Monday, January 29, 2007

Long Time Passing

The sight of Jane Fonda speaking at an anti-war march in Washington on Saturday, coupled with the death of Rev. Robert Drinan last night takes me back a very long way. . . but it is not the kind of nostalgia I enjoy indulging. Indeed, as the now 69-year-old Fonda remarked to the hundreds of thousands marching on the capitol this weekend, “I'm so sad that we still have to do this, that we did not learn the lessons from the Vietnam War.”

But it was the passing of Father Drinan that made me really think how far we’ve come. . . and how far we haven’t. Elected to the US House in 1970, Drinan ousted 14-term Representative Phil Philbin in the Democratic primary, running on a staunch anti-Vietnam War platform (his campaign manager that year was John Kerry, btw). The strength of the antiwar message, and the power it had to usher in a new and different generation of politicians had echoes in some of last year’s midterm battles.

However, I would be remiss to remember the Representative from the Massachusetts 3rd as simply an antiwar politician, for Bob Drinan was what should truly be thought of as pro life. With Father Drinan being the only Catholic priest to cast a vote in the US Congress, perhaps you are blinking and rereading, wondering if this blog has been hijacked by some dopple-guy, but when I characterize Drinan as pro life, I am thinking of man who exhibited deep concern for those who were actually living. Besides opposing the senseless killing in Vietnam, Drinan fought for a broad slate of civil rights and social justice issues during his ten years in Congress. And Drinan broke with his church, taking liberal stances on both birth control and abortion rights.

It was his strong big-D Democratic principles that earned him the enmity of George H. W. Bush, then chairman of the Republican Party. It was the Reverend’s small-D democratic principles that focused upon him the wrath of Pope John Paul II. Bush the Elder vowed to drive Drinan from Congress, but was never able to; the Pope, a pretender to the title of humanitarian when compared with Drinan, declared elected public service against church doctrine in an attempt to drive Robert Drinan and his liberal values from the spotlight.

John Paul II forced the priest to choose his allegiance to the cloth over his commitment to the people, but the Pope could not silence the man. Drinan left Congress in 1980, but continued to remonstrate against the unjust policies of Presidents Reagan and Bush the Younger, in addition to testifying against the mockery of impeachment launched by the Republican Congress during President Bill Clinton’s second term.

And impeachment was something he could talk about with authority. It was Rep. Drinan that was the very first member of Congress to file an article of impeachment against Richard Nixon on the last day of July 1973—a year before many of his colleagues caught up to the idea.

Interestingly (though interesting, really, in hindsight only), Drinan did not seek to impeach Nixon over his role in the Watergate break-in and cover-up. What Father Drinan found most reprehensible almost 34 years ago was the President’s role in prosecuting an illegal war. Back then it was against Cambodia, just across the border from the ongoing bloodbath in Vietnam.

Knowing Bob Drinan’s deep commitment to peace and justice, it makes his passing during another illegal war doubly sad. Over three decades after the US pulled out of Vietnam, we again have to march in the streets to remind our elected officials of what the people stand for and what they stand against. And we again have to contemplate impeaching a president because he has no regard for those people or their constitution.

Those people today, as with Rev. Robert Drinan over the last half century, tried to teach those in power the meaning of life, of liberty, and of the pursuit of peace.

Oh, when will they ever learn? Oh, when will they ever learn?

Friday, January 26, 2007

Healthcare: Two Half Measures Leave a Serious Hole

President Bush, in Missouri hawking his new health insurance gimmick initiative, said (with a straight face), “If people in Washington are serious about dealing with the uninsured, here is a serious idea for them to consider.” That purportedly serious idea, a program of tax subsidies for purchasing private insurance (and penalties for so-called “gold plated” insurance plans), would, Bush promised, decrease the rolls of the uninsured by “up to ten percent.”

[let’s pause for a beat. . . OK]

UP TO TEN PERCENT! You mean like one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, or nine percent, even? Your big insurance initiative will cut the number of people without insurance (currently 47 million) by maybe, if we are really lucky, four-and-a-half million?

