Ginsberg Poem

Friday, July 30, 2010

Obama: the Better Nightmare

Paul Krugman's July 30, 2010, op-ed on Obama is spot on, as usual. Krugman has consistently positioned Obama further to the right than his supporters would like to see him. Krugman supported Clinton during the campaign because, among other reasons, Obama's campaign proposals for healthcare didn't go far enough. Krugman saw then that Obama was not the liberal many hoped he'd be--the liberal he otherwise promised to be in the campaign. See my TBR post "Obama No Liberal" for more on this.

Krugman is also right that Obama is not showing enough support for Elizabeth Warren to lead a new consumer protection agency. Though Krugman doesn't make it clear, he knows that Obama won't support Warren because Goldman and the like don't want her as a regulator because she is smart, capable, and she knows that the banks make a lot on credit cards and other forms of predatory lending. Obama doesn't support Warren because he knows she could change all this. In other words, Banks make a lot of money on types of irresponsible borrowing that really hurt our economy, and Warren understands this. As long as politicians are bought by the banks, as Obama is, this unsustainable consumer borrowing will be encouraged. Banks buy up politicians so they, the banks, can continue to suck the economic life out of our country, and this massive sucking sound gets rationalized as "fiscal conservatism" by Democrats and Republicans alike. The banks, of course, get rich from said life sucking.

If you doubt that Obama is bought by the banks, I suggest you read this HuffPost article by Bob Osterstag: "four out of [Obama's] top five [campaign] contributors were employees of financial industry giants, with Goldman Sachs at the top of the list." Moreover, "Goldman Sachs gave Obama four times more than they gave McCain."

So it becomes clear why the administration is blocking a Warren nomination: the administration, like so many in congress, is bought up by the banks, just like they are bought up by other business interests, and what is good for the country (Warren and checks on bad lending) is bad for business.

Krugman is also right to slam Mort Zuckerman for his claim that Obama is anti-business, an obviously absurd position. Here's something from the Harper's index that supports the claim that Obama is not just bought up by Big Finance but also by other status quo powers that be. The number is significantly smaller, but it does explain why Obama adopted a "drill baby drill" position right before the worst oil spill ever:

Total campaign contributions Barack Obama received from BP between 2004 and 2009: $77,051.
Number of politicians who accepted more in donations from BP during that period: 0.

People on the left have deluded themselves about Obama because he is smart, good looking, and seemed ethical-- and because the possibility of having a black president was extremely appealing. Obama has sold himself to business, and that is why he seems a lot like a Bush-redux.

Liberals have been fooled. It is not that surprising that we have been fooled. Obama said some very enticing things during the campaign, like what he said about the public option, a big issue for me: "any American will have the opportunity to enroll in [this] new public plan." He would later show us the real Obama: while making deals with big pharma and insurance companies before the healthcare fight really got going: "I didn't campaign on the public option."

So, like most politicians, Obama lies for political expediency, and these lies support the status quo of certain industries sucking the life out of our country in order to become rich. Bill Clinton fooled us too (campaign as liberal, lead from the right), but Obama has fooled us even more so.

What Krugman hasn't gotten right, hasn't come right out and said, is that Obama's pandering to the right, pandering to the true power of our country, goes beyond lying for political/big-business expediency. There are lots of laws being broken. Lots of crimes being committed and covered up. Certainly Goldman's government-supported illegalities would pile up if anyone did a really thorough investigation of all the secret twists and turns of the bailout, especially the particulars of the AIG-Goldman-Obama connection Osterstag makes clear.

But Obama is the top cop, and congress won't check or balance the administration's complicity in Goldman crimes because Goldman has bought congress too, GOP and Dems alike.

We don't even have to look hard for crimes that are not being investigated. As Krugman notes, torture is another area where Obama seriously let down progressives--where Obama is not just like Bush, but is protecting Bush. Since the Bush torture policy was obviously a war crime, the way Obama has let down liberals goes way beyond politics as usual, or Obama being forced to the right in order to "get things done in DC."

Like most liberal pundits, Krugman mentions "torture," but he doesn't take the obvious steps from torture to war crimes to the crime of not prosecuting a war crime to impeachment: the torture in question were war crimes, and the Bush administration should have been prosecuted, should have been impeached (at least), and avoiding this prosecution is itself a crime, an impeachable offense. As David Lindorff explains, Bush's torture policy was "in clear violation of the Geneva Conventions, which as a signed set of treaties, are part of the law of the United States. Under those treaties, failure on the part of those up the chain of command to halt or to punish those who commit torture are themselves guilty of the crime of torture." Even the generally conservative U.S. News and World Report gets it:

First, waterboarding is torture. Second, torture is a war crime. Third, the United States is obligated to prosecute war crimes. The failure to prosecute war crimes committed by your own government is an offense of the same order as the original war crime.

