Friday, July 24, 2009

Midsummer Malaise

Cynical Republicans have really been piling the criticism on Obama. I am dismayed by several twists in policy, but am certainly not in the camp with Republicans, who truly have no clue as to credible alternatives.

As I’ve mentioned before, Obama is faced with the insurmountable task of resurrecting the dying, predator- capitalist economy. The lofty expectations he was elected with will surely cement his undoing, especially as the economy slides further off the cliff this fall and winter. Of course, he did nothing to dampen those expectations, so he is either brave or na├»ve.

Here are several trouble spots to touch on:

Health Care Reform

This Obama initiative is doomed to failure. The strongest argument in favor of reform is that the existing system is already breaking down. However, the reform measures discussed thus far amount to a re-shuffling of existing flawed elements. Everyone agrees that costs must be contained, but no one has any concrete ideas on how to accomplish that. Insurance companies, medical providers, Big Pharma, and consumers all represent competing interests, which will resist shouldering their share of cost containment.

Hillary’s attempt at health care reform during the Clinton regime unraveled for the same reasons: no one had the kahunas to iron out the competing interests and build a popular consensus. With Big Pharma wielding vast lobbying resources, and health providers contending with consumer interests over “rationing”, the average voter became disillusioned amid the crossfire of propaganda and attacks. There is scant reason to expect a different outcome this time, despite Obama’s strident leadership efforts.

In the midst of the health care debate, some may have noticed that we are on our way to settling into a major economic depression. Thus, any financial number crunching regarding costs and revenues is meaningless. With businesses slashing costs and jobs to stay afloat, the concept of higher taxes or fees on anyone is a tough sell.

Universal health care is a great concept, but to make it work the competing special interests must somehow be reined in. Money is power, and we’re talking many hundred$ of billion$ in this case.

One major problem with the health care system is the domination by a narrow cabal consisting of the AMA and Big Pharma. The emphasis on allopathic medicine leads to ever-increasing investment in expensive drugs and technologies; with vast amounts of money on the line, there is no incentive to explore simpler and cheaper treatments. This also leads to a tremendous bias against holistic and naturopathic medicine, and in fact often results in legal enforcement against innovative treatment methods.

The only health care “reform” that would work would be one that breaks the monopoly held by the allopathic-oriented powers-that-be. If the playing field were leveled, and holistic medicine could compete fairly in demonstration of effective treatment methodologies, then cost savings could truly become reality. If Big Pharma could no longer dominate the flow of information to doctors, and drug trials were truly honest and transparent, then consumers would have more choice.

Universal basic health care, devoid of expensive drugs and technology, would be affordable for this nation. If the best of holistic and allopathic medicine were combined, patients could learn to take responsibility for their own health. Some medical procedures are quite cost-effective, but patients should be able to opt out of the portion that spends 80% of the dollars over the last few months of life. If people want to spend whatever it takes to purchase insurance to cover $500,000 for cancer treatment to live an extra six months, then that should be an available choice. If they would rather take their chances on holistic medical guidance & lifestyle and forego the expensive drugs that are promoted for every conceivable malady, then that should also be a choice.


Obama ran on a platform promising a wind-down of military operations in Iraq. While this does appear to be occurring (the “surge” worked by taking sides in the civil war and buying out one of the factions), the conflict in Afghanistan is escalating. Obama made no secret during the campaign of his enthusiasm for ramping up the war in Afghanistan and increasing intervention in Pakistan. His choice of Rahm Emmanuel as chief of staff clearly signaled his warmonger tendencies.

Thus far, Afghanistan has mostly been under the public’s radar, but that is likely to change. As casualties mount, Obama will become pressed to explain the rationale behind this military adventure. What is the objective - Maintaining the poppy trade? And what hope is there of better luck than the Soviets encountered, having retreated in humiliating defeat?

Then there is the horrible specter of Israel’s planned attack on Iran. Obama says there is no green light for the Israelis, but Joe “loose lips” Biden said there is. And who is making these decisions? Probably neither one of them, anyway.

There is the prospect of another tremendous banking crisis occurring in the fall, perhaps triggered in part by California’s financial default. There seems to be a tendency for war to erupt as economies sink. It probably doesn’t matter which party is in power; major events appear to be dictated by forces that we can’t directly observe. Obama may be a good man, but he is in for a serious challenge over the next year or two.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Look of Change

It's still too early to tell whether Obama will manage to effect meaningful change during his presidency. He has retrenched from earlier talk of quickly closing Gitmo and exposing the illegal use of torture by his predecessor. It's difficult for observers like myself to not revert to the cynical position that things are generally run by Powers That Be (PTB), which trancends political parties and the electoral process.

Hopefully Obama's first pick for the supreme court represents change in the right direction. Judging by the howls from the extreme Right, she must embody some good qualities.

My concern is that free speech is under attack in this nation, and though a liberal justice on the court would be a welcome change from the likes of Roberts and Alito, I'm aware that tyranny can come from the Left as well as the Right. Seeing that congress will likely pass a version of the so-called "hate crime" bill this year, I'm concerned about how Sotomayor will weigh in on cases where free speech is under attack. It happens to be part of the liberal agenda to pass a law that criminalizes certain forms of speech in the name of "protecting" certain minorities. I have written on this before, and think it's a bad idea.

I recall that an unlikely hero emerged in 1989 in defense of free speech - Justice Antonio Scalia. Although he has since earned a great deal of notoriety in my book, I was more than pleased to watch him draw the wrath of conservatives when he sided with a 5-4 decision that struck down prohibitions on flag burning. His reasoning? Flag burning represents a form of political speech, protected by the constitution. One could only hope that a future "hate crimes" law would be subjected to the same analysis by the high court, but something tells me that Sotomayor would not likely be defending constitutionally protected free speech in that instance.

I could be wrong, and justices have been known to shed ideological rigidity when elevated to that lofty level. However, they could have checked Bush's unconstitutional excesses over the past 8 years, and did not - Scalia included. In many critical cases, constitutional principle did not overtake partisan loyalty. Hopefully, this will begin to change for the better, although Justice Souter (who she will replace) was not generally part of the problem. It will probably take many years for turnover on the court to make a meaningful change. Hopefully the republic can stay intact for that long.