Well, first off, of course it won’t. . . most are sure of that (the plan is mostly just another tax break for the well off). . . but even if it did work as best as George W. Bush can possibly imagine, it will only put the tiniest dent in the problem.

Why aren’t more people visibly pointing at him and laughing?

A step up from W’s ten-percenter is the “plan” (talking point?) proposed by newly official exploratory presidential candidate Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. Speaking earlier this week at the conveniently (but, actually, purely coincidentally) named Chelsea-Clinton Community Health Center, the junior Senator from New York proposed a renewal of a ten-year-old program that tries to provide coverage to those uninsured under 18 whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicare. Clinton, in campaign mode, spoke in broader terms about making sure all of America’s children are insured “as a first step toward making sure that all Americans have health coverage” (that might be the literal quote, but without the link, let’s call it a paraphrase).

Insuring children is not really any kind of first step—it might insure more children, and that’s fine, but insuring children is not a first step toward insuring all Americans. The first step toward insuring all Americans is to insure all Americans. Period.

Gosh, you might say, that is awfully simplistic. To that, I say, it sounds simplistic because it really is that simple. If you want to insure all Americans, then insure all Americans. Anything else—and there are lots of anything elses being floated by several of the 2008 contenders—anything else is just a collection of half measures.

There are many stunningly simple and straightforward plans—making Medicare available to any that want it is one, extending the government employee program is another—that could provide health coverage to almost all Americans that need it. It is when you try to finesse, incrementalize, and compromise that the plan, and the explaining of the plan, gets complicated. And that is also when people get left out, opposition mobilizes, and support fails to galvanize.

Don’t believe me? Get into your time machine, go back about a dozen years, and ask. . . Hillary Clinton.

If it is your intention as a candidate for president, or a senator, or member of the House to cover all Americans, then that is what you should propose. Anything short of that is not a step done for the benefit of those that need the program—the healthcare consumers—it is program designed to appease some other constituency—the insurance industry, big pharma, corporate for-profit hospital chains, “small government” ideologues, and the like.

America is ready for this. America has been ready for this for nearly two decades. Are any of our aspiring leaders ready to represent America?


(Please check out guy2k for more “highlights” from the president’s plan.)

(Cross-posted to Daily Kos.)

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Beyond Belief

If I ever entertained thoughts of warming to Hillary Clinton being the standard-bearer for the Democrats in 2008, Wednesday’s round of triangulation quickly disabused me of any such notion.

Senator Clinton continued to splunge her way toward the White House with a series of appearances designed to articulate her non-position on the Iraq War.

She “doesn’t want to keep losing men and women” but she is not for setting a timetable for withdrawal. She wants to get the administration’s attention, but she is not for using the constitutionally mandated power of the purse. She wants to send a message to the Iraqi government—she just can’t tell us, any of us, what that message is.

“I am not for imposing a date — certain withdrawal date,” she said. “But don’t be mistaken, I am for ending this war as soon as possible.”

Clinton has proposed a troop cap (with several Democratic ’08 hopefuls quickly following suit—or did Hillary follow them? So, so meaninglessly confusing) of something like the 130,000 that were “in country” as of January 1.

I really don’t see the practical purpose of this. If the policy was failing last year with this number of troops, it will fail this year—and by “fail” I mean, “nothing good happens while soldiers and civilians continue to die.” A cap doesn’t bring anyone home, and, in and of itself, doesn’t effect any kind of change in war strategy by the Bush Administration. (It does, however, allow Republicans to accuse Democrats in Congress of tying the Pentagon’s hands and “micromanaging” the war.)

I do, however, see the theoretical political purpose: Clinton wants Iraq vaguely stuck in neutral and squarely labeled as Bush’s war. Don’t get me wrong, it is Bush’s war, but that shouldn’t be a hard sell for most Democrats. At least those who actually articulate their own positions—here and now.