Glen Greenwald sees this tendency to protect the Bush administration from being held accountable for some of its most extreme actions as a "growing part of the Obama legacy," but not even Greenwald seems to make the connection between this protection and an impeachable offense for Obama--though he does ask liberals why they aren't talking impeachment when Obama argues that a war-time president has the right to assassinate Americans without due process.

Even people I know, people close to me, people I know to be as left as me, seem to shudder if I make this connection, and treat what I see as a basic, simple, just and responsible position as something potentially crackpot, something that could only come from the right. It seems to me to be the big idea we liberals aren't supposed to talk about. We can't burst the bubble that Obama is basically a good guy, and our country, especially its liberal side, is not hyper-deluded. Only right-wing fanatics could whisper impeachment and Obama in the same breath.

This topic of Obama's crime of not prosecuting Bush remains unspeakable in liberal circles, despite how obvious the connection between war crimes and impeachment was for liberals when thinking about the Bush administration, and how obvious it is that not prosecuting a war crime is a crime if you are constitutionally entrusted as the top cop--that is, if you are president. David Lindorff is one liberal, who made a very thorough case for Bush's impeachment, agrees with me that Obama should also be impeached. Lindorff is the author of the book, The Case for Impeachment: The Legal Argument for Removing George W. Bush from Office. In an April, 2010, Counterpunch article, Lindorff writes the following:

Sadly, it is time to say, just 14 months into the current term of this new president, that yes, this president, and some of his subordinates, are also guilty of impeachable crimes--including many of the same ones committed by Bush and Cheney.

Obama may be a HUGE disappointment to liberals and lefties like me, but this president--who is quite willing to lie and commit crimes for political expediency (the crime of sweeping Bush's crimes under the rug is just one example of many)--is a whole lot better than the nightmarish alternative criminals he will be running against in 2012. So choose your liar, choose your criminal. Which nightmare do you prefer? Or maybe we could wake up and start seeing the reality of the crimes of our two business parties. Maybe we could wake up and start applying the law to presidents and the Goldmans and AIGs and Wellpoints and BPs of our world. If not, we are left asleep choosing between nightmares. Obama is the better nightmare, for sure, but a nightmare nonetheless.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Email to friends about WikiLeaks and Afghanistan


I'm hoping you'll be as grossed out by the Dems in power as I am after reading this article, "The WikiLeaks Afghanistan Leaks," by Glenn Greenwald. I heard Kerry this morning on NPR about how there was not anything new or important in the WikiLeaks Afghanistan documents, and no reason to compare them with the Pentagon papers--which he has, in the past, correctly argued were extremely important in stopping what I see as one of the US's three Big Crimes (along with slavery and what we did the Native American--as in my song "How Low and Why").

Besides revealing what we've always known (that Kerry is an ass hole who would never take a political risk, so much so that he couldn't beat Bush in 2004 even though even some of the GOP recognized that Bush was an idiot), we can also see what the strategy will be for those Dems in power: lie about the importance of the documents, and continue to lie about the necessity of the war in Afghanistan for US security. In other words, they will continue to lie about Afghanistan and its obvious comparisons to Vietnam, while sticking by their (very correct) positions that Vietnam was wrong, and that the Pentagon papers were helpful in exposing how deeply wrong that war was--and how the Democratic governments in power at the time had lied to us, or simply got it wrong, up to 68, the time period covered by the Pentagon papers. Johnson redux, in a way.

Of course, Nixon lied to us too about Vietnam, about the war and the significance of the Pentagon papers. He talked about how the leak of the Pentagon papers in 1971 endangered troops on the ground, etc. He also tried to win what was by then an obviously "unwinable" war. Obama is now Nixon redux too (he has been Bush redux on topics like state secrets, torture, rendition, warrantless wiretapping, pandering to big business, etc.). Obama will continue to lie about the war, or he will have Kerry do the lying.

They will also lie more about how the leak endangers troops, as if their support for this stupid and unwinable war hasn't already created a casualty list that is way too long. All for a war that is not only unnecessary. It also does the opposite of what it's supposed to do: it makes Americans less safe as South Asia becomes more of a hotbed for American hatred.

