Thursday, January 21, 2010

Scheer: What Massachusetts Got Right, Bennis: Yemen: Deja Vu All Over Again

As I write this, Democracy Now has just concluded 'The Human Face
of Haiti", first hand stories of courage and devastation, by Haitians,
Doctors and others. It's heart-felt incredible journalism, probably unique.

What Massachusetts Got Right

Of course, the public is right. In the midst of the worst economic crisis in
70 years, why waste enormous political capital battling to pass a health
care plan that is modeled on a proven failure in Massachusetts, as voters
there clearly registered?"

By Robert Scheer
Truthdig: January 20, 2010

The president got creamed in Massachusetts. No amount of blaming this
disastrous outcome on the weaknesses of the local Democratic candidate or
her Republican opponent's strengths can gainsay that fact. Obama's
opportunistic search for win-win solutions to our health care concerns and
our larger economic problems is leading to a lose-lose outcome for the
president and the country.

The two issues that mattered on Election Day were the economy, which Obama
has sold out to Wall Street-as quite a few disgruntled voters pointed
out-and his plea to save health care reform, which the voters who had backed
him for the presidency with a huge majority now spurned. It is significant
that it was the voters of Massachusetts who have now derailed the Democrats'
efforts to revamp the country's health care system by denying them the
necessary 60th vote in the Senate, for these voters know the subject well.

The federal proposal is based on their own state's model requiring people to
obtain health insurance without the state doing anything to effectively
control costs through an alternative to the private insurance corporations.
Lacking a public option, the cost of health care in Massachusetts, already
the highest in the nation at the time of the plan's implementation, has
spiraled upward. Services have been curtailed, and many, particularly
younger people, feel they are being forced to sacrifice to pay for a system
that doesn't work.

Instead of blindly following the failed Massachusetts model, Obama should
have insisted on an extension of the Medicare program to all who are willing
to pay for it. He squandered the opportunity to bring about meaningful
health care change that the public would have supported had it been kept
simple and just. Instead, Obama gave away the store to medical profiteers.
They, in turn, hopelessly muddied the waters with well-funded scare
advertising tactics that principled leadership on Obama's part could have

A mere seven months ago, The New York Times/CBS poll found that 72% of
Americans "supported a government-administered insurance plan-something like
Medicare for those under 65-that would compete for customers with private
insurers." Even half of those identified as Republican said they would back
such a public plan, as would three out of four independents and 90% of
Democrats. Instead of heeding that call by endorsing a serious extension of
Medicare, along with increased subsidies for those who could not afford it,
Obama played to the conservatives in Congress-and they rolled him.

If he wasn't prepared to make a breakthrough in health care, and that meant
a reform program that would begin sooner rather than later, he should have
put it on a back burner. The furor over a very unsatisfactory plan drew
attention from the far bigger crisis concerning the meltdown of the nation's
economy. By accepting and indeed expanding the Bush administration's
strategy of throwing money at Wall Street, Obama ceded the populist label to
the Tea Party Republicans who now pretend that a banking mess brought about
by their radical deregulatory philosophy is not of their making.

It is the economy, stupid, and the sooner Obama grasps that, the better for
his and the nation's prospects. A new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll finds
that "Americans ranked job creation and economic growth as their clear top
priority for the federal government, well above national security and
deficit reduction. Health care, Mr. Obama's top domestic priority in 2009,
now ranks fourth, closely trailing the deficit and government spending."

Of course, the public is right. In the midst of the worst economic crisis in
70 years, why waste enormous political capital battling to pass a health
care plan that is modeled on a proven failure in Massachusetts, as voters
there clearly registered? Meanwhile, the president has dropped the ball in
the effort to make bankers act responsibly by forcing them to forego
outrageous bonuses and help homeowners stay in their homes.

Again quoting the message of that Wall Street Journal/NBC poll: "The
president's focus on health care amid heightened job concerns could be
hurting his ratings. At the one-year mark of his presidency, 35% of
Americans said they were 'quite' or extremely' confident he had the right
priorities to improve the economy, down from 46% at midyear." The Journal
noted that a majority disapproved of the government's response to the
financial crisis, adding, "The related problem for Mr. Obama is the public's
lingering anger about the bailouts of 2008 and 2009, which helped boost bank
profits even as unemployment grew-a toxic political problem."

