How Obamacare Increases Your Freedom

There’s a narrative from the right wing out there talking about how Obamacare crushes individual freedom under the jackboot of evil government. This is what we call “wrong”. I’m sure that most of us have either been trapped at a job, or known someone who was, because they didn’t dare leave for fear of losing their medical coverage. This is especially true with older people and those with pre-existing conditions, usually defined by the health care insurance industry as “being alive”.

Obamacare changes this. Now if you lose your job, or just leave it, you can buy insurance for a reduced rate on the free market, and they aren’t allowed to reject you for pre-existing conditions. Even if you get a new job, you can keep the insurance you have. This makes a huge difference. Jobs can’t hold people hostage any more, threatening the employees with loss of insurance if they leave. You might still stay at your sucky job for other reasons, but the sword of medical insurance will no longer be dangling over your head.

Personally, I find that freedom rather nice.

The Shutdown Continues…

I’d like to clear up something, in case there was any doubt.

This is entirely about politics and it is entirely on the Republican side. Interestingly, it isn’t even everyone in the GOP. There are the more sane members who realize what a bad, stupid idea this is, and want to stop it quickly. But they are, sadly, being drowned out by the extremists in the party who are determined to continue to hold the government hostage until they get what they want, ie: an end to Obamacare.

That won’t happen, and as I said before, there is no reason it should happen. The law was passed several years ago. Since then we’ve had two sets of elections, including one Presidential election, and a Supreme Court ruling. This is now the law, and it’s about as settled as laws get. Yet despite that, the Republicans are determined to destroy it, either because it won’t work at all, or it will work so well, Americans will fall in love with it.

There are not two legitimate views to every issue. In this case the Republican view is that the Democrats, who won, mind you, should given in to their demands. This is not a valid viewpoint. This is the sort of viewpoint terrorists, kidnappers and other unsavory types use. Yes, I’m sure it would be nice to have the party in power kowtow to your demands, if you’re the one who isn’t in power. But in Reality Land, that isn’t something that happens.

I really do hope the Democrats stay dug-in and don’t flip on this issue. It is worth noting that when Bush was in office, we didn’t do this to him. If we had, can you imagine the hue and cry from the right wing? “Terrorists” would be the least word they’d use, and they’d likely ignore that once they discovered “treason”.

The Democrats have no reason to give in. They won the elections, they get to make and keep the law. The Republicans, especially as time goes on, have every reason to end this. The longer it goes, the worse they look.

On the Way to a Shutdown?

Well, as CNN puts it, there’s a countdown to shutdown. In less than two hours, large portions of the federal government will temporarily shut down. This is basically due to Republicans rabidly insisting on defunding or delaying Obamacare despite the fact that there’s no way that will happen. For it to happen, the Senate would have to vote to do so and the President would then have to sign away his signature piece of legislation; legislation that wasn’t so unpopular as to keep him from being reelected.

And that’s really the problem here. The Republicans may not like to deal with reality here, but the nation voted last year to keep Obama in office; either because of, or in spite of, Obamacare. Had Romney won…well, he likely would have kept all the elements of Obamacare except the funding mechanism, but the Republicans likely wouldn’t be throwing this sort of hissy-fit about it.

Either way, the last time there was a government shut down was back in the mid 1990s, and it left the White House largely being run by unpaid interns, including a certain intern who didn’t know how to get her dress out of the way in time. Yes, that’s when that little incident happened, and the Republicans impeached Clinton over it. Neither the shutdown nor the impeachment were very popular with the American public. I thought they would have learned their lesson, but apparently not, since they’re going to try at least the shutdown once again.

Our Collective Thousand-Mile Journey Has Started

It’s a small, but important, first step. It’s important to remember, during the next few years, that we’re the ones that started off the chill in our relationship with Iran. When the CIA overthrows a country’s democratically-elected government and replaces it with an authoritarian regime that tortured, killed, and arrested thousands, it’s understandable that said country might be a bit pissed-off at us for the next few decades. That doesn’t excuse the hostage-taking at the embassy back in the day, but it does at least put it into some perspective: we put a brutal dictator in charge of millions of people, and later said millions tormented a few dozen for a bit more than a year.

Now can I dare hope that our next step is to actually talk with Cuba?

Twelve Years On…


Now we can start to look back at 9/11, and the events that followed it, with a more historical, critical eye. We’re no longer “in the moment”, at least most of us aren’t. So we therefore have some perspective and can talk about what we did right and what we did wrong.