What endangers the US, what makes us less secure, is the hatred that develops from unnecessary wars of occupation (Vietnam, Israel, Iraq and Afghanistan are the big ones). What endangers troops on the ground is putting them in harm's way. Stopping the war would take troops out of harm's way, and these Wikileaks papers could help stop the war--if we all get a little more vocal about it. Stopping this war would at least slow down the rapid escalation of hatred for Americans around the world--not just the Muslim world.

Bush got us into Afghanistan and what has always been an unwinable war--especially with the Pashtun dominated Pakistani intelligence helping out the Taliban and al Qaeda all along. It's the Dems who are now in the spotlight, and Kerry's position on NPR this morning is just more politically expedient lying. These leaks reveal that the war, as many of us have known all along, is a bloody mess that will only make the US less safe in the long run. This war is not just wrong. It is a dumb war, and always was a dumb war. Fighting it negates history, as the Russians know all too well. It was started by a dumb president and now continued by a president who seems smart, but has consistently done very dumb things.

Friday, June 11, 2010

I will say "Fuck You Jerry Brown" as I vote for him

Dear fellow Californians,

I am hoping all Californians who read this will pass on this post to Californians they know: left, right or center. We can all agree that Californians are all in deep deep shit given the general and severe dysfunction of our state, its $20B budget deficit. I see the upcoming Governor's race as a promise we are making to ourselves to continue to heap mountains more shit on ourselves daily for at least four years to come.

As I see it, a good start on these issues is this Huff Post article about California's ungovernability by San Diego Civic Leader Greg Mitrovich. It argues that California is ungovernable mainly because of the "direct democracy" system established in the reform era of the early 20th Century. This system worked at the time to undermine certain business interests that had a monopoly on state power, but it also eventually led to Prop 13 and and the two-thirds rule for raising taxes which Mitrovich and I see at the heart of our great state's dysfunction.

Prop 13 has become California's political "third rail" not just because it protects certain tax payers, especially those who voted for it back in 1978 and still live in the same houses. It also has considerable "vast corporate tax loopholes" most voters don't know about.

How is it in a country founded on "don't tread on me" and tea party tax revolts against unfair taxation, Tea Party types support Prop 13 even though it is obviously an unfair and arbitrary tax? Prop 13 mandates unequal taxes on properties of equal value. Need we say more?

Even Warren Buffet understands that Prop 13 mandates "wildly capricious" taxation. For example, I currently pay roughly many many times more what Warren payed in 2004 on taxes for his home he bought in 1970. Warren valued his home at $4M in 2004, and it is now listed at $10.3M (Warren's 2004 assessment of his home was a bit low, it seems).

My house is worth a small fraction of that, yet I pay many times the property tax!! Who would argue that is fair? As Buffet said, it is wildly capricious.

Why is Prop 13 deemed constitutional? What about that Equal Protection clause? Mitrovich argues that--as with Dred Scott and Gore v. Bush--the SCOTUS was simply DEAD WRONG in this case. The only thing supreme about the SCOTUS majority is their stupidity and myopia.

Here's another must-read article from the right-of-center Economist magazine arguing for radical change in "ungovernable" California. Business leaders in the Bay Area are working toward a constitutional convention, but Prop 13 is not part of their plan. Perhaps the only way they can get a constitutional convention or "con-con" is to pander to those who want Prop 13 to continue as CA's political "third rail." If it remains our third rail, we will find that we have been sitting on this rail all along.

Since the Gubinator took over, our state has gone from dysfunctional to idiotic. If Meg is seen from this liberal's perspective as a well-funded nightmare for California, Jerry Brown is certainly not some liberal wet dream. This article on Brown shows why the race for Governor is so bad it almost makes me support four more years of the idiotic and incompetent Gubinator. In all his phoniness and opportunism, Brown supports Prop 13, the law he signed back in 1978.

Brown, like Obama, is assumed to be liberal, even though much of his lasting impact has been the worst kind of right-wing, Jarvis-like crap California is uniquely known for. He even had a show in the 90s on KPFA (it sucked, by the way). Like W, Brown's career was made by his father, and his work in office shows that he is lazy, an opportunist in the extreme, dishonest, self-serving, incompetent and lacks insight. He's the Dems W. Bottom line, Brown is a HUGE mistake for Democratic California. I wish he had meditated on how self-serving his run for Governor is, and how much the true liberals of California needed him to NOT run. What an jerk.

