Sunday, December 14, 2014

American unexceptionalism and the Senate torture report

If the Senate report on CIA torture practices in the early post 9/11 days revealed anything, it was when fear for national security prevails, the US behaves like most other countries. We become unexceptional.  We trample human rights and engage in practices for which we would be ashamed under normal circumstances. Those who boast of American exceptionalism need to temper their flag waiving.

That we are willing to admit that violating our own values is wrong decades later may set us apart and is indeed exceptional behavior. Most nations do not do this. Without condemning such actions, we become the pot calling the kettle black in calling out others for brutal treatment of POW’s or violation of human rights. At least the report clarifies our standards for others to follow.

Sen John McCain (R-AZ), a former tortured POW himself, attested on the Senate floor torture does not work, but (that)…” isn’t the main reason to oppose its use. … It’s about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be. It’s about how we represent ourselves to the world.”

The GOP shouted the report was a partisan move and it was full of (unspecified) untruths, that circumstances justified it, it worked, our brutal treatment is less brutal than others, and it will stoke our enemies’ fire.

 The report presents truths no one has yet refuted. Even current CIA Director John Brennan could not deny the “techniques”  called enhanced interrogation (EIT) did take place and detainees died or were subjected to “ harsh, abhorrent”, and unauthorized  practices.

Left to debate was whether it worked.  Brennan said the “program” did provide “useful” intelligence,  saying it was “unknowable” if saying EITs were responsible for extracting that information. Firing back, Senate Intelligence Committee chair Diane Feinstein (D-CA) said the report clearly documented the intelligence extracted took place before the water boarding or other “EIT”s occurred.

Consider the times, respond the report’s critics, as if to say we can excuse our behavior in the fog of fear of future attacks post 9/11.  Our country has been there before: in 1798 the Federalist controlled Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts claiming a fear of a French war on our shores. The acts allowed us to deport and imprison those we thought might subvert us and allowed us to confiscate their property during wartimes. The Sedition Acts muzzled those criticizing the US government. All were contrary to the Bill of Rights.

These Acts, too, were entangled in politics. The Federalists were proponents of the Alien and Sedition Acts; the Democratic-Republican Jeffersonians opposed.   The descendants of the Federalists, the GOP (McCain excepted), are now trying to justify EITs use. They are being true to their earliest roots of throwing under the bus our first amendment protections whenever national security is threatened.


 The sedition acts later expired.   The alien laws survived and were used to detain, imprison, and confiscate property of American-Japanese in World War II. Those acts, too, were condemned by history, just as the EIT program is being condemned a decade later.
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A version of this appeared in the www.skyhidailynews.com  December 19, 2014


http://www.mccain.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/press-releases?ID=1a15e343-66b0-473f-b0c1-a58f984db996

Friday, December 12, 2014

If there is any one reason to support Obamacare, this is it

If there is any one reason for Obamacare (ACA), this is it.  The ACA will not eliminate debt because there are still deductibles some will be obligated to pay, but fewer will go insurance naked,  some states still have not extended Medicaid to the near poor who do not have enough income to qualify for ACA insurance,  and some ACA plans have high deductibles.  From the New York Times Dec. 11, 2014: "One in five American consumers — 43 million people — have blemishes on their credit reports because of overdue medical bills, while medical debtsmake up more than half of collection items on credit reports, according to a newly released federal report.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released the report Thursday ahead of a public hearing on medical debt collection in Oklahoma City. "

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/12/business/federal-report-highlights-the-effects-of-medical-debts-on-credit.html

Friday, November 28, 2014

Ferguson: lessons for the world about American exceptionalism

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Ferguson: Lessons for the world about American exceptionalism
We in America take pride in the exceptionalism of our form of government and our caring about human rights.  We could be exceptional in another way: the example we set.  Ferguson dramatized the good, the bad, and the ugly.  We can hope the takeaway for the world will be, while local government sometimes fails, the federal government’s reaction was the good part, and American values and governing systems finally prevailed. 
As a frequent traveler spending time with family and friends scattered over Europe, what I do know is that those abroad look to the U.S. for setting a standard.  When we successfully meet challenges similar to what they themselves experience, they watch us closely to see if there is a template for future policies that might work for them too.
Europe itself has had its checkered past in dealing with “others” and experiencing civil disobedience that became violent.  In post-World War II, the 1990s Balkan wars are the poster child of hatred and ethnic cleansing. There have been other localized ethnic and racial violent protests, some suppressed, some resolved peacefully.  Spain still is in pain, though for now, violent separatist movements have either been dealt with by compromises or by granting more autonomy to its restless parts.  Paris suburbs experienced violent uprisings in their Muslim community over discrimination. 
What American democracy does provide is a model for peaceful regime change by honest elections, the rule of law, and outlets for frustration when citizens perceive their government is unfair.  Human nature is to rage when unfair treatment is not pacified by hope that the powerful are listening.
Channeling violent and anarchic anger to lawful and constructive actions takes leadership and empathy. President Obama showed both.  He was uniquely equipped to let Ferguson know he understood.  No one conveys credibility like one who has experienced discrimination himself and who looks like the aggrieved.  In the Trayvon Martin case, Obama said that if he had a son, he would have been Martin’s age, and in Ferguson, he agreed minorities had a real problem with police, and "the problem is not just a Ferguson problem, it is an American problem."  His empathy went only so far.  He had no sympathy for those who destroyed property.  They were criminals and should be prosecuted.  He supported those who protested peacefully.  To justify his endorsement of peaceful protesters to those who sympathized with rioters, his message was, “I've never seen a civil rights law, or a health care bill, or an immigration bill result because a car got burned."
Now it is up to local governments to do their part in accepting the existence of a police problem with minority relations and to take steps to change.  It may take honest reevaluations, federal pressure, minority hiring, retraining of police forces,police body cameras, and changing protocols and attitudes.  We must affirm that peaceful protest is more effective than violence.  It is then that we are indeed an exceptional nation worthy of being a standard for others to follow.

