US president Barack Obama has issued a number of executive orders in his first week in office that distance him from his predecessor George Bush – on Guantanamo Bay, stem cell research, reproductive rights and climate change.
But in other respects – such as the war in Afghanistan – he has made clear that it is business as usual for US imperialism.
The biggest change was the announcement of plans to close the US’s prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where 245 “enemy combatants” are still being detained without trial.
Obama’s order goes on to announce the closure of CIA detention centres and an end to to the practice of “rendition”.
This went further than most observers were expecting on these issues and is a victory for human rights activists around the world who have been campaigning against Bush’s torture tactics since 2001.
But now Obama has to decide what to do with the remaining detainees. He would like US allies to take many of them, but other governments are not keen to get involved.
Alternatively they could be moved onto US soil. This would put them in the same position as Ali al-Marri. the sole “enemy combatant” already on US soil.
Al-Marri has been held without charge or trial at the Consolidated Naval Brig at Charleston, South Carolina, since 2003. His legal status is still being fought over in US courts.
The US also detains people in other prisons around the world, such as the notorious Bagram airbase in Afghanistan that holds about 600 prisoners.
US officials say Bagram’s inmates are Taliban captured on the battlefield – but they are still being held there indefinitely.
Obama has continued the Bush regime’s policies in Afghanistan in other respects too. He plans to escalate military operations in the country.
During Obama’s first week in office he authorised two missile strikes on Pakistan. These killed 22 people, including women and children.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were the biggest issue for Obama’s supporters during the early stages of his campaign. But now Americans say they the issue they are most worried by is the economy and the recession.
Obama’s inauguration speech referred to sacrifices that he says will have to be made.
He specifically referred to the “selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job”.
Now Obama is trying to pass a bill that will pump nearly £600 billion into the US economy to fight the growing recession. This is the biggest spending package since Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s.
The bill aims to save or create between three and four million jobs through a series of infrastructure projects. These include new roads, bridges, electricity lines and sewage works.
Despite the size of the package, many economic commentators say it won’t be enough to solve the crisis.
The recession has destroyed the credibility of the neoliberal ideology that has dominated Western economic policy for the past 30 years.
But Obama has thus far shown no sign of making the radical break with establishment policies that is needed to help ordinary working people during this crisis.