And I will vote for him because Meg, to me, is obviously much worse. Both have ties to Goldman Sachs, by the way, but Meg's are much deeper, and she has much more of that "masters of the universe" mindset than Jerry. She's more like a Ross Perot buying her way into office. Let's hope she is as successful as Ross was.

So, as you can guess, I'm pretty upset about California's prospects. The "Golden" State is not looking so golden right now, and I see no way out of its extreme lack of gold ($20B deficit). Without a "con-con" that includes radical tax reform ... that gets rid of the "supermajority" required to raise taxes ... without more taxes collected, and more fair taxation of people and corporations (which the SCOTUS, with its aforementioned supreme wisdom, recently deemed were people too) ... we Californians will continue to be royally fucked, buried in our own feces, especially those of us who recently bought houses.

So let me send out a big fuck you to those Californians who have been in their houses for a long time and support Prop 13 because it is a good deal for them. You deserve the shit that gets piled on you because our state and local governments are broke. I wonder if Howard Jarvis still lives in the home where Jerry Brown use to have breakfast with him and discuss how best to implement Prop 13. I bet Howard's taxes are low. Fuck you Howard Jarvis, and Jerry Brown for dining with him. Meg, a New Yorker, has only lived in her posh Atherton home since 1998. I'm sure she can afford the taxes she pays, which are disproportionately higher than Warren's ... and disproportionately lower than mine. Fuck you Meg, and I hope you aren't able to buy your way into the Governor's mansion.

Oh, that's right, California doesn't have a Governor's mansion because its Governors, since Reagan, have been wealthy enough to afford better living conditions. Arnold has a private jet fly him up from Brentwood. Meg will probably stay in her Atherton mansion, while Jerry Brown may stay in his expensive Oakland Hills home he forgets to talk about when he lies about how he is not the son of extreme privilege.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Obama No Liberal

This Rolling Stone article, Obama's Big Sellout, is really intended for anyone holding out that Obama is a liberal, a good guy, wise, etc. He's clearly not any of these. Let's not be fooled by his kind smile, obviously very high intelligence, nice family, and oratory skills anymore. You couldn't find a more suited person if your goal is to fool the liberals and centrists of America into voting for a right-of-center candidate after eight years of Bush. Not only do I feel duped; I feel enraged. Obama has the ethics of a ... well, a Bill Clinton.

Taibbi's article focuses on Obama and his mini Rubins and how they've fucked up our economy in so many ways. I imagine them as the ones at Greenspan's who's-who Ayn Rand book club meetings interrupting the free-market blather with side comments supporting a little more health care for the little man.

Here's another telling article--The Cheney Fallacy--this one by the mostly conservative mag The New Republic. TNR lists a variety of areas that Obama might have differed from Bush in the so-called "war on terror." TNR's politics are made clear when they list "interrogation" as one category, instead of "torture."

You will notice that Obama, despite many promises to be very different than Bush, is not significantly different at all--especially when it comes to the economy and the endless "war on terror" (a war on a form of fighting? how about a war on explosives? or on killing?). We should have known during the campaign when Obama position on wiretapping came out (not against the executive office breaking the law when it wants to as long as the law broken has something to do with a war with no possible ending).

We do see differences in health care. Bush II never would have even considered health care reform that would do anything but line the pockets of big pharma and the insurance companies more. Where else? Isn't it sad that it is so hard to come up with obviously distinct areas. Torture goes unpunished (and probably unchecked), rendition continues, Wall Street giveaways continues, insurance companies survive and continue to thrive ... Even land mines! We'd be better off with no health insurance companies and no land mines. The former is obviously more deadly.

For those of you out there who supported Hillary, you may feel some satisfaction that we duped Obama supporters are now having to eat our words ... well, all I can say is that chances are that the former NY Senator--a position that simply means "bought by Wall Street" (google Schumer and Wall Street)--would have been much the same. I wonder if she would have investigated Bush's crimes. I doubt it. Hard to imagine any Dem who could actually win the presidency while also actually upholding the constitution these days. This is probably because those in Wall Street don't want to make too many waves while their man (or woman) assist them in raking in billions. And because there are more Republicans on Wall Street than "limousine liberals" like the Rubin and his cronies.

