Saturday, May 23, 2009

Four Questions

In the tradition of the New York Times, and since the President chose to take a four part question in his national news conference, the same four questions should be answered by Obama supporters as an indicator of how they feel about his presidency so far. So the question to you, or questions, are what are you most surprised, troubled, enchanted and humbled by so far in the Obama administration? I will answer for myself and then hope more people will add their list so that we can get feel for where progressive minds are at this juncture of history. I am surprised at the centrist nature of so many positions the President has taken on issues and how he dances away from controversy at every opportunity. If ever there was an example of free market capitalism failing, it is seen in the economic meltdown had by the world financial sectors. If ever there was an example of how capitalists will always be greedy and that their appetites know no bounds, it is this crisis. I once asked if there is a level of profit or wealth that is immoral; and the answer from capitalists appears to be "no". It is surprising then to see the President send hundreds of billions of dollars to shore up banks, non-banks, and hedge funds and rebuild the very institutions that started this whole mess. He says there will be new regulations and the market will not be so free anymore; but many people are concerned that the regulations will not contain enough teeth and will not be funded enough so that regulators can truly exercise oversight. Many Obama supporters are surprised that he still envisions a health care system which includes private health insurance companies. If ever a group deserves to be ushered into the dustbin of history, it has to be health insurance companies. They provide no services or care. They are simply pass-through entities who siphon off 20-30% of the premiums paid while passing the money through to your doctors. Pre-existing conditions, high-priced prescriptions, capitation fees that strangle good medical care and practice; these are all the fruits of the health insurance industry, not to mention a constant pressure to pay as little as possible when you actually get sick and need the coverage. President Obama appears to envision a health care reform that continues to allow them to exist; and that is surprising. There are many areas where an Obama supporter can be troubled. Start off with his open-ended commitment to the war in Afghanistan. It feels like he was stampeded into this course of action and without a lot of due diligence. As of today, there is no definition of what victory would entail nor any exit strategy. The President has not asked Congress for hearings, and a vote on this commitment hasn't gone before the American people to make his case. How many more times will American presidents commit the military to a war without first getting the American people on board? Is an American soldier dying in Afghanistan more honorable than a soldier dying in Iraq? The President says water boarding is torture, but he will not prosecute the torturers. The President is defending in court the denial of legal rights to prisoners at Bagram Air Force base in Afghanistan, a continuation of Bush policy. The President opposes an investigation into the illegal spying, wiretapping, and electronic surveillance of American's email; and he has yet to issue new policies banning such practices. So far, the President has not used any of his political capital to push Congress to pass the Employee Free Choice Act; which would establish open union elections , and is vital is we want to see a rise in trade unionism in this country. Enchanted is an interesting word, and the President didn't like it much when asked to use it in his press conference. I like the word, and there are a number of actions taken by his administration that have enchanted me. The Justice Department says it will stop raiding medical marijuana clubs in states where the voters approved marijuana for medical purposes. Despite claims to believe in a new federalism and states rights, the Bush Administration was raiding and jailing operators of such clubs at an alarming rate. The President has used executive orders in enchanting ways.
he closed the prison at Guantanamo Bay within a year. He banned torture. He reversed a number of horrible Bush gifts to industry including attempting to stop coal companies from dumping the sludge and waste from mountain top mining into nearby rivers, and reversing a rule allowing people to carry guns in national parks. He ended the federal ban on stem cell research; and ended the ban on foreign aid to nations that promote birth control and abortion as part of family planning. He has started to change our policy towards Cuba and Iran, and is no longer a rubber stamp for whatever policies Israel promulgates. He released the torture memos and gives me hope that he will release more of the Bush administration's justification for un-American and illegal acts. It is enchanting to see that the President knows how to play old fashioned hard ball politics too. Despite great opposition from Republicans and some Democrats, the President put intense pressure on Senator Kent Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, to include a provision in the budget bill that would allow health care reform legislation to pass on a simple majority vote, preventing a filibuster by a minority. This was power politics at it's best. The Republicans are screaming like stuck pigs about how unfair and un-democratic this provision is, even though they used the very same tactics to pass two of the most disastrous tax cuts in American history. Finally, one cannot help but be humbled by the calm and focus of the President and his ability to stay on message. His personal popularity is high and in a span of about five months, the majority of Americans (more than 50%) believe the country is on the right track again. It is also humbling to realize how many issues still have to be addressed. Education needs new ideas and new funding. No Child Left Behind needs to be left behind. College tuition needs to be free. We have a shortage of primary care doctors; and we need a whole new generation of skilled craftsmen, artisans, carpenters, and electricians. Green industries need to be nurtured and jobs created. Immigration has to be addressed with an amnesty for those already here and a better procedure for those who want to come here. Our infrastructure is falling apart; and we are one blown transformer away from massive blackouts in many parts of this nation. Social Security and Medicare have to be reformed, and the military budget has to be drastically reduced. On top of all that, we must address global warming and a fresh water crisis worldwide that could lead to a pandemic of social unrest and massive migration of peoples ignoring national borders. The one consistent theme that seems clear in all of these issues is that we want progress. We do not want to regress or go backwards. Progress is the key to whether or not our children inherit a better environment and the hope of a better life than their parents. It is no longer left or right. It is Progressive policies vs. Regressive retrenchment. I opt for progress. What do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to


  1. Torturing the Rule of Law
    By Representative Dr. Ron Paul

    May 26, 2009 "Information Clearing House" -- While Congress is sidetracked by who said what to whom and when, our nation finds itself at a crossroads on the issue of torture. We are at a point where we must decide if torture is something that is now going to be considered justifiable and reasonable under certain circumstances, or is America better than that?

