Healthcare Debacle

President Obama bet the farm on health care reform, then did nearly nothing to help its passage, and got what  he deserved.  Of course, we deserve better.  We deserved a decent health care bill in the Senate that wasn’t held hostage by Senator Nelson.  We deserved something that improved the circumstances of a good chunk of 45 million Americans, just as many are put at risk because of lack of health care, thanks to 10% unemployment.  Here’s a little math: 10% of 320 million people that live in the U.S.  = 32 million people right there.

Shame on Democrats for not getting a bill through.  Great shame on them.

Now we have nothing.  If the situation remains as is, if we get nothing by the election, then no party is going to touch this issue with a 10 foot pole for our lifetimes.  How good that must be for insurance companies!  If we get nothing, our elected officials deserve less. I say THROW THE BUMS OUT, ALL OF THEM, Republicans AND Democrats.

Including President Obama.

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Are Employees of the CIA above the law?

Update:  CNN’s Peter Bergen points out all the flaws in Dick Cheney’s logic here.

Over the last few days there have been a plethora of conservative commentaries that range in their argument from Dick Cheney accusing the Obama administration of a political vendetta to The Wall Street Journal repeatedly arguing that the prosecutions are just wrong headed (such as this one) to Debra J. Saunders in the SF Chronicle, arguing that the employees in question should be pardoned.  There are at least two problems with the arguments now appearing on the street:

  1. In all cases, torturer sympathizers seem to forget that we, the American People, don’t actually know what happened yet.  That is what an investigation is for.
  2. In some cases, the argument seems to be that members of the CIA who were acting on orders should be shielded by the fact they were just following orders.  We tried people and convicted them, not withstanding that defense, in Nuremberg.  They were known as Nazis.  We as a society need to send a message that no one is above the law.  It may take years to catch up with people who have been politically shielded from their crimes, but they will be brought to justice.
  3. According to the CIA, torture has been shown to be unreliable.

That leaves the argument that the current investigation by the Justice Department is politically motivated.  I would have to say that if one’s politics require one to believe that torture is illegal and immoral, then the answer is yes.  Our morality throughout the world has been called into question.  Do we condone the torturing of human beings?  What, then, separates us from those we accuse of being evil?

On the other hand, I do not see any evidence that this is some sort of game of political Gotcha.  While Debra Saunders writes that General Holder has in the past been inconsistent in his views when it comes to pardons, that means nothing in the context of a factual investigation.

As to Mr. Cheney, let him speak.  He may, at best, be shielded by the fact that the vice president cannot order anyone in the executive branch outside his own staff to do anything.  He would be the wrong person to go after, anyway.  If President Bush ordered a crime to be committed, let him be held accountable, assuming a crime was committed.

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Apparently, we have legalized torture

Scales of JusticeThis past week Eric Holder went before the United States Senate Judiciary Committee so that he might be confirmed as the next Attorney General.  In that hearing, he was asked whether waterboarding was torture, and he gave a pretty unequivocal answer of “yes”, much along the lines that his soon-to-be boss President-elect Obama has said.

According to an article in the New York Times, and a separate one in the Wall Street Journal, the statement itself, obvious as it may seem, will have consequences for those who committed the acts, and for the United States government itself, who is party to a treaty that requires prompt investigation of all credibly alleged acts of torture.

The Times article mentions, however, that the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (where they probably mean the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, PL 109-148 §1004) protects officials from prosecution if they acted in good faith based on the opinion of the Attorney General and the President.

Let’s put this another way: if the President and AG say it’s okay to torture, then according to that law, ain’t thing one a future president can do about it.  Furthermore, simply changing the law would not remove the protection for officials, as any prosecution would be considered  ex post facto, which is prohibited by our Constitution.

Of course nobody ever said that the President or AG said torture was okay.  They just defined it in such a way that waterboarding wasn’t included.  Well, why not do that with electrical shock, or caning?  It’s a hole of infinite size through which any numbskull could step through.

What, then, does it mean when we say that the United States doesn’t torture people?

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Mr. Bush, you’re no Harry Truman

Some people are really not meant for this earth.  They happen to exist through luck or by the grace of others, or simply because evolution has not provided sufficient stimulus to cause them to bring themselves to an end.

Such was the case with union leaders in early 1980s, and not it seems to be the case with the Wall Street Journal.  In this lovely editorial, Jeffrey Scott Shapiro wonders why President Bush is receiving such a public flogging as hasn’t been seen since Truman, and whines that the attacks on Mr. Bush have been slanderous.  Perhaps some have been, but there have been plenty more that are well deserved.  Let’s review a bit with Mr. Shapiro, who appears to need the lesson.