I see no significant change I can believe in ... and I doubt my opinion will change, my rage will subside, by 2012. Of course, we are held hostage by the one-party system (two factions of the Business Party) and can only hope that the "Democratic" faction of the Business (Wall Street) Party will produce someone who will at least try to uphold the constitution while he or she shovels billions toward Wall Street. I grant that my Obama rage is one I'd choose over the eight years of Bush II rage I experienced, but we have to recognize how fucked we are when the senator we elect as president has one of the most liberal voting records while he was a senator--and then he turns out not at all liberal, bought by Wall Street and insurance companies like any Republican, as president. We're fucked. Wall Street wins. Insurance companies win. We can only hope that "the masters of the universe" will not be complete tyrants--that they may follow through on some of those "limousine liberal" ideas and allow some of them to become policies. Maybe the little man will get a little more health care.

I recently read an article in the Business-Party-friendly Economist magazine that argued that California is now ungovernable. It seems to me that our country should be seen as such--especially when "governable" means serving the interests of the demos.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A letter to Harper's Magazine by Joseph Marguelies of Chicago. Harper's entitled it "Stress Position":

In “We Still Torture” [Criticism, July, 2009], Luke Mitchell notes that President Obama has preserved much more than he has rejected of his predecessor’s approach to post-9/11 detentions. This fidelity to the past is not confined to detentions; regarding domestic surveillance and state secrets, the differences between Bush and Obama are likewise insignificant.

There is nothing unusual about a president who fails to deliver on a promise of change. What is striking is that so many people—on both the left and the right—seem to believe, contrary to all evidence, that change has indeed come, and that Obama has adopted a set of policies diametrically opposed to those of the Bush Administration. For some, this misconception—an alleged end to a shameful epoch—has occasioned a sigh of relief; for others, like former vice president Dick Cheney, it has produced alarmist consternation. Why do so many see so much in so little?

As with much in politics, it is a problem of perspective. For the overwhelming majority of Americans, post-9/11 detention policy is necessarily remote. Shrouded in secrecy, it operates in a realm set apart from our daily existence and completely beyond our influence. It exists as a collection of evocative images and ideas—black sites, Guantánamo, terrorists, torture—that are entwined with the most powerful political symbols in American life: race, national security, and, the most elusive of all, “American values.”

This potent symbolism guarantees popular interest in the debates surrounding our detention policy even as the policy’s remoteness means that people cannot intelligently evaluate these debates. Are the prisoners innocent men, wrongly detained and horribly mistreated? Or coddled terrorists committed to destruction and mayhem? Can they be tried in federal court or paroled into the United States? Or would they overwhelm our courts and disappear into the shadows only to strike again?

We are apt to forget that Americans rather recently attached inordinate significance to a junior senator’s dramatic allegations that Communists had infiltrated the State Department. McCarthyism and its attendant debates unfolded mostly at a symbolic level; today, the public’s passionate attachment to the course of detention policy is similarly untempered by reason.

Under such circumstances, people form opinions based on symbolic gestures from trusted voices. That is, when remote issues acquire symbolic significance, symbolic gestures substitute for actual change. In a recent speech at the National Archives, surrounded by our founding and most revered documents, President Obama announced that he had broken with the policies of President Bush and embraced the Constitution. The response was swift and predictable: obama reinstates rule of law. The details announced in the same speech, including Obama’s plan to hold prisoners indefinitely without charge or trial—the same policy so detested during the Bush Administration—were generally ignored. The symbolic gesture (the closure of Guantánamo) satisfied the portion of the public that trusts Obama and alarmed the portion that does not.

It makes no difference—to either group—that Guantánamo may be closed but immediately re-opened elsewhere, or that Obama has stepped into the footprint left by the forty-third president. Political change is usually just symbolic change, and that, for most, is enough.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Public Option Now!

An email I sent to a bunch of friends and family today:

Greetings fellow Americans,

I have never tried to start a pass-along email before, but this issue seems so important that I hope you will excuse me for doing it now. Whether you see yourself as right, left, or centrist, I am hoping you will send this email to as many friends and family members you know who will consider reading up on what I see as the most important aspect of the healthcare reform that the Obama administration is currently trying to push through: what is known as the "public option."

I am hoping this email might encourage liberals and lefties like myself to learn even more, and back even more, the "public option" over an unrealistic "single-payer" system. Let's admit it: single-payer in the U.S. is just not going to happen in our lifetimes.

I am also hoping that some conservatives out there might be able to look beyond their usual dismissals of a public option as "socialized medicine" and take some time to at least understand better what they are fighting against--and, more importantly, to understand the difference between a "single-payer" or strictly public system and the private-public mix currently under consideration in Congress.