What we did right

Invading Afghanistan was a hard choice in many ways. But we did right by doing so. We toppled an insanely repressive government, knocked al-Qaeda down to the point where they’re basically just four guys in a truck, and killed the mastermind behind 9/11, though he was in Pakistan, not Afghanistan. By any measure, our involvement there was justified and reasonable (and arguably too late, as I’d been going on about the Taliban since at least 1999). The outcome hasn’t been perfect, but it has generally been acceptable.

Creating a unified intelligence body in the form of the Department of Homeland Security was also a good idea, since it facilitated communications and the like. I have several problems with it, starting with the “Amerika Uber Alles” use of the word “Homeland”, but I’ll get to those problems in the next section. Speaking of…

What we did wrong

Yep, only two things we did right, and one of those is tainted with a bit of “well, also…”. But moving on.

Torturing prisoners was, without a doubt, the worst, stupidest thing we did as a result of 9/11. It is a fundamentally un-American act, and beneath any civilized nation. If it actually worked, I could almost, almost, justify it. But it doesn’t. Instead it stained us in the eyes of the world, made for a great terrorism recruitment tool and removed us from the moral high-ground regarding torture, as well as other abuses.

Holding people prisoner without charges or trial, in some cases for longer than a decade, is another fundamentally un-American act we engaged in. We were claiming these people were so gosh darn dangerous that we couldn’t even give them trials, or treat them like war criminals. Never mind that we managed to try Nazi war criminals (you know, people who started a war that killed millions upon millions of people), and they were even fair trials, no. Somehow terrorists are worse than the likes of Hermann Goering.

Meekly submitting to having our rights removed in the name of the “War on Terror”. We now live in a country where two guys kill three people and we accept the subsequent shut-down of a major American city and military-style police officers going door-to-door searching people’s houses without reasonable suspicion or warrants. As this article points out (and I highly recommend reading it), if someone killed three people in an office building and then went running out into the world, the police reaction would be far more subdued, as would the media reaction. That isn’t even getting into things like communications monitoring.

The massive expansion of the surveillance state is another real problem. Creating what should have been called the Department of Domestic Security was a reasonable idea. Giving them the level of power that they have was not. They should just be a clearing-house for intelligence sharing between the CIA, FBI, NSA and other government organizations. Instead they’re basically an entity unto themselves, and one that operates in the dark.

Invading Iraq was also a huge error. I supported the idea at the time, thinking that toppling Saddam would be worth it, but how many other dictators are out there that we aren’t toppling? Even ignoring that, our entire basis for the war was wrong, and the whole thing “felt” like we were doing it as a response to Iraq’s involvement in 9/11; a thing that didn’t happen. As someone at the time pointed out, this is like Japan attacking Pearl Harbor, and so we attack Japan and Norway (though depending on your feelings about this video, that might have been justified).

The imperial presidency, which Obama has only just started to roll back, really gained traction, too. Suddenly the president could do whatever he wanted as long as it was part of the “War on Terror”. Congress became a rubber stamp, or an afterthought. The Constitution and the freedoms and rights it offers were regarded as not being important enough to protect and defend. No, suddenly anything was ok, as long as it was in the name of stopping terrorism. This is the same kind of thinking that led to the round-up and illegal confinement of American citizens during World War II.

The final major error was believing that 9/11 “changed everything”. It did, but not in the way that people think. Instead of making us more vigilant, and making us focus on our errors in foreign policy, and listening to the legitimate grievances groups like Palestinians might have, we instead doubled-down on the insane rhetoric. We continued to prop up dictators as long as they were “tough on terror”, as opposed to being “tough on Communism” or “tough on drugs” (we always find an excuse to support people who act against what we claim are our highest moral beliefs). We self-inflicted a lot of damage on ourselves; far more than the terrorists ever did.

In sum, we overreacted on 9/11. That is, somewhat, understandable. Nothing like this had ever happened before, at least not to us. We got scared and panicked and made bad choices, because scared, panicked people almost always make bad choices. We stopped focusing on what was good and right about our country, and instead entered a dark and shadowy place; a place that isn’t compatible with who we claim to be.

One lesson we can and must draw from 9/11 is that always, every time, every single fucking time, that we cast aside our beliefs in what is right and wrong and throw away what makes this country great, it comes back to bite us in the ass. Just to bring up one example, this happened when the CIA toppled a legitimately elected government in Iran because they weren’t going to do what we told them to. It was almost 60 years ago, and our relations with Iran aren’t even close to normal. That isn’t even mentioning other CIA-backed coups, or the aforementioned propping up of various dictators who stand firmly against the rights we claim to want everyone to have.