A version of this appeared in the Sky Hi Daily News www.skyhidailynews.com Dec. 6, 2014

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/11/25/366650380/obama-no-sympathy-for-those-destroying-ferguson

Friday, November 21, 2014

Elections and executive orders have consequences, but not in the way some may think

Listening to retiring GOP Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn on MSNBC’s Morning Joe November 20, I was alarmed by the way he linked possibilities of Southern violent reaction to the president’s executive order on immigration and the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri over the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white cop.  I hope he was wrong that racism was behind his constituents’ threats, but that was the sad and ugly implication of his comments.

Coburn’s comments ignore those who sincerely and vocally believe the president violated the Constitution. However, the ruling of constitutionality is not a matter of even the president’s past or present interpretations or the opinion of some member of Congress. It is the courts’ and the place to settle it is there.  Hopefully Okahomans seek that recourse.

Should Obama heed voter opinion expressed in the midterm? Immigration did not register in the list of voter issue concerns per an AP exit poll. The economy trumped all.  A Wall Street Journal-NBC poll revealed over 70% approval of the elements of the compromise immigration bill, yet 48% oppose the President’s executive action, breaking along party lines. Go figure.   

Midterm elections do have consequences. More extreme anti-immigrants elected to Congress dimmed any likelihood of compromise or Congressional action.  Presidential elections also have consequences and the president won his second term in 2012 with the electoral firewall of high Hispanic voting states. Obama’s order carries out some promises he made in 2012. The prospect of the GOP gaining the White House and overturning executive orders or blocking comprehensive reform will inspire Hispanics to turn out to vote Democratic in 2016.
  
Let us get this straight: a “pathway to citizenship” is not part of the President’s order. It is not “amnesty” or comprehensive reform or granting citizenship or Obamacare.  The President’s executive order is limited to setting prosecuting priorities for three years. That order gives protection from deportation of dreamers whose parents brought them to the US when they were young and parents of children who were born here. The executive order can be overturned by Congress or the next president.

The order addresses one of the Hispanic and Asian communities’ greatest concern: deportation that breaks up families, leaving kids born in the US behind while a parent is sent back to Mexico or Central America or Asia. There is no deferment for the other six or seven million who are left out of the executive order, including recent arrivals.  

The GOP has avoided taking any action or compromise on immigration reform by demanding “securing our borders before doing anything else.” President has increased security, deported a thousand a day, and will do even more with his executive action.  The goal of “securing the borders” will never be achieved by those looking for excuses for inaction.  

The Senate bi-partisan compromise bill sent to the House over a year ago, languishing there without vote, did combine more funding and action in securing the border while providing a status for those already in the country.  

Should Obama heed voter opinion expressed in the midterm? Immigration did not register in the list of voter issue concerns per an AP exit poll. The economy trumped all.  A Wall Street Journal-NBC poll revealed over 70% approval of the elements of the compromise immigration bill, yet 48% oppose the President’s executive action, breaking along party lines. Go figure.   

Midterm elections do have consequences. More extreme anti-immigrants elected to Congress dimmed any likelihood of compromise or Congressional action.  Presidential elections also have consequences and the president won his second term in 2012 with the electoral firewall of high Hispanic voting states. Obama’s order carries out some promises he made in 2012. The prospect of the GOP gaining the White House and overturning executive orders or blocking comprehensive reform will inspire Hispanics to turn out to vote Democratic in 2016.

A version of this appeared in the www.skyhidailynews.com 11/26/2014

PS 11/24/2014: Oklahoma is not typical. Per a survey conducted by Hart for Bloomberg only 28% of voters disapprove of the President's executive order. http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2014-11-24/voters-dont-mind-emperor-obamas-immigration-executive-order?cmpid=yhoo


http://bigstory.ap.org/article/400a2d97d1514cd78f7f0888f68834b9/exit-poll-voters-unhappy-obama-and-gop