Ginsberg Poem

Friday, May 19, 2017

Duty Over Career, Country over Party, and the Dire Need for an Informed Electorate

The appointment of James Comey’s long-time colleague, Robert Mueller, as special counsel to investigate Trump-Russia has brought a sigh of relief to anyone interested in bringing Trump and his band of fellow traitors to justice.

Yet it occurred to me that no one was asking the question of whether or not Mueller could be unbiased with respect to his friend and colleague, Comey.


The right has been seething with bile over what they perceive as the left’s and center’s hypocritical embrace of Comey now that Comey is instrumental in bringing Trump down.


This lefty has not forgotten what should be considered Comey’s crime of choosing to discuss Clinton’s email and security crimes over what Comey knew better were Trump's more serious crimes having to do with the Russians. Comey had to speculate about both crimes, circumstantial evidence piling up on both sides, but Trump's probable crime was treasonous whereas Clinton's crimes were more carelessness.

Comey knew that Russia was hacking the election in Trump's favor, and Trump had publicly asked for Russia to do so, but Comey did not know if there were any classified emails on Wiener's hard drive. His decision to send the letter was probably criminal, and his testimony was inaccurate.

In other words, Comey chose to interject his speculations about Clinton's email, rather than interject what he knew about Russian hacking in Trump's favor, and what he should have known about Trump's obvious ties and debts to Russia. No wonder Trump might think he had Comey's loyalty. It is probably more likely that Comey simply hated Clinton more than he hated Trump, like so many people on the right and in the center.

So I do not need to see Comey as some pure-at-heart dutiful G-man in order to feel very confident that the “hideous buffoon” (Andrew Sullivan) acting as POTUS obstructed justice by, first, pressuring Comey to be loyal to Trump over the law; then, second, by trying to get Comey to drop the case on Flynn (the case that will inevitably incriminate Trump); and then, third, by firing Comey.


Comey can be guilty of a crime with respect to Clinton and the election, and at the same time, be a credible witness to the bringing down of the monster he helped create and helped lift into the highest office.  Comey's reported perseverating over his duty, in this case, is ridiculous. This was clearly inappropriate or should have been. Comey can also be guilty of crime along with Clinton.


Moreover, it is perfectly logical to call out Comey for a second crime that no one seems to be talking about: Comey sitting on his knowledge that Trump obstructed justice or attempted to obstruct justice in February, many weeks prior to being fired by Trump.


Doesn’t Comey have a duty to report Trump’s obstruction of justice, rather than just create a paper trail to protect himself and his legacy if he is fired? Isn’t Comey’s first duty to the country and constitution?  And isn’t Trump’s obvious obstruction of justice a high crime that potentially creates a constitutional crisis? The top cop should have reported his boss's crime when it happened.


If there is something at least unethical, if not illegal, about Comey sitting on this information, wouldn’t it be up to Mueller now to make this part of his investigation? Again, can Mueller be objective?


Presidents should never be above the law, and neither should FBI Directors.  If they presidents are indeed above the law, they are even more like the kings America supposedly rejected in our origin myth.


Along these lines, the former president, Obama, had a duty, if not a legal obligation, to tell the electorate that the Russians were messing with our elections.  He chose not to make this public because he was worried about it seeming partisan.  He was worried about his legacy, and he was confident Clinton would win anyway.


If this position is not illegal, it seems to me to highly unethical: putting career, legacy, and party over the nation’s democracy, an informed electorate, the constitution.  In hindsight, it also seems uncharacteristically stupid.


Also in hindsight, Clinton seems to have been spot on when she called Trump Putin’s “puppet.”  At the time, I felt like she was being brave but probably also exaggerating a bit for effect.  Now it should be more than clear that she was not exaggerating at all.  She probably had excellent sources (including the president) telling her what was going on with the Russians.


All of the people in the government who knew this should have told us, the electorate, the American people.  We, the electorate, had a right to know in order to make a more informed choice; we have a right to this information so that we can be an informed electorate, which is crucial to any real democracy.  As they say at the Washington Post, "democracy dies in darkness."


