Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Shooting Up with Health Care

I haven’t paid much attention to all the noise over health care reform the reasons being when confronted with the most corrupt Congress since the Gilded Age and Obama’s unwillingness to take a stand on anything, not to mention the incredible power (literally of life and death) wielded by the insurance companies, I would be astounded that anything that made as much sense as expanding Medicare to everyone is likely to happen though I would be gladly proven wrong but it just isn’t in the cards.

And on top of all that this is compounded by the incredibly expensive wars and occupations we are now saddled with so really a lot of this comes down to what you want, an empire or would you prefer to have access to medical care. Oh yeah, right, really I want to bring democracy to I’ve-never-heard-of-this-place-stan. It’s like what I’ve always dreamed of – democracy in Afghanistan. Who could possibly want more out of life than democracy in Afghanistan? It sounds stupid I know but this is the great choice now facing and being ignored by our leaders. Do we pursue empire or do we keep the U.S. from collapsing in on itself like a rickety house eaten from the inside out by termites. I don’t know why I say “we” as “we” really don’t have any say in this anyway.

Consider this Obama quote from McClatchy.


"And I have to say, the reason this has been controversial is, you know, a lot of people have heard this phrase 'socialized medicine.' And they say, 'We don't want government-run health care,' "he said, adding, "Nobody's talking about that."

There you have it. The thing regarding Obama is you have to actually listen to what he says and what he says regarding a government health care plan is “Nobody’s talking about that.” What Obama is really saying is he isn’t talking about that because Obama just lied to you when he said people don’t want a single payer plan, at least according to these polls which show 59 percent of those polled would like to see Medicare expanded to everyone. This should surprise nobody considering high unemployment rates, a lousy economy with no sign that there is anything in the universe that could turn it around, certainly by not the present group of clowns now occupying the White House. But go read the whole article, it left me with the impression that we would be lucky to get a free bottle of aspirin from our pals in Washington.

We’ll be lucky if they don’t destroy Social Security much less let us have a single payer health care plan.

We’ll be lucky if instead of expanding Medicare that they don’t dismantle it altogether.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Why I mistrust Obamacare, pt 2

A reminder(above). This is from a speech Obama gave in Chicago in 2003. I guess that was then.

See also:

San Francisco Chronicle/AP, July 3rd:
"Under Senate health care plan, either way you pay"

John Dickerson, Slate, Tuesday, July 7, 2009:
"Going Public, Quietly: Why Obama wants to be as vague as possible about health care reform"

Michael Lind, Salon, July 21st: "Healthcare reform: More raw deal than New Deal"
We need universal, citizen-based healthcare. It doesn't look like Obama and Congress are ready to give it to us

Bruce A. Dixon, Black Agenda Report,Weds, 07/22/2009:
"Is the Obama Health Care Plan Really Better Than Nothing?"

(via Skookum)

Lambert at Corrente, 7/21:
'How the Dems and "progressives" are selling you the "bait and switch" of public option'

and finally, Wikepedia's US healthcare reform article, which keeps growing. More later.

cross-posted at Hugo Zoom.

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briefly, regarding Henry Louis Gates

Initially I wanted to avoid discussing the Gates arrest (Bob in Pacifica has a useful discussion here), but I wanted to note that the National Broadcasting System nightly news just did a story about the 911 tape being released, and they played the portion telling the addr9ess. (I don't want searchers looking for that info finding this link.) I used to think this sort of thing was strictly Sean Hannity/Bill O'Reilley/Michelle Malkin type behavior, but I guess more and more formerly disreputable journalistic behavior is becoming "the new normal". Normal or not, they're still S.O.B.'s.

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Saturday 25 July 09

Gawker's headline read:
"John Yoo Briefly Disturbed By Consequences of His Actions"

(via xymphora)

Salon commenter "mary_steyr" refers to that portal as
"the Parade Magazine of the Volvo and latte set"

not all lefty bloggers are bowled over by Obama's presumptive charm and agenda. Here's Avedon Carol:

people are starting to notice that Obama is just more of the same, only with better syntax. Maybe it's true that his ego made him think "bold" and decide to get a healthcare package this year, even if it's a crap package - but I doubt it. I think his desire to be seen as "respectable" by a bunch of right-wingers led him to shy away from presenting a plan that really works and making the case for it. He hasn't been bold at all - he's backed way off of single-payer, of ending the war, of transparency, of basically every promise he made or implied he was making. He knows perfectly well no one voted him in to give their money to Goldman Sachs and force them to buy crappy health insurance that still doesn't deliver healthcare. He's blown it because he didn't have the guts to do the business.

I wish I knew how to embed this very brief and very droll animation by Ann Telnaes.

Humana has an animation up as well, designed to explain health care reform, or to avoid explaining while seeming to, depending on your point of view. To be fair it's no worse than what various pols like Obama or Charles Grasley have been saying by way of explanations. It includes that by now familiar insinuation about how people who don't have insurance are primarily healthy people who just don't want to get insurance until they need it. The greedy uninsured, driving costs up for everyone. How many people actually believe this?

cross-posted at Hugo Zoom.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

The New York Times: All the News that is Fit to Forget

As my friend Jonathan Versen has so appropriately pointed out on more than one occasion the state of the mainstream news is responsible for much misunderstanding regarding reality and that alternative news outlets ought to be supported.A New York Times article regarding Hillary Clinton and her latest spate of threatening Iran provides an example of why Jonathan is correct.