While many potential candidates voted for or spoke in favor of a use of force against Saddam’s Iraq back before the invasion, many have done very public mea culpas or, at least, if-I-knew-then-what-I-know-now conversions.

Senator Clinton, however, has never repudiated her 2002 vote authorizing military action.

Rather, Clinton the candidate will attempt to deflect attention from Clinton the Senator by stating that the “administration holds all the cards” and by asking for things like some sort of White House certification in six months that the Iraqis are making some sort of unspecified progress before she agrees to again not repudiate her old pro-war stance or not offer a real plan to stop the senseless bloodshed. This, the Clinton team has strategized, will triangulate the space between those that know this was and is the wrong war at the wrong time for the wrong reasons, and those that believe it looks weak to advocate for an end to US involvement.

How any of the latter group plans to look strong without articulating a strong opinion on the war is as lost on me as Senator Clinton’s non-position, but I guess calling other people weak is a kind of strength. . . .

OK, it’s not.

But, again, this is Bush’s war, and the blood is on his hands. The war has made the region far more dangerous and unstable than it ever was before the invasion and occupation—and it could never have come out any other way. Bush’s foreign policy is a cancer on the globe, and the sooner we aggressively attack that cancer, the better our prognosis will be. I say all that because I believe it, and because I believe it, it’s not hard to say.

The attraction so many purportedly once had to President Bush came from his simple, straightforward, “mean what I say, say what I mean” confidence and certainty. Forget that it was all a big lie, that’s what people say they saw, and that’s what people say they liked.

Clinton’s current proclamations are without any of that simplicity—and yet, amazingly, they are also devoid of any nuance. I’m talking about the good kind of nuance that comes from an understanding that some things in this world are complicated or, as the president likes to remind us, “hard.” The Junior Senator from New York has not offered a multifaceted plan to meet a multifaceted problem; instead, she offers up the same, classic, Clintonian triangle.

She is beyond ideology, beyond party, beyond “finger-pointing, hot rhetoric,” as she called all other dialog on the war.

She is also beyond belief. Not just in the incredulous way, but in a core values way. After four years of time—time in which she could have reevaluated her position or better defended it, time in which many, many others have come to understand that Iraq is a bloody fiasco, time in which tens of thousands have been killed or injured—after four years and all that has transpired, Hillary Clinton still seems to be incapable of just speaking from the gut.

One can only be left to believe that Senator Clinton has no beliefs about the war, only a strategy on how to use it.

(now cross-posted on Daily Kos)

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

How Much Did We Spend on the ISG?

When President Bush announces his stay-the-course-plus plan for an escalation of the Iraq War tonight, he will be putting the final nail in the coffin of the Baker-Hamilton Commission, or, officially, the Iraq Study Group (ISG).

The ISG was set in motion last spring with great ballyhoo, and it was constantly referenced by Bush and his enablers throughout the summer and fall, and the run up to the November midterm elections. Back then, when the Republicans thought they could use it as a bulwark against surging antiwar voter sentiment, Bush insisted that we all wait for the Baker Commission report before considering a “course correction” in Iraq. Some of the quasi realists on the right side of the aisle thought the ISG report would give Bush political cover to cut his losses by reorienting his disastrous Gulf region policies.

The release of the ISG report was conveniently delayed till after the November election, but the Democrats still prevailed by a landslide with anti-Iraq War sentiment pushing waves of voters to the polls. When Baker-Hamilton finally did release the report, the preamble proved a complete rebuke of the Bush Administration’s prosecution of the entire Iraqi campaign, and the recommendations, while a mixed bag, were clearly a call for decreased US troop levels and increased diplomatic engagement with Iran and Syria.

What we all hear tonight from the President will be strikingly different. Bush will call for an increase in the number of US soldiers to the tune of 21,500, and he will likely make no attempt to reach out to Iraq’s neighbors (except, it seems, through threats). In fact, the Bush proposal will closely resemble one released just days ago by the American Enterprise Institute called “Choosing Victory.”

