Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Year Of Living Cautiously

Back when the Democratic primary was in full flame, I supported Dennis Kucinich. Kooch (as he is affectionatly known in some areas of the webway) is considered a kook-end radical leftie in the States, someone one step away from Mao but I'm English and, odd personal habits aside, he'd be a perfectly respectable LibDem here. But the American electorate are stupid (as is the electorate in every country) and, unlike most countries, the American media is entirely corporate owned and led and tilts so far right that they can make people believe the centreist Obama is further left than Stalin. So Kooch was out pretty much before the race started. Then I supported John Edwards because he was the only one saying anything much about poverty. But Edwards was removed (and, as it turned out, fatally compromised anyway).

So that left Hillary and Obama. And for a long time, I thought either would do. By their own admission, their policies were virtually identical. Hillary's healthcare plan was better but she seemed to have a rather hawkish foreign policy. Hillary has very high negatives but Obama had almost zero experiance. Obama had Rev Wright (Ayers was never an issue) but Hillary had made some really fucking moronic comments about violent video games. So, not much to choose between them. In the end, it came down to that wonderful speech Obama made about race to end the Rev. Wright fiasco. No, not because it was some transformative political experiance. I'm not that naive. No, that changed my mind because it was the first time in about twenty years that I can remember a politician (apart from Kooch) addressing the public as if they were adults who could understand nuance, subtlety and context. And that swung me for Obama. Not by much, not a die-hard supporter by any means but he would do. Decent guy, no real skeletons in the closet (no, Fox's 24/7 attempts to turn Ayers and Wright into skeletons don't count, Fox would have personally murdered Obama by now if they could), policies about as liberal as is possible in the US and certainly as possible as the ultraright American media (that is, all of it bar about four hours a day on MSNBC) would allow, kids are cute as a button. Yeah, he'll do. So I supported Obama but not with any great enthuasiasm. I'm a die-hard liberal and there are only about a dozen liberals in the entire US government and Obama isn't and never was one of them. But of the unappetising options, I went for that one. I was pleased when he brought Hillary into the Cabinet since I thought that would be the best of both worlds although I thought she would have fit better at HHS than State (remember, I think her healthcare plan was better) but still, good move.

So why am I now wondering if we've been hoodwinked here?

Well, there's a lot of reasons but let's start with gay rights. Now, personally, I think gay marriage (or an identical-in-everything-but-name arrangement like we have here) is a moral must. I think it is utterly immoral to deny gay people the chance to marry (or have the previously mentioned all-but-identical legal option). But Obama doesn't agree and we knew that going in and, with the exception of Kooch, nor did anyone else so we shouldn't have expected agreement on that one. What Obama did say he would support though, was civil partnership, the repeal of DOMA and the repeal of the asinine Don't-Ask, Don't-Tell. Current score is that DADT is still on the books, Obama hasn't ordered it to stop being enforced pending a full repeal (which could be done by executive order fairly quickly) and he hasn't mentioned repealing DOMA in months. His administration has actually defended DOMA (their obligation, as I understand it) and done so in the most repulsive terms (certainly not their obligation). Oh yeah, and he invited Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration but I'm willing to let that slide as just a tin-eared mistake.

But perhaps you say Obama has been too busy trying to stop the economy imploding to devote time to gay rights issues? That's a reasonable arguement. So what has been done about the economy? The stimulus package passed was far too small and too much of it was tax cuts (in terms of stimulus, tax cuts are exactly the least effective method). Tim Geithner was installed at the Treasury and the right instantly tried to drum up the story that he was a tax cheat. Actually, all they proved is that the tax code is impossible for humans to understand. That's not my problem with Timmy. My problem with him is that he's a Wall Street bootlick, he's inculated in that Wall St culture where, as Michael Douglas said (and incidently, summed up Ayn Rand's entire "philosophy" in three words) "greed is good". Maybe the bailout was necessary, that's certainly a reasonable argument (albeit, one I disagree with) but were the collosal bonuses really necessary? Was there any reason not to pass legislation limiting those bonuses to, say, a figure one human could concievably spend in a lifetime? Don't misunderstand me, there's a lot of blame to go around for the financial implosion. Reagan's decimation of the middle class and stripping the Republicans of their few principles started it; Clinton did little to repair the damage and DimBulb made it even worse and numerous CongressCritters on both sides bear some blame as well but Timmy is currently in the hot seat so he has to carry the can.