What continues to amaze me, though it shouldn’t, is how the New York Times erases history by amputating whole limbs of it. The article is ridiculous on many levels so where to begin? Hillary speaks of providing an umbrella, protection from Iran, for those nations in the vicinity of Iran. Once again we are asked to believe the unbelievable. Iran hasn’t threatened anyone in their region yet Hillary is determined to protect everyone from a non-existent threat. These are tactics employed by any bully looking to start a fight. And one would think -- knowing that the NYT is the cornerstone of democracy and the guardian of the flame of truth -- that surely they would point out any little problem with Hillary’s comments but astonishingly the people who write for the NYT don't even read their own newspaper! And rather than pointing out problems we find the following.


It also signified increasing concern in Washington that other Middle East states — notably Saudi Arabia and Egypt — might be tempted to pursue their own nuclear programs for fear Iran was growing closer to realizing its presumed nuclear ambitions.

The NYT is clearly saying that Iran has presumed nuclear ambitions yet it does not state anywhere the source of this intelligence. Where did it come from? Did they just pull it out of their …hat? No, it comes from Obama and his administration. This isn’t just bad reporting because this statement is clearly meant to mislead anyone reading the article into assuming Iran is not only developing nuclear weapons but that Iran is also a regional threat. That is nothing but an out and out lie.

Hillary’s particular brand of “diplomacy” (read bullying) bears a strong resemblance to that employed by Junior George in the months preceding the invasion of Iraq. Bush made claims of trying diplomacy with Saddam and then stating that Saddam had not responded properly. And here is Hillary essentially doing the same thing except this time with Iran.


Mrs. Clinton said she was trying to make even starker the choice Iran faced if it did not agree to abandon its program.

Here again Hillary is making a demand that cannot be met because how do you abandon something that you aren’t doing in the first place?

The entire article is based on a bedrock of lies which is used as a base to support more lies. Of course this is why people need to go beyond the mainstream news to alternate news outlets. People often ask well how do you know these alternate news outlets are reliable while the mainstream is not. I would suggest that to ask shows a healthy skepticism yet where is that same skepticism when it comes to the mainstream news? To see how bad the news is all you have to do is read it from a critical stance. You can see for yourself how facts are purposefully left out and history almost entirely erased. In the end you have to use your own judgment but if people never take the time or make the really rather small effort to go beyond the mainstream news then they have only themselves to blame if they find themselves brainwashed.

Again I do not believe that the news is at the root of America’s imperial ambitions and that even if the mainstream news was a bit more, shall we say, accurate it would not stop the bloodshed by itself. Yet it seems to me that having accurate reporting accomplished in an unbiased manner couldn’t hurt either. But to expect that to occur is to fail to realize what the function of the mainstream news is.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

All We Know

Is there anything to write about that hasn’t already been written? Is there anything to be said about humanity that hasn’t already been said? The news, it’s always the same; so-and-so said this and everyone is outraged, or everyone laughed, or everyone wept or no one did any of these things. Or there is another invasion, another explosion, another bomb, and responses were voiced, blood spilled, bodies mangled, voices – silenced.

The news lies to us, the politicians lie to us, the journalists lie to us, the commercials lie to us, the experts lie to us, and we lie to each other and to ourselves. This is what we refer to as our “world view.”

So is it our fault if that is all we know? Yes, I’m afraid it is, for you see there is really no one else to blame.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Consumer culture as a balm against reality, now in Hebrew

According to Noam at the Promised Land blog , the tagline of this Cellcom ad is “What do we all want? Some fun, that’s all”.

as Anya Achtenberg wrote in the comments there:

I wanted to find a shred of hope in this absurd commercial — the possibility of a communal game, Palestinians and Israeli Jews. Absurd. What is on the other side of the wall is meant to be hidden. Some sort of animals the IDF must keep in line. Playful at the moment. But still animals to be hidden, disappeared, kept behind a wall. A wall? A concrete monstrosity.

via Helena Cobban, who notes one commenter's view that the ad

"was most likely conceived and designed by high-ups in the advertising company-- and that they would have designed it to appeal to the broadest possible zeitgeist in (Jewish) Israeli society".

In other words, it wasn't calculated to shock Israelis, the presumption being most are OK with the wall. She also has a piece at the Boston Review on the decline of the Israeli peace movement, which she also discusses in her blog, in which she argues that in the past 10-15 years a lot of moderate to dovish Israelis have simply left Israel. She doesn't explicitly spell out the demographic consequence, nor does she see it as a principal cause(it was left out of the BR piece by the editors), but the meaning is clear.

How far has the peace movement fallen? One benchmark for comparison is the war that Sharon and former Prime Minister Menachem Begin launched against the PLO in Lebanon in 1982. In September of that year, Lebanese Falangists, operating (as Ari Folman’s brilliant film Waltz with Bashir reminds us) with extensive support from the Israeli military, undertook a two-day massacre in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis—as much as 20 percent of the population at the time—took to the streets in outrage, forcing the government to establish the Kahan Commission, which recommended serious sanctions for Sharon.
By contrast, pollsters found that 94 percent of Jewish Israelis supported the recent war in Gaza. Veteran peace activist Daphna Golan, who teaches human rights law at Hebrew University, recalled the anguish and isolation she felt during the Gaza war, especially in the face of widespread pro-war activism among Hebrew University students. Golan said university authorities did not respond to her complaints about posters she described as “extremely racist” hung at the entrance of the Givat Ram campus.