(I’ll wait a minute for the laughter to subside.)

The Institute’s plan, presumably authored by AEI resident “scholar” Fred Kagan, calls for a “surge” of 30,000 troops for a period of eighteen months or more. This, of course, isn’t a surge at all, but a permanent escalation of the war, and, while Bush may be a little light in his troop count increase (for the time being, anyway), he has steadfastly refused to place a time limit on the escalation.

By rejecting the Baker Commission and knuckling to the neo-cons, George W. Bush has once again subjected the American and Iraqi people to slings and arrows of his own oedipal conflict. The AEI escalation will not work (Peter Galbraith gives a quick rundown of why in today’s Guardian); the voters who rejected Bush in November and continue to disapprove of his handling of the war by a margin of three to one will not be won over, and soldiers and citizens will continue to die in Iraq, but that will be a mere pittance to pay for George the younger when he gets to again show his daddy who’s the boss.

But how much do the rest of us pay? Reuters reports that tonight’s proposal will cost an additional $6.8 Billion—$5.6 Billion for the troop increase, and $1.2 Billion for what is being billed as a jobs program. Then, of course, there are the lives—those who will die, those who will be injured, those whose psyches will be permanently damaged, and the friends and families of all of those people who will have to live with the fallout (all at increased rates, thanks to this escalation). And, then, the social costs, too; the war veterans at home, the increased enmity abroad.

And what of that $1 Billion jobs program (part of, I have heard, and additional $2-3 Billion in economic aid)? First, I’ll believe it when I see it. The last six years are chockablock with programs promised funding by this administration—usually with much fanfare—that, in the end, only receive a fraction of that money.

Second, what will an extra billion dollars accomplish that the (estimated) first $20-35 Billion in economic aid hasn’t? Seriously, besides further lining the pockets of Bush/Cheney cronies and favored private contractors, will this tiny “surge” in cash change the facts on the ground? I am hard-pressed to see how, and the administration’s vague explanation that this new money will go to Iraqis only admits the corrupt way in which the previous billions have not.

And what about the Iraq Study Group report? Those things don’t just write themselves. I did some digging, and the only reference I can find is this: “Congress will appropriate $1.3 million to fund the group, which will work under the auspices of the congressionally chartered U.S. Institute for Peace and three think tanks.” That is a predictive statement, so the actual tab could be more or less, and I don’t know what a congressional charter means in terms of bucks to the US Institute for Peace, but I think it’s safe to say American taxpayers doled out at least a million dollars for a report that the Bush Administration used as political toilet paper.

Now, when compared with the $7 Billion “surge” or the trillion-dollar war, maybe $1 Million doesn’t sound like that much. But think for a moment what an extra million might mean to the embattled New Orleans Police Department or the cash-strapped New York City schools, and, suddenly, paying all that money for a DOA study seems really obscene.

Or, if you want to get a little more incensed, imagine what a $1 Billion jobs program could mean to the United States. Or think what an additional $1 Billion would mean to the Veterans Administration’s disability care budget, now pushed to the limit by the Iraq War.

Or think about what 20,000 national guards could have done to shore up levees in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina, or to evacuate the city after.

But mostly, what I think about as I await tonight’s presidential address are the two soldiers that died on average every single day since the invention of a commission that we were all supposed to wait on to show us a new way forward. That’s over 600 American dead since the beginning of a process that developed a now completely discarded report. That’s how much we spent on the Iraq Study Group.

(Cross-posted over at Daily Kos.)

Update: As if to put an exclamation point on my observation, Bush’s Wednesday night speech paid absurd lip service to the Baker-Hamilton commission while openly and aggressively rejecting one of its prime recommendations. Bush didn’t just refuse to open a dialog with the Iranians, he damn near declared war on them.

Monday, January 08, 2007

John McCain is Not Courageous. John McCain is an Asshole.

(And a lying, unprincipled, opportunistic asshole, at that.)

