Watch Obama’s Back

It’s bad enough that President Obama has to clean up the Bush administration’s mess in Guantanamo. Apparently it is too much to expect the Democratic caucus in the Senate to watch his back.

Polls show support for the Republican Party is plunging nearly across the board, while Obama’s approval rating remains over 60% in Gallup polls through May 23.

But Republicans believe they can revive their fortunes by stoking fears that terrorists will be released from Guantanamo and they will be allowed to roam throughout the United States.

Walter Mears wrote for the Associated Press (May 22). “In political debate, the side that keeps its arguments simple and repeats them again and again is likely to gain the advantage. It is an easier sale, especially when the topic is as scary as terrorism. That’s how Republicans got the edge in the dispute over President Barack Obama’s planned closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison. And it put former Vice President Dick Cheney on a separate but almost equal platform with the president of the United States, which is a plus any time the party out of power can manage it.”

Mears noted that there is a downside to Cheney’s premier role: his 25% approval rating and his status as the most unpopular top figure in an unpopular administration. But, unlikely as it seemed, the GOP talking point that Obama planned to let terrorists move next door to Americans scared the Democratic majority in the Senate to join a 90-6 vote on May 19 to deny Obama $80 million to close the notorious prison camp.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) seemed to buy into the GOP talking point after the Senate vote, saying Obama won’t get the funds until he comes up with a satisfactory plan for transferring the 240 detainees held there. “We will never allow terrorists to be released in the United States,” Reid said. A reporter noted, “No one’s talking about releasing them. We’re talking about putting them in prison somewhere in the United States.” Reid replied, “Can’t put them in prison unless you release them.”

Obama proposes to try those who have violated US criminal laws in federal courts. Those who have violated the rules of war, he would try in military commissions. US courts already have found no legitimate reason to hold 21 people who are held at Guantanamo, and he said he must abide by those rulings, but that does not mean he has to release them into the US. He can send them to their home countries or transfer them to third countries. But the toughest class to deal with are those detainees who cannot be prosecuted but pose a clear danger to the American people.

“Al Qaeda terrorists and their affiliates are at war with the United States, and those that we capture—like other prisoners of war—must be prevented from attacking us again,” Obama said. “Having said that, we must recognize that these detention policies cannot be unbounded. They can’t be based simply on what I or the executive branch decide alone. That’s why my administration has begun to reshape the standards that apply to ensure that they are in line with the rule of law. We must have clear, defensible, and lawful standards for those who fall into this category. We must have fair procedures so that we don’t make mistakes. We must have a thorough process of periodic review, so that any prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified.”

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), a libertarian who voted against closing Guantanamo, welcomed the president’s emphasis on congressional oversight and the need for collaboration with Congress after the Bush adminstration held the Congress in contempt. However, Feingold is still concerned about the possibility of indefinite detention without trial for certain detainees. In a letter to Obama, Feingold wrote, “While I recognize that your administration inherited detainees who, because of torture, other forms of coercive interrogations, or other problems related to their detention or the evidence against them, pose considerable challenges to prosecution, holding them indefinitely without trial is inconsistent with the respect for the rule of law that the rest of your speech so eloquently invoked. Indeed, such detention is a hallmark of abusive systems that we have historically criticized around the world. It is hard to imagine that our country would regard as acceptable a system in another country where an individual other than a prisoner of war is held indefinitely without charge or trial.”

Obama also reiterated his opposition to an independent commission to examine the use of torture. “I have opposed the creation of such a Commission because I believe that our existing democratic institutions are strong enough to deliver accountability,” he said. “The Congress can review abuses of our values, and there are ongoing inquiries by the Congress into matters like enhanced interrogation techniques. The Department of Justice and our courts can work through and punish any violations of our laws.”

Obama seems to have more respect for the authority of Congress than Democratic congressional leaders have.

Attorney General Eric Holder should appoint an independent prosecutor to examine what laws have been violated and that prosecutor should present the information to a grand jury. In the meantime, Congress should get to work investigating questionable practices, including discrepancies in the CIA’s briefings of congressional leaders.

Carmakers Drive Off Business

Doing away with local car dealers is a short-sighted, anti-consumer move that won’t help Chrysler or General Motors sell more cars but it threatens more than 100,000 jobs at dealerships.

Chrysler has notified 789 dealers with 40,000 employees that it would end their franchise agreements in June and the company would not buy back unsold vehicles and parts inventories.

GM has told 1,100 dealerships with more than 63,000 workers that it will not renew franchise agreements next year.

Dealers don’t cost the car companies much, if anything. They pay the overhead for their car lots and they fly the flag for their brands. But the consolidation of dealerships has long been sought by the car companies who would like to simplify their distribution network while larger dealers would like to do away with marginal competitors. It could mean short-term bargains for car buyers as cancelled dealers liquidate their inventory. But in the long term, fewer dealers mean less competition, higher prices for new cars and longer drives for service.

In our hometown, Chrysler has cut loose Schuelke Auto of Storm Lake, Iowa, after 75 years with the Chrysler nameplate. Schuelke had always been a distant third in car sales in Storm Lake, but they did sell and service Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep models. Next month there apparently will be no factory-authorized Chrysler service in Buena Vista County, population 20,000. It is highly unlikely that a Storm Laker will go to another county to buy a Chrysler knowing they can’t get it serviced locally. Other “county seat” towns are losing their Chrysler and GM dealerships.

Most of those dealers will simply sell used cars, which generally have higher profit margins than new cars. Don Wunschel, owner of Don’s Chevrolet in Ida Grove, Iowa, who was notified he will lose his franchise, told the Des Moines Register, “There’s nothing glamorous about being a new car dealer.” Mandatory GM expenses he ticked off include bills for computer training programs, “any new tools they come up with” and $150 monthly to rent—he’s not allowed to buy—the GM sign outside his building. “I think now, at least when I shut the door at night and go home, at least the drain on my business is gone,” Wunschel said.

Getting rid of the Schuelkes and the Wunschels from dealer lists might make sense to an MBA in Detroit or on Wall Street who has never sold a car but has been trained to maximize per-unit profit margins. Dealer consolidation makes no sense in rural Iowa—and not much more sense in the cities, either. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, June 15, 2009

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