It is clear that anyone who sat on this information during the election was guilty of dereliction of duty with respect to the constitution.  I also wonder if Comey was derelict in a similar way when, in February of 2017, he sat on the knowledge that Trump was obstructing justice.


The measure should be how well does one’s actions or the actions of agencies serve the constitution, not whether doing one’s duty serves one’s reputation, career, party, etc.  Agencies and their directors should think about the country’s well-being in the big picture, rather than blindly following protocol while sitting on extremely important information--especially when they make exceptions to the protocol for other potential crimes.


The electorate should have known before the election what Russia had been doing all along, and what they knew about how Trump was implicated in it.

Comey is guilty of not serving the country and constitution when, as FBI Director, he does inform the electorate of election malfeasance, a corruption of the election from a known adversary.

The FBI and intelligence agencies are guilty of obstructing democracy when they don’t inform the electorate of this crucial information.

Comey is also guilty of not serving the country and constitution when, as FBI Director, he does not report a sitting president’s obstruction of justice.


Obama is guilty of not serving the country and constitution when he, as President, chose not inform the electorate of a hostile nation’s manipulation of our elections.  He should have said much more, no matter how ridiculous the right’s reaction would have been … and the reaction would have made birtherism seem just and smart.  But it should not have mattered.  It was his duty to say more.

He should not have said more to help Clinton win. He should have said more because the electorate had a right to know. Obama did not have a right to keep that crucial information from us. He subverted democracy with his choice, and he did so because he was worried how it might impact his legacy and the Democratic Party. That is wrong.


Clinton is guilty of putting her campaign above the electorate’s right to be informed when she made the disastrous decision to be cautious with respect to her knowledge of Trump’s treason and Putin’s obvious meddling.  She should have said much more than her puppet line during that debate, no matter how ridiculous the right’s reactions would have been.  What she said was rather strong, but she didn't follow up on it. Putin would "rather have a puppet" as POTUS.

Comey should have reported Trump’s obstruction of justice when it happened.  Obama and Clinton should have informed everyone of Russian meddling for Trump as soon as they knew about it.  Trump’s treasonous extremes should not blind us to these derelictions of duty, and the right’s ridiculous and vicious responses should not shape policy as much as it has.

Hopefully, this constitutional crisis we are currently in will help us get to a better understanding of what it means to serve the constitution.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Obama: Phony Progressive ... GOP: Phonies when it comes to being Pro-Markets

This recent Truthdig article, "Why Many Cities Aren’t Allowed to Provide the Cheap, Fast Internet Obama Wants You to Have," provides a good example of the GOP's privatization fetish and our plutocratic ways on both sides of the aisle getting in the way of progress in the form of building infrastructure--and leading to local monopolies squashing competition.

The end result is that the US invented the internet but now is in 10th place for internet speeds (see chart) ... behind former Eastern bloc places like Latvia and Czech Republic ... which hurts us when it comes to competition.

Like all of Obama's recent progressive pushes, this too will come to nothing. Why didn't he do this six or seven years ago? Why all these progressive pushes now that there is no chance of them passing? Like the Clintons, Obama is a phony progressive.

This is not the first time the GOP are phonies when it comes to what really helps US business. Helping ISPs with their monopolies hurts US business in general.  This would be an example of being "pro business" (pro specific business with lobbyists, eg Comcast) versus being "pro-market" (helping markets by building infrastructure that would help all US businesses compete with the rest of the world).  See WaPo's "Where are the pro-market Republicans?"


Friday, July 30, 2010

Obama: the Better Nightmare

Paul Krugman's July 30, 2010, op-ed on Obama is spot on, as usual. Krugman has consistently positioned Obama further to the right than his supporters would like to see him. Krugman supported Clinton during the campaign because, among other reasons, Obama's campaign proposals for healthcare didn't go far enough. Krugman saw then that Obama was not the liberal many hoped he'd be--the liberal he otherwise promised to be in the campaign. See my TBR post "Obama No Liberal" for more on this.