In an editorial published Sunday, Fred Hiatt of the Washington Post tiptoes around endorsing or rejecting an escalation of the Iraq war, but makes sure to heap a little inside the beltway praise on two of the chief advocates for more war:

Those who have been arguing for the move -- notably, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) -- say the purpose would be to pacify those sectors of Baghdad where sectarian fighting has been most intense. They argue that the main U.S. goal in Iraq, which is to forge a stable and sustainable government, can't be achieved unless there is a minimal level of security in the capital. The Iraqi army isn't yet able to impose order, they say; if the United States doesn't do it, the sectarian warfare will continue to escalate. Without a surge, Mr. McCain and Mr. Lieberman warn, the war will be lost.

This is a serious argument, and the two senators have been principled and even courageous in making it.

Note to Fred: Making war is serious; the argument is not. Without dissecting the fine points of what passes for a stable and sustainable government these days, the simple assertion that “the war will be lost” shows how un-serious this pie-in-the-sky argument is. The war is lost, and no amount of clapping by Hiatt, the two senators, or any of the other tinkerbellistas is going to change that bloody and deeply depressing truth.

But, further, and even more to the point, McCain and his mini-me, Lieberman, are neither principled nor courageous for enabling the warmongering Bush Administration and its neo-con friends. Aside from the certainty that escalation will win nothing but more war dead, McCain’s advocacy is designed to distract us from his earlier (and horribly wrong) prognostications (and his current lies about them), and to position him for his 2008 presidential campaign.

As McCain claimed with assholish audacity last Thursday on MSNBC,

When I voted to support this war, I knew it was probably going to be long and hard and tough, and those that voted for it and thought that somehow it was going to be some kind of an easy task, then I’m sorry they were mistaken. Maybe they didn’t know what they were voting for.

The problem, of course, with McCain’s “serious” admonition is that it ignores his very own predictions made during the run-up to the Iraq war.

It is here where the “stupid” part of McCain’s assholedom comes into play. As I find myself asking all too often these days, haven’t these guys heard of the Internet? While it has never been acceptable to lie, it has become intensely hard to get away with it. Out there, in the vast world wide interwebtubes, lie records of practically everything ever publicly uttered by public figures, and out there using the vast world wide interwebtubes are hundreds if not thousands of people all too happy to take the time to ferret out those records.

In this case, it is the good folks at Think Progress that have assembled some of the Arizona Asshole’s choicest prognostications:

“Because I know that as successful as I believe we will be, and I believe that the success will be fairly easy, we will still lose some American young men or women.” [CNN, 9/24/02]

We’re not going to get into house-to-house fighting in Baghdad. We may have to take out buildings, but we’re not going to have a bloodletting of trading American bodies for Iraqi bodies.” [CNN, 9/29/02]

“But the point is that, one, we will win this conflict. We will win it easily.” [MSNBC, 1/22/03]

Surely, there is little principled about pretending that you knew it would be a costly battle when, just a few years earlier, you were one of fiercest fire eaters, fanning the flames of war while claiming what a cheap and easy fight it would be.

Just as there is little courageous about using the lives of American troops and Iraqi citizens as political cover while you try to carefully court the right wing of the Republican party while still distancing yourself from President Bush’s disastrous policies. As Glenn Greenwald writes:

He obviously can't advocate withdrawal or say that he changed his mind about the wisdom of the war. Doing that would immediately doom his primary chances in the still-war-crazed GOP. But he also cannot simply attach himself to Bush's conduct of the war because the war is now almost universally recognized as a failure. So affirming the idea of the war while appearing to object only to its execution -- and, specifically, objecting to its insufficiently aggressive execution -- is the only politically viable option McCain has.

Maybe this opportunistic approach by McCain is seen as courageous by Hiatt because it so closely resembles his own unprincipled stance: pretending to be “serious” about the war, while continuing to kiss up to the power elite that have engineered the reaping of its horrific spoils. Just as McCain won’t admit his previous miscalculations, the WaPo editorial board has never fully owned up to its own warmongering and noblesse oblige.

