Socialised healthcare? Yes please!

Since I commented on Barack Obama’s difficulties last week things have improved for him considerably, with his healthcare reforms finally signed into law.

The final bill may not be entirely what many on the left were hoping for but given the entrenched interests he was battling against and the wholly dishonest and unprincipled disinformation campaign by his opponents (“death panels” etc) this is still a considerable achievement.

Unsurprisingly there has been a rather hysterical reaction from opponents on the right, for example this from GOP congressman Devin Nunes

Today we are turning back the clock. For most of the 21st century, people fled the ghosts of communist dictators and now you’re bringing the ghost back into this chamber. With passage of this bill, they will haunt Americans for generations. Your multi-trillion dollar health care bill continues the Soviets, failed Soviet socialist experiment. It gives the federal government absolute control over healthcare in America.

Well quite, why would Americans want a socialised, communist even, system like that in the UK – where the state exerts so much control over our healthcare, spending our tax dollars (or rather pounds) with abandon?

P.S. According to the OECD, public spending on health in 2007 as a proportion of GDP was -

UK – 6.86%
USA – 7.26%

Return of the undead

It has been another difficult week for Barack Obama, with his little problem with Israel. What with his problems getting his healthcare reforms through congress and in finding a way to close Guantanamo Bay it might be understandable if Liberals on both sides of the pond were getting slightly frustrated, so it is fitting that in the last few days we have been given a reminder of why, whatever Obama’s faults, we should at least be truly grateful that the Republicans, or specifically the particular faction represented by Bush and his cronies, are out of power.

First we have Bush’s chief political strategist Karl Rove doing the rounds, touting his book and defending the use of waterboarding on terrorist subjects.

“I’m proud that we used techniques that broke the will of these terrorists and gave us valuable information that allowed us to foil plots such as flying aeroplanes into Heathrow and into London, bringing down aircraft over the Pacific, flying an aeroplane into the tallest building in Los Angeles and other plots,” he said.
“Yes, I’m proud that we kept the world safer than it was, by the use of these techniques. They’re appropriate, they’re in conformity with our international requirements and with US law.”

All very noble sounding of course, but even if one accepts that waterboarding does not constitute torture (and that requires a rather wide stretch of the imagination) we should be aware that this was only one kind of abuse which was suffered by detainees and remember the practice of extraordinary rendition, the black prison network and the outsourcing of torture to regimes less concerned with their international obligations and legal niceties. Continue reading

…and it gets even better

Obama continues to do the right thing

Barack Obama embarked on the wholesale deconstruction of George Bush’s war on terror, shutting down the CIA’s secret prison network, banning torture and rendition, and calling for a new set of rules for detainees. The repudiation of Bush’s thinking on national security yesterday also saw the appointment of a high-powered envoy to the Middle East.

Obama’s decision to permanently shut down the CIA’s clandestine interrogation centres went far beyond the widely anticipated move to wind down the Guantánamo Bay detention centre within a year.

He cast his scrapping of the legal apparatus set up by Bush as a way for America to reclaim the moral high ground in the fight against al-Qaida.

“We are not, as I said during the inauguration, going to continue with the false choice between our safety and our ideals,” Obama said at the signing ceremony. “We intend to win this fight. We are going to win it on our own terms.”

A good start…

From the Guardian

The US president, Barack Obama, has ordered a suspension of the controversial Guantánamo Bay military tribunals in one of his first actions after being sworn in, yesterday.

Within hours of taking office, Obama’s administration filed a motion to halt the war crimes trials for 120 days, until his new administration completes a review of the much-criticised system for trying suspected terrorists.

It’s good to see that not only has Obama addressed this issue but that it was so high on his list of priorities. It seems at least some of our optimism was not misplaced.

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu

Well, it’s been eight years since I sat there avidly watching the voting numbers for Florida updating as the recounts came in, and despaired as they fell agonisingly short of wiping out George Bush’s majority in the state. And despaired again as the conservatives in the Supreme Court disgracefully stopped further recounts and handed him the presidency. It’s four years since I despaired yet again as John Kerry’s challenge faltered, not least becasue of the lies spread about his military record. But now “Dubya” has finally gone.