Krugman is also right that Obama is not showing enough support for Elizabeth Warren to lead a new consumer protection agency. Though Krugman doesn't make it clear, he knows that Obama won't support Warren because Goldman and the like don't want her as a regulator because she is smart, capable, and she knows that the banks make a lot on credit cards and other forms of predatory lending. Obama doesn't support Warren because he knows she could change all this. In other words, Banks make a lot of money on types of irresponsible borrowing that really hurt our economy, and Warren understands this. As long as politicians are bought by the banks, as Obama is, this unsustainable consumer borrowing will be encouraged. Banks buy up politicians so they, the banks, can continue to suck the economic life out of our country, and this massive sucking sound gets rationalized as "fiscal conservatism" by Democrats and Republicans alike. The banks, of course, get rich from said life sucking.

If you doubt that Obama is bought by the banks, I suggest you read this HuffPost article by Bob Osterstag: "four out of [Obama's] top five [campaign] contributors were employees of financial industry giants, with Goldman Sachs at the top of the list." Moreover, "Goldman Sachs gave Obama four times more than they gave McCain."

So it becomes clear why the administration is blocking a Warren nomination: the administration, like so many in congress, is bought up by the banks, just like they are bought up by other business interests, and what is good for the country (Warren and checks on bad lending) is bad for business.

Krugman is also right to slam Mort Zuckerman for his claim that Obama is anti-business, an obviously absurd position. Here's something from the Harper's index that supports the claim that Obama is not just bought up by Big Finance but also by other status quo powers that be. The number is significantly smaller, but it does explain why Obama adopted a "drill baby drill" position right before the worst oil spill ever:

Total campaign contributions Barack Obama received from BP between 2004 and 2009: $77,051.
Number of politicians who accepted more in donations from BP during that period: 0.


People on the left have deluded themselves about Obama because he is smart, good looking, and seemed ethical-- and because the possibility of having a black president was extremely appealing. Obama has sold himself to business, and that is why he seems a lot like a Bush-redux.

Liberals have been fooled. It is not that surprising that we have been fooled. Obama said some very enticing things during the campaign, like what he said about the public option, a big issue for me: "any American will have the opportunity to enroll in [this] new public plan." He would later show us the real Obama: while making deals with big pharma and insurance companies before the healthcare fight really got going: "I didn't campaign on the public option."

So, like most politicians, Obama lies for political expediency, and these lies support the status quo of certain industries sucking the life out of our country in order to become rich. Bill Clinton fooled us too (campaign as liberal, lead from the right), but Obama has fooled us even more so.

What Krugman hasn't gotten right, hasn't come right out and said, is that Obama's pandering to the right, pandering to the true power of our country, goes beyond lying for political/big-business expediency. There are lots of laws being broken. Lots of crimes being committed and covered up. Certainly Goldman's government-supported illegalities would pile up if anyone did a really thorough investigation of all the secret twists and turns of the bailout, especially the particulars of the AIG-Goldman-Obama connection Osterstag makes clear.

But Obama is the top cop, and congress won't check or balance the administration's complicity in Goldman crimes because Goldman has bought congress too, GOP and Dems alike.

We don't even have to look hard for crimes that are not being investigated. As Krugman notes, torture is another area where Obama seriously let down progressives--where Obama is not just like Bush, but is protecting Bush. Since the Bush torture policy was obviously a war crime, the way Obama has let down liberals goes way beyond politics as usual, or Obama being forced to the right in order to "get things done in DC."

Like most liberal pundits, Krugman mentions "torture," but he doesn't take the obvious steps from torture to war crimes to the crime of not prosecuting a war crime to impeachment: the torture in question were war crimes, and the Bush administration should have been prosecuted, should have been impeached (at least), and avoiding this prosecution is itself a crime, an impeachable offense. As David Lindorff explains, Bush's torture policy was "in clear violation of the Geneva Conventions, which as a signed set of treaties, are part of the law of the United States. Under those treaties, failure on the part of those up the chain of command to halt or to punish those who commit torture are themselves guilty of the crime of torture." Even the generally conservative U.S. News and World Report gets it:

First, waterboarding is torture. Second, torture is a war crime. Third, the United States is obligated to prosecute war crimes. The failure to prosecute war crimes committed by your own government is an offense of the same order as the original war crime.