If Hiatt did face up to his own faulty logic, maybe then he could recognize what an unprincipled, opportunistic, and uncourageous asshole McCain really is—or maybe he needs Greenwald to spell it out for him:

If McCain were to acknowledge that he was wrong about the war in Iraq, that would be principled and courageous. If he were to advocate a troop withdrawal, that would be as well. Those positions would result in great political costs for McCain, and taking action even knowing that you will suffer harm is virtually the definition of a "courageous" act.

But McCain suffers no harm from advocating increased troops. It is the only chance he has for preventing this horrendous war from dooming his presidential campaign before it even begins. That doesn't prove that McCain is wrong in his arguments. But it does prove that there is nothing "courageous" about voicing them. It's the only choice he has.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

President Gerald Ford is still dead

Happy New Year, everybody! The late former president has been dead since Christmas, and, as I write this, he is still not in the ground! Hey, I’m all for honor and reflection, and it’s not that every dog doesn’t deserve to have its day—but eight days? Talk about your long national nightmares!

Perhaps worst of all about this nationwide, weeklong second line is that gives the Ford apologists and historical revisionists more time in the media spotlight to disseminate their own particular brand of self-serving horseshit.

In a way, it’s hard to blame all the old friends and former cabinet members from the Ford years for talking the way that they do—after all, they have their own egos and legacies to think of—but it is easy to blame the establishment media for once again being lazy—in this case, by letting access and proximity stand in for perspective.

It is not really a surprise that former Ford advisors are going to speak well of the acts and policies that they themselves helped shape? Should that be the end of the discussion, though?

If I have to hear one more F.O.G. tell me that “the nation needed healing,” and that Ford’s pardon of Nixon healed it. . . or that Ford made the tough choices regardless of the effects they would have on his personal fortunes. . . or any of these pat encomia designed with the intention of not only polishing the Ford legacy but justifying the memes du jour re: President Bush and the newly Democratic Congress. . . well, I was going say something about future exclamations, but I am already screaming.

Let’s get this straight. Gerald Ford might have been a nice guy (I have no way of knowing this personally), and he might have had friends on both sides of the aisle (and that might seem extraordinary by today’s standards), but Ford was a partisan Republican, and just about everything Ford did was consistent with that fact. In his 14 months as president, Ford used his veto 34 times, mostly to reject non-military domestic spending on social programs sent up by a heavily Democratic Congress. And the pardon of Richard Nixon shut down investigations into not only White House sponsored dirty campaign tricks, but also unlawful domestic spying and the failed and often illegal prosecution of the Vietnam War. It saved Ford and the Republicans from having to defend their former President’s policies and practices, and allowed for the likes of Kissinger and Rumsfeld to maintain through to the present that we could have somehow won the Vietnam war, if only the liberals hadn’t gotten in the way.

And those are the same men that have used and now use the same disastrous rationale to promulgate and perpetuate the Iraq debacle.

That is Gerald Ford’s legacy.

And, while we’re at it—comparing the Ford legacy with the present situation—if the pardon of Richard Nixon was a good thing for national reconciliation, what was the hanging of Saddam Hussein? That was a question asked Tuesday morning by WNYC’s Brian Lehrer, and while, obviously, Nixon deserved to be hanged no more than Hussein deserved to be pardoned, it does make one wonder how President George W. Bush and Veep Dick Cheney—and Senator Joe Lieberman, for that matter—can talk about how “there can be no healing without pardon,” (as Cheney said) on the one hand, and then describe the Wild West-style revenge hanging of Saddam as the “triumph of justice over evil” (Lieberman there). And that’s not even to begin to contrast the George W. Bush endorsed, putatively marginally fair hearing that Hussein received for some of his crimes with the complete lack of due process that the current US president insists is necessary to fight his war on terror. Is there one detainee at Guantanamo that has killed and harmed more people or done more horrible things than Saddam Hussein did?

That question will be only part of George W. Bush’s legacy.