save my smackin’ for them as deserves it more richly.

But a thank you letter? Oh, for crying out loud. I refuse to be that mushy-gushy.

However, I may have to rethink that position:

The establishment media, never one to turn down an easy story controversy slap fight might be focused on Limbaugh—they are the ones that have asked questions of Gibbs, Emanuel, etc., after all—but “Team” Obama seems focused on fixing the fucking the disaster left to them by “Team” Bush-Cheney. The Recovery Act, the budget fixes—hell, the whole damn budget—today’s healthcare summit, Clinton’s Mideast initiative, the initiative to cut military waste, the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, this week’s release of the OLC memos. . . that’s what the White House is focusing on.

Where is the Republican “loyal” opposition focusing? They are busy fearmongering about “socialism,” saying “no” without proposing any implementable alternatives, and seeing who can kiss Rush’s butt closest to his anus.

And how’s that workin’ for ya’? As the latest NBC/WSJ poll will tell you, not very well:

President Obama’s favorability rating is at an all-time high. Two-thirds feel hopeful about his leadership and six in 10 approve of the job he’s doing in the White House.

. . . .

By comparison, the Republican Party — which resisted Obama’s recently passed stimulus plan and has criticized the spending in his budget — finds its favorability at an all-time low. It also receives most of the blame for the current partisanship in Washington and trails the Democrats by nearly 30 percentage points on the question of which party could best lead the nation out of recession. [emphasis enthusiastically added]

Really, the kid’s not doing a bad job. When you kind of put it all together like that with the little NBC/WSJ Poll cherry on top, it’s kinda eye-popping. So, y’know, Mr. President – thanks. And keep up the good work.

That work, o’ course, would be easier if it wasn’t for the abundance of assclowns he’s having to deal with:

Via TPM, Bloomberg:

“President Barack Obama’s economic advisers are increasingly concerned about the U.S. Senate’s delay in confirming the nominations of Austan Goolsbee and Cecilia Rouse to the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

Without Senate confirmation, the two economists are barred from advising the president as the administration tackles the worst financial crisis in 70 years and tries to advance the spending plan Obama submitted to Congress last week.

[snip]

You know what’s coming, don’t you? Oh, yes, you do:

“There are some objections on the Republican side that we are trying to deal with,” said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Reid.”

As Josh said: Please Grow Up.

Meanwhile, Sen. Robert Menendez and other anonymous Senators have blocked two of Obama’s science advisors. This isn’t just bad for science, it’s bad for the economic stimulus package, which contains a lot of science funding:

“The holdup could slow timely science and environmental policy work between Congress and the administration, particularly the spending of roughly $21.5 billion dedicated to science in the economic recovery package.”

Now mind you, Obama has managed to accomplish all of the amazing things highlighted above and more in a political zoo where Cons obstruct everything in sight and a good chunk of the Dems can’t figure out whether they’re supposed to be Democrats or not. (New Dems, Blue Dogs, a word if I may: fiscal conservatives are typically Republicons, you dumbfucks. How’s about we hold off on the concern trolling until after the economy has recovered, eh? Or you can join the ranks of the outrageous idiots over on the other side of the aisle. Good luck getting reelected with that.)

So, once again: Thank you, President Obama, for managing to do so much in so little time while navigating so many obstacles. And for not mangling innocent English sentences every time you open your mouth.

That, together with all the other stuff, means a lot to this writer.

And, Senate? I’m carrying Josh and Hilzoy’s motion, here: Grow the fuck up.

(Update: you know what they say about great minds thinking alike… or at least on related grooves. What was I saying about the Treasury?)

Thankees and Spankees

Another Noxious Bush Reg Bites the Dust

A few months ago, I alerted you to Bush’s little scheme to allow healthcare providers to redefine birth control as abortion and then refuse to provide the service. At the time, I gave you what I considered wise advice:

We can’t rely on Obama’s ability to roll these rules back. Better for the country if they’re never implemented at all.