Glen Greenwald sees this tendency to protect the Bush administration from being held accountable for some of its most extreme actions as a "growing part of the Obama legacy," but not even Greenwald seems to make the connection between this protection and an impeachable offense for Obama--though he does ask liberals why they aren't talking impeachment when Obama argues that a war-time president has the right to assassinate Americans without due process.

Even people I know, people close to me, people I know to be as left as me, seem to shudder if I make this connection, and treat what I see as a basic, simple, just and responsible position as something potentially crackpot, something that could only come from the right. It seems to me to be the big idea we liberals aren't supposed to talk about. We can't burst the bubble that Obama is basically a good guy, and our country, especially its liberal side, is not hyper-deluded. Only right-wing fanatics could whisper impeachment and Obama in the same breath.

This topic of Obama's crime of not prosecuting Bush remains unspeakable in liberal circles, despite how obvious the connection between war crimes and impeachment was for liberals when thinking about the Bush administration, and how obvious it is that not prosecuting a war crime is a crime if you are constitutionally entrusted as the top cop--that is, if you are president. David Lindorff is one liberal, who made a very thorough case for Bush's impeachment, agrees with me that Obama should also be impeached. Lindorff is the author of the book, The Case for Impeachment: The Legal Argument for Removing George W. Bush from Office. In an April, 2010, Counterpunch article, Lindorff writes the following:

Sadly, it is time to say, just 14 months into the current term of this new president, that yes, this president, and some of his subordinates, are also guilty of impeachable crimes--including many of the same ones committed by Bush and Cheney.


Obama may be a HUGE disappointment to liberals and lefties like me, but this president--who is quite willing to lie and commit crimes for political expediency (the crime of sweeping Bush's crimes under the rug is just one example of many)--is a whole lot better than the nightmarish alternative criminals he will be running against in 2012. So choose your liar, choose your criminal. Which nightmare do you prefer? Or maybe we could wake up and start seeing the reality of the crimes of our two business parties. Maybe we could wake up and start applying the law to presidents and the Goldmans and AIGs and Wellpoints and BPs of our world. If not, we are left asleep choosing between nightmares. Obama is the better nightmare, for sure, but a nightmare nonetheless.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Email to friends about WikiLeaks and Afghanistan

Hi,

I'm hoping you'll be as grossed out by the Dems in power as I am after reading this article, "The WikiLeaks Afghanistan Leaks," by Glenn Greenwald. I heard Kerry this morning on NPR about how there was not anything new or important in the WikiLeaks Afghanistan documents, and no reason to compare them with the Pentagon papers--which he has, in the past, correctly argued were extremely important in stopping what I see as one of the US's three Big Crimes (along with slavery and what we did the Native American--as in my song "How Low and Why").

Besides revealing what we've always known (that Kerry is an ass hole who would never take a political risk, so much so that he couldn't beat Bush in 2004 even though even some of the GOP recognized that Bush was an idiot), we can also see what the strategy will be for those Dems in power: lie about the importance of the documents, and continue to lie about the necessity of the war in Afghanistan for US security. In other words, they will continue to lie about Afghanistan and its obvious comparisons to Vietnam, while sticking by their (very correct) positions that Vietnam was wrong, and that the Pentagon papers were helpful in exposing how deeply wrong that war was--and how the Democratic governments in power at the time had lied to us, or simply got it wrong, up to 68, the time period covered by the Pentagon papers. Johnson redux, in a way.

Of course, Nixon lied to us too about Vietnam, about the war and the significance of the Pentagon papers. He talked about how the leak of the Pentagon papers in 1971 endangered troops on the ground, etc. He also tried to win what was by then an obviously "unwinable" war. Obama is now Nixon redux too (he has been Bush redux on topics like state secrets, torture, rendition, warrantless wiretapping, pandering to big business, etc.). Obama will continue to lie about the war, or he will have Kerry do the lying.

They will also lie more about how the leak endangers troops, as if their support for this stupid and unwinable war hasn't already created a casualty list that is way too long. All for a war that is not only unnecessary. It also does the opposite of what it's supposed to do: it makes Americans less safe as South Asia becomes more of a hotbed for American hatred.

