13 August 2010

Gibbs

I'm not surprised his accusations that people who couldn't tell the difference between Obama and Bush should be drug tested became a story.

What I'm surprised by is that people can tell the difference on a few key issues, or if they can, that they'd think Obama is somehow "better". Issues like health care or financial reform were largely in the hands of Congress. Obama may have gotten more or less what "he" wanted on those, yes, but mostly he did not ever take a public stance and say this bill must have X, Y, and Z or I won't sign it (he did on the stimulus bill and that... didn't go over so well when he ignored X, Y, Z being in the bill when he said they shouldn't be, perhaps he learned a lesson).

The major issues that are under his control however are in relation to national security and foreign policy. Congress defers heavily to the executive on these determinations, if it has any role to play at all. So instead of leaving Iraq and Afghanistan, we're probably stuck in large part with at least a vast private army, paid for by public funds, in the first and we doubled down in the latter. Campaign promises to that effect were ignored of course, but nevertheless, this was a policy that could have changed when the facts on the ground were observed or has had some vital checkpoints like McCrystal's recent firing and to a lesser extent the Wikileaks fiasco, that could have been an about face moment.

But leaving aside the vast military industrial complex for a moment, one of the most essential promises of the Obama campaign was the need for transparency and accountability within the most secret complex of government: the intelligence agencies. We have learned that Congressional (and by extension, public and transparent) oversight is generally meaningless without some major scandal (Pentagon Papers or the Church Committee). And somehow or another the fact that prisoners were tortured and abused by our agents and contractors does not appear to be a scandal worthy of attaching new oversight to. Much less that they are held without charges and continued to be held even when the administration itself declares it has no evidence or charge to make against them. Much less that the places where it happened still exist and the policies that were put in place are either still around, if not actively used, or have been expanded (most notably with assassination permitted rather than extradition of American citizens accused of terrorist activity). Neither has the fact that we are gathering billions of data points on American citizens without probable cause, without a clear idea that this data is deleted or even, when necessary, acted upon by the relevant agencies and thus some idea that it is being used and gathered responsibly become a cause for concern shaking the vast tree of government infrastructure surrounding the intelligence and homeland security business that has grown and grown and grown after 9-11 in particular. Instead the response by this administration, which the American people were sold on as an agent of change on this front if no other, to that is to ask for more surveillance powers. It may well be that they need them. But they should be also asking what they already have in the box and what they can throw out as well. We don't know and I suspect neither do they. And yet the response to a public inquiry and report by the press (what it was allowed to report on) that effectively damned the infrastructure for its confusion and undirected nature is to ask for more infrastructure? And still no oversight? And no check or balance upon expansive presidential authority to wage a war as he sees fit with only some random amount of faith in this President, to say nothing of the last one or the next one, that he would not abuse that authority?

If people are looking for a reason to oppose or at least not to support this President from the left as Gibbs supposes nobody should, you don't have to look very hard on the civil liberties and foreign policy angles. I'm not nearly as supportive as a progressive or liberal would be on health care or financial reforms that were passed, or in especially what was left on the table in both bills, much less cap and trade (instead of a Pigouvian carbon tax and an elimination of wasteful and distorting subsidies for energy of any kind) which hasn't passed and appears dead, and immigration upon which nothing will happen, or campaign finance, again nothing will happen, but I imagine someone following this administration on the left could be annoyed with any one of these issues. Meanwhile, I'm a little confused with the multiple personality approach being used on civil rights (in particular those of homosexuals) and especially civil liberties in relation to police powers and the drug war (disconnected from the civil liberties in relation to terrorism), and again, these are generally pet issues of the left in American politics. Seeing no substantive movement on them is very strange, but what you come to expect from the political process, seeing movement but in several directions at once is however... a little weirder and harder to decipher. Maybe those are wait and see issues. But it'd be nice if there was a clear policy being put out for us as what we might want to wait on?

Or maybe not. Maybe we should forget about waiting and just accept that this isn't that different from what came before. Just parks a D instead of an R after the name on the ballot.
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