9/11 appears more and more to have been a horrible, isolated event where al-Qaeda got lucky. Their luck was increased by the president ignoring documents with titles like “Al-Qaeda Determined to Attack Targets in the US”. Post-9/11 people often wondered if Al Gore would have invaded Afghanistan had he been in charge at the time. Probably, yes, but the better question is; Would Al Gore have been paying attention during his morning briefings and done something to prevent 9/11 in the first place?

Remember 9/11, yes. Remember everything we lost, including those things we chose to throw away, and bear in mind that, while 3,000 people died that horrible day, hundreds of thousands have died since as a direct result of our overreaction.

Live Blogging the President’s Remarks on Syria


5:58pm MST – Well, here we go. Keep hitting F5 to see my thoughts as we go. Given that Assad has said he’ll surrender his chemical weapons and allow verification, I’m very curious to see what the president has to say.

6:01pm – Here we go.

6:02pm – Over 100,000 have been killed…only about a thousand with chemical weapons. The vast majority not.

6:03pm – It is good to remind us why chemical weapons are so bad, however I still don’t see them as being any worse than normal weapons and I don’t see them as a reason to attack Syria in of itself.

6:05pm – It is good as well that he’s laying out exactly what we know and, to an extent, how we know it about the chemical attacks.

6:07pm – Ok, so we need to smack down Assad for using chemical weapons in order to, potentially, maybe, someday, prevent the United States from getting nuked. Not quite seeing that.

6:08pm – Well, now. He’s directly talking about the drawbacks of the Imperial Presidency. I like that.

6:09pm – Now answering questions. “Will this put us on a slippery slope to another war?” Obama says he won’t put boots on the ground or pursue an open-ended action like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya or Kosovo.

6:10pm – “The United States Military doesn’t do pinpricks.” Cute. However a great many other countries can indeed inflict such harm, despite what the President says.

6:12pm – I’m actually kind of ok with being the world’s policeman, as long as we’re the tough, but stern, friendly county sheriff, and not the LAPD circa 1993.

6:13pm – The vote is being postponed. Excellent. If we can get what we want without killing people, that would be just super.

6:16pm – I really hate the word “brazen”. Can we please eliminate its use?

So there we are. The arguments are laid out. My opinion remains basically unchanged. We don’t need to go out and do this all on our own if we do enter into the military option. But that said, I couldn’t be more pleased by the fact that we’re going to delay any actions or votes in Congress to give time to make a diplomatic solution happen.

A Neutral America

I wrote a bit ago about the idea of America becoming a Switzerland-like neutral country. The more that I think about it, especially lately, the more that I like the idea. The catalyst for this is, not surprisingly, the current mess in Syria.

It is sad and bad and horrible what is going on there, and we should use all our diplomacy and good graces to try and find some sort of settlement that ends the violence and provides as good of a peace as anyone can hope for. We should use our diplomatic skills through the EU and the UN to try and arrange not just that settlement, but serious penalties and war crimes charges against Assad for the use of chemical weapons (though I still believe killing a few hundred with those isn’t any worse than killing a hundred thousand people through other means). What we should not do, at all, is use weapons to kill even more people.

What is happening in Syria is not our fight. We should not pretend that it is.

Allowing ourselves to act as the peacemakers in Syria, ala Theodore Roosevelt’s efforts at ending the Russo-Japanese War and the efforts of Jimmy Carter to bring peace between Israel and Egypt, is a far better role for us than that of violent warmongers. Sure, it’s less sexy, but better, more effective and just a hell of a lot more moral.

This can and should be applied on a wider scale, too. We should just wash our hands of the Mid-East and associated regions entirely. You wanna know why “they” hate us? Partly because after two buildings were knocked down and about 3,000 people killed, we went on a decade long murder spree that destroyed most of the functionality of two entire countries and killed several hundred thousand people. You wanna know why “they” hated us before that? Because of our knee-jerk support of Israel in any and all matters. We get uptight over a few hundred dead in Syria, and we should, but we ignore the crimes committed by the Israelis on a daily basis.

Now imagine if we just…stepped away. Israel has more than enough military strength to handle whatever the region can throw at them. It might not be pleasant or pretty, but they can do it. Once we’re out of the picture, the various terrorist groups would be far less interested in attacking us. They’ll probably attack Israel a lot more, but Israel knows how to deal with terrorists (and do so without sacrificing their own freedoms…well, except for those of the Palestinian Israelis).

Suppose that we pulled back our army and our navy from the various overseas locations. What do we think is going to happen? Pull our troops out of South Korea and North Korea still won’t dare move on them; they’d stop existing a few days later. Japan is hardly going to go imperial again; it’s bad for business. China is already paying more attention to Africa than we are, and, again, aren’t likely to go overtly imperial, since it’s bad for business. They won’t even dare to attack Taiwan. If we pulled out of Germany, the Fourth Reich isn’t going to suddenly appear and invade Russia, nor vice versa.

