Monday, August 31, 2009

Stating the Obvious

Paul Krugman's latest NY Times Op Ed sums up the difficulty of getting decent policy out of Washington pretty well. Of course, as I wrote in the comments - which incidentally got a lot of recommendations (which means far more people read it than they do this blog):

Everyone with half a brain and a conscience knows this, but how can we act on it?

This is really the problem - so many educated, intelligent people are completely aware of what's going on - with corporate dollars creating disastrously unsustainable and unhealthy policy, but are not organized to do anything about it.

Of course, one thing we must do is put massive pressure on the media, calling out reporters and "journalists" by name who shill for power rather than speak the truth. Here's the whole post:

Everyone with half a brain and a conscience knows this, but how can we act on it? For one, it's time to go to war against a compliant media that has become a spokesman for whoever's in power. Your op-eds and Frank Rich's are great - and Glenn Greenwald is probably the best and most relentless of all. But aside for a handful of people telling the truth, the Times and other publications are still doing the: "Cheney claims that Holder's investigation is purely political." How about: "Cheney, desperate to avoid being outed as the architect of our illegal, counterproductive and murderous war interrogation policy, claims Eric Holder's decision to investigate as politically motivated." Why is even the Times afraid to print the facts? What in the above is in dispute? That people died, that it was a recruiting tool for the enemy, that it violated the Geneva conventions? Op Ed is great, but why are we not also reporting facts? Why does the news not begin with the premise that we violated international law, and then discuss whether elected officials should be exempt from it. Why are we arguing about whether it worked?

The health care debate makes me sick - I'm too angry to read another word about it because the Times (and it's far from the worst) does not speak the truth. It reports claims from one side and claims from the other. You and Frank Rich should resign in protest - publish an independent blog until they report the facts, not just take dictation from both sides.

The entrenched interests are unassailable only because the MSM refuses to tell the truth. If we didn't report "Death Panel" claims but instead said: "Senator Grassley lied yesterday in claiming..." then it things would be different. Adam Nagourney wrote a column about Palin's prospects for higher office in the future, and not once did he mention that she's unqualified. At what point do you show your readers respect and stop worrying about offending the guys who stupidly and blindly root for "their team." If the Giants are beating the Jets 40-0 in the fourth quarter, should sportscasters analyze the Jets playcalling: "Good time for the play-action fake here, Bob." When it's 40-0, the play calling doesn't matter. When a candidate is beyond a joke, how can you analyze her chances as if that's even a remotely acceptable possibility. How can you give that credibility?

Seriously, I appreciate these columns and Frank Rich's, but most of the political "reporting" is a total joke - even at the Times. The Washington Post is a complete disgrace - it's a cancer on the republic.

And while I wrote that in what I'd call a blind rage, and still agree with every word of it, I'm aware that just naming names and expressing our anger isn't enough. There must be some wider organization - campaigns to depose our current leaders who serve their corporate patrons instead of us, boycotts of businesses, voting for sustainable and uncorrupt ones every day with our dollars, etc. We must use every weapon in our arsenal to unravel our democracy from these insidious forces.

This is the "clash of civilizations" that must actually take place before peace and prosperity can be restored. Not some stupid, bigoted religious war against Muslims halfway across the world, but a war against the corruption in our own societies. We need to do our part here - forget about Iraq and Afghanistan. The way to keep us healthy and safe is to make good policy, and hold those who lie to and steal from the people in proper account - let alone the war criminals who greatly multiplied our enemies' numbers. Charles Grassley, Dick Cheney, Jim DeMint, Kent Conrad, Dianne Feinstein, etc. You are the more dangerous enemy, and you must be publicly discredited, ostracized and permanently and irrevocably barred from what you shamelessly call "public service".

Monday, August 24, 2009

Why Abandoning the Rule of Law to Avoid a "Political Food Fight" is the Height of Cowardice

Initially, I thought President Obama should stay away from prosecuting Bush administration torturers because of the predictable way the media would portray it - as a partisan move that would distract from healthcare, getting the economy back on track and other important national priorities. But after reading Glenn Greenwald's blog over the past year or so, I've come around to his view that the rule of law cannot ever be subservient to political expedience lest the exception overwhelm the rule. If Bush admin officials committed war crimes, but should be let off the hook for political reasons, then by that same argument no one with sufficient power or popularity should ever be charged with a crime. The rule of law then applies only in cases where the accused is sufficiently powerless that few will be inconvenienced should he be brought to justice.

Aside from the transparent hypocrisy and immorality of this view, it also has long-term political ramifications. By refusing to endure the political discomfort brought about by prosecuting the powerful when they have broken the law, we will encourage increasing lawlessness by the politically connected until the system breaks. This is much like what happened in the financial industry after Enron collapsed - by not reforming the rules after corporations defrauded investors out of billions, we permitted the banks to defraud the taxpayers out of trillions. So even leaving aside the obvious moral argument, the Chuck Todd, avoid-political-food-fight politics is a long-term loser on its own terms.

But even if one is unconvinced letting the powerful off the hook for crimes will eventually lead to even more severe abuses - and we assume, as Todd does, that no matter how strong the moral case is for holding torturers accountable it pales in comparison to the likely political fallout - the question then is where does one draw the line?

Because in 1860, abolishing slavery required more than a political food fight. It was a fight with bullets and bayonets and one in which more American soldiers died than in any before or since. So if high-ranking officials should be allowed to torture and murder the innocent and guilty alike without consequences merely because of a potential political food fight, then slave owners should surely have been allowed to deprive their fellow man of even the most basic freedoms if the consequence of challenging that was our nation's bloodiest war.

When you think about it, Todd's dreaded political food fight - which might or might not happen and if it did to what extent it would actually derail our national priorities is pure speculation - is kindergarten stuff compared to the Civil War. But how many educated, thoughtful people, regardless of political affiliation, would rather we not have fought it? For Todd then (and perhaps Obama) to be willing to abandon the rule of law for fear of a food fight is cowardice beyond belief. If Chuck Todd were practicing what now passes for journalism in the 1850s, what are the chances he'd be for the abolition of slavery when the fallout would be a crippling Civil War? If Obama is unwilling to see justice done and human rights respected for fear the political fallout would be unpleasant, why even bother with the pretense of viewing Abraham Lincoln as a historical role model?

I instinctively trust Obama and believe he's a good man. But his refusal to fight for what is transparently right and just to anyone with even a quarter of his knowledge of constitutional law is deeply troubling. I hope that he's somehow still playing what Andrew Sullivan called "the long game", but the evidence for that is diminishing.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Why Fear of "Health Care Rationing" is Stupid and Disingenuous

I can't think of a more disingenuous argument against the public option than that it will result in rationing. The idea is that the government's plan will only cover certain procedures and not others, (based on what some bureaucrats believe is necessary, cost-effective, etc.), and so some procedures will not be available. But that's false - every procedure will be available - it just won't be paid for by the government. In which case you have four options: (1) Buy a private plan instead that does cover the desired procedures; (2) Buy a smaller and cheaper private plan that is merely supplemental to your government one (of course, private insurance will look to fill any key gaps in the public one); (3) pay for non-covered procedures out of pocket or (4) don't get those procedures.

The idea that we don't want to government to take over because of rationing is contradictory. Either you think the government should ensure affordable health insurance, or it shouldn't. If it's the latter, then what do you care about rationing - as the government's supposed to pay for nothing anyway. Why would you then get worked up over it paying for less than everything?

If you're rich enough you'll always get great medical care. If you're not, you won't get everything you want. No matter what system we adopt, that will always be true.