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The Do’s and Dont’s of Torture

Folks torturing folks, redux: Obama plants his flag on the wrong side of Nuremberg

When you come down on the same side of an argument as the Nazis and other Germans guilty of crimes against humanity, you’re doing something wrong.

Not long after he took office, President Obama invoked the Nuremberg defense on behalf of the folks who tortured folks. That’s the one where the Germans who committed what are now known as crimes against humanity said they had the right to assume that superior orders are lawful. A few days ago, he described anyone wanting torturers held to account as sanctimonious because we were all afraid after 9/11.
Continue reading Folks torturing folks, redux: Obama plants his flag on the wrong side of Nuremberg

“We tortured some folks.”

President Obama should probably retire “folks” from his active vocabulary. “We tortured some folks.” And then we had some folks over for barbecue, or we barbecued them. Something like that. Folks don’t let folks torture folks, folks, or let them get away with torturing folks, except when “a lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.” As were, no doubt, from certain frames of reference, the people they were torturing.

Because his CIA director creeped the Senate’s computers, and then lied about it (and threatened to get Senate staff prosecuted, imprisoned and ruined), and then got caught, the President is under a great deal of pressure to expedite the release of a report that will evidently display the CIA as home to some very ugly people doing very ugly things. He’s prepping us for it, and he’s trying to shift the responsibility for shielding the torturers from him to us. We were all scared and angry. We shouldn’t be sanctimonious. This is what happened, and now you know what I know and since you’re not going to do shit about it or me, it’s now your responsibility too.
Continue reading “We tortured some folks.”

Libya: another “good” war gone bad

Libya is on fire (literally). This is because President Obama and his colleagues in France and the UK blew it up with their 2011 assault on the country.

I say President Obama blew it up, rather than the US blew it up, because the US joined in the festivities entirely on his say-so. The President said that the US role was not something that required either consent or oversight from Congress because American lives were not at risk. By this he meant that the US could attack Gaddafi’s forces from the air and sea with impunity forever (it turned out to be seven months, officially). Only, absent congressional approval, it wasn’t the US attacking Libya but the President.
Continue reading Libya: another “good” war gone bad

Torturers, looters and oligarchs let their freak flags fly

The people who variously collapsed the economy, bought the political process and brought torture into polite society are tired of your disrespect and they’re not afraid to let you know it.

The latest in the parade of former Bush administration officials and CIA personnel to come in from the cold the suburbs and either defend or brag about their roles in the Bush torture regimen is psychologist James Mitchell, the prominent member of the helping professions who is credited with having designed the procedures used by the CIA to torture prisoners and is supposed to have tortured at least one prisoner himself. In an interview with The Guardian, Mitchell said “I’m just a guy who got asked to do something for his country by people at the highest level of government, and I did the best that I could.” Mitchell follows in the footsteps of former Vice President Dick Cheney and others who say the times required torture and the results justify it, and anyway it wasn’t torture.

In some circumstances, in some countries, admitting to having not just devised torture procedures but practicing them as well would land one in hot water. In the US, however, torturers have a very prominent advocate for letting bygones be bygones: the current President. In 2009, when he ordered the release of the documents the Bush administration’s legal team wrote to retroactively and prospectively justify torture, President Obama said that “[i]n releasing these memos, it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution.”
Continue reading Torturers, looters and oligarchs let their freak flags fly

Bartleby, the President

Imagine my surprise, nay, my consternation, when without moving from his privacy, Bartleby, in a singular mild, firm voice, replied, “I would prefer not to.”
           — Herman Melville, Bartleby, the Scrivener

Bartleby, the Scrivener is the story of a man who one day decides he would prefer not to — first work and, eventually, live. We needn’t worry about that with Bartleby, the President. He has too high a degree of self-regard to starve himself from indolence or despair, as should we all, and insufficient attachment to principle to risk his life on a hunger strike.

As you must know, the passions of various Senators on the Senate intelligence committee are inflamed by agents of the CIA having illegally surveilled them and illegally executed covert operations against them. We say illegally because the CIA is proscribed from practicing its arts domestically on anyone, even Senators and their staffs, who probably bear watching more than most of us, even when the CIA believe themselves to have good reason; especially so, in fact, because that’s when the risk is highest. The CIA think they have good reason now because the Senate intelligence committee has been preparing a report that will document the agency’s crimes against humanity, including torturing people and disappearing them.

