July 24, 2009

Actual Political Solutions to Problems Are Nonviable in the United States

It took a while to crystallize the essential problem, but I think I'm zeroing in. Maybe that's why the airwaves now are filled with Birther conspiracy theories; why the hell not?, I guess you could say. Could we broaden this perspective and challenge the American citizenship of all 535 members of Congress? Would it make any real difference? Also, I'd like us to prove that Scalia and Alito are actually Italian citizens never naturalized as Americans. I'm positing that now as a "theory." That's my right, correct? Where are their "long-form" birth certificates? Okay, suppose they have those. How can I know, for certain, they aren't forged?

I wonder if it's occurred to President Obama that the opposition party, the GOP, has become a cult? It meets all the operational definitions - I recommend a book by a Northern California psychiatrist named Arthur Deikman entitled Them and Us for further explication. By such operational definition, you cannot do business with cults or persuade them of anything contrary to the founding myths and belief systems of the cult. The revelation that there is a kind of Christian boarding house on C Street in Washington where The Family meets, including such wackos as John Ensign of Nevada and Jim DeMint of South Carolina, fits right in (there are a couple of Democrats in residence as well). It is Congress's version of Jim Jones & the People's Temple, nuts elected by nuts in their home states, such as Tom Coburn of Oklahoma who advocates the death penalty for doctors performing abortions, which, as far as I know, is the first instance of a sitting United States Senator advocating execution for a doctor performing a Constitutionally protected medical procedure.

I'm sure it has occurred to Barack Obama, since another feature of the contracting, deliquescing Republican Party is that it's becoming home to frank racists who refuse to accept the idea that a native-born American man of partial African heritage has actually been elected President. Yet he's forced to continue talking to them, maybe for infrapsychic reasons arising from his own innate decency, as if a DeMinted party dominated by wingnuts and religious psychos are "legitimate partners" in solving America's problems.

How is he going to keep that up for another 3-1/2 years? I can't believe it's possible. The lingering viability of the Republican Party, at the national level, meanwhile ensures that no "radical" solutions (meaning: effective solutions) are viable for America's real problems. The shitty legislation wending its way through Congress to solve the healthcare crisis reflects this reality. The assertion of the "Christian" belief that people should die if they have the bad judgment, or ill health, to be priced out of the health market arises from the Wingnut Brigades of the Republican Right (meaning: Republican), with their precious, death-grip adherence to "private enterprise" and to the inalienable rights of large insurance corporations to do what God put them on Earth to do: to grind the people to death with high premiums and random declinations of coverage. Anything else is "Socialist," like, for example, the military-security state which commands $1 trillion in "taxpayer money" (okay, borrowed foreign money or made-up money resulting from the Federal Reserve buying its own IOUs) every fiscal year. But military spending, since it can be used to crush heathen (non-Christian) religions, is also God-ordained, so no problem.

It's pretty scary, actually, and maybe the signal contribution of Barack Obama's presidency (since actual accomplishments are no longer possible in American life) is that he's brought it all into bold relief. How sick it all is, the racism, the intolerance, the bigotry, the idiocy infecting the values of a broad swath of "patriotic Americans." The one thing that disturbs my equanimity about all this, and never allows me to dismiss the radicalized Christian Republicans as a fringe group on the way to oblivion, is that they currently occupy the approximate place which Hitler and the Brownshirts (Sam Brownback hangs out at the Family too, by the way) occupied in the early 1920's in Germany. Marginalized, nonviable, Hitler in jail for inciting a putsch - it looked like no future at all for them. Then the Great Depression, the vacuum of power at the top, and the Death's Head Cult of the Nazis, the only really well-organized political force in the country, assumed control. So someone as vacuous and ridiculous as Sarah Palin can appear irrelevant and powerless while the vestiges of power remain in reasonably sane hands.

