Sunday, May 31, 2009

GM, Health Care, Transparency & Prisoners of War

Keeping my number of political postings to a bare minimum, let’s just make a potpourri-pile of topical observations.

First... that the bankruptcies of both GM and Chrysler seem to be pretty much following a path I suggested earlier, sending them on a path where they’ll likely become largely employee-owned companies.  Ideally - and if they avoid repeating the (deliberately planned-in) mistakes that turned United Airlines sour - this should turn grumpy hourly workers into motivated owners, and allow American ingenuity to thrive.  It’s been a long time coming.  Both the far left and far right were nuts to oppose it for so long.

Of course, this assumes that the US government will eventually divest its huge stakes in these companies. Which raises an interesting point. 

One recent rightwing talking (ranting) point is to yatter about “unprecedented socialism.”  This calumny deserves open derision.  First, because it's obvious who made our current mess, and who gave unbelievable gushers of “socialism for the rich” to their fat-cat friends -- the Bushite Gang.  

Second, turning eyes toward the future, simply ask Limbaugh et al: ”What do you think Obama wants to do with all that GM stock?”

The answer is obvious, and so capitalistic it would make Adam Smith proud.  Buy low... and sell high!   Dare the ranters to take a bet.  If the federal government no longer owns these companies in 2012... and if the taxpayer by then has made a tidy profit out of buying and then selling the shares... um... is that still “socialism?”  Remember, the Limbaugh types are agile about redefining terms, focusing on the narrow moment... so ask this question now.  And nail down that wager.


On the other hand, I feel that President Obama’s approach to revising Health Care is not well thought-out.  Yes, we cannot take on the whole problem all at once, not in today’s economic and political environment.  But his people are urging that we continue down the road of adding layer after layer of complex insurance subsidies that will work through (and benefit) existing companies and involve a million twists and turns of bureaucracy and entitlement.  It will be maddening, inefficient and easy to ridicule.  Worse yet, it will not cut the Gordian Knot of today’s system at any level or at any point.

Elsewhere, I've offered a simple alternative. Let’s put off for another day any major reform for working-age adults.  If we have limited resources and attention, let’s not do a half-assed job across-the board, but rather take a targeted approach to solve one part of the mess, completely -- the most important part.  Let’s do an immediate and excellent job in the one area where rapid and major transformation could make the biggest immediate difference, where it matters to us all most.

Simply  provide health care to all kids.

One way to do this,, making the legislation incredibly short and simple?  Extend Medicare to the other end of the spectrum, the other demographic group that is inherently both helpless and deserving, by simple definition.  Or else, use the kids to experiment with single-payer. 

 Either way, political opposition would be disarmed from the start. Americans are inherently more socialistic when it comes to children than adults (who, we think, instinctively, should stand on their own two feet.)  Moreover, this step would let us act immediately in the zones where socialized medicine inarguably works best -- prevention and lifelong health investment in youth, by far the best use of medical care dollars. 

This approach then leaves for later the vexing areas where socialized medicine has inherent problems and where we might want to do some more careful thinking.  (More on this next time.)

Seriously, why isn’t this a no-brainer?  A win-win that would let Obama achieve wonders at a stroke, while keeping both cost and complexity down and achieving the greatest bang for the buck? Poor parents would be relieved of their greatest fear, for their kids. With that responsibility taken off their shoulders, they would then be better able to bargain for their own, narrower coverage.  Can anyone explain why this alternative isn’t even mentioned?


“And so, whenever we cannot release certain information to the public for valid national security reasons, I will insist that there is oversight of my actions - by Congress or by the courts.

“..... Because in our system of checks and balances, someone must always watch over the watchers - especially when it comes to sensitive information.

“Along those same lines, my Administration is also confronting challenges to what is known as the "State Secrets" privilege... while this principle is absolutely necessary to protect national security, I am concerned that it has been over-used. We must not protect information merely because it reveals the violation of a law or embarrasses the government. That is why my Administration is nearing completion of a thorough review of this practice.