It’s nice to be half-wrong sometimes. Looks like we can rely on Obama after all:

Today, the Obama administration plans to rescind the controversial “conscience rule,” which “allows healthcare workers to deny abortion counseling or other family planning services if doing so would violate their moral beliefs.”

That’s my President, that is. He’s not got a perfect record in rolling back Bush abuses – in fact, if a few things don’t change over the next week, a trip to the woodshed will be in order – but he’s doing a tremendous amount of good very, very quickly.

This is why I find it rather difficult to apply the Smack-o-Matic in his case. Every time I pick the damned thing up, he does something that makes me put it right back down. Y’know, little things like, oh, I dunno,

Ending the war in Iraq.

Restoring Superfund, making polluters pay, and ending tax breaks for the fossil fuel industry.

Planning a budget even Paul Krugman can love.

Going for healthcare reform.

Delivering a kick-ass speech that helps prepare the country for progressivism.

And that’s just a few items from the last few days.

It’s a good thing the Cons have been such raging idiots, or the poor Smack-o-Matic would be gathering dust. We can’t have that.

The following illustration describes the situation precisely:

Our President is practically MacGuyver. I’m loving this.

Another Noxious Bush Reg Bites the Dust

Westboro Baptist Church PWND by High School Students and Other Tales

This photo diary at Daily Kos is sure to warm the hearts of all those who love to see Fred Phelps’ Band of Frothing Fuckwits get their due:

Fred Phelps, known for his protests at the funerals of AIDS victims, and now extremely popular for his bizarre protests at the funerals of fallen soldiers, decided to grace Prairie Village, Kansas with the presence of his minions. The target for the picketers was Shawnee Mission East High School, a large suburban school in the Kansas City Metro area.

Westboro Church is located in Topeka, Kansas, which is why Kansas City often gets blessed with their ministries. Shawnee Mission East’s crime is an active gay/straight alliance group, and the nominating of an openly gay classmate for Homecoming King in 2007. I don’t know why they waited until now to tell the students that God hates them and they are burning in hell, but they did. An impressive 12 of them. Wow. And at least two children, which is sweet.

But they were met with at least 300 counter-protesters, a large number of them Shawnee Mission East students. The kids organized and with the support of the school administration were able to shout down the Westboro orcs with signs calling out love, compassion and tolerance.

This is what gives me hope that I’ll grow old in a slightly less dysfunctional country. The generation coming after us seems to have a fairly large proportion of people with their heads screwed on straight.

Perhaps we should take them on a field trip to explain law, civics, and basic reading comprehension to certain dunces:

Let’s briefly recap a story we’ve been following. Earlier this week, the American Center for Law and Justice, a right-wing legal group formed by TV preacher Pat Robertson, said the stimulus bill includes a provision that would prohibit “religious groups and organizations from using” buildings on college campuses. Soon after, religious right groups and right-wing blogs were up in arms, demanding that lawmakers fix the “anti-Christian” language of the bill. Fox News and the Christian Broadcasting Network helped get the word out to the far-right base about the nefarious measure.

But there was one small problem: there was no such measure. The ACLJ doesn’t know how to read legislation, and didn’t realize that the standard language in the bill simply blocks spending for on-campus buildings that are used primarily for religion (like a chapel, for example). This same language has been part of education spending bills for 46 years. It’s just the law, and it’s never been controversial.

And if it were just some random yahoos screaming about a non-existent threat, this would merely be annoying. But right-wing whining about the imaginary attack came to the attention of Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who actually tried to remove the legal language from the bill. Consider just how truly ridiculous his remarks were on the Senate floor yesterday:

This is a provision “that would make sure students could never talk openly and honestly about their faith … what this means is that students can’t meet together in their dorms if that dorm has been repaired with federal money and have a prayer group or a Bible study. They can’t get together in their student centers. They can’t have a commencement service where a speaker talks about their personal faith.” … Student groups would be banned and “classes on world religions and religious history, academic studies of religious texts could be banned … Someone is so hostile to religion that they are willing to stand in the schoolhouse door, like the infamous George Wallace, to deny people of faith from entering into any campus building renovated by this bill. This cannot stand!”