I am hoping our country will work toward a public-private mix, one that has a viable and complete "public option" for any American who wants it, and one where those desiring more or better healthcare would be free to purchase private insurance. Beyond seeing the establishment of a strictly public system as unrealistic in our country, I also see it as potentially unnecessary since people should be free to purchase private insurance for more or better healthcare than what the state can provide, even if the state is providing great care (as, I believe, it is morally obliged to do). The goal is to get every citizen of the state basic health care, and any private option should be just that: an option. It should be secondary and not get in the way of a viable, prevention-focused, womb-to-tomb public option.

As reported on June 20, 2009, a NYT/CBS poll shows that there is currently "wide support for government-run health" in our country: "Americans overwhelmingly support substantial changes to the health care system and are strongly behind one of the most contentious proposals Congress is considering, a government-run insurance plan to compete with private insurers [known as 'the public option.'] The poll found that most Americans would be willing to pay higher taxes so everyone could have health insurance and they said the government could do a better job of holding down health-care costs than the private sector."

If you are worried about higher taxes, you should know that the average insured American family currently shells out $1000 per year for the cost of the uninsured. It is called a "hidden tax"--and this is just the cost of the uninsured. Just think what the "hidden tax" is for insurance companies' profits--companies like AIG who have recently received $173 Billion in a government bailout. After AIG received their first $80 Billion, "the company sent executives on a $440,000 retreat to a posh California resort." Later AIG would balk at the claims of AIG-insured passengers of the jet that was ditched in the Hudson. There's free-market efficiency for you!

Would you rather have an AIG bureaucrat between you and your doctor, or a government employee? Why are government employees so maligned? Soldiers, by the way, are government employees. Actually, given how much we tax payers have given AIG the only difference is that the AIG bureaucrat gets a much larger salary and a big fat bonus if he or she buys up some toxic asset and helping AIG become "too big to fail." Also, this report by the Commonwealth Fund argues that it is clear that the government does a better job at running its part of Medicare than the private sector does with its part, called "Medicare Advantage" (see this post by Maggie Mahar which lists the myriad ways Medicare Advantage amounts to an insurance company scam). As Paul Waldman argues, Medicare Advantage shows that "the government pays insurance companies more to provide a service it is providing to other enrollees for less."

The U.S. spends more for less in general, according to a World Health Organization report: "The U.S. health system spends a higher portion of its gross domestic product than any other country but ranks 37 out of 191 countries according to its performance.... The United Kingdom, which spends six percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on health services, ranks 18th." In 2007, according to a report by the the National Coalition on Health Care, the U.S. spent $2.4 trillion or $7900 per person on healthcare, which constituted 17% of GDP. So we spent 17% of our GDP for a 37th ranking, while the U.K. spent 6% of its GDP to be ranked 18th. That is more than bad health care; that's bad business, fiscal irresponsibility. It's also immoral because that 17% of GDP, that $2.4 trillion, leaves 50 million Americans uninsured.

I think most would agree that our current insurance-company-based healthcare system does not work. It is in fact, broken. Very sick. A "sicko" in both senses: ill and also pervertedly immoral. The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies estimates that 18,000 Americans will die this year due to being uninsured. I know a 23 year old who is right now putting off a much-needed second heart surgery because she is worried she can't afford it, and she can't get insurance because of her pre-existing condition. What should she do? Yes, she could die if her heart valve fails due to the scar tissue from the first operation, one she received when she was six months old. If she doesn't get the operation soon, and she doesn't die, her life is at risk of being really hurt or ruined by a variety of health issues her heart problems could cause. 18K die each year, but how many millions of Americans' lives have been egregiously hurt or ruined by being uninsured?

Not only is this immoral; people like this person with a bad heart valve end up costing more over the span of their unnecessarily unhealthy lives. The same WHO report ranked the US 72nd in overall health. According to a report by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, "promoting the health of young children, before five years of age, could save society up to $65 billion in future health care costs." What could we save by focusing on preventative health care in general?

You might ask yourself why the so-called "competition"of our current system has failed so miserably, and why basic healthcare is not a basic right like education--why the myths circulated about the Canadian system are so often accepted as fact. I ask why would anyone defend a system ranked 37th overall in the world by the WHO? Right above Slovenia, but way below number-one-ranked France. Even those liberals at BusinessWeek agree that "the French system--a complex mix of private and public financing--offers valuable lessons for would-be health-care reformers in the U.S."

