- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

Dec. 15

The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tennessee, on torture:

Perhaps some of the 6 million documents that form the basis of the still-secret Senate report on the CIA’s treatment of foreigners suspected of terrorism will answer the question:

Why didn’t the CIA use the skilled interrogators it had access to instead of subjecting the detainees to torture and brutality that the initial release of documents says provided little information?

The U.S. military, the FBI, the New York City Police Department and even the CIA’s own staff have interrogators familiar with the language, culture and customs of the people they are questioning without resorting to violence of the kind that has destroyed what was left of America’s reputation as a bastion of human rights after Guantánamo Bay wrecked most of it.

The CIA leadership defends the torture that goes under the euphemism of enhanced interrogation techniques, saying such practices yield valuable and actionable information. But what else are they going to say, given the need to protect their agency?

The big break in the case that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden was the capture of Hassan Ghul, who identified bin Laden’s regular courier. Under questioning by a CIA professional, an agency operative said, “He sang like a tweetie bird. He opened up right away and was cooperative from the outset.”

But, for whatever reason, he was transferred to a secret prison, tortured and provided no further useful information.

President George W. Bush claimed that the harsh interrogation of two al-Qaida operatives helped capture alleged 9/11 mastermind Sheikh Khalid Mohammed. But, the report suggests that a $25 million reward to a still unidentified informant played at least as much if not more of a role in bin Laden’s apprehension.

Disregarding their own experts, the CIA heeded an $81 million report by two creators of the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape plan, based on withstanding the techniques the Chinese Communists used on captured American GIs.

For considerably less money the CIA could have interviewed survivors of those prison camps and, for a briefing on more contemporary techniques of trying to break POWs, they could have talked to ex-North Vietnamese prisoner Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona.

McCain is opposed to torture and, considering what little information, some of it highly questionable and some of it pure fantasy, we gained at the cost of our international standing as a moral exemplar, he’s right.




Dec. 17

News Sentinel, Knoxville, Tennessee, on Medicaid:

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam finally delivered a proposal to expand Medicaid in the state, offering hope that about 200,000 low-income Tennesseans will be able to obtain health insurance coverage.

Haslam announced his Insure Tennessee plan on Monday. The culmination of negotiations over the past year and a half, the plan offers two paths to insurance coverage for adults making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

In developing Insure Tennessee, Haslam had to navigate between Tennessee’s Republican legislative majority and the Obama administration’s insistence on following the basic requirements of the Medicaid program.

Haslam’s persistence, combined with the flexibility of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has resulted in a reasonable and workable two-year pilot program that deserves widespread support. HHS has indicated it approves the plan, pending the submission of a formal waiver.

In the meantime, Haslam will call a special legislative session focusing only on Insure Tennessee once the 109th General Assembly convenes in Nashville next month. Haslam will ask lawmakers to approve a program that will give two choices to qualified Tennesseans with incomes below $16,100 for an individual and $27,300 for a family of three.

All eligible participants will receive counseling to assist them in exercising their options.

Haslam is the 10th Republican governor willing to expand Medicaid as allowed under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. If approved, Tennessee will join 27 other states and the District of Columbia in expanding Medicaid.

While it would have been simpler just to expand TennCare, the Republican-dominated Legislature would block any unalloyed segment of the Affordable Care Act. GOP lawmakers on the far right of the political spectrum likely will oppose Insure Tennessee, regardless of its merits, but Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey indicated that passage is possible.

Popular support might be a key factor. Haslam’s approval rating is 70 percent, according to a Vanderbilt University poll, and 56 percent of eligible voters support Medicaid expansion.




Dec. 15

Paris (Tennessee) Post-Intelligencer on AARP:

In a letter to its members, the American Assocation of Retired Persons once again pleads with senior citizens to urge Congress to keep hands off benefits for the elderly.

The true way to mend budget problems is “trimming tax loopholes or wasteful spending,” it says.

That’s bunk, and AARP knows it. Tax loopholes and government waste come nowhere close to the kind of budget angst that will be necessary to erase the deficit.

A budget study last year showed that even if we eliminated every discretionary spending department of government - agriculture, education, interior and all the rest, even defense - if we did away with every department of government except for those that deal in allotments to people, we’d still have a deficit budget.

AARP is correct in saying that cutting Social Security and Medicare would not solve the budget crisis.

What it declines to point out is that any practical path to budget solvency must include Social Security and Medicare.

Benefits to the elderly and sick alone can’t cure the budget mess, but they must be part of the process.

The budget is so far out of whack that the only solution is going to hurt every American. All of us must share in the suffering.

This message is aimed not only at AARP, but at every program and department of the national government.

All must share in the repair process, which will have to include not only budget cutting across the board, but also higher taxes.

That 2013 study calculated that if we wanted to balance the budget solely by raising taxes, we’d need a 46 percent tax hike to eliminate the deficit.

That big a tax hike is an obvious impossibility. The solution calls on all of us to share in both, spending cuts and higher taxes.

Unless we do that, we’re agreeing to let our grandchildren solve the mess we’ve created.



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