The Economy

He argues that the current administration has little to do with the current economic mess.  Their appointee to chair the SEC, Christopher Cox led the commission that weakened the firewall within banks between lending and investing so that an investment failure could cause a banking failure, which is what happened.

Taking Deregulation to Its Illogical Conclusion

Over the last eight years we have seen more food scares than in the previous forty.  At one time it’s meat, and then it’s spinach, and then tomatoes.  Today we all worry about products brought in from China.  The regulatory regime of the FDA is so lax its amazing anything is safe to eat.  At the same time we are polluting our air and water while consuming as much oil as ever.  Mr. Bush entered the stage with corporate greed on everyone’s mind.  Enron and Worldcom were household names.  You would think we would keep a closer eye on Corporate America, and the Sarbanes Oxley act was meant to do just that.  And yet we have just shoveled another $700 billion into the banks.

Losing Two Wars

It was perhaps inevitable and likely necessary that we would go to war with the Taliban in order to root Al Qaida out of Afghanistan.  That we haven’t won the war is inexcusable.  President Bush doesn’t understand what winning a war is.  It is not enough to simply have moved troops into a particular piece of real estate, but rather to accomplish a particular political objective.  In Afghanistan that was to install a stable democratic government.  Stability requires lots and lots of time, effort, planning, and money, which Mr. Bush denied the Afghans by devoting his attention elsewhere.  Today we see fighting along the border, a resurgence of the Taliban outside of Kabul, and war lords re-emerging as power centers.  All of this was not inevitable.  It is one thing to try and fail, but we failed to try.

The other war was a war of choice that we entered because we were not told the truth.  President Bush claimed on more than one occasion that he acted on the same intelligence that President Clinton had.  If that was the case (and it seems that it was), then Mr. Bush demonstrated a shocking lack of judgment for the job in which he found himself.

But that wasn’t the worst of it, once in Iraq we failed to stabilize the situation, to provide basic services to the citizens, and to re-establish any semblance of normality in their lives.  Rather than paying attention to the deteriorating situation, Mr. Bush believed his chief lieutenants, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and Condoliza Rice, as was well documented by Bob Woodward.

Loss of Moral Authority

Engaging in a war of choice against the wishes of most of the world was one of the many ways in which we lost the respect of the common individual in many countries.  By creating prisons and holding people indefinitely without trial, the administration flouted the law.  Allowing people to be transported to far away countries for the purposes of torture demonstrated to people outside the U.S. that we would do anything that we thought justifiable in the name of national security.  Denying them public trials further demonstrates a level of depravity usually attributed to petty dictators.

Isolation of America

Every foreign visitor has been subject to treatment that is usually reserved for common criminals.  Upon entry their pictures and fingerprints are taken, stored in a system of questionable security, subjecting them to potential identity theft, a problem that this administration has generally ignored.  It has been all but impossible for residents of the middle east to visit, due to extensive consular demands.  The effort required to visit the U.S. has cost us tourism and business as organizations have moved their meetings elsewhere.

Fear

I reserve my strongest ire for Mr. Bush and his sidekick for having led America, not from a position of strength, where he could have told people after 9/11 that the best way to get back at people who do not believe in our way of life is to rebuld and outmarket them; but instead from a position of fear.  Mr. Bush spread fear everywhere he went.  He did it perhaps because he was fearful.  But he also profited from fear, scoring political points off of peoples’ fear.  He imposed onerous rules at airports, treated foreigners like criminals, snooped into people’s private lives, and violated principles many Americans hold dear.

And so perhaps some level of disrespect is deserved.  Mr. Shapiro points out that after a generation people came to value Harry Truman and his presidency, and he argues that the same could happen with President Bush.  Harry Truman stood up to his military by integrating them, ended WWII in the Pacific through what could only have been a terrible choice, stood up against Stalin in Germany, and stood up against his own general in Korea.  He was attacked from the right because of wrongful accusations against his secretary of state by a Republican whacko named Joe McCarthy.  History showed he was right in each of the above cases, and his critics were wrong.  Does anyone seriously believe President Bush is in the same league as President Truman?  If so, please pass me what you’re smoking.

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Past Political Themes: Compassionate Conservative

Some time ago – in fact just over eight years ago, Governor George W. Bush started describing himself as a “compassionate conservative”.  Here’s the question: what was so compassionate about this president?  Did he actually help the poorest members of society?  Did he help those who were most disenfranchised?  I see no evidence of his doing so.  Perhaps it is unfair to judge him in this light given that he now seemingly defines his presidency as how he responded to the attacks on September 11th.  Or perhaps we should simply not speak ill of the lame duck, not because it’s in bad taste but simply because it is not worth our time.  But feel free if you like.

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