Sunday, January 25, 2009

Work To Be Done

The euphoria over the inauguration is starting to subside as the Obama administration gets down to the work of running the country. The Republicans in the House and Senate are starting to show what their idea of bipartisanship is by slowing down the confirmation hearings of both the Secretary of State and the Attorney General. The overwhelming Democratic majorities will help to push Obama's agenda over the next two years, but I don't think that we are quite in the era of cooperation that we would have hoped for. There are a host of issues that this administration has to tackle in order to undo the damage of the past eight years, but I just wanted to pass along my personal wishlist. These are not the only issues facing the country, but they are the ones that I believe demand the most attention.

My first issue for the Obama administration is Afghanistan. Concurrent with our withdrawal from Iraq, the President has already said that he will be increasing our presence in Afghanistan. The issue that I have with the war in Afghanistan is the same one I had with Iraq. There is no real definition of "victory". We are essentially fighting a guerrilla war against small bands of terrorists across a vast stretch of land. I really would like to know what our ultimate goal is in Afghanistan. Is the goal to wipe out the Taliban and all the terrorists in the area? If so, that seems to be an unreasonable goal. Is the goal to set up a government that is capable of withstanding the challenges from the Taliban or a similar terrorist group? That also seems unreasonable. The Soviet Union tried and failed to subdue similar elements in Afghanistan. In fact that war played a big part in their ultimate dismantling. While I don't think a war of any length would have the same effect here, I do think that the United States is in for a similar fate in the disposition of the war if we do not decide exactly what our goals are there. They cannot be a moving target, as they were in Iraq, but a definite set of reachable objectives that would signal the end of our involvement there. I never heard that from the Bush administration and I have yet to hear from Obama. During the campaign he stated that our efforts in Iraq were misdirected and that we should have been focusing on Afghanistan all along. I have no issue with that, but I do need to know what our exit strategy is. A long term occupation of a country in the Middle East only leads to the breeding of more extremists. Without an exit strategy, we risk a never ending war and the creation of a new generation of people who are dedicated to our downfall.

The second issue on my list is healthcare. The United States is the only industrialized nation that does not provide healthcare for its citizens. There are currently almost 50 million people in this country who do not have healthcare. There are many more whose coverage is insufficient to meet all their needs. I have heard many Conservatives bemoan the possibility of a government run healthcare system. They seem to feel that even when it comes to the health of their fellow citizens that the rule of nature should apply. However, this is not the jungle. It seems almost inconceivable to me that this country, which is still the richest on the planet by far, would allow it's citizens to die needlessly because they can't afford a visit to the doctor or dentist. How can any of us sleep at night knowing that there are children who will die needlessly because of simple infections? How can we allow people to be saddled with mountainous debts because the treatment that saved their lives, wasn't covered by their insurance? How can we continue to make people chose between debt and death? I am sure that the Republicans in the Congress would never allow real comprehensive healthcare reform to take place. Obama has promised some form of universal healthcare, but there are many forces lined up against him. The lobbyists for the drug companies, the lobbyists for the medical profession, the lobbyists from the insurance companies, are all going to be applying as much pressure as possible to make sure that this gravy train keeps on rolling. The human cost in lives lost and lives destroyed is never taken into account.

My next issue is education. President Obama is an example of what a superior education can produce. Unfortunately, our public schools, are for the most part, incapable of producing such a person. We have allowed our public schools to fall into such a state of disrepair that practically every parent who can afford an alternative takes it. The teachers in our public schools are underpaid and overwhelmed. The facilities are crumbling and pushed to their limits. The textbooks are as outdated as the technology. We put programs in place to try and improve performance, but they are not adequately funded. No child left behind is a great idea, but if there is no follow through, then there are many who are left behind. The election of President Obama will give our children hope that they can become anything they want, but our public education system will give them their first taste of reality. Something must be done and done quickly. We are losing generations of kids to crime, to drug addiction, to hopelessness. Obama is in the best position of any President of modern times to address this situation. He has the ability to inspire, but more importantly, the children of this country need more than inspiration, they need a better system. The kids are willing to meet the system half way, but we cannot ask them to do it all themselves.