Let's put away our usual prejudices about the French, the Canadian healthcare system, and knee-jerk reactions to government health care as "socialist" and take a serious look at a "public option" that would lay the foundation for the U.S. system to move toward where it has to go: a more viable and ethical "mix of private and public financing." It has to go there because we cannot afford our current "sicko" system: it is too expense in dollars, lives, and needless suffering. Health care should be a basic right here in the U.S., just like it is in every other advanced nation. It's obvious to almost anyone who has grown up in an advanced nation. Please pass this email on so we can get more people educated about what it means to support a "public option." We need a viable public-private system where health care is treated like a basic right.

Thanks for your time.

The Baggage Handler

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Brief History of Recent Failures to Uphold the Constitution

When it comes to the many issues surrounding the US war crime of torture, one of the main political questions for me is who among American politicians should be investigated, prosecuted and, if found guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors, sentenced according to the law (impeachment, jail time, disbarring, censure, etc.).

It has been rather clear to me that Bush, Cheney, Tenet, Rice, Rumsfeld and several of their minions (Addington, Feith, Yoo, Bybee, etc.) should have been investigated back in 2004/2005 after Abu Ghraib broke--that is, after it became more and more clear that the Bush administration had authorized, rationalized and ordered crimes such as extraordinary rendition and torture.

Since then it has become clear that prosecution has been in order for years, especially after Obama's recent release of the so-called torture memos and the recent release of the Red Cross report. It has also become clear that many in congress and elsewhere, Democrats and Republicans, are now guilty of failing to uphold the constitution and should also be investigated and potentially prosecuted.

Condoleezza Rice's recent comment that "by definition if it was authorized by the President" any controversial interrogation technique is therefore legal suggests why Bush and his cronies should be in more trouble than they are currently in: they believed that they were above the law simply by Presidential decree. Dana Milbank reported on the Bush administration's post-Watergate move to return power to the President, but his report buys into Bush administration rationalizations that there is actually a constitutional theory that supports giving the power to the President to suspend the constitution. Milbank calls this theory a strong version of the "unitary executive theory," but even this executive-biased theory has to be stretched beyond all recognition to match Rice's imperial legal theory (irony: she will be teaching political theory at Stanford).

In 2005 it became clear that Bush and Co. had broken the Watergate-inspired FISA law by wiretapping US citizens without warrants. By early 2006, the focus of those interested in bringing the Bush administration to justice switched from lying us into war, war crimes and torture to warrantless wiretapping, which at the time seemed like a much clearer violation of the law since Bush and Co., in all their arrogance, admitted they were accountable. There was also an under-reported majority of Americans who supported impeachment for warrantless wiretapping. In January, 2006, Al Gore said on ABC News that warrentless wiretapping could constitute an impeachable offense.

To many, these areas of "high crimes" were all, by themselves, deserving of investigation, prosecution and even impeachment years ago. But from Abu Ghraib in 2004 to the mid-term election in late 2006, the Bush administration had nothing to fear because a Republican-led congress had no problem violating the law by ignoring calls for independent investigations. They felt no need to uphold the constitution, and the citizenry did not hold them accountable to their sworn oaths to do so. These violations of the law themselves deserve investigation: legislatures should not have a choice with respect to upholding the constitution. It is their legal obligation. This is also true for Democratic legislatures, including Pelosi, and our current Executive, who both share an "off the table" policy with regard to even investigation of these high crimes.

My argument has always been that deciding not to investigate, let alone prosecute, these obvious high crimes is itself a high crime. The oath that all of these politicians take when they begin their service to us citizens starts with the idea of upholding the constitution. It's very basic, very American. Of course, the idea is to have a system of checks and balances between three equally weighted branches of government, in a way that supports the rule of law (in order to avoid the rule of people and parties, dictators, kings and oligarchies). During 2004-2006, a GOP dominated executive, legislative and judiciary did not provide any hope for such checks and balances, but it did provide fertile ground for the executive's abuse of power in the form of assuming king-like powers to be above the law. GOP leaders even employed the anachronistic idea "sovereign immunity"--and our supposedly liberal President has followed suit and even gone further than the Bushies in some ways.

In November, 2006, there was cause for hope regarding investigations of GOP high crimes when a new, Democratic-led congress was elected. This hope was quickly dashed by the new Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, when she declared soon after assuming power, in contrast to the campaign promises of many in her party, that impeachment processes, including any investigations to see if prosecution would be warranted, were "off the table."