What endangers the US, what makes us less secure, is the hatred that develops from unnecessary wars of occupation (Vietnam, Israel, Iraq and Afghanistan are the big ones). What endangers troops on the ground is putting them in harm's way. Stopping the war would take troops out of harm's way, and these Wikileaks papers could help stop the war--if we all get a little more vocal about it. Stopping this war would at least slow down the rapid escalation of hatred for Americans around the world--not just the Muslim world.

Bush got us into Afghanistan and what has always been an unwinable war--especially with the Pashtun dominated Pakistani intelligence helping out the Taliban and al Qaeda all along. It's the Dems who are now in the spotlight, and Kerry's position on NPR this morning is just more politically expedient lying. These leaks reveal that the war, as many of us have known all along, is a bloody mess that will only make the US less safe in the long run. This war is not just wrong. It is a dumb war, and always was a dumb war. Fighting it negates history, as the Russians know all too well. It was started by a dumb president and now continued by a president who seems smart, but has consistently done very dumb things.

Friday, June 11, 2010

I will say "Fuck You Jerry Brown" as I vote for him

Dear fellow Californians,

I am hoping all Californians who read this will pass on this post to Californians they know: left, right or center. We can all agree that Californians are all in deep deep shit given the general and severe dysfunction of our state, its $20B budget deficit. I see the upcoming Governor's race as a promise we are making to ourselves to continue to heap mountains more shit on ourselves daily for at least four years to come.

As I see it, a good start on these issues is this Huff Post article about California's ungovernability by San Diego Civic Leader Greg Mitrovich. It argues that California is ungovernable mainly because of the "direct democracy" system established in the reform era of the early 20th Century. This system worked at the time to undermine certain business interests that had a monopoly on state power, but it also eventually led to Prop 13 and and the two-thirds rule for raising taxes which Mitrovich and I see at the heart of our great state's dysfunction.

Prop 13 has become California's political "third rail" not just because it protects certain tax payers, especially those who voted for it back in 1978 and still live in the same houses. It also has considerable "vast corporate tax loopholes" most voters don't know about.

How is it in a country founded on "don't tread on me" and tea party tax revolts against unfair taxation, Tea Party types support Prop 13 even though it is obviously an unfair and arbitrary tax? Prop 13 mandates unequal taxes on properties of equal value. Need we say more?

Even Warren Buffet understands that Prop 13 mandates "wildly capricious" taxation. For example, I currently pay roughly many many times more what Warren payed in 2004 on taxes for his home he bought in 1970. Warren valued his home at $4M in 2004, and it is now listed at $10.3M (Warren's 2004 assessment of his home was a bit low, it seems).

My house is worth a small fraction of that, yet I pay many times the property tax!! Who would argue that is fair? As Buffet said, it is wildly capricious.

Why is Prop 13 deemed constitutional? What about that Equal Protection clause? Mitrovich argues that--as with Dred Scott and Gore v. Bush--the SCOTUS was simply DEAD WRONG in this case. The only thing supreme about the SCOTUS majority is their stupidity and myopia.

Here's another must-read article from the right-of-center Economist magazine arguing for radical change in "ungovernable" California. Business leaders in the Bay Area are working toward a constitutional convention, but Prop 13 is not part of their plan. Perhaps the only way they can get a constitutional convention or "con-con" is to pander to those who want Prop 13 to continue as CA's political "third rail." If it remains our third rail, we will find that we have been sitting on this rail all along.

Since the Gubinator took over, our state has gone from dysfunctional to idiotic. If Meg is seen from this liberal's perspective as a well-funded nightmare for California, Jerry Brown is certainly not some liberal wet dream. This article on Brown shows why the race for Governor is so bad it almost makes me support four more years of the idiotic and incompetent Gubinator. In all his phoniness and opportunism, Brown supports Prop 13, the law he signed back in 1978.

Brown, like Obama, is assumed to be liberal, even though much of his lasting impact has been the worst kind of right-wing, Jarvis-like crap California is uniquely known for. He even had a show in the 90s on KPFA (it sucked, by the way). Like W, Brown's career was made by his father, and his work in office shows that he is lazy, an opportunist in the extreme, dishonest, self-serving, incompetent and lacks insight. He's the Dems W. Bottom line, Brown is a HUGE mistake for Democratic California. I wish he had meditated on how self-serving his run for Governor is, and how much the true liberals of California needed him to NOT run. What an jerk.