He will above all, of course, be remembered for the Invasion of Iraq – both for the lies told in advance and the horrendous bungling of the post-invasion situation. The wholly inadequate reponse to Hurricane Katrina was also significant, not just for impact on its victims but because I think this was the point when the American people finally lost all faith in him.

There’s plenty more of course – ordinary Americans saw wages stagnate and unemployment rise while the richest got large tax cuts, and that’s before the economy came close to collapsing altogether. Those same ordinary Americans also saw their health care costs escalate while their coverage fell, there a many millions more without any insurance and the system is still captured by the insurance companies. They can console themselves that his absurd attempt to privatise social security failed. Then there were the illegal wiretaps and the refusal to recognise the reality of climate change, let alone take any meaningful action.

There are so many other examples, but a special mention though should go to the obscenity of Guantanamo Bay and Abu Graib, the tearing up of the Geneva Convention and his sanctioning of the use of torture, either directly or by proxy. Thus he fundamentaly undermined America’s claim to any kind of moral authority and fatally diminished its standing in the world.

So farewell then George Bush, and also your cronies Cheney, Rove, Rumsfeld et all. Your venality, dishonesty, incompetence, belligerence and naked self-interest diminished both yourself and the office of President of the United States of America. You will not be missed.

The weight of expectation

So he’s done it, in fine style too. Absolutely fantastic – a truly momentous and uplifting result.

What now though? There is so much talk about the huge expectations which people have of President Obama and whether he will able to deliver. Are we expecting too much and will Obama be able to bear the “weight of expectation”? Certainly, many on the right (and some on the “Decent” left) are eagerly waiting to express their delight at the sight of disappointed and disenchanted Lefties.

To start with it’s worth asking exactly what our expectations are. I mean it’s no use just saying “change”, what do we think he will, or should, actually do? By what criteria will we judge him?

Well first of all there is one expectation he cannot fail to meet, which is that he will not be George Bush. The sheer irredeemable awfulness of his predecessor means that so long as Obama shows even a reasonable amount of competence and decency and eschews Bush’s naked self-interest, belligerence, ignorance and complete lack of scruples* he will already be a huge improvement.

As for his policies, well despite what his more absurd opponents say, Obama is not a far left/Stalinist/Marxist. He is not even going to try to turn America into a Northern European social democracy let alone some kind of socialist paradise. What I would hope to see is a more liberal, inclusive president who makes it his main priority to help the poorest, not to cut taxes for the rich and pander to corporate interests. Obviously the current financial crisis will be his immediate priority and it will severely limit his options but I hope to see broadly redistributive fiscal policies and ideally he will try to address the inequalities and corruption endemic in the healthcare system. I expect him to stand firmly against the Christian right on the right to choose.  I expect he will respect human rights at home and abroad, close Guantanamo Bay and  put a complete end to the use of torture by the US state, its agencies and foreign proxies. I expect him to take climate change seriously and produce serious policies to tackle it.

I certainly don’t expect him to withdraw troops from Iraq and Afghanistan tomorrow. I would expect him to negotiate a timetable for withdrawal with the Iraqi government and them ramp up efforts in Afghanistan. I don’t object to this as long as he can stop things like this happening, but I appreciate that others on the left would disagree. I would expect him to have much better relations with Europe and other foreign nations than his predecessor and to improve America’s standing in the world generally. I think this will make it easier to bring about multilateral action over situations such as we have seen in Darfur and are currently seeing the DR Congo, although I am not naive enough to thing this will be some magic wand to solve what are complicated and deep rooted problems. He has said he is willing to talk to the likes of Iran without preconditions and I think this is sensible. I doubt he will bring about a resolution to the Israel/Palestine problem.

So those are my expectations, others may have different ideas, but I don’t thing they are excessive or unreaslistic, and I believe President Obama will on the whole meet them.

*I felt a slight twinge of guilt at typing this after seeing Bush’s gracious and magnanimous speech today, but then I reminded myself of the last eight years.