Just Jake

Jake Highton is a journalism professor at the Reynolds School of Journalism, University of Nevada, Reno. He teaches media law, history of journalism and advanced reporting. Highton is the author of numerous books, including "Nevada Newspaper Days." He writes a weekly column for the Daily Sparks Tribune.

Location: United States

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Republicrats give thumbs up to torture

The Michael Mukasey affair proves once again that essentially one party rules America, the Republicrats. That one party, corporate and Establishment to the core, lends credence to the old lament that “there ain’t a dime’s worth of difference” between the Democrats and Republicans.
Mukasey, the newly anointed U.S. attorney general, refused to call a spade a spade: that waterboarding is torture. That stance alone should have disqualified him to be the high priest of the law.
But that’s all right in the view of supposedly liberal Democrats, Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York and Diane Feinstein of California. The shabby pair voted in the Senate Judiciary Committee with nine Republicans to confirm the torture-approver as head of the Justice Department. That left the eight Democrats on the committee opposing Mukasey twisting in the wind.
As The Nation wrote, Senate confirmation of Mukasey is “collusion by a majority of the Washington political establishment in a specific practice recognized as uncivilized since the Inquisition.”
Schumer again showed his Republicratism by opposing a tax increase on the unconscionable tax breaks for hedge and private equity funds. Why? Schumer is the chief fund-raiser for Senate Democrats. In the first nine months of this year these money barons gave $11.8 million to politicians.
Then there is Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, one of the leading contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination. He coddles the mining industry, defending the give-away mining law (passed in 1872) because it would “burden” the mining firms financially and cost jobs.
It is not surprising that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would defend the indefensible. He’s from the mining state of Nevada. But Obama is supposedly “a fresh face.”
Take trade. Many Democrats rarely have approved free trade deals because of their harmful impact on unions and the environment and their rightful opposition to globalization. But there was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently urging fellow Democrats to vote for still another trade deal, this one with Peru.
Or look at the retrograde appointees by President Bush to the federal courts. Despite a Democratic majority in the Senate, Leslie Southwick of the Mississippi appeals bench was confirmed for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.
The Alliance for Justice issued a report showing that as a lower court judge Southwick was reactionary on worker’s rights, supported homophobic decisions and joined a ruling that took away an 8-year-old girl from her mother because she was a lesbian.
The two-party-is-one is an old political story. As far back as 1947 the Taft-Hartley bill to destroy organized labor became law over President Truman’s veto when 106 House Democrats and 20 Senate Democrats voted to override.
When it comes to Democratic presidential candidates, the difference with Republican candidates is negligible. Alexander Cockburn rightly notes in the book, “Dime’s Worth of Difference,” the issues on which there is two-party agreement: trade, big budgets for the CIA, swollen military budgets, toughness on crime, mandatory, harsh prison sentences, the ersatz war on drugs, corporate welfare, unilateral wars, Israel, demonizing of Castro and Chávez, and money corrupting politics.
Back to Mukasey. Waterboarding is torture--legally, ethically and morally. Indeed, a Japanese officer in 1947 was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for waterboarding an American citizen.
The War Crimes Act of 1996 makes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees a federal crime, which is precisely why President Bush will not allow Mukasey to call torture, torture. Such an admission would put Bush in jeopardy of criminal charges.
Another reason Mukasey should have been rejected: his embrace of expanded powers for the executive. He said warrantless surveillance and “enhanced” interrogation techniques are constitutional. (Enchanced interrogation is one of the long list of government euphemisms that Orwell knew so well.)
Daniel Levin, while serving as assistant attorney general, wanted to see for himself what waterboarding was like. He found out at a military base: it was terrifying. His reward for bravery? He was fired by the White House, branded as “too independent” and someone who “couldn’t be counted on.” It has been ever thus in the Bush White House.
One other point: research clearly shows that torture gets people to talk, to plead, to break--but not to tell the truth.
Yet torture is OK with the Bush administration even though it is repugnant to what America is supposed to stand for.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Socialism, alas, still dirty word in Ameri

