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  • Clearing the decks, Part 1: health care for all and a lot more

    Many months ago when I was writing something about health care I ran across a blog that had a number of entries on the subject, one of which I used in my piece. That web page and 70-some others are still open in my browser, which in retaliation is now consuming most of my computer’s memory and a good chunk of the processor capacity. So I’m going to write some things I meant to write during these past many months and reclaim some space.

    The blog in question is Hipparchia’s, and she (I think) has added several entries on Canada’s health care system since I last checked in. They’re all instructive but the one I like the best deals with the origin of the Canadian system, which can be described in two words: Tommy Douglas. Douglas was the Saskatchewan premier who, beginning in the 1950’s, fought to bring, single-payer health care coverage to his province. He stepped down in 1961 but the next year, after an epic, decade-long war with private insurers and doctors, his legislation passed and became the model for Canada’s national system. Some advocates for a progressive health care system here tend to be federal-centric, and it’s good to remember that state and regional efforts can drive the federal one.

    Thanks, Hipparchia.

    The tab next to Hipparchia’s is an old (October 10, 1972) Washington Post story on Ken Clawson, Donald Segretti and the Nixon/GOP dirty tricks machine, part of Woodstein’s Watergate coverage. Readers might want to familiarize themselves with it as it’s about to become timely again. I’d forgotten that Clawson worked at the Post before—at least I assume it was before—embarking on his career as an election saboteur for Nixon.

    Next is another Post story, this one more recent, offering a brief overview of Clinton advisor Mark Penn’s business. Titled “A Few Degrees of Separation From Hillary Clinton’s Top Adviser”, the story notes that Penn’s firm, Burson-Marsteller, owns a host of lobbying shops employing hordes of ex-politicians and officials from the Clinton, Reagan, Carter and both Bush administrations. Readers might want to familiarize themselves with it as Penn might be setting up shop in the White House come next January.

    The Columbia Spectator, Columbia University’s daily, quotes Sheila Coronel on her Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism. “Investigative reporting is a separate genre. It exposes wrongdoing in the public interest. Investigative journalism is set apart by the fact that it reveals new information.” We could use a bit more of that in this country. Fun fact: two of the Center’s students were responsible for busting Slate’s semi-famous monkey fishing fabulism.

    In May of last year when the elected but shunned Palestinian group Hamas began consolidating its control over the Gaza Strip, an anonymously sourced report surfaced claiming that the group had “intercepted a Fatah convoy of three trucks and seized U.S. and other weapons and equipment” intended for the once reviled but suddenly respectable militia of the former ruling party. The story caught my eye in connection with the Bush administration’s sudden interest in providing all manner of assistance, including military training and “non-lethal” military hardware to Fatah after Hamas swept the elections, but I couldn’t find any additional details elsewhere so I didn’t include it.

    I was looking at this story on Shirlington Limousine, a company that enjoyed considerable publicity arising from the Duke Cunningham bribery affair, because I intended to write something about Shirlington’s protest to the Government Accounting Office over the loss of a lucrative Homeland Security transportation contract. From the story: “A limousine service connected with the Randy “Duke” Cunningham bribery scandal got $25 million in Homeland Security contracts with Cunningham’s help, according to an affidavit disclosed at a congressional hearing yesterday … Shirlington Limousine & Transportation Co. won the contracts to transport some of the nation’s top security officials even though Shirlington was run by an ex-felon, had a troubled financial record and might not have met the technical qualifications for the contract.”

    Nice work if you can get it.

