From Washington-Part1: High hopes for Obama and his “outstanding” cabinet choices


I have spent New Year’s in Washington for the past three years.  But the atmosphere this year is completely different.  The wave of hope and expectations for the new president Barack Obama is growing even more in Washington as he has so far picked an extremely smart, top-notch team of cabinet members and advisors. 

He has assembled brilliant scientists to advise him on science policies.  Steve Chu, a Nobel prize-winning physicist and Director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, was chosen to be Secretary of EnergyLawrence Summers who is currently the Charles W. Eliot University Professor at Harvard University was named to head the National Economic Council.  Obama’s Science Advisors include Harvard physicist John Holdren, Harold Varmus, a Nobel laureate who ran the NIH and is now President of Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and MIT genome professor Eric Lander.  The former president of the ICSU Jane Lubchencho will head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  The team is made up of top academics who have actively been speaking out about climate change and other environmental issues.  They are all highly respected and trusted people within scientific circles.  It’s a very impressive roster. 

Confirmation congressional hearings will begin one after another this week.  I have heard that contacting the nominees is strictly forbidden as it could be viewed as government post hunting.   

With these appointments the direction of the Obama administration’s energy and environmental policies seems pretty clear.  Meanwhile, in Japan the only top-notch or great thing (?) seems to be technology.  Nothing gets done in politics, finance, industry, government, media, and academia because of continual wrangling with vested interests or those resisting change.  All you hear about are reasons why something can’t be done.  If this continues, I am very worried that we will be left behind from the rest of the world.  I am waiting for a new and different trend to emerge in Japan too.      

Over the last couple of days Obama has announced parts of his economic policies.  A feeling of pride seems to be spreading among the American people over having chosen a great leader at this difficult time and turning point in the world’s history (At least that’s the sense I get from talking to the people around me.) .  They are gradually starting to feel confident that they can overcome problems together even though it will take time to realize the goals.  The challenges are enormous, but I can sense the will of the nation or the American mind that is striving to be the leader of the world.   

I wish a new trend like this would emerge in Japan.  Do you feel it coming?  It is so frustrating. 

However, once the Obama administration is inaugurated it does have a mountain of problems to climb.  The US economic woes, the war on terror in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the Gaza conflict etc.  Not only are they extremely complex problems, but they also demand urgency. 

Japan has its hands full with domestic problems. Maybe it is fortunate after all that it has less influence and faces lower expectations from the rest of the world?  I am not sure if that is really okay.