Please remember, every sentence — literally, every single sentence — in that paragraph is wrong. Indeed, everything DeMint said was the polar opposite of reality, driven entirely by a reading-comprehension mistake made by someone at Pat Robertson’s legal group.

Believe it or not, the situation only deteriorates from there. Click if you dare. Then click back to Reepicheep’s photo diary to help ease the pain.

Westboro Baptist Church PWND by High School Students and Other Tales

End of Week One: Sea Change

I’ll be honest with you: the night before Obama became the 44th President of the United States, I was preparing myself for pain. He’d tacked a bit too far center for my taste. There were disturbing signs he’d pander to Cons in the name of bipartisanship. And I fully expected most of those glorious campaign promises to go unfulfilled.

Day One, I thought, would see a sharp pulling back. I figured he’d use the economy as an excuse to sweep the thorny problems of Guantanamo and torture under the rug. Transparency would give way to opacity. And the expanded powers of the presidency bequeathed by Cheney and his minion Bush would prove too tempting to discard. We’d see a few empty gestures, and some decent work on economic issues, but not much else.

Well, this is one of those times when I’ve been thrilled to be wrong. Utterly, completely, gloriously wrong.

I can’t even keep up with him. If he keeps up this pace, all of the abuses of the Bush years will be rolled back by next week, all of the major issues resolved by next year, and who the fuck knows what he’ll find to do with the remaining three in his first term?

Yes, that’s hyperbole. But after this week, perhaps I can be forgiven a little exaggeration. Let’s just take a quick gander at some of the many highlights.

Ending the Ill-Conceived War on Terror

On his first day, Obama had a draft executive order circulating to close Guantanamo and called a halt to kangaroo trials. By Thursday, he’d taken a wrecking ball to Bush’s blunders:

With a few strokes of a pen Thursday, President Obama undid years of policy that was the cornerstone of George W. Bush’s “war on terror.” He ordered the prison at Guantánamo to be shut down within a year, the detainees moved to other countries or to regular U.S. courts; forced the CIA to stop torturing people, to close secret “black sites” around the world and to follow the Army Field Manual rules on interrogations; and told the entire government to stop relying on legal opinions issued by the Bush administration to justify policies that were never justifiable except in the eyes of the people who hatched them up.

He’d also ordered the Red Cross have access to any and all detainees held by the U.S. government. And he’d signed an order ending extraordinary rendition. He’s not stopping at rolling back Bush’s abuses, but fixing Clinton’s mistakes as well.

If anyone was looking for a clean break with the past, this is it.

Reproductive Rights and Global Health

Most politicians pussyfoot around Roe vs. Wade. Not Obama:

“On the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we are reminded that this decision not only protects women’s health and reproductive freedom, but stands for a broader principle: that government should not intrude on our most private family matters. I remain committed to protecting a woman’s right to choose.

While this is a sensitive and often divisive issue, no matter what our views, we are united in our determination to prevent unintended pregnancies, reduce the need for abortion, and support women and families in the choices they make. To accomplish these goals, we must work to find common ground to expand access to affordable contraception, accurate health information, and preventative services.

On this anniversary, we must also recommit ourselves more broadly to ensuring that our daughters have the same rights and opportunities as our sons: the chance to attain a world-class education; to have fulfilling careers in any industry; to be treated fairly and paid equally for their work; and to have no limits on their dreams. That is what I want for women everywhere.”

It’s the first time in my life I’ve heard a president come out this strongly for my rights. And at WhiteHouse.gov, it becomes even more clear he knows and understands the issues women face.

The day after Roe’s anniversary, he lifted the global gag rule. The world will be a far healthier place for it.

White House Ethics and Transparency

On his first full day in office, Obama tightened ethics rules and froze pay* for those White House staffers making more than $100,000 a year.

