Silver linings, part 3


Though I’ve been having fun with debunking the right, I see a need to debunk something on the left too. Specifically, I’m referring to this moroseness afflicting many of us who were getting ready to party a year ago as we looked forward to a new Congress and new president. Plenty has gone wrong this year, sure. We poured our personal wealth and elbow grease into electing people who in some cases have disappointed us. It seems we’re always having to give up something really good in hopes of getting just something.

However, a lot went right in 2009, more than many of us have recognized. The health care bill has sucked the air out of the proverbial room. More troops heading to Afghanistan has grabbed most of the attention available for foreign policy. The biggest complaint of many on the left, me included, has been the continuation of Bush policies in regard to civil liberties and human rights.

It’s been long enough since I posted part 2 (and here’s part 1) that I felt a need to explain the point of these posts again. My own experience is I thought this would be one post, and I was surprised when I finished part two that there was plenty for a part 3.

That’s a good thing.

What got me to finally get on this today is something I just learned, and that I’m pretty sure is not common knowledge, but should be. Ever wondered why the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, but the Voting Rights Act was passed separately in 1965? Because the only way to get the Civil Rights Act past the conservative (including the dixiecrats who make up the base of the modern GOP) filibuster was to drop voting rights. Voting rights? And we thought dropping the public option was tough! But voting rights got through the next year, so don’t anyone despair about having to do things incrementally.

So let’s get started, and I think I’ll start with what I expect will be the most controversial silver lining (you can tell me in comments if I’m right), the things that went right in regard to war crimes, human rights and civil liberties.

We’ve made progress on torture. Sometimes it seems like there are two Obama administrations, one run by devotees of the national security state, and the other by the ACLU and Amnesty International. Press accounts of the the release of the torture memos from the Bush administration showed the tough fight between them, but on this one the good guys won. While we’re disappointed about the lack of prosecutions of torturers, let’s acknowledge that with great political risk, AG Holder did start a criminal investigation of interrogators who went beyond DOJ guidelines. Conservatives are angry because they fear, and they’re right, that this investigation could broaden as interrogators refuse to take the fall.

Don’t leave out that Obama admitted the US tortured. This is huge. This was vital in terms of reestablishing US credibility on human rights. Obama has also tried to close the prison at Guantanamo, and I blame Congress for giving in to the fearmonger caucus and blocking him. Unfortunately, the Republicans and a big enough minority of Democrats are either demagogues or scared of demagogues.

We have a more transparent government. It’s far from perfect, but in addition to recovering the missing Bush e-mails I mentioned in part 2, executive power is enough to release White House visitor records, and Obama is declassifying large amounts of cold war documents.

Pawlenty appears to be losing on unallotment. There have been multiple posts already on this yesterday, so I won’t repeat details.

Student loans are coming back under the government. Privatization of student loans created an industry to skim off federal money and help fewer students. This parasitic industry is quite unhappy. They’ll try to beat it in the Senate of course, but it passed the House already and Obama will sign it.

Net neutrality is winning. This is a big deal with little attention. The big ISPs like the cable companies want to charge web sites for access to their bandwidth, which means big sites that can pay load right up, while small sites will seem to be on slow dial-up. The FCC isn’t having it.

ICE is more respectful of human rights. A long-standing human rights abuse in the US has been imprisoning asylum seekers, often with common criminals, sometimes for years, while their cases are being adjudicated. They’re going to stop doing that. It also stopped imprisoning workers when it raids employers using undocumented workers. It had previously let employers go free while workers were held with no chance to contact anyone outside, not even to make arrangements for stranded children.

We’re getting our second stimulus. Though some economists despaired of getting the second stimulus bill they deem necessary but impossible for political reasons, we’re actually getting it; just not all at once. There’s no ARRA Part 2. However, stimulus doesn’t have to be in one bill or carry the jargon-like (and therefore scary) name “stimulus.” A jobs bill is about to go through Congress, with both parties finding it in their interests to appear to be doing something to create jobs. In a hopeful sign Democrats are finally taking framing seriously, they’re saying “jobs bill” instead of “stimulus bill” even though they’re mostly the same thing. This comes after spending increases in the regular appropriations bills, and unemployment extensions. Now if only they can figure out that “public option” will never fly but “Medicare for Everyone” will.

We’ve won on stem cells. Obama reversed Bush’s restriction on embryonic stem cell research. The next Republican president might want to restrict it again, but too late. There will be many lines in use, many projects in progress, maybe even some applied instead of theoretical medical benefits. There’s no going back.

There are good things in the Afghan policy. If you did a double-take at that statement, remember that Obama’s plan is more than just the additional troops. I think they’re pointless at best, but other parts of Obama’s plan make sense, especially recognizing that many Taliban should maybe be “Taliban,” since they’re not always theocrats, but sometimes fighting to remove foreign occupiers or just out of need for a job. Bringing them into the political process will weaken the theocrats, and maybe force them make peace or become irrelevant. Likewise the “civilian surge,” if it works, will address the problem of Afghans seeing no improvement in their lives despite tolerating an occupation. Above all, there now seems to be a recognition that the situation is retrievable only by accepting a resolution far below ideal.

OK, that’s three parts, and I probably missed some things, so feel free to tell me in the comments.