N.B. For some reason I had difficulty accessing the BR article directly through the linked URL, as it seemed their server was rejecting the hyperlink. So I had to go to their homepage, where the article, "Peace Out" is currently listed, although you can probably use their in-site search window if need be. Anyway it's worth reading, and if you have difficulty like I did the URL is here:



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Monday, July 20, 2009

Why I mistrust Obamacare, pt 1

This is what I wrote in response to dday's "Whitling Down to Nothing" at Digby's Hullabaloo earlier this month.

First, I quoted another commenter, "pataphysician":

"I'm worried that a Health Care "reform" bill will be passed and signed that will include mandates, and taxing of Employer health benefits, with no public option and only subsidies for those who rank among the poor. Obama ran against many of these ideas, only to say now that he is Ok with them. That he says that now, makes me worried that they will happen. This would be much, much worse than our current system, as we will all be paying taxes essentially to private insurance companies for some of the crappiest care possible."

[incidentally, the comment thread led me to believe that Digby's commenters, by and large, seem to "get it" more than the people who write the blog. The bloggers are undoubtedly decent and well-meaning, but their perspective seems compromised by their apparent need to carry water for supposedly mainstream congressional democrats.-JV]

I wrote:

As Digby said earlier, if any sort of healthcare reform bill passes, the democrats will own it. Mandates and extra taxes will stoke class resentment while essentially helping nobody-- apart from the private insurance companies and people eager to paint democrats as being the stuff of the worst republican stereotypes: intrusive government(mandates), and more taxes for negligible benefits that only accrue to the very poor.

I am poor, and I don't want the democrat's plan. It's not because I'm stupid, but because it will likely cause me harm and make me poorer still. Consider: if a plan with mandates forcing employers to provide health insurance for their workers or for individuals to buy their own insurance passes, poor people like me will just have to hand over a certain portion of our very meager incomes to insurance companies for worthless insurance plans just so we can "stay legal."

Oh, but what about your employer? If your subsistence job as a cashier used to offer no benefits, now it will have to...

I doubt it. Far more likely I will lose my job and be reoffered the same job, only reclassified as an "independent contractor," doing the same work after agreeing to the new job(shh! employment contract) description in which I "voluntarily" surrender my benefits. Maybe my employer will even provide a handy toll-free number to call where I can have a call center rep offer me advice on how to score government benefits, or choose between private plans.

well, if that happens, you would get assistance paying for your insurance from the government...

I doubt this too. The 1st TNR article you quote says that subsidies presently taper off at around 88 thou for a family of four. How much do you want to bet this will be adjusted downward in the negotiation towards a final bill, and that if I get a job that pays as little as ten bucks an hour I will suddenly find myself making too much for the subsidy? (And besides, why should I be humbled into accepting a subsidy because I'm suddenly obligated to by insurance? Screw paternalistic politicians of all stripes, on both the left and the right, who want me to beg.)

Well, at least you'll have insurance...

Will I? Digby and dday, I invite you to go to some online price-comparison service that offers health insurance quotes. If you do go to such a site(they often have ads on Yahoo and other mass portals), you'll see that many of the larger insurance companies offer multiple insurance products, that range from over 500 bucks a month to less than 100/month.

If I'm making 10 or even 11 an hour, even if single and without dependents like me, the bells-and-whistles policies are essentially out of reach, and all I might hope to afford is a sub-100/month policy.

They usually have a 5,000/yr dollar deductible. I saw one company that also offered a max deductible of 7500/yr. Generally these policies only pay once you've met the deductible, period. No payment for a routine dr's visit, or even to go to the emergency room, and no prescription drug benefit.(I've also seen slightly more "expensive" plans that do offer prescription drug coverage, usually paying 50% of the cash cost, usually with a 500 or 1,000/yr limit.

So, if it plays out as I've suggested, and if I'm making 10 bucks an hour(I wish!)and don't qualify for a subsidy, maybe I'll have to shell out 600,700,800 or more bucks a year for phoney-baloney coverage, even though I'm poor, just so the government doesn't fine me and pays me my tax refund.(Money I could be otherwise spending, on say, actual healthcare, like when I need to fill a prescription.)

No thanks.

If this kind of twisted "health care reform" passes, it'll be worse if than nothing passes for the working poor.

In fact it will also make subsequent fixing of the bad law substantially harder, because the private insurance companies will fight like hell to hold on to the subsidy they gained under Obama in 2009.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Ray McGovern in Denton

This past Friday Ray McGovern came here to Denton, about 35 miles north of Dallas, to give a lecture about torture and the politicization of the CIA. As you may already know he was in Dallas(Richardson) the day before, and discussed his planning on speaking there in Counterpunch last Thursday. McGovern is a retired CIA analyst who first came to wider prominence when he publicly confronted Donald Rumsfeld a few years ago about his inconsistent statements regarding the likelihood that Saddam had WMDs.