    Back in the day, just after the US invasion of Iraq when evil Saddam henchmen were wondering where in the world they would find enough heavily armed, desperate young men to field an insurgency worthy of the name, US proconsul Jerry Bremer came along and dissolved the Iraqi army, casting several hundred thousand Iraqi men out of work with no replacement source of income in sight. The issue resurfaced last September when everyone involved rushed to blame everyone else involved after the New York Times published a story on Robert Draper’s then-new tome about Bush, Dead Certain. That’s the one in which Bush is heard contemplating his post-presidency future, specifically the $100,000 a pop speeches he’s anticipating, and he also mentioned in passing how surprised he was to hear that someone disbanded Iraq’s army. Ward Harkavey has a nifty little rundown of the situation in his Bush Beat blog at the Village Voice, quoting liberally from a story in the UK Guardian:

    A member of the war cabinet, [former Home Secretary David Blunkett] reveals that Britain battled with the US vice-president, Dick Cheney, and defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, not to press ahead with dismantling “the whole of the security, policing, administrative and local government system on the basis of the de-Ba’athification of Iraq … He admits: “We dismantled the structure of a functioning state,” adding that the British view was: “Change them by all means, decapitate them even, but very quickly get the arms and legs moving.”

    Oops.

    A less than obliquely related story from the Hearst Newspapers Washington bureau earlier last year lays out the evolving definition of success in Iraq following as the consequences of the decision to dissolve the army became apparent. The bookends:

    March 2003: Two days after the U.S-led invasion, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld laid out success in the following terms.
    ● Ending Hussein’s regime.
    ● Locating and eliminating Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.
    ● Capturing and driving out terrorists located in Iraq and gathering intelligence on links between terrorist networks in Iraq and elsewhere.
    ● Securing Iraq’s oil fields and using them to resuscitate Iraq’s foundering economy.
    ● Creating the conditions “for a rapid transition to a representative self-government.”

    May 2007: With the U.S. occupation in its fifth year and violence surging despite the influx of additional American troops, U.S. officials lower the bar again.
    Defense Secretary Robert Gates said May 7 that for the U.S. troop escalation to be judged a success, American forces need not bring stability to Baghdad.
    “The goal in September is not whether the violence has been significantly reduced, or stability has been brought … but rather whether it has been reduced to a level that the political reconciliation process is moving forward in some meaningful way,” Gates said.

    And various digressions in between and, of course, since.

    I have no idea why I kept James Goodby’s and Kenneth Weisbrode’s San Francisco Chronicle op-ed on how to restore America’s tattered public image open in my browser for nine months, because frankly it’s a fairly dimwitted thumb-sucker. Maybe I was hoping it would give birth to something interesting.

    What should a new administration do about this situation? Changes in policies and attitudes toward the rest of the world are going to happen. Other nations will probably become more receptive to what they see and hear coming out of Washington. But there never will be a time when everything Washington does will be received with understanding and support.

    That is par for the course, and means we shouldn’t obsess over our “image,” if most policies are made in accordance with the nation’s great traditions. Chief among them has to be restoring the nation’s reputation for honest brokerage. The worst thing a new administration could do would be to use public diplomacy to paint a picture that differs from reality. [Legendary former secretary of state Dean]Acheson’s thoughts about this topic are right on target: public diplomacy “conceived of as a ‘beautician’ is revolting,” he wrote. “Its purpose in an age of diplomacy among democracies is to get the truth to their sovereigns, as a basis of mutual confidence and trust.”

    The genius of American diplomacy in the years following World War II — the Acheson years — was that it struck a balance between the ideas of America as an independent actor and of America as part of a community of democracies. That policy brought support to our side of the global confrontation with the Soviet Union. It was consistent with the American creed.

    The most fundamental tasks of the new administration — Democratic or Republican — will be, first, to reconstitute the trust of the American people in its own government, and, second, to show by its actions that it takes seriously the interests of others around the world. Any effort to act differently will not ring true, at home or abroad. Return to our roots, then, and the image problem will take care of itself.

    Taking a bit of editorial license with the work product of two serious students of the field: “If the US quits acting like a demented thug and starts being helpful, people around the world will like us better.” Just like Dean Acheson said.

    Returning to the Washington Post, and a 2004 story about an Angolan man getting by in a country with 50% unemployment.

    As Antonio Cambanda dug into the dry, red dirt before him, he had the look of an unusually intense and wary gardener. He clipped weeds, softened the soil with water and then, with a short-handled shovel, delicately scraped his way forward.