And then the worm turns. Things begin to change, the Zeitgeist mutates, and crazy people begin acquiring a legitimacy they would never enjoy in settled times. That's why I'm never certain whether it's a good idea to criticize Barack Obama or not. Granted, it's going to be the next thing to impossible to ameliorate any of our pressing problems in our corrupt, God-deluded country, but at least the guy's sane, reasonable and compassionate, not to mention secular in his approach. Unconsciously, I'm sure that's one of the main reasons I supported him - McCain would have accelerated our descent into a religion-fueled Fascism. We're not going to have Single Payer healthcare in the USA, we're not going to reduce our nutso defense spending, the government agencies ostensibly overseeing the vital agricultural, pharmaceutical and environmental sectors of American life will remain in the hands of hacks with corporate, anti-human agendas - but at least we haven't arrived at Kristallnacht and concentration camps for political dissidents. Not yet anyway.

Obama - Sane We Can Believe In.

July 23, 2009

Stop the Torture Carousel, I Want to Get Off

A consensus seems to be forming that what Eric Holder, the Attorney General, has in mind, as far as torture investigations are concerned, is to go after lower level CIA operatives and contractor interrogators who exceeded the Yoo-Bybee-et alia guidelines for permissible torture; that is, those who tortured too much, sometimes to the point of killing their victims. I guess this tendency has become ineradicable in our political culture: the instinct to elevate image over substance. So Holder will investigate whether waterboarders used too much water, hypothermia techs lowered the thermostat too low, wall slammers induced concussion and cerebral hemorrhage instead of just knocking someone silly, etc.

This is a replay of the Bad Apple Theory of Prosecution used in the Abu Ghraib detainee abuse matter. You pick out some low level schlub who didn't read the fine print in the Torture Manual put together by esteemed law professor John Yoo or the Honorable Judge Jay Bybee of the United States Federal Court, who wrote what they did at the instigation of Dick Cheney and his Torquemada, Esq., David Addington, and you wreck the functionary's life by embroiling him in a federal prosecution he can't afford and from which he lacks the political cover of the power elite. This is supposed to show the American people and the world that we just won't stand for torture, that we go after those who commit it hammer and tongs, et cetera ad absurdum ad nauseum.

We've seen this movie and there's no need to produce Bad Apples, the Sequel. We all know what really happened. Bush & Cheney wanted to rough Muslim detainees up, as much as they thought they could possibly get away with; then they commissioned lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel (that "Little Shop of Legal Horrors," as Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse called it) to write memos justifying torture; then they told the White House-compliant, Republican-controlled House and Senate to include retroactive exonerations for torture in the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 and the Military Commissions Act of 2006, once the Supreme Court pulled a fast one on them and ruled that Arabs were, after all, human beings for purposes of the Geneva Conventions. The key feature of such exonerations, which tellingly included "all U.S. officials," was that reasonable reliance on the advice of counsel in ordering or committing torture was a defense to criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act.

Thus, the circle was complete. Write me a memo, John, that tells me I can waterboard Khalid Sheikh, because I want to; if anyone ever bothers me about it, then I'll point to the memo I told you to write so I could "rely" on it.

This is not, of course, absolutely morally satisfying for anyone whose corpus callosum has not been completely cleaved in twain. It's kinda sickening, actually. Here's what I wish President Barack Obama would simply say in answer to a question at a press conference:

Helen Thomas: Are we going to prosecute anyone for torture?
Pres. Obama: No, we're not.
Thomas: Aren't we required to by the Convention Against Torture, the Treaty we signed?
Obama: Yes, we are, but we're going to breach the Treaty.
Thomas: Why are we going to breach the Treaty?
Obama: Because that's the way we do things in this town now.

This approach has the huge advantage of complete honesty, which the Bad Apple Theory lacks. The Bad Apple Theory creates a confused picture; it makes people think we're coming down hard on torture, which we're not doing at all. We're pretending to give a shit when we don't. We're going to lock some CIA field agent up for getting carried way, by being more illegal than the illegal instructions he was given told him he could be. There's no point in that; if anything, it tends to give the official parameters of permissible torture the patina of legitimacy, which they don't deserve. "See? If the field hand had just stuck to the illegal rules, instead of showing off and killing Abu, he wouldn't have these problems."

If Holder doesn't want to to go the origin of the problem, to the top level decision makers (Deciders) who ushered in the Dark Side in the first place, then just forget the whole thing and accept the inevitable consequences. Let the Bad Apples rot and spoil the whole barrel. Torture without consequences: isn't that what we're really saying anyway?