The surveilling and operating was evidently done with the knowledge and approval of the CIA director, one John Brennan. It is particularly fraught because the CIA is an executive branch agency, and the executive branch is not meant to spy upon or coerce other branches of government. This is in part why the great Richard Nixon lost his job. What we have here is the very definition of a constitutional crisis, a plain breach of the separation of powers.
Continue reading Bartleby, the President

Paul Krugman is wrong about Medicaid

Paul Krugman suggests in his New York Times column today that continuing the expansion of Medicaid is the answer to the outlandish cost of health care in the United States. He’s wrong. Medicaid is a lifeline for the impoverished, but the program would have to be reformed to the point that it would no longer be recognizable as Medicaid to be satisfactory for most Americans.

The reason Krugman likes Medicaid is the program’s success at controlling costs. He says that of all the health care delivery systems in the country, Medicaid is the one most like those in Europe, which have much lower costs than ours. If that’s true, it’s only because most of the rest of our fragmented system is completely fucked up.

Among the primary aims of European systems is health care equity — providing everybody with the same access to high-quality health care regardless of income or station. Medicaid does not come close to doing that. Krugman says that care from Medicaid providers is good and that lack of access is greatly exaggerated. In my experience the former is sometimes true and the latter, never.
Continue reading Paul Krugman is wrong about Medicaid

I drink because I’m worried, people; I don’t drink because I’m dry

Updated 11.22.2013

I know that there are millions of Americans who are content with their health care coverage — they like their plan and, most importantly, they value their relationship with their doctor. They trust you. And that means that no matter how we reform health care, we will keep this promise to the American people: If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. (Applause.) If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan, period. (Applause.) No one will take it away, no matter what. My view is that health care reform should be guided by a simple principle: fix what’s broken and build on what works.”

          — Barack Obama

I’ve seen a number of Obamacare supporters arguing that the President’s promises about keeping plans and doctors carried a silent qualifier to the effect of “if they’re compliant with the new regimen.” Somewhat less frequent but still common are remarks to the effect that people whose plans have been cancelled should have known better, or that they’re stupid to want to keep their crappy plans. Probably they should have known (although Obama supporters who are ordinarily incensed with people who don’t take the President at his word are now incensed with people who did). Maybe they are stupid. Regardless, we wouldn’t be having this discussion if the President hadn’t lied — and it was a lie — repeatedly. Supporters of the legislation thought that the illusion of choice was critical to the success of the effort. The promises were an epic bait-and-switch, rivalled only by the disappearance of the vaunted “public option.”

In the excerpt from Obama’s 2009 address to the American Medical Association, the line about keeping one’s health care plan, period, is, I suppose naturally, subordinate to the line about keeping one’s doctor, period. Can you spot the silent qualifier in that clause? Yeah, me neither. And with the furor over the cancelled plans on temporary hiatus, awaiting the verdict on the state of the federal exchange in nine days and the verdict of insurers and regulators on extending the plans, the problem of losing one’s doctor is about to take center stage.

Continue reading I drink because I’m worried, people; I don’t drink because I’m dry

I don’t find this stuff amusing anymore

Updated 11.20.2013

“I think we probably underestimated the complexities of building out a website that needed to work the way it should,” [President Obama] told the annual meeting of the Wall Street Journal CEO Council.

The [security] experts said the site needed to be completely rebuilt to run more efficiently, making it easier to protect. They said HealthCare.gov runs on 500 million lines of code, or 25 times the size of Facebook, one of the world’s busiest sites.

One of the most important repairs remaining deals with the information pages that the system provides to insurers about coverage applicants. These so-called “834s” have been riddled with erroneous information and, despite weeks of repairs, they continue to spit out incorrect data.

The enrollment, to give you a general sense of what’s happening, for a health plan that might have to sign-up 100,000 people in order to get their share of the 7 million Obama administration’s national enrollment objective, has grown from perhaps 10-15 enrollments a day a few weeks ago to 40-50 a day now … Backroom error rates being committed by Healthcare.gov, when enrollment data are transmitted to the health plans, are still far too high to transition to high volume processing without serious customer service issues.

The last quote is from an insurance industry insider, so take that into account in whatever fashion you think appropriate. I was too lazy to google the security experts cited in the bit about that aspect of the site, but 500 million lines of code? Holy crap. Can that be true?
Continue reading I don’t find this stuff amusing anymore

We can do better than this

Below the fold you’ll find the first in a series of “Medicare for All” graphics I’m developing. At the moment they’re just to look at, but they’ll include a call to action as soon as The Search Committee finds an appropriate one.

The ongoing Obamacare drama presents an opportunity to raise the visibility of single-payer and to draw new adherents to it from a variety of positions. Everybody everywhere likes them some Medicare, except the people whose profits are diminished by it. Nobody likes insurance companies, except the people whose profits depend on them. This is one of those rare moments when just about everybody is talking about health care and 90% of the people who are talking about it are saying “lord god this is fucked up.”
Continue reading We can do better than this