    He was searching not for bulbs but for land mines. After four decades of nearly continuous war, an estimated 500,000 mines remain sown in Angolan soil, still waiting to detonate with an unlucky step, as if the fighting here had not ended in 2002.

    Most Angolans try to keep their distance from mines. But for $163 a month, or about $7 each workday, Cambanda seeks them out, inch by perilous inch. His is one of the few readily available jobs in a postwar economy that employs fewer than half of Angolan adults.

    Harkening back to the previous item, here’s a suggestion for improving our public image: sign the landmine ban treaty.

    I kept forgetting to bookmark this page on per capita health expenditures by country for 2006, so I decided just to keep it open after looking it up four or five times. The US was first at $6,096; Luxembourg, which I think has a per capita income about 50% higher than ours, was second at just over $5,100. In 2003, the numbers were $5,711 and $4,611, respectively.

    On January 10 of last year, the Post told us that top US generals were opposed to The Surge because they didn’t think it would work. Chalk one up for the generals.

    When President Bush goes before the American people tonight to outline his new strategy for Iraq, he will be doing something he has avoided since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003: ordering his top military brass to take action they initially resisted and advised against.

    Bush talks frequently of his disdain for micromanaging the war effort and for second-guessing his commanders. “It’s important to trust the judgment of the military when they’re making military plans,” he told The Washington Post in an interview last month. “I’m a strict adherer to the command structure.”

    But over the past two months, as the security situation in Iraq has deteriorated and U.S. public support for the war has dropped, Bush has pushed back against his top military advisers and the commanders in Iraq: He has fashioned a plan to add up to 20,000 troops to the 132,000 U.S. service members already on the ground. As Bush plans it, the military will soon be “surging” in Iraq two months after an election that many Democrats interpreted as a mandate to begin withdrawing troops.

    Pentagon insiders say members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have long opposed the increase in troops and are only grudgingly going along with the plan because they have been promised that the military escalation will be matched by renewed political and economic efforts in Iraq. Gen. John P. Abizaid, the outgoing head of Central Command, said less than two months ago that adding U.S. troops was not the answer for Iraq.

    The Post followed up with a June story on the perpetual quest to rebuild the Iraqi army that Bush wasn’t aware had been dissolved so that it could begin taking the lead in The Surge that wasn’t working. The two stories occupy adjoining tabs in the browser so I assume they were meant to provide fodder for the same piece that I may or may not have gotten around to writing.

    A roundup of international press stories about Iraq, Afghanistan and other trouble spots from a July, 2003, column in Salon yields the information that at the time, all mail coming into Iraq for US military personnel was being delivered by DHL, which I had not realized to be a subsidiary of the German postal service. Additionally we learn that as of June 15 of that year, the US drive to collect personal weapons from Iraqis had yielded about a thousand items, or about two-tenths of one percent of the estimated total. I’m leaving this one open because there are some things in it worth following up on. O lord, stop me …

    A story from September of last year about how German police and intelligence agents disrupted a very scary terrorist plot without resorting to kidnap, torture or even breaking any laws; I kept it open so that I would have the names handy to check for updates, which haven’t been forthcoming. For some reason the notion of adding them to my Google news alert list didn’t occur.

    One lawyer says the Military Commissions Act was a noble cause, and another says sure, if your definition of a noble cause is a criminal conspiracy to violate the War Crimes Act and other laws. I’m pretty sure this one made it into something I wrote on the subject.

    And finally, for this installation, former Bush administration economics guru Greg Mankiew wrote late last year that “[a]t the moment, recession is only a possibility, and inflation is a bigger worry than deflation. In this environment, there is no need for a short-run fiscal stimulus. Congress is better off focusing on longer-term problems … The truth is that the current Fed governors, together with their crack staff of Ph.D. economists and market analysts, are as close to an economic dream team as we are ever likely to see. They will make their share of mistakes, but it is too easy to find flaws when judging with the benefit of hindsight. The best Congress can do now is to let the Bernanke bunch do its job.”

    Yuh-huh.

    17 memory-hogging pages down, 59 to go. This shouldn’t take long.

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