But that stuff wasn’t as breathtaking as the sweeping changes in transparency. You know it’s serious when the White House press are the ones wanting to withhold information while the government wants to release it. Can we say sea change?

The most important thing Obama did was overturn Bush’s records secrecy order. Talk about night and day:

Under Bush’s order, former presidents had broad ability to claim executive privilege and could designate others including family members who survive them to exercise executive privilege on their behalf.

Obama’s new order gives ex-presidents less leeway to withhold records, Aftergood said, and takes away the ability of presidents’ survivors to designate that privilege.

Separately, an Obama memorandum issued Wednesday also appears to effectively rescind a 2001 memo by President Bush’s then-Attorney Gen. John Ashcroft giving agencies broad legal cover to reject public disclosure requests.

“For a long time now, there’s been too much secrecy in this city. This administration stands on the side not of those who seek to withhold information but with those who seek it to be known,” Obama said before a gathering that included his senior staff. “The mere fact that you have the legal power to keep something secret does not mean you should always use it. Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.”

Under Obama, the Freedom of Information Act will mean that information is free:


According to Obama’s memo: “All agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in FOIA, and to usher in a new era of open Government. The presumption of disclosure should be applied to all decisions involving FOIA.”

[snip]

“The presumption of disclosure also means that agencies should take affirmative steps to make information public. They should not wait for specific requests from the public. All agencies should use modern technology to inform citizens about what is known and down by their Government. Disclosure should be timely.”

And as if this isn’t awesome enough, WhiteHouse.gov is now actually a site worth visiting. There’s even a blog.

Science and Environment

The long war on science is finally over, and America is filled with happy scientists:

After some very frustrating years, it seems the scientific community finally has reason to celebrate. The New York Times reported today that many scientists are “exuberant” about Barack Obama becoming president, and staff members throughout the government’s scientific agencies “reported being teary-eyed with joy.”

“If you look at the science world, you see a lot of happy faces,” said Frank Press, a former president of the National Academy of Sciences and former science adviser to President Jimmy Carter. “It’s not just getting money. It’s his recognition of what science can do to bring this country back in an innovative way.”

When a politician can make scientists cry for joy, you know science is going to do all right.

And, glory be, despite all the nattering about clean coal, Obama’s EPA has already put the kibbosh on new coal plants, demanding they meet stringent standards before they’re approved.

There’s even scientific claims that Obama makes you smarter. The study’s methods seem a little questionable, but that does not prevent me from enjoying its conclusions thoroughly.

Peace In Our Time

In his first moments in office, Obama rang up “the leaders of Israel, Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority to talk about next steps for peace.” In his next few moments, he appointed George Mitchell to take care of bidness. I’ll have more on this man later. For now, the key facts are that he’s so even-handed that the extreme right-wing allies of Israel are in a blind panic, and he helped bring peace to Northern Ireland. I do believe Obama’s serious about getting this peace thing right.

“No More Fake Optimism”

Naomi Wolf, reflecting on Obama’s inauguration speech, captured the essence:

The great leaders in the US weren’t the cheerleaders who promised ­morning in America. They were the ones that forced us to look in the mirror. Since Reagan there has been this tradition, which has become a cliche, of promising morning in America, this fake optimism, we’re the best, the city on the hill.

In fact the great American task is self-scrutiny. Abraham Lincoln gave speeches about the civil war in which he said, in essence, “We’ve brought this on ourselves by enslaving Americans.” Obama’s speech was a diagnosis: “We have to take steps to rebuild our nation.” I’m not saying, “Hooray, he offered a tough, dark recognition of our reality.” I’m saying “Hooray” because he has recognised that the only way to save America is to confront it.

I think we can safely say he’s doing just that. No more fake optimism. This is the real deal.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m going to go lie down. The pace of change has been absolutely dizzying.


*I know, I know. But one waiver does not destroy the implications. I’ll feel differently if this becomes a habit.

End of Week One: Sea Change