How about healthcare reform? Well, how about some? The leadership of the Obama admin on healthcare has been lacking to put it very mildly. Now, I live under a single-payer system here (the NHS). All my care, both physical and mental, is covered by taxes. That's the real left-wing option, that's what real "socialised medicine" would look like but that option was taken off the table even before the election. So, instead, the public option (which was the compromise position in the first place) has been painted as to the left of Stalin. The bill currently winding it's way through Congress includes a public option that very few people could get but that would save money (the right, as usual, are just plain lying when they say it would cost money), eliminates the pre-existing conditions barbarity and incorporates a few efficiency measures. It's better than nothing but not by much. I'm leaving the atrocious Stupak-Pitts amendment aside because, as disgusting as it is, the Obama admin had no input whatsoever on that. Why hasn't Obama been out front twisting arms (both literally and figuratively) to get this bloody thing passed? The bill which, as of writing, just passed the Senate, has no public option, no Medicare buy-in and, most importantly, no competition or incentive to lower prices. What is included is a mandate, an obligation to carry some form of insurance. Hooo boy, this is a mistake. Now, apparently, there will be subsidies for the poorest to purchase insurance (which I'd be willing to bet will be far too little) but, with no public option or Medicare buy-in, the premium you will be forced to buy will cost whatever the insurance company feels like charging.

On foreign policy, Obama can claim some successes. While Republicans keep harping on about "a worldwide apology tour" (they seem to take it as a badge of pride if the rest of the world hates them), the foreign policy team (and Sec. Clinton has been a shining example here) has been mostly successful. Iran has refused to abandon their nuclear ambitions but they would have been immovable regardless. More importantly, the majority of the western world now holds a favourable view of the USA again. That's important and not for any conservative-baiting touchy-feely reason but because it makes the rest of the western world more likely to back the US's plays.

Another minor victory was the signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Act. The Act amends the Civil Rights Act (1964) in a minor, but very important, way. Previously, those discriminated against in pay had a 180-day "window" in which to file suit. In many cases, that would mean that the window expired before the victim was aware of the disparity in pay. The Ledbetter Act alters that so that the 180-day period "resets" with each discriminatory paycheque received. That's a relatively minor change which will make life that bit better for numerous people across the country. Congress can also be rightly proud of the Credit CARD Act, a catalogue of minor changes to credit card regulations which will, taken together, make life for users of credit cards a little easier. Predictably, the credit industry loathed it but that was to be expected. One surprise in the bill was Tom Coburn's attaching an amendment which allowed firearms to be carried in natural parks. This serves to illustrate hos ridiculous the system of unlimited amendments can get. I personally don't have any problem with the rule change but what the hell did it have to do with credit card regulation?

One last thing must be touched upon with regard to Obama's first year: The refusal to bring prosecutions, or even investigate, the war crimes committed by the Bush administration. The logic of refusing to pursue this is obvious, it would monopolise political debate in the US and allow Republicans to claim that the Obama admin was criminalising policies they disagree with (although they're already doing that). Morally, however, there is no excuse. Failing to prosecute such obvious and admitted crimes for political reasons is the height of moral cowardice.

Finally, no discussion of Obama's first year (even one as rushed and circumspect as this) would be complete without a quick examination of the right's breakdown. That the Birther's racist claims are still being voiced was perhaps to be expected; the redefining of "socialism" to mean "anything remotely on the political left" was predictable in light of how rightward the political spectrum in the US tilts but what could not have been predicted was the healthcare mobs, the "Tea parties" (whose only uniting principle seems to be hatred of Obama), the climate of intimidation and violence. All of which is rationalised by the right, excused. While a few marginal figures on the left compared Bush to Hitler, those few marginals are now used by the right to excuse the constant comparison between Obama and Hitler (ignoring that Nazism, and fascism generally, are extreme-right ideaologies). In my spare time, I study criminal psychology. Part of that is learning the difference between psychopaths and psychotics. Dick Cheney was and is a psychopath: Lacking conscience or remorse, uncaring of anyone but himself and his loved ones (psychopaths can feel love although not in the way that we do). Michelle Bachman is a psychotic, she is suffering a clear and discernable break from reality. Not in terms of things that reasonable people can disagree with like the existence or nature of God or the proper role of military force but believing in things which are provably, factually untrue. When observing the "tea party" crowd, one has to ask if it's possible for a whole segment of society to suffer from a psychotic break. Because the things this crowd believe, from "death panels" (which Palin is now attempting to claim meant a reference to rationed care) to "pulling the plug on grandma" to "taxed enough already" to the ubiquitous claim that Olbermann and Maddow are the same as Glenn Beck are immense. They can't be reconciled with reality. Moreover, they take the same form of self-preservation as many psychotics: The accusation that those pointing out the illness are themselves agents of the conspiracy against them. How does one reason with such people?

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