McGovern seems like a nice enough person, but implicit in his spiel, if I'm reading it right , is that Gitmo and Bush II should be regarded as aberrations. He also said that Obama was heroic for releasing the torture memos(!), and that he regarded McNamara as a tragic figure(!!). To his credit he did criticize Panetta for not being sufficiently forthcoming, and noted that the US hasn't stopped torturing post GWB. It may be that he was being diplomatic in praising Obama, per reading his audience on Friday night as party-line rank-and-file dems who couldn't otherwise be reached unless you avoid criticizing Obama. I don't know enough about McGovern to judge. There is no video of the speech he gave here in Denton, but it was very similar to the video of the full speech he gave in Seattle in March(about 56:00, link here) which is what the 7 minute excerpt above is drawn from. At around the 8 minute mark he says "on January 20th we got rid of the Nazis" which he didn't say in Denton but seems in keeping with the tenor of the speech I heard. A goodly portion of his speech, both in the 56 minute link and last week, was about fighting the good fight, etc, etc, and the importance of resistance irrespective of the likelihood of success.

To me, fighting the good fight irrespective of the odds of success in 2008 would've meant, at the very least, voting for a third party candidate like Cynthia McKinney or Nader in order to register discontent with the corrupt prevailing political order. But my sense, sitting in the small crowd of 30-35 or so people who attended, was I surrounded by democratic party faithful, most of whom would have a hard time doing that, even here in solidly red Texas.

My sense also was that McGovern wasn't about to suggest such a strategy to the gathered group. In the brief Q and A at the end of his talk, one lady asked, "what can we do, to show our friends and neighbors who are so preoccupied with religion and believe whatever their preachers tell them about republicans and the war, how they're misguided and show them the...more enlightened view?"

Mine is a very rough paraphrase and I don't know if I'm adequately capturing her sentiment. I wanted to say, "have you tried not voting for pro-war democrats?" but felt that since I was not a regular attendee and hadn't been to one of Peace/Action/Denton's events in several years that it would have been rude. Besides, strictly speaking I don't know how the crowd that was present voted, or even that voting actually matters. Like Ray McGovern I felt they were nice people, even if they may be part of the problem. And if they are, who am I to decide that, let alone tell them?

McNamara, on the other hand, I feel more comfortable rejecting as a "tragic figure". Stephen Walt recently wrote this about him:

Some commentators see McNamara as a tragic figure; a talented, driven, and dedicated public servant who mishandled a foolish war and spent the remainder of his life trying to atone for it. The obituary in today's New York Times takes this line, describing him as having "spent the rest of his life wrestling with the war's moral consequences," and as someone who "wore the expression of a haunted man."

I see his fate differently. Unlike the American soldiers who fought in Indochina, or the millions of Indochinese who died there, McNamara did not suffer significant hardship as a result of his decisions. He lived a long and comfortable life, and he remained a respected member of the foreign policy establishment. He had no trouble getting his ideas into print, or getting the media to pay attention to his pronouncements. Not much tragedy there.

But I agree with McGovern about what he calls the "fawning corporate media", and I note that he encouraged everyone gathered to read the torture memos now that they are available, so here is the address for the ACLU's downloadable PDF of those memos.

cross-posted at Hugo Zoom.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Hillary Clinton Knows Things

Recently Hillary Clinton said the following regarding Iran.


"We know very well what we inherited with Iran. We know how far its nuclear program has advanced," she said in remarks released by her aides.

Now here is what the 2007 NIE (National Intelligence Estimate), which is made up of 16 American spy agencies, said regarding Iran and its nuclear program.

Link (PDF file)

Key Judgments
A. We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons. We judge with high confidence that the halt, and Tehran’s announcement of its decision to suspend its declared uranium enrichment program and sign an Additional Protocol to its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Safeguards Agreement, was directed primarily in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure resulting from exposure of Iran’s previously undeclared nuclear work.

Since Clinton is surely aware of the NIE of 2007 she can say with some confidence“we” know how far its nuclear program has advanced which is to say not at all. But of course that is not what Hillary is implying here. But at the same time you cannot actually accuse her of lying through her teeth because she never really says how far its nuclear weapons program has progressed. Ah, the benefits of being vague.

The Bark that didn’t Dog

All the echoes in the news media echo chamber regarding Dick Cheney and his CIA adventures seem to be telling us a few things. For one, nobody is really upset that the CIA would actually murder people but rather that it was kept from Congress. Secondly, it seems obvious that as Leon Panetta named Dick Cheney as the prime villain that Cheney is slated to take the fall for Junior George. For further proof of this none of the news articles I have read have mentioned Junior George or if mentioned, only in passing. And thirdly, what possible difference does it make that we are killing people, mostly civilians, with drones or by sending the froggy boys in?

But perhaps even more importantly is that by calling for investigations the Democrats in Congress can put on their pompous show of indignant posturing and preening thus reassuring the public that yes indeed we have a democracy that works even if it is a hollowed out husk long emptied of any substance other than being purveyors of violence. Like everything else in our militarized and commercialized culture the symbolism is what’s important.