And I will vote for him because Meg, to me, is obviously much worse. Both have ties to Goldman Sachs, by the way, but Meg's are much deeper, and she has much more of that "masters of the universe" mindset than Jerry. She's more like a Ross Perot buying her way into office. Let's hope she is as successful as Ross was.

So, as you can guess, I'm pretty upset about California's prospects. The "Golden" State is not looking so golden right now, and I see no way out of its extreme lack of gold ($20B deficit). Without a "con-con" that includes radical tax reform ... that gets rid of the "supermajority" required to raise taxes ... without more taxes collected, and more fair taxation of people and corporations (which the SCOTUS, with its aforementioned supreme wisdom, recently deemed were people too) ... we Californians will continue to be royally fucked, buried in our own feces, especially those of us who recently bought houses.

So let me send out a big fuck you to those Californians who have been in their houses for a long time and support Prop 13 because it is a good deal for them. You deserve the shit that gets piled on you because our state and local governments are broke. I wonder if Howard Jarvis still lives in the home where Jerry Brown use to have breakfast with him and discuss how best to implement Prop 13. I bet Howard's taxes are low. Fuck you Howard Jarvis, and Jerry Brown for dining with him. Meg, a New Yorker, has only lived in her posh Atherton home since 1998. I'm sure she can afford the taxes she pays, which are disproportionately higher than Warren's ... and disproportionately lower than mine. Fuck you Meg, and I hope you aren't able to buy your way into the Governor's mansion.

Oh, that's right, California doesn't have a Governor's mansion because its Governors, since Reagan, have been wealthy enough to afford better living conditions. Arnold has a private jet fly him up from Brentwood. Meg will probably stay in her Atherton mansion, while Jerry Brown may stay in his expensive Oakland Hills home he forgets to talk about when he lies about how he is not the son of extreme privilege.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Obama No Liberal

This Rolling Stone article, Obama's Big Sellout, is really intended for anyone holding out that Obama is a liberal, a good guy, wise, etc. He's clearly not any of these. Let's not be fooled by his kind smile, obviously very high intelligence, nice family, and oratory skills anymore. You couldn't find a more suited person if your goal is to fool the liberals and centrists of America into voting for a right-of-center candidate after eight years of Bush. Not only do I feel duped; I feel enraged. Obama has the ethics of a ... well, a Bill Clinton.

Taibbi's article focuses on Obama and his mini Rubins and how they've fucked up our economy in so many ways. I imagine them as the ones at Greenspan's who's-who Ayn Rand book club meetings interrupting the free-market blather with side comments supporting a little more health care for the little man.

Here's another telling article--The Cheney Fallacy--this one by the mostly conservative mag The New Republic. TNR lists a variety of areas that Obama might have differed from Bush in the so-called "war on terror." TNR's politics are made clear when they list "interrogation" as one category, instead of "torture."

You will notice that Obama, despite many promises to be very different than Bush, is not significantly different at all--especially when it comes to the economy and the endless "war on terror" (a war on a form of fighting? how about a war on explosives? or on killing?). We should have known during the campaign when Obama position on wiretapping came out (not against the executive office breaking the law when it wants to as long as the law broken has something to do with a war with no possible ending).

We do see differences in health care. Bush II never would have even considered health care reform that would do anything but line the pockets of big pharma and the insurance companies more. Where else? Isn't it sad that it is so hard to come up with obviously distinct areas. Torture goes unpunished (and probably unchecked), rendition continues, Wall Street giveaways continues, insurance companies survive and continue to thrive ... Even land mines! We'd be better off with no health insurance companies and no land mines. The former is obviously more deadly.