It is difficult to see how anybody could remain a Republican after President Bush’s callous and mean-spirited veto of a congressional act to expand children’s health insurance (SCHIP). Kids, for God’s sake!
But, hey, that’s socialized medicine, a taboo in American politics. Socialism is making a pact with the devil. As Bush puts it: children’s health insurance is a dangerous step toward a government-run health program.
Mitt Romney, one of the dreadful GOP candidates for president, adds xenophobia to absurdity by denouncing Hillary Clinton’s totally inadequate national health plan as “European-style socialized medicine.”
But nothing is wrong with the European welfare state except in the warped minds of cretins like Bush and Romney.
Europe’s economy surges while maintaining the fairness and equality of socialism. Europe nearly has cradle-to-grave socialism.
Universal, single-payer health insurance. Child care. Paid sick leave. Paid parental leave. Generous retirement programs. Nearly free higher education.
That’s what socialism is all about. And that’s what a civilized nation provides for its people.
America, in sad contrast, is the richest country on earth but has virtually none of the things that make Europe so great. Until America does have them it will remain uncivilized.
America spends zillions for foolish wars but spends precious little for the things that matter. As Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts has noted: “This is all a matter of priorities. The cost of Iraq is $333 million a day. The cost of SCHIP is $19 million a day.”
Europe has five-week vacations with pay compared with two weeks in America. Europe has a shorter work week. European countries work one full day a week less than Americans do. But Europeans still have the same standard of living as Americans do.
America has privatized so much health care in order for drug makers and insurance firms to reap enormous profits at the expense of ordinary people. That’s obscene capitalism. America remains the only major industrialized nation without universal health insurance.
A study by the Commonwealth Fund in New York finds that the U.S. health care system is the most expensive in the world, double that of any other country. But it is dead last in almost any measure of performance.
The U.S. health care system is the best in the world--for the rich.
Bush, a wealthy man with presidential health perks, declares cavalierly that the 47 million American without health insurance always can go to hospital emergency rooms.
Meanwhile, employers have cut back or eliminated health benefits. Many families, unable to keep up with soaring health costs, are unable to buy insurance at a reasonable rate. Medical costs are the leading cause of personal bankruptcy.
Moreover, as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman writes: “Most uninsured adults report cutting corners on medical care to save money, failing to fill prescriptions, skipping medications and going without preventive care.”
More than half of America’s low-wage earners, in the range of $20,000 a year, are not covered. But as Jim Hightower in his Lowdown newsletter notes: “The Bushites view health as a consumer good not a part of the common good”…“People who need care are not patients but customers.”
Hightower, noting that health care is not a market need but a human need, quotes Martin Luther King: “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”
Catastrophic medical cases for people without insurance are the worst. They can’t get insured. Another serious problem is self-employed people who cannot get affordable insurance.
Since a woefully malapportioned Senate is unlikely anytime soon to enact universal health insurance, states across the country are experimenting with different ideas to solve the problem, from universal health care to requiring box stores like Wal-Mart to insure their employees. As Justice Brandeis pointed out, states are laboratories, free to make social and economic experiments when Congress refuses to act for the public good.
Michael Moore’s documentary last summer, “Sicko,” was a powerful plea for national health insurance. The film asks: “Who are we?” The answer is plain: grossly immoral.
Tony Benn, a Labor Party legend, talks to Moore in the film about the British National Health Service passed by Labor in 1948. It was not state paternalism but a triumph of social democracy, Benn said.
America, a great country? No. It is a terrible country. Its lack of national health and other socialistic measures is unconscionable.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Castro: one of great revolutionaries

The outrages of President Bush never cease. The latest outrage: interference in the politics of Cuba.

Bush: “The socialist paradise is a tropical gulag.” (Cuba has national health insurance, the United States does not.)

Bush: “Once revealed (all the horrors of Cuba), will shock the conscience of the world.” (The conscience of the world is already shocked by the U.S. occupation of Iraq.)

Bush: “We will know there is a new Cuba when a free and independent press has the power to operate without censors.” (Self-censorship reigns in America today. Example: the New York Times sat on a story about National Security Agency spying for one year at the behest of the White House, costing John Kerry the presidential election in 2004.)

Bush calls for democratic reforms in Cuba. (The kind that gave Bush the presidency in 2000, gift of the Electoral College and the Supreme Court?)

It is true that Cuba under Castro is a totalitarian society where dissenters are jailed. But it is also true that the United States has demonized and isolated Cuba under 10 presidents since the Cuban social revolution triumphed in 1959.

As The Nation wrote earlier this year: “Cuba has consistently faced both threatened and real assassination attempts, sabotage efforts, armed attacks and bombings, infamous among them the midair destruction of a Cubana passenger plane in 1976.”

These nefarious efforts have often been engineered by the CIA, past masters of coups. They show the unremitting American hostility to Cuba.

For 16 straight years the United Nations General Assembly has passed a resolution condemning the U.S. embargo of Cuba. The vote is usually 182-4 with the United States, Israel, Palau and the Marshall Islands dissenting.

Politics is everything to Bush even in the twilight of his presidency. Domestic politics pleasing to Cuban Americans in Miami trumps foreign policy.

Bush urges Latin American governments to end their opposition to the embargo. Why should they? Venezuela-led Hugo Chávez and Bolivia-led Evo Morales are also leftists who are friends of Castro.

U.S. sanctions bar American tourists from visiting Cuba. Sanctions prevent the importation of goods. Isn’t that economic war?

The sanctions extend to the arts and academics. Dancers from the New York City Ballet were denied the right to attend an international festival in Cuba. The State Department denied visas in 2004 to 65 Cuban scholars wanting to attend an international conference.

So much for America’s boast about the free exchange of ideas, academic inquiry and freedom to travel.

A year ago Z magazine ran an article that has more than the sting of truth. Namely, Cuba will soon be brought back into “the family of U.S. colonies.” In that glorious post-Castro era, America will privatize “Cuban communication, electric power, transport, mining, industry, agriculture, medical and other productive enterprise.” A capitalist Utopia!

It was ever thus. The United States has intervened in Cuba for more than 100 years with its plundering, repression and imperialism. You don’t have to be a leftist to find that sordid history despicable.

Then there is the outrage of Guantánamo Bay. It is a legacy of America’s trampling on the sovereignity of other nations. Congress passed the Platt Amendment in 1901 compelling Cuba to “sell or lease to the United States lands necessary for coaling or naval stations.” Unfortunately, the Cuban Constitutional Convention foolishly ratified the land grab.

America invaded Cuba in 1961 with counter-revolutionary forces financed, armed, trained and guided by private and official American leaders. It was a blatant violation of U.S. neutrality laws and illegal entry into sovereign territory.

Other Cuban plusses abound. It has no malnutrition. Its doctor-patient ratio is better than the U.S average. The World Health Organization commends Cuba for its literacy levels. Cuba’s rates of infant mortality are lower and life expectancy higher than in America. Cuba operates humanitarian missions in 68 nations.

In 2005 it had 1,800 doctors from 47 developing nations graduate after receiving scholarships. In 2006, 100 U.S. medical students received a free education in Cuba. Cuba is a world leader in cancer research and treatment.

History has already absolved Fidel Castro. He is one of the world’s great revolutionaries joining Lenin, Trotsky and Mao with their visions of worldwide socialism. As for Bush, his obsessing about Cuba is one of his many crimes against humanity.

Let us hope that some enlightened administration decades hence will end the economic boycott of Cuba and open diplomatic relations.