Every day and likely even as I write this the U.S. military along with its “friends” are killing innocent people in Afghanistan and Pakistan. War planes roar and swoop overhead dropping a rain of death that will not nor cannot distinguish between the Taliban or al Qaida and small children who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And keep in mind even if the “right” targets are hit there is still much doubt as to whether or not they were guilty of anything. In other words we are murdering people that have been merely alleged to belong to the Taliban or al Qaida much of it based on dubious evidence such as that given for monetary reward. So where is the pompous preening regarding these deaths? Where is the cry for justice? If reports from Pakistan are correct 50 civilians are killed for every supposed al-Qaida member blown to smithereens by a U.S. drone. Shouldn’t that be blasted out by the news media? Instead of focusing on the high civilian death rates the news prints stories about how the U.S. will now show more respect for Afghans by reducing the number of their deaths usually treated in a humorous tongue-in-cheek manner as if it is all just ever so cute.

I suspect that this outrage against Cheney will soon pass with little note. Forgotten and replaced with whatever piece of propaganda the government and the news media devises that can maintain the façade of a responsive democratic government.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Designed for War


In the last decade, the shifting of wealth from one class to another has greatly accelerated due to deregulation and the Fed's low interest rates. Stagnant wages have forced reluctant participants into the market seeking a better return on their savings, while lax lending standards and easy credit have seduced workers into increasing their personal debt-load. All of this has been done by design to ensure the profits for the few over the well-being of the many.

As Mike Whitney points out above the shifting of wealth is accomplished for the good of the few to everyone else’s detriment. This can most be dramatically exemplified by the vultures who feed off war. The weapons makers, the contractors, and the mercenaries, all who become fabulously wealthy by feeding off the dead carcasses of our victims of our imperial wars. For example take the case of DynCorp and Fluor Corporation who were just awarded an army contract worth up to 7.5 billion dollars.


NEW YORK (Dow Jones)--Shares of DynCorp International Inc. (DCP) rose Wednesday as the service provider to government agencies and Fluor Corp. (FLR) were selected over rival KBR Inc. (KBR) for U.S. contracts worth up to $7.5 billion each to support base-camp operations in Afghanistan.

DynCorp and Fluor were notified Tuesday that each won one-year contracts worth as much as $1.5 billion with four one-year options for the same annual amount, Dan Carlson, spokesman for the U.S. Army Sustainment Command, told Dow Jones Newswires. Carlson said DynCorp's contract is for southern Afghanistan, while Fluor's is for the north.

Bloomberg first reported news of the Afghanistan LogCap IV contracts.

A DynCorp official confirmed the company won the award, although he declined to confirm the amount of the award or provide further comment or details. Fluor did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Shares of DynCorp, which had a market capitalization as of Tuesday's close of $904.5 million, were recently up nearly 13% to $17.84. Earlier, they rose as high as $18.58, nearing the stock's 52-week high set in September at $18.75. The shares are now up 18% for the year to date.

This is how things work. Your tax dollars via the U.S. Army are being used to award very expensive contracts to companies who profit from the deaths of millions (if you consider all the current war fronts including those of our attack dog Israel). In modern warfare, despite the garbage you read in the New York Times or whatever rag, civilians are purposefully targeted. This was seen during WWII in the air wars between the Allies and the Axis culminating in the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki obliterating thousands upon thousands of Japanese civilians in the blink of an eye.

For DynaCorp and Fluor is there any doubt that they profit from death? That their hands are dripping with the blood and gore of their victims? True, they may not be pulling the actual trigger but would they be raking in the profits without the deaths? We may pay with our taxes but the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan are paying the ultimate price, their lives.

Welcome to the world of the military-industrial-scientific-congressional-complex. People often discuss the different motives for the invasion of Iraq, or Afghanistan or whatever other Bananastan you care to mention. I am beginning to think that is the wrong question entirely. Considering the state of our system of government where members of Congress are beholding to the defense and contractor industries as well as the influence of the Israeli lobby that represents paranoid homicidal lunatics not to mention the military strategic importance of controlling the oil sources perhaps the question ought to be why wouldn’t we be going to war? It’s the only thing our system is designed to do.

Why the U.S. shouldn’t negotiate with Iran

The accusations against Iran seem to be a permanent feature of modern life. Even after every intelligence agency in the U.S. concluded that there was no evidence that Iran was pursuing a nuclear bomb almost every politician and hack scribblerian from Obama on down has been repeating that Iran is pursuing a nuclear bomb.

How can there be a negotiation over something that likely doesn’t exist in the first place? That Iran, even if it were equipped with several nuclear bombs, would be a threat is to enter into the world of pure fantasy. Unless the Iranians are completely suicidal they would never, ever consider using a nuclear weapon against a neighbor -- much less the U.S. -- considering what the consequences would be and they know it.

And that is why I don’t believe we should negotiate with Iran because there is simply nothing to negotiate over. I keep hearing about “The crisis in Iran” but what crisis would that be? Is Iran threatening to install over 750 military bases around the globe? Is Iran in the process of invading and occupying other nations? Is Iran the largest weapons distributor in the world? Is Iran trying to remove Obama from office? That there is no crisis in Iran other than the election results, which are of no concern to the U.S. or anyone else other than the Iranians, seems to escape the siren call of the crisis mongers.