Imagine the money we’d save. Imagine the lives we’d save on all sides. Imagine the greater glory and prestige we could have as a nation if we simply became a new Switzerland; the country everyone went to when they wanted fair, diplomatic solutions to their problems. Imagine how much better it would be if we weren’t the kind of country that toppled democratically elected governments, engaged in torture, held people without charges for over a decade, and waged war on almost everyone almost all the time. Wouldn’t that be better?

Thomas Jefferson, in his 1801 inaugural address, called for, “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none”. I like that idea. Imagine if we weren’t enemies with any nations and weren’t allies with any. Imagine that we’re just the honest broker who tries to be friends with all and with those we can’t be friends with, well, we can safely ignore them. I mean, at that point we’d have the largest military in world history based entirely at home; no one would dare fuck with us.

I don’t want isolationism. I don’t want us to withdraw from the world, and leave the UN. I want us to engage on the global stage, but not as warmongers. I want ours to be a nation of peace and diplomacy. I want us to be a role model to the world. Is that so bad?

War…It’s Fantastic!

Or not. Either way, it does sound like we’re heading off to another one, though hopefully this one will be as small in scope as Libya was.

What I’m mostly here to write about today is how fascinating I think it is that the president is actually going to Congress to get a vote for the action; a vote that I’m not sure will succeed. What really fascinates me about this is the fact that it seems to happen so seldom lately. It’s good to see the legal niceties being followed, and hopefully this will lead to a reining in of the imperial presidency that has waxed and waned through the decades, but has grown non-stop since 9/11.

If you have the time, do check out Andrew Sullivan’s masterly summation of the situation. Money quote:

But here, it seems to me, is where we should stop, and demand more clarity and transparency from the president. The Congressional debate – in my view, a constitutionally indispensable procedure – is a great opportunity for this. We all get the gravity of chemical weapons use – and Kerry can stop embarrassing himself by calling his former dining companion another Hitler. What we don’t yet fully know is what the Obama administration has already been doing in Syria and what it hopes specifically to achieve now – by militarily joining one side in Syria’s sectarian meltdown.

Liberal: Soon to Be a “Clean” Word Once More?

Throughout most of my life, one of the worst things that a political candidate can call their opponent is a “liberal”. Usually the word is said with a little sneer, and made to rhyme with “Godless communist bastard.” But this is apparently set to change, at least according to Bruce Bartlett (presumably no relation to Jed Bartlett), who says in The Financial Times:

The Republican takeover of Congress in 1994 was simply the formal climax of the rightward trend in politics that had been underway for many years and which has largely continued under Barack Obama. One can argue about how liberal Obama is, but it is obvious that he has not been a transformational president. It is clear that the energy remains on the Republican side with almost all policy issues debated within a conservative framework.

Moreover, it seems almost certain that Republicans will retain control of the House of Representatives next year, and they will have an excellent shot at getting control of the Senate. But, as I explained earlier, Republican hopes of retaking the White House appear long, as the party’s demographic woes grow yearly as its base dies and the Democratic base grows.

Just as the political energy of conservatives turned in their favor long before Republican politics caught up with it, I think there are signs that conservative energy is weakening and liberal energy is rising today.

The entire article isn’t very long, and it’s well-worth reading. It does also make it clear that, for all Obama’s many strengths as president, he is not the long-term, transformational figure that liberalism really needs to have. We need our Reagan, and with luck, we’ll get such a person come 2016 or 2020.

Another Country Down

So England and Wales are going to have gay marriage starting next year. Well, what can one expect when your country is ruled by a queen?

Stupid jokes aside, to me this highlights how conservatives in this country can really stand to learn something from Conservatives in that country. For it was the conservative leadership who pushed for gay marriage against the will of the party. They pushed hard, and go it through, and now, when the next elections are held, that’s one less social issue for Labour and the Liberals to beat the conservatives over the head with. This is especially relevant to the young.

If the GOP were to adopt the same stance on gay marriage, and moderate their views on other social issues, how many voters could they get? It’s not like the GOP base is going to suddenly vote Democrat because the Republicans back off on abortion, gay marriage or welfare, and it means that people like me, who find the Republican stance on social issues to be truly vile, might be inclined to give the party a second look if the social issues weren’t…well, an issue

Conservatives around the world need to understand that they really cannot win on social issues. By definition, conservatives have been on the wrong side of every single social issue ever to come along. They should really just keep their mouths largely shut on such things, or at best make the occasional “tut-tut” or “harumph” about declining morals. Do that, and they might just stand a better chance of winning elections in the future.


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