The Trump clown car shed some bozos this week, most notably the media’s favorite cabinet member, Rex Tillerson, former head of Exxon Mobil, who managed to seem avuncular and unthreatening in comparison with most of his colleagues – this while he systematically dismantled the State Department. Still, he did appear to be perhaps the greatest naysayer on tearing up the Iran deal. With the Koch Brothers invention Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State, I’m sure we will nudge much closer to the 2000 bombing runs he once suggested as an effective means of halting the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. In a saner age, that alone might have been disqualifying, but certainly not today.
So, we’ll now have an Iran warmonger as chief diplomat. And in Pompeo’s old position at the head of the CIA, we will have the current deputy director Gina Haspel, a veteran of the Bush II-era Agency and a big fan of “rough” interrogation techniques (also known as torture). Haspel was directly involved in a CIA black site in Thailand where the Agency perpetrated torture of numerous individuals, including Abu Zubaydah, who was waterboarded by our operatives 89 times. She arrived after Zubaydah left, but later saw to it that incriminating tapes of this and similar episodes would be destroyed. For all those boning up on obstruction of justice standards in relation to the Trump White House, you might want to apply those standards to Haspel.
The torture crimes – essentially crimes against human dignity – are bad enough. But the fact that Haspel was part of an operation that was instrumental in the abuse of Zubaydah, whose extracted false testimony was key to the Bush administration’s case for invading Iraq, raises this to another level. You know the plausible story on this – Bush/Cheney and company had decided upon the Iraq invasion well before 9/11 (and on some level, before taking office), but they needed a plausible pretext. They had no convincing evidence for their claims regarding an Al Qaeda connection with Saddam Hussein or an active nuclear program, so they put the torturers to work at doing what they do best – getting people to say anything … ANYTHING … to stop the abuse. The very fact that they waterboarded Zubaydah 89 times indicates that they were looking for some response in particular. They got it, bogus as it obviously was, and from that proceeded the catastrophic Iraq war that is still killing people 15 years later – a conflict that, three years in, had resulted in more deaths than the 7-year Syrian civil war.
No one has been held accountable for the crime of the Iraq invasion, nor for the torture regime. I don’t expect that to happen anytime soon, but the least we can do is to stop rewarding the culprits with higher office. Maybe it wouldn’t be entirely fair to start with Haspel, but we have to start somewhere.
The Affordable Care Act went before the Supreme Court again this week, subject to a suit by a Koch brothers-funded right wing organization. The point of contention this time is some wording in the bill that suggests, in isolation from the rest of the bill, that only States can establish exchanges, thereby calling into question federal subsidies for coverage obtained through the federal exchange. Of course, the bill was structured to allow for the States to opt for having the feds set up an exchange if they choose not to do so. Badly drafted? Perhaps. But any bill the size of the ACA is bound to be full of technical errors, contradictions, etc.
Now, technical issues like this have historically been corrected by an act of Congress. This was the case with many major pieces of legislation, such as Medicare. But because our Congress is ideologically driven and dysfunctional in the extreme, this is not even a remote possibility. So it is left to the courts, thanks to the determination of many on the right to hobble and destroy the ACA, as well as many thousands of families who depend upon it. It’s manifestly obvious that disallowing subsidized coverage through the federal exchange will dramatically drive up the cost of health insurance in the affected States, crashing the system and throwing 9 million subscribers into chaos. Just as bad, it will initiate a death spiral of rising rates and canceled policies that will affect many millions more.
So what will it be? Will the Supreme Court knowingly throw the country into chaos? Remains to be seen. It just amazes me the extent to which the Republicans will undermine so quintessentially a conservative idea as the ACA – a market-based solution if ever there was one – just to get the better of this very middle-of-the-road president. They are willing to throw the economy under the bus at every turn. They could bury this problem with a very simple piece of legislation, but that will never happen. The ACA is a point of obsession for them, like Benghazi – it’s a talisman for Obama, and as such, it must be whacked repeatedly.
Lord knows, I loathe defending the ACA. But it’s the law of the land, duly passed and signed, and letting it implode will affect many, many lives.
Netanyahu. Just want to briefly acknowledge the utter stupidity of Netanyahu’s address to Congress. Personally, I think he was more convincing with the cartoon bomb.
So the Reagan/Bush/Bush-appointed reactionary majority on the Supreme Court came down on the side of the mega-Rich in their McCutcheon decision. There‘s a big surprise. They’re just doing what they were hired to do – help the rich tip the scales of justice against the rest of us. Now Shelly Adelson can give the maximum donation to every candidate for every office in the country, from President of the United States to Town Council member of Taberg, NY, and still have money left over from his weekly allowance to buy a spectacular night on the town. (Not Taberg, of course.)
Once again, thank you, George W. Bush, for locking in this reactionary Supreme Court majority for the rest of my natural life. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, like the Iraq war (motto: killing people from Fallujah to Fort Hood since 2003). So we should expect more of this sort of thing; ultimately, I am sure, the remaining flaccid constraints on the outright purchase of our elections by billionaires will be condemned as violations of “speech” and stripped away. McCutcheon was delivered with the same Panglossian assurances offered in Citizens United that, in essence, the market will govern itself. We’ve seen where that goes.
In truth, though, money in politics – outside of plain bribery – is only as effective as we allow it to be. Its main power is in the purchase of advertising, so it crucially relies on our susceptibility to marketing. We can counteract all of Adelson’s and the Kochs’ billions by simply not being gullible, by standing up and voting, by organizing, and by exercising those formal constitutional rights that haven’t yet been excised in service to corporate power. This isn’t easy, but it is possible. Ask anyone who has lived through an oppressive regime – they’ll tell you that people just assume what they’re being told is bullshit. We can do the same thing. We can make their billions worthless. (We saw a small demonstration of that in 2012.)
Let’s do it again this year. Let’s devalue their advantage. It’s the only way out of this mess, frankly.