This is why listening to political speeches makes me crazy. There is no firmament upon which to stand. Everything, the landscape, the sky, the sundering seas, all shift and merge into a kaleidoscope of ever shifting patterns, forever floating through a fog of non-statements and meaningless drivel coating the listener’s brain with gooey ichors reducing our thinking and deductive abilities to a singularity where no light of reason ever escapes its ravening maw.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Common Thread

U.S. foreign policy, despite the Obama Happy Face put on it, exhibits certain common characteristics between the various nations we have been “liberating “as they say in the vernacular.

Rampant corruption seems to be one of the highlights of a U.S. liberation. Looking at Afghanistan Jason Ditz points out the following.


Corruption in Afghanistan has been a growing problem since the 2001 US invasion, and the society virtually runs on bribery and graft at this point. But Helmand villagers tell stories of police rounding up small boys and taking them to police camps to be raped, and robbing elderly villagers’ homes at gunpoint.

The key words here are “since the US invasion.” The Afghans live in fear of the Afghan police who are allied with U.S. forces. The police had been driven out by the Taliban but with the coming of U.S. forces the Afghan police will likely return and continue with their dubious pastimes or that’s how the local Afghans see it and they aren’t happy with the prospect.

Transparency International has a list of the ten most corrupt nations on the planet. At the top of the list is Somalia, you recall Somalia of course since we paid to have it invaded and sent in our own death squads to clean up afterwards, don’t want any witnesses to our liberation practices you know. Afghanistan comes in fifth place on the list after Haiti (a story by itself) with Iraq coming down the home stretch as the third most corrupt nation. Notice the thread that ties all these together which is U.S. interventions. “Interventions” is such a nice clinical word don’t you think? It includes rape, murder, robbery, torture, and any number of other monstrous items. Personally I would never, ever want to be liberated.

The soul grinding misery U.S. interventions have caused is hard for me to imagine, in fact I don’t believe I could. Iraq was invaded twice as well as being subjected to brutal sanctions that killed just as surely as any bullet. The UN/U.S. intervention in Somalia in 1992 allowed the warlords to seize control of Somalia and then we backed the Ethiopian invasion leading to ever more death and human despair. Afghanistan is still an open book albeit one that will not end with the proverbial “And they lived happily ever after.” Not for Afghanistan and not for the United States.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Obama’s Poignant Moment

The Afghanistan War is well under way complete with surges in troops and surges in drone strikes in Pakistan. By fall of this year there will be 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. By the year 2011 the number of troops is to be an estimated 85,000 to 135,000. Meanwhile in Pakistan the U.S. has been surging killer drone attacks even as they talk of reducing civilian deaths in Afghanistan.

After reading some articles on the U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan recently I have noticed that not much is being said regarding civilian deaths which strikes me as rather curious since one result of the use of drones is a high rate of civilian deaths but the news reports mention only that “militants” have been killed. This phenomenon of drone strikes suddenly becoming devoid of civilian deaths may have something to do with the fact that the drone operation is run by the CIA who take their orders from Obama, basically are his private army, and that they aren’t talking about the number of civilian deaths.


WASHINGTON, Jun 12 (IPS) - The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s refusal to share with other agencies even the most basic data on the bombing attacks by remote-controlled unmanned predator drones in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal region, combined with recent revelations that CIA operatives have been paying Pakistanis to identify the targets, suggests that managers of the drone attacks programmes have been using the total secrecy surrounding the programme to hide abuses and high civilian casualties.

Intelligence analysts have been unable to obtain either the list of military targets of the drone strikes or the actual results in terms of al Qaeda or civilians killed, according to a Washington source familiar with internal discussion of the drone strike programme. The source insisted on not being identified because of the extreme sensitivity of the issue.

"They can’t find out anything about the programme," the source told IPS. That has made it impossible for other government agencies to judge its real consequences, according to the source.

Since early 2009, Barack Obama administration officials have been claiming that the predator attacks in Pakistan have killed nine of 20 top al Qaeda officials, but they have refused to disclose how many civilians have been killed in the strikes.

In April, The News, a newspaper in Lahore, Pakistan, published figures provided by Pakistani officials indicating that 687 civilians have been killed along with 14 al Qaeda leaders in some 60 drone strikes since January 2008 – just over 50 civilians killed for every al Qaeda leader.

A paper published this week by the influential pro-military Centre for a New American Security (CNAS) criticising the Obama administration’s use of drone attacks in Pakistan says U.S. officials "vehemently dispute" the Pakistani figures but offers no further data on the programme.

No wonder Obama would prefer keeping the murder of so many civilians a secret. Obviously Obama considers the price to be worth the cost in innocent human life even while he reflects on the evil that men do. While visiting the slave fortress of Cape Coast Castle he had the following to say.


Later, on a spot overlooking the ocean, Obama spoke of being deeply moved by the experience that reminded him of visiting Nazi concentration camps. "It is reminiscent of the trip that I took to Buchenwald. It reminds us of the capacity of human beings to commit great evil," he said, adding that he had been especially struck by the seeemingly incongruous presence of a church near the slave dungeons. "Sometimes we can tolerate and stand by great evil even as we think we are doing good," he said.