To salvage his presidency, Obama must reverse course and make solving the
"toxic political problem" of Wall Street greed that's bankrupting the
country his highest priority.


From: Sid Shniad

Yemen: Deja Vu All Over Again

By Phyllis Bennis
Foreign Policy in Focus: January 13, 2010

Barack Obama is not the first US president to find Yemen a challenge. And
the current $70 million package of military and security assistance is not
the first $70 million US aid program to Yemen.

Two decades ago, in 1990, then-President George H.W. Bush was preparing for
his looming invasion of Iraq - what would become Operation Desert Storm.
Like his son in 2002, Bush was eager to force a unanimous vote in the United
Nations Security Council endorsing his war. But unlike George Junior who
abandoned the UN when the Council stood defiant against his illegal war, the
first President Bush was willing to pay - in expensive bribes and political
concessions - to win what the great Pakistani scholar Eqbal Ahmad called "a
multilateral fig-leaf for a unilateral war."

For poor and weak countries on the Council, the United States offered new
economic assistance, access to cheap Saudi oil, and crucially, military aid
packages to governments long denied such support because of civil wars
and/or widespread corruption and repression in their countries. So the
governments of Colombia, Ethiopia, and Zaire all took their kickbacks and
voted yes. For China, which had threatened to veto the war-backing
resolution, the Bush administration offered diplomatic rehabilitation and
the resumption of long-term development aid, both of which had been cut in
the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre the year before. China

Two countries were left. One was Cuba, which refused on principle to endorse
the US-led invasion, although Cuba had joined in the Council's unanimous
condemnation of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait as illegal. The other "no"
vote came from Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world. Yemen was
serving as a Security Council member largely in recognition of its
reunification after 10 years of a brutal civil war. With the Arab world
divided down the middle by the threat of a U.S. attack and only one Arab
country on the Council, there was no way Yemen could endorse an invasion of
its region.

Yemen voted no. And no sooner had the Yemeni ambassador, Abdullah
al-Ashtal, put down his hand, then a U.S. diplomat moved to his side,
telling him "that will be the most expensive 'no' vote you ever cast." The
remark was picked up on an open UN microphone and immediately broadcast
throughout UN headquarters and soon throughout the world. Journalists and
analysts excoriated the U.S. diplomat for not knowing the mike was on and
being caught in such an embarrassing situation. But I always thought he knew
exactly what he was doing - because the message was not really aimed at
Yemen. No one in Washington knew or cared at that time about what Yemen or
Yemenis did or thought. The message aimed much broader, at every country in
the UN that might consider defying U.S. power. The message was clear: if you
cross us on an issue important to us, you will pay a price.

The people of Yemen paid a huge price. Three days later Washington made good
on its threat and cut its entire aid budget to Yemen, an already measly $70
million. And today, 20 years later, diplomats and staff around UN
headquarters still refer uneasily to the "Yemen Precedent."

This week the Obama administration announced plans to send $70 million in
aid to Yemen. But it won't be for medicine, building homes, or job
training. And the accompanying U.S. experts won't be hydrologists or doctors
or midwife instructors. The $70 million will be for "counter-terrorism" and
"security" purposes - and the U.S. experts will be military trainers and
various kinds of Special Forces.

But a strengthened Yemeni military will not reverse Yemen's legacy of
anti-Americanism and the support for anti-U.S. violence that sometimes
accompanies it.

What if - just imagine - the United States had not used Yemen to broadcast
the price of defiance to other wavering governments? What if the United
States had not reprimanded the Yemeni government by punishing the entire
Yemeni population and then largely ignoring the impoverished people for most
of two decades? What if, instead of cutting its entire aid budget, the
United States had flooded Yemen and its people with agricultural assistance,
training for midwives and doctors, access to the latest hydrology technology
to recover scarce water, and lots and lots of money for Yemenis themselves
to use to build up their own country's social and physical infrastructure as
they chose, not as US "experts" imposed?

Today, twenty years later, things might just be a whole lot different..

Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for
Policy Studies and is a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus. Her latest
book, with David Wildman, is Ending The Us War In Afghanistan: A Primer
(Olive Branch Press, 2009)

No comments:

Post a Comment