For those of you out there who supported Hillary, you may feel some satisfaction that we duped Obama supporters are now having to eat our words ... well, all I can say is that chances are that the former NY Senator--a position that simply means "bought by Wall Street" (google Schumer and Wall Street)--would have been much the same. I wonder if she would have investigated Bush's crimes. I doubt it. Hard to imagine any Dem who could actually win the presidency while also actually upholding the constitution these days. This is probably because those in Wall Street don't want to make too many waves while their man (or woman) assist them in raking in billions. And because there are more Republicans on Wall Street than "limousine liberals" like the Rubin and his cronies.

I see no significant change I can believe in ... and I doubt my opinion will change, my rage will subside, by 2012. Of course, we are held hostage by the one-party system (two factions of the Business Party) and can only hope that the "Democratic" faction of the Business (Wall Street) Party will produce someone who will at least try to uphold the constitution while he or she shovels billions toward Wall Street. I grant that my Obama rage is one I'd choose over the eight years of Bush II rage I experienced, but we have to recognize how fucked we are when the senator we elect as president has one of the most liberal voting records while he was a senator--and then he turns out not at all liberal, bought by Wall Street and insurance companies like any Republican, as president. We're fucked. Wall Street wins. Insurance companies win. We can only hope that "the masters of the universe" will not be complete tyrants--that they may follow through on some of those "limousine liberal" ideas and allow some of them to become policies. Maybe the little man will get a little more health care.

I recently read an article in the Business-Party-friendly Economist magazine that argued that California is now ungovernable. It seems to me that our country should be seen as such--especially when "governable" means serving the interests of the demos.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A letter to Harper's Magazine by Joseph Marguelies of Chicago. Harper's entitled it "Stress Position":

In “We Still Torture” [Criticism, July, 2009], Luke Mitchell notes that President Obama has preserved much more than he has rejected of his predecessor’s approach to post-9/11 detentions. This fidelity to the past is not confined to detentions; regarding domestic surveillance and state secrets, the differences between Bush and Obama are likewise insignificant.

There is nothing unusual about a president who fails to deliver on a promise of change. What is striking is that so many people—on both the left and the right—seem to believe, contrary to all evidence, that change has indeed come, and that Obama has adopted a set of policies diametrically opposed to those of the Bush Administration. For some, this misconception—an alleged end to a shameful epoch—has occasioned a sigh of relief; for others, like former vice president Dick Cheney, it has produced alarmist consternation. Why do so many see so much in so little?

As with much in politics, it is a problem of perspective. For the overwhelming majority of Americans, post-9/11 detention policy is necessarily remote. Shrouded in secrecy, it operates in a realm set apart from our daily existence and completely beyond our influence. It exists as a collection of evocative images and ideas—black sites, Guantánamo, terrorists, torture—that are entwined with the most powerful political symbols in American life: race, national security, and, the most elusive of all, “American values.”

This potent symbolism guarantees popular interest in the debates surrounding our detention policy even as the policy’s remoteness means that people cannot intelligently evaluate these debates. Are the prisoners innocent men, wrongly detained and horribly mistreated? Or coddled terrorists committed to destruction and mayhem? Can they be tried in federal court or paroled into the United States? Or would they overwhelm our courts and disappear into the shadows only to strike again?

We are apt to forget that Americans rather recently attached inordinate significance to a junior senator’s dramatic allegations that Communists had infiltrated the State Department. McCarthyism and its attendant debates unfolded mostly at a symbolic level; today, the public’s passionate attachment to the course of detention policy is similarly untempered by reason.

Under such circumstances, people form opinions based on symbolic gestures from trusted voices. That is, when remote issues acquire symbolic significance, symbolic gestures substitute for actual change. In a recent speech at the National Archives, surrounded by our founding and most revered documents, President Obama announced that he had broken with the policies of President Bush and embraced the Constitution. The response was swift and predictable: obama reinstates rule of law. The details announced in the same speech, including Obama’s plan to hold prisoners indefinitely without charge or trial—the same policy so detested during the Bush Administration—were generally ignored. The symbolic gesture (the closure of Guantánamo) satisfied the portion of the public that trusts Obama and alarmed the portion that does not.

It makes no difference—to either group—that Guantánamo may be closed but immediately re-opened elsewhere, or that Obama has stepped into the footprint left by the forty-third president. Political change is usually just symbolic change, and that, for most, is enough.