I’m almost positive that when Obama spoke of tolerating great evil while doing good that the faces of the 687 murdered Afghan civilians were passing before his soulful eyes, a parade of victims sacrificed for the greater good of another noble U.S. enterprise. Fifty innocent lives snuffed out for every single “militant” just shows how committed Americans are to justice. Yes, I’m convinced it must have been a very poignant moment for Obama.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The CIA: Secret Army Secret Wars

Raw Story has an exclusive article written by Gareth Porter claiming that Robert McNamara lied to Lyndon Johnson about the so-called Tonkin Gulf Incident. As you recall the Tonkin gulf Incident was the now debunked story that North Vietnamese boats had attacked U.S. war ships. The incident was used to escalate the Vietnam War and Lyndon Johnson has taken the rap for lying about what actually took place. Yet according to Gareth Porter this was not the case at all.


Robert S. McNamara, Secretary of Defense from 1961 to 1967, took many secrets with him when he died Monday at 93. But probably no secret was more sensitive politically than the one that would have changed fundamentally the public perception of his role in Vietnam policy had it been become widely known.

The secret was his deliberate deceit of President Lyndon B. Johnson on Aug. 4, 1964 regarding the alleged attack on US warships in the Gulf of Tonkin.

This does not entirely vindicate Johnson who had a choice on how to react to the incident whether it had actually happened or not. It is possible that Johnson was more concerned about the report not being true because it could come out at some future time with adverse effect. And it isn’t clear that Johnson actually believed what McNamara was telling him concerning the incident. Still, I think that it is important to try to get history right considering how so much of what is written is patently garbage. But go read the essay by Porter and decide for yourself. And whether it was Johnson or McNamara who lied it provides more evidence that intelligence is manufactured to clear the way for war which brings us to the CIA.

In today’s Guardian we can find proof that the CIA is the president’s personal army. Leon Panetta admitted that during the W. Bush years the CIA had not informed Congress of “Significant actions” and though there is nothing new about that Congressional members act as if they were greatly surprised and shocked.


The Central Intelligence Agency has admitted "concealing significant actions" from Congress for years during the Bush administration, prompting the chairman of the House of Representatives intelligence committee to accuse the agency of having "affirmatively lied".

The admission raised fresh questions over what political pressure was applied to the CIA to manipulate and distort intelligence in order to mislead Congress and the public over a range of issues from Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction to the use of torture against al-Qaida detainees.

Members of Congress say the CIA director, Leon Panetta, made the admission at a closed session last month. At the time, a political feud had broken out between the agency and the speaker of the house, Nancy Pelosi, after she accused it of intentionally misleading her over the repeated waterboarding of the al-Qaida detainee, Abu Zubaydah.

The CIA's admission came to light after seven Democratic members of the House intelligence committee wrote to Panetta demanding he correct a statement in May in which he denied Pelosi's assertionsk, saying that it is not the agency's "policy or practice to mislead Congress".

Yet it has been the agency’s policy to deceive Congress for decades.

From Chalmers Johnson’s book Nemisis.


Porter J. Goss, the newly appointed director of central intelligence (DCI), November 2004,
in an internal memorandum to CIA employees
[Our job is to] support the administration and its policies in our work. As agency employees, we do not identify with, support, or champion opposition to the administration or its policies.

Thomas Powers, an authority on the CIA
No one can understand, much less predict, [t]he behavior of the CIA who does not understand that the agency works for the president. I know of no exceptions to this general rule. In practice it means that in the end the CIA will always bend to the wishes of the president .... The general rule applies both to intelligence and to operations: what the CIA says, as well as what it does, will shape itself over time to what the president wants.

Congressional oversight of the agency [CIA] and many other, ever-expanding intelligence outfits in the U.S. government, including the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA) - is, at best, a theatrical performance designed to distract and mislead the few Americans left who are concerned about constitutional government.

The president's untrammeled control of the CIA is probably the single most extraordinary power the imperial presidency possesses - totally beyond the balance of powers intended to protect the United States from the rise of a tyrant.

James Schlesinger, Director of CIA, 1973
l am here to see that you guys don't screw Richard Nixon.

Whatever happens, the CIA will remain first and foremost the president's private army, officially accountable to no other branch of the government.

The National Security Act of 1947 placed the CIA under the explicit direction of the National Security Council (NSC), the president's chief staff unit-composed of appointed members not subject to congressional approval-focused on making decisions about war and peace. The CIA was given five functions, four of them dealing with the collection, coordination, and dissemination of intelligence. It was the fifth-a vaguely worded passage that allowed the CIA to "perform such other functions and duties related to intelligence affecting the national security as the National Security Council may from time to time direct"-that turned the CIA into the personal, secret, unaccountable army of the president. At least since 1953, when it secretly overthrew the democratically elected government of Iran, the CIA has often been ordered into battle without Congress having declared war, as the Constitution requires.

Not only has the CIA been ordered into battle without Congress having declared war but the U.S. has gone to war many times over the last century without Congress declaring war. This practice goes as far back as 1900.


In the summer of 1900, as the Boxers are besieging the foreign ligation in Beijing and threatening to kill all of the foreigners they can get their hands on, McKinley has to make a historic decision. And the decision is whether or not to send US troops out of Manila and onto the mainland of Asia. Obviously, American troops had never fought in this theater before and what McKinley does is not only order the troops onto the Asian mainland to fight in China, but he does it without consulting anyone. He essentially goes to war without asking Congress anything about it. He uses his commander-in-chief powers and it becomes a very important point historic precedent, the kind of precedent that later American Presidents will use to order American troops around the world.

