Sunday, November 17, 2013


Oh, Oh, Obama!
The President is having a hard time of it. The New Health Care law is not working as promised. Our supposed allies are furious at US spying on their leaders. Our Mideast policy has everyone saying that Obama is indecisive and a wimp. In politics—still a male dominated occupation—being a wimp is a lot worse than being slightly unhinged like some of the Tea Party folks or intellectually challenged like our previous president.
The problems of the Health Care law are many. The failure of the computer system looks on the outside like sheer incompetence. But it may well be worse than that. In Massachusetts, a private software company had a very large contract to overhaul the unemployment payment system. After spending a lot of money the State got a system that was not, and still is not working. That is only a few years after the Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives went to prison for corruption, involving another software contract that ended with a system that did not work. It is not being paranoid to wonder whether the architects of the Health Care Enrollment web-sites also profited from being good buddies or even financial benefactors of the bureaucrats in charge of the computer portions of the new health care system.
But this is of course only one of the problems of the health care law. Premiums vary from state to state because different private insurance companies are involved. In many places citizens have a dizzying number of different health plans to choose from, each pretty inscrutable because the for-profit companies that sell those plans, are quite willing to mislead their customers. Recently many persons who have had insurance they were satisfied with, had their policies canceled, in spite of Obama's promise that that would not happen. His excuse: it was not the government that canceled the plans but private insurers. But private insurers are the main sellers of insurance. Only the poor are insured by the government, through Medicaid, and the elderly get a portion of their insurance from the government.
But all these problems are a direct result of cobbling together a government program that will enable private, for-profit companies to sell more and more expensive insurance. Obama answers in the affirmative when asked whether it is legitimate for insurance companies, drug companies, hospitals and doctors to make, in some cases, obscene profits off the illness and suffering of their fellow citizens, That is no surprise. When he was first elected, Obama surrounded himself with people closely involved in the wheeling and dealing by bankers and financial speculators who caused the current recession.
Obama appears indecisive. He never says to anyone: “Get thee behind me, Satan.” He is always willing to make accommodations, complicated deals even where his partners are dangerous and quite unscrupulous.
In foreign policy, where Obama is being roundly attacked by everyone, I think we must actually acknowledge that his willingness to negotiate and make deals is to everyone's advantage. He is acting with admirable caution and patience and is, most likely, doing much better than his predecessors and the senators who are grandstanding and accusing him of having no strategic vision.
His critics accuse him of not having a “strategy” – a clear-cut plan like a paint-by-the-numbers picture where you do one thing, and another, to reach a pre-established goal. An example of “having a strategy” was going to Afghanistan and telling the government there to give us Osama bin Laden. If not, we said, we destroy your country. Instead of handing over Osama, as we demanded, they wanted to negotiate. We, however, followed our plan and destroyed their country.
In retrospect that is not really such an admirable method for doing foreign policy. A bit of flexibility would have been really useful.
Obama, by contrast, is cautious and flexible. In very complicated situations with many players and shifting balances of power, he is ready to change his tack when he sees in negotiations a more peaceful, a less destructive possibility. Instead of bombing Syria, he now has people trying to find and destroy its chemical weapons. Instead of continuing harsh talk and treatment of Iran, there are now negotiations about the Iranian nuclear project.
For the sake of peace, he is willing to be accused of being a wimp. One must to admire that.
What Obama fails to see is that the private insurance industry, Wall Street, the banks, and the panoply of government security agencies are a greater threat to our liberties than Syria's poison gas and Iran's nuclear fuel production. While it is the better part of wisdom to negotiate with Iran and Syria, it is a serious error to invite the insurance companies into an expanded national healthcare scheme or to place Wall Street bankers in charge of national economic policy.
If you can persuade the armed gunmen about to invade your house to go away, you have done a great and good thing. If you invite the termites to eat up your house from the inside, you have gone too far with being conciliatory.