“We plan to embrace several principles for reform. We will apply a stricter legal test to material that can be protected under the State Secrets privilege. We will not assert the privilege in court without first following a formal process, including review by a Justice Department committee and the personal approval of the Attorney General. Finally, each year we will voluntarily report to Congress when we have invoked the privilege and why, because there must be proper oversight of our actions.”
- Barack Obama

One of you (“Jester”) commented upon how thoroughly this statement is  in tune with what I proposed in The Transparent Society, adding “Dr. Brin, are you writing his Speeches? ;)”

Ah... if only. Still, how nice to have an adult up there, for a change.


The same poster offered a suggestion that might help to get President Obama out of his bind regarding the Guantanamo detainees.  I think we can all agree that the Bushite doctrines there were dismal, loony, horrific and borderline insane.  Those so-called “pragmatists” only made matters far worse for our professional defenders, for example, by making torture legitimate for our enemies to use against our own troops.  Indeed, that alone offers probable cause to investigate charges of high treason.

On the other hand, what to do with the prisoners currently held in Guantanamo?  Or others we might capture amid a war without borders or fronts?  Many are genuinely bad or dangerous men and openly consider themselves to be enemies of the United States.  Others, to be sure, were hapless victims of circumstance, but, even after releasing those guys, President Obama seems caught between unpleasant options, when it comes to the really hard cases:

(1) bring some prisoners to America to face charges, which will be difficult to prove by civilian rules, and surely rile up any state where the trials take place,

(2) extend the duration of a somewhat gentler Guantanamo Prison, which will expose him to charges of hypocrisy and indecision,

(3) ship some of the worst off to home countries where they face likely torment and death... or else see them released to heroic welcomes and a return to plotting against our lives.

Are those his only choices?   There does seem to be a fourth option, never mentioned.   It's pretty simple, as “Jester” pointed out, after a close reading of the four Geneva Conventions.

Those who have openly sworn allegiance to any entity that wages violent war against the US can legitimately be treated as Prisoners of War.

Yes, it sounds a lot like “enemy combatants.”  But that term was simply a Bushite excuse to drop every covenant that we had with decent or civilized behavior... a crazed raving offered by demagogues who tried to make us more afraid of a few hundred bozos with lice-ridden beards, than we ever were of a Soviet Union that bristled with 20,000 hydrogen bombs.  (And we let them do it, didn’t we?)

In contrast, “prisoner of war” has very clear definitions according to the Geneva conventions.  And yes, it can apply to irregular forces, even those that do not represent an official nation state.  (In any event, the Taliban government of Afghanistan was clearly an enemy state and it stood behind Al Qaeda. That regime’s continued existence in exile allows for an extended pretext.)

Calling the violent men in Guantanamo "POWs "does not mean they can be tortured.  In fact, the opposite. They must be treated according to Geneva protocols -- with red cross packages and everything else to make their existence far brighter than it was.  But it does mean they can be held indefinitely, in a military facility on American soil, so long as hostilities continue in a plausible state of war.  Moreover, there is no ticking clock to bring charges against them -- in fact, filing charges against such men might be illegal, if their actions were against even somewhat legitimate military targets.  Certainly there is no requirement to mix them with the regular population of a federal penitentiary.  In fact, that too violates Geneva.

True, this option does not apply to all of the current prisoners -- mostly those who have openly avowed that they consider themselves to be in a state of war against the US.  Moreover, they must be treated very different than they were in Guantanamo... e.g. they must be allowed to mingle with each other and garden and work and write home and appeal their conditions and all the things you see in movies like The Great Escape.  (Except for the tunneling part, we can hope!)

Still, consider how this option lets BHO & co off the hook!  He can end the Guantanamo travesty without letting them all go, or trying to press criminal charges that are inherently hard to stick, by civilian rules of jurisprudence.  Well, it's an idea...

And that's enough for now.


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