The last issue for today (I reserve the right to add more issues to the list) is probably the most important and that is having an Executive branch that acts in accordance with and respects the Constitution. For the past eight years we have been subjected to an administration that viewed the Constitution as a nuisance. Will we, as citizens of the United States, be allowed to live our lives free from the threat of torture, free from the threat of illegal search and seizure, free from the threat of recriminations for political dissent? That is the question for this administration. President Obama said in his inauguration speech that the choice between safety and our ideals is a false one. I can only hope that he will live up to that statement. When I hear about possible loopholes in the ban against torture, I shudder. Who ever thought that there would come a day when the government of the United States would be in the business of institutionalized torture? As more information about the transgressions of the Bush administration comes to light, we will see just how far down the road we came from the republic that we are supposed to be. It is up to this administration to put us back on the right track. It will be tempting to hold on to some of the measures that were put in place under the previous administration, but the President cannot allow us anything less than a complete repudiation of those methods and measures that are counter to our Constitution. This country was founded on the ideals of freedom and transparency, let us hope that we are seeing a return to what made us great.


SJ said...

It's interesting that no one's talking about how healthcare costs are hurting the automakers and other manfacturers in America. That should be addressed before any talk of bail outs for big industry. It would lighten their operating load/costs and help the average American out.

Jack Jodell said...

Outstanding analysis, and it's interesting to note that many of the problems in each issue you mention were either caused by, or worsened by, the Bush regime's incompetence and adherence to disastrous neocon dogma. When we mention Afghanistan, we may as well include Pakistan, as the Taliban and related fundamentalist Islamists control large chunks of each country, and the border between them is a joke. Clearly, the capture and trial of Bin Laden before the world would be a hugely beneficial step. Short of that, our military effort will undoubtedly result in another costly quagmire, unless we can garner overwhelming numerical support from other NATO or United Nations countries, which is quite doubtful. We have tried, on a limited basis, to win the hearts and minds of Afghanis by setting up schools and building roads. That should continue and be vastly increased. But every time we indicriminately bomb a village and kill innocent civilians, it directly defeats our purpose. There is one approach we have not tried that I think would be very helpful long term. Why don't we set up a "Radio Free Islam" and/or a "TV Free Islam" similar to the old Radio Free Europe which used to be beamed into the Iron Curtain countries? Such a media barrage could show that western influence isn't all bad, could appeal to more moderate minds, could clearly reinforce Obama's point that we intend to build while the fundamentalists intend to destroy, and at the very least could create debate and sow disunity throughout fundamentalist ranks.
The state of our healthcare and the unnecessarily dominant, for-profit-only role the despicable insurance industry plays in it is completely unforgivable and is in need of immediate radical overhaul. It is no longer merely a broken system; it has become a destructive system. The insurance and pharmaceutical companies have been having a field day. It is high time the PEOPLE started getting their money's worth!
Education reform, REAL reform and infrastructure repair, is absolutely vital. Obama must stand firm and not allow the sorely mistaken and tax-cut-happy GOP to derail his drive for proper infrastructure funding. Schools need immediate repair and refurbishing, and teachers must be once more given the power to discipline, whatever it takes.
Regarding powers of the executive branch, we can all be grateful Obama is now in the White House and that he will not be appointing any more Bush/Cheney-style, pro "all power to the executive branch" type justices to the Supreme Court. Congress must draft legislation, and Obama must sign it, more clearly defining the role and powers of the VP and President, so we never again experience the blatant abuses of power we did in the Bush regime. But the buck can't stop there. Bush, Cheney, and other key members of the Bush administration must be brought up on constitutional abuse charges as well as for war crimes and crimes against humanity. To simply "look forward" and not prosecute these offenses would set a horrible precedent some future President even worse than Bush may wish to emulate and even expand upon. That must NEVER happen!

Michael Hew said...

Thanks again for the comments, Jack. I always look forward to your analysis. It's usually better than my article.

Jack Jodell said...

Wow---thank YOU for THAT, Michael! I don't know, though---both your and SJ's articles tend to be outstandingly good! :)