A little over a year later, in December, 2007, a reason came to light for Pelosi's "off the table" policy, an obvious betrayal of her duty to uphold the constitution. Pelosi had been briefed on "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" in September, 2002. As John Nichols recently points out, this was known in late 2007, but it has only recently become big news after the release of the pertinent CIA briefings notes, which do not explicitly mention waterboarding. Everyone is focused on waterboarding and whether Pelosi was briefed on them in September, 2002, because it is seen as an obvious form of torture, and even more obviously when used 83 times, as it was against Abu Zubaydah. The problem with this focus on waterboarding, according to the Physicians for Human Rights, is that all of the EITs are potentially torture:

The unprecedented analysis by Human Rights First and Physicians for Human Rights combines medical and legal expertise to comprehensively examine ten techniques widely reported to have been authorized for use in the CIA's secret interrogation program, including sleep deprivation, simulated drowning, stress positions, beating, and induced hypothermia. The Report —"Leave No Marks: 'Enhanced' Interrogation Techniques and the Risk of Criminality"— demonstrates the mental and physical consequences of the use of these techniques, and its title refers to the techniques' intended design, which is to inflict psychological trauma and pain without leaving physical scars. U.S. law requires an assessment of the physical and mental impact of an interrogation method to determine its legality. The report concludes that each of the ten tactics is likely to violate U.S. laws, including the War Crimes Act, the U.S. Torture Act, and the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005.

Pelosi insistence that she was not briefed on waterboarding in September, 2002, is basically a claim that she was not briefed on techniques that would constitute torture, therefore she had no obligation at the time to report or investigate possible war crimes. The CIA claims Pelosi knew about waterboarding in 2002, but Pelosi claims she didn't know until 2003 and that the CIA lied to her then, saying it would be used, not that it had been in use for a long time. All of these complexities are moot: if Pelosi was briefed on EITs, she was briefed on possible war crimes, with or without waterboarding, and whether it was briefed as being done at the time or as a plan for the future. She was legally obligated to have done something in 2002 and should be investigated.

GOP leaders have recently called for investigations of Pelosi's role in approving torture, and have even gone so far as to say she was one of the authors of this policy. I agree with Robert Scheer when he argues that calling Pelosi an "author" of the policy is nonsense, but I go farther than calling her simply an enabler:

"She was neither the author of a systematic policy of torture nor has she been, like Cheney and most top Republicans in Congress, an enduring apologist for its practice. It is a nonsensical distraction to place her failure to speak out courageously as a critic of the Bush policies on the same level as those who engineered one of the most shameful debacles in U.S. history. But what she, and anyone else who went along with this evil, as lackadaisically as she now claims, should be confronted with are the serious implications of their passive acquiescence."
Pelosi silence after the 2002 briefing and her "off the table" policy certainly enabled the Bush administration to both continue torturing and avoiding prosecution. But "enable" seems too weak here. I would go with "accomplice" and suggest that she should be investigated and prosecuted if it is found that she failed in her duty to uphold the constitution."

Pelosi is also embroiled in the wiretapping crime. She admitted that she was briefed "a few years ago" on Bush administration illegal wiretaps of Representative Jane Harman and, again, chose to do nothing about it. Take a second and consider this: the Bush administration confesses to wiretapping (Watergate!) a leading Democrat (Watergate!), and they confess this to another leading Democrat, and she then decides not to do anything about it. Regardless if she was protecting herself or Harmon, how could she rationalize that it was okay not to do anything about this obvious high crime of subverting our democracy, one that is so much like the Nixon administration's bugging of the Democratic headquarters? It is important to ask if Harmon break the law with regard to AIPAC, but it is much more important to investigate the Bush administration for these crimes, and anyone who enabled them to get away with it, including Pelosi and Harman, who has now changed her tune on warrantless wiretapping.

These two examples of Pelosi enabling the Bush administration's criminal actions--wiretapping and torture--make Pelosi's "off the table" policy understandable: she was protecting herself from investigation and possible prosecution. This also makes Obama's decision to adopt the "off the table" policy more understandable: in addition to trying to create an environment better suited to passing the legislation he wants passed, he was probably also protecting the second highest ranking Democrat: Nancy Pelosi. Regardless of his reasons, his DECISION not to uphold the constitution seems to me be a high crime itself.