    “Enhanced interrogation” as some prefer to call it, has been used throughout history, usually by despotic governments, to cruelly punish or to extract politically useful statements from prisoners. Governments that do these things invariably bring shame on themselves.

    In addition, information obtained under duress is incredibly unreliable, which is why it is not admissible in a court of law. Legally valid information is freely given by someone of sound mind and body. Someone in excruciating pain, or brought close to death by some horrific procedure is not in any state of mind to give reliable information, and certainly no actions should be taken solely based upon it.

    For these reasons, it is illegal in the United States and illegal under Geneva Conventions. Simulated drowning, or water boarding, was not considered an exception to these laws when it was used by the Japanese against US soldiers in World War II. In fact, we hanged Japanese officers for war crimes in 1945 for water boarding. Its status as torture has already been decided by our own courts under this precedent. To look the other way now, when Americans do it, is the very definition of hypocrisy.

    Matthew Alexander, author of “How to Break a Terrorist” used non-torture methods of interrogation in Iraq with much success.
    In fact, one cooperative jihadist told him,
    “I thought you would torture me, and when you didn’t, I decided that everything I was told about Americans was wrong. That’s why I decided to cooperate.” Alexander also found that in Iraq “the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq.”
    Alexander’s experiences unequivocally demonstrate that losing our humanity is not beneficial or necessary in fighting terror.

    The current administration has reversed its position on releasing evidence of torture by the previous administration and we must ask why. A great and moral nation would have the courage to face the truth so it could abide by the rule of law. To look the other way necessarily implicates all of us and would of course further radicalize people against our troops on the ground. Instead, we have the chance to limit culpability for torture to those who were truly responsible for these crimes against humanity.

    Not everyone who was given illegal orders obeyed them. Many FBI agents understood that an illegal order must be disobeyed and they did so. The others must be held accountable, so that all of us are not targeted for blowback for the complicity of some.

    The government’s own actions and operations in torturing people, and in acting on illegally obtained and unreliable information to kill and capture, are the most radicalizing forces at work today, not any religion, nor the fact that we are rich and free. The fact that our government engages in evil behavior under the auspices of the American people is what poses the greatest threat to the American people, and it must not be allowed to stand.

  2. Bernie-
    Just got your letter and think your writing here is well organized. As for Gitmo, it isn't closed yet and it is not at all clear that this will happen by the end of the year. A whole lot of NIMBY scaredy-cat politicians been howling that it is too risky to keep terrorists in our supermax prisons! I'm not at all sure but believe that maybe scores of the 200+ prisoners will be tried. Others without good evidence of having fought against the "Allies" (eg. America) may be sent back to home countries IF they'll take them back, a BIG if. A few European nations have agreed to take just a few (like maybe less than 10) of those appearing harmless. Of course many prisoners have been driven in to hatred of America by rough treatment or torture, or just because they spent up to 7 years in jail even if they had done no harm (or aiding it) to the "Allies." I'm sure you know that the great majority of these hapless prisoners were delivered to the "Allies" in Afghanistan by warlord bounty hunters -- for up to $5,000 a head. Some of these men had fought the Afghan gov't only before the war started.

    And then there is the whole NEW issue of the using drone aircraft with missiles, operated from a site in Nevada, for chrissake! By kids used to working computer war games! Mostly they're used to attack suspected terrorists in Pakistan, whose gov't has repeatedly asked the US to stop it. The drone missiles usually kill many innocents and often don't even kill the suspected terrorists. So, we are conducting remotely operated assasination, as a new type of warfare. As best I can tell, the U.S. is as much a terrorist entity as any other in the world! Scary stuff. Oh, and we are building a new embassy in Pakistan. Let's face it, the empire has taken off its gloves, big-time.

    I haven't even gotten into the subject of Pres. Obama, but will do it. I'll send you a letter soon with some cash and more.

    Take it easy, Roger G.

  3. Hi Bernie: We just received your letter and were thrilled about this blog. We hope your day is going well and we will let other know about your Blog. We plan to add funds to your account and keep you in our prayers. We are currently involved in the health care reform proposed by President Obama. He is being taken on by some mighty powerful people, but we are organizing state by state, city by city and community by community. We know what happened when Hillery tried to reform this industry, but we believe if we work together we can bring this change about.

    Take Care, Douglas and Arlene

  4. Wow, 9 whole followers. What happened to all your supporters? I guess when times go bad you find out who your real friends are. Bernie, I wish you luck and health and I hope your time passes quickly.

  5. Hi Bernie,
    Could you post your "commitment name" which they require to make a deposit to your account?
    Roger G.