July 20, 2009

Barack's Ideological Straitjacket

I sometimes read blogs myself, of course; while there isn't much investigative work behind most blogging, reading blogs at least gives you the benefit of someone else's take on the same issues you're reading about. The real investigation is still done by reporters, that endangered species. I was reminded of that recently while reading The Forever War by Dexter Filkins, a New York Times reporter, about the years he spent in Afghanistan and Iraq, usually in great danger. As I expected, someone actually there, talking to Iraqis, Afghans and Americans, comes away with a far more complicated view than the simplifications of liberal or conservative blogs. In Iraq, for example, it's simultaneously true that they really appreciate our efforts in ousting Saddam Hussein, who was an insanely cruel and evil dictator who turned his country into a "mental institution," as Filkins writes; and also true that they really resent our being there and want us gone as soon as possible. How could it be otherwise?

For me the question has always been whether the United States really ought to be spending its lives and treasure on such imperial adventures and rescue operations, especially in a time of great economic strain in this country. Lots of liberal bloggers, of course, don't find this argument out there enough. They need to find ways to argue that the war itself actually makes the Iraqis worse off than under Saddam, which, though I sometimes hate to admit it, goes a little far. Conservatives like to argue that the war is self-evidently the right thing to do: a big muscular America leads the world and intervenes preemptively whenever it needs to, damn the cost. That strikes me as grotesquely naive and uninformed, and it will indeed lead to the Forever War.

It has to be admitted that the conservative viewpoint in this country, even with the big gains in Congressional seats by the Democrats (not to mention the White House), remains basically in control. This is why we're still in Afghanistan and Iraq spending money we either borrow or print. It is like the narcissist who refuses to trade in his Jaguar or sell his 10,000 square foot home even though they're bankrupting him. He can't stand the loss of face, and for a long time the supreme narcissist of countries, the United States, was the "indispensable nation," the country that called the world's tune, and Congressional bodies such as the Senate are full to the rafters with very old white men who have never adjusted their thinking to any other way of looking at things. So we stay and fight in Afghanistan, even though it is the graveyard of empire, where every country that tries to subdue it winds up destroying itself.

Barack Obama's attempts to reform the medical care system, his touchstone issue, are burdened by the same outmoded thinking. Our ideological limitations are such that as soon as something can be called "Socialist" [or: Socialist!], it's doomed as an idea. So the idea then becomes how to graft on a government program to private enterprise (the for-profit medical system) because we can't imagine doing the one thing that would actually make a difference: socializing medicine and bringing its costs under the direct control of the people. With variations, this is essentially the formula used by every other civilized country that recognizes health care should simply not be a business. Call it Single Payer, call it the Canadian or French system, but the idea is that the system becomes socialized as to basic medical care. It's a human right, provided by the government. And once the government controls the flow of money for healthcare, it will tell the providers how much they will get paid. Or they can go into some other line of work, like becoming unemployed. This madness going on with hospital chains agreeing to 10-year cost reduction goals, and thousands of pages devoted to arranging the shotgun wedding between the federal government and private enterprise (including health insurers) is going to wind up like Hillary Clinton's "managed care" fiasco, and destined for the dumper.

It's because Congress, under the influence of Big Money, will not venture that far "left." And Barack, bless his heart, is a gifted orator at times but seems to lack that vision or thirst for combat that so characterized the work of Martin Luther King, Jr., who specifically chose his battlegrounds so the worst badasses would be on the other side: George Wallace, Bull Conner, Birmingham, Montgomery. His targets guaranteed high visibility and maximum drama, but you have to be made of that kind of stuff. So Barack, telling Congress it's Single Payer or nothing, don't bother me with half-hearted compromises, and then taking the fight to the streets - one way or another, he would win. Just pound away and don't worry about "offending" these soulless inhabitants under the Capitol Dome.

And he won't do that, of course. Maybe we'll have a "public option" that kicks in around 2013, maybe it will get left behind. It won't matter very much. The reforms will be meaningless, done to placate rather than solve. What, really, is possible anymore?