Ironically one of the ideas behind the birth of the CIA was that intelligence could prevent wars from happening. This was a fatal error in judgment which did not take into consideration the true nature of the presidency and American foreign policy regarding interventions, overthrowing unwanted leaders of other nations, and imperialism. For in the end as was so dramatically illustrated during the build-up to the Iraq War we see that rather than preventing wars intelligence is used to actually engage in war at the president’s bidding.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Insecurity State

artist-Amanda Moeckel
artist: Amanda Moeckel

Steve Gimbel in Philosopher's Playground, a new blog(well, new to me), notes that the World Health Organization recently assessed the healthcare systems of most member countries and ranked the US 37th. Behind virtually all Western European countries, but also behind Costa Rica, behind Chile, even behind Morocco and war-torn Colombia.

From his essay:

...insecurity is the most important force in shaping American society. It manifests itself in two ways. In the middle class, it is class insecurity. There is the sense that our kids will not only fail to have more than we have, but that they may fall from being middle class. This is why schools are simultaneously turned into prisons providing environments that are not conducive to learning and overburdening our kids with too much homework. If they don't get into the right pre-school they won't get into the right college and then they might not end up with a good job. The kids are so risk averse that they refuse to think interesting thoughts. Just get the B, just don't screw up. It is there in the way we create gated communities both in terms of actual gates and in terms of infrastructure. We can't build public transportation because then the wrong kind would have easy access to our homes and our stuff. It's all fear of losing our stuff and our kids not being able to get it for themselves. Look at our drug laws, look at the way we pay for schools through property taxes, look at the discussions around affirmative action. The group of voters who went for Reagan and Clinton are governed by class insecurity and both of them knew it and played them like a fiddle.

The middle class doesn't want health care reform, not because they think ours is the best system in the world, but because it is good enough for them and they are afraid that helping someone else would be a zero sum game and thereby cost them. It works for me and mine so don't mess with it. Insecurity leads to malicious, selfish inaction.

I think there's a bit more to it than that, since this is, to an extent, one of those "people are so X because of Y" arguments, when in fact our society is increasingly less homogeneous and that argument, irrespective of the particulars you replace X and Y with, gets increasingly harder to make. Maybe, as a sort of corollary to Gimbel's thesis, it would be interesting to explore the ways that popular media reinforces our more reactionary traits and deliberately avoids discussing contrasting qualities we have.

Nevertheless his blog looks like a fascinating place to visit and the essay is worth reading in full. Go read the rest here, "Insecurity as an American Social Force"

(via Helmut at Phroneisisaical.)

cross-posted at Hugo Zoom.

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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Repackaging the Terror Wars

Once more into the breach we go as General Obama launches one of the largest U.S. offences in recent years in Afghanistan. And Obama is telling us that U.S. marines will now be used to win the “hearts and minds” of Afghans everywhere an integral part of the great new and improved Obama Brand of war. Thus, in this far away exotic land of Afghanistan, a land ruled by warlords and inhabited by a people who have been fairly successful at outlasting would-be conquerors of imperial bent, will be given the gift of Democracy which by pure magic will transform Afghanistan into something resembling Modesto California making the world safer for Americans and no doubt the planned gas pipelines to go through Afghanistan.

Rewinding the tape a bit you all might recall that Obama was fairly outspoken against the Iraq War when running for office. Then later, after being elected, he decided that the Iraq surge was an astonishing success. What was once a failure was rebranded as a success without as much as a twitch of an eye? So you can easily see when you have a strategy like renaming that anything is possible, anything in the whole wide wonderful world.

This is early in Obama’s stellarific career so he has a little time on his side but not much. To many of Democratic persuasion Afghanistan is the right war, the war that should have been fought in the first place. I wonder how long that will last since Americans only like wars they think they are winning. But then as Obama showed from the beginning he doesn’t care all that much what the faithful think.

In the many news articles chronicling the Afghanistan War we are told that having rethought how to proceed our leaders say that the focus will be on protecting Afghan citizens and that restraint will be used when conducting air attacks. This is part of the hearts and minds theme yet you have to question how effective as diplomats will the marines be? I would assume that diplomacy 101 and anthropology aren’t part of marine boot camp. If the new logic is to protect Afghan citizens then the next logical step would be to withdraw all the U.S. troops from Afghanistan and halt all the bombings completely. In this manner the people of Afghanistan will be much safer than they are now. But of course there is no real concern for the Afghan people rather it is reserved for the mission which must be protected at all costs. That’s what the new strategy boils down to. The only reason they wish to decrease civilian casualties is that high casualties might interfere with their cherished and beloved war effort.


General Nicholson said that the American force of of almost 4,000 had been joined by only about 400 effective Afghan soldiers.

“The net increase in Afghan security forces is zero” since the brigade arrived a few months ago, he said. The lack of Afghan forces “is absolutely our Achilles heel,” adds Capt. Brian Huysman, commander of Charlie Company of the First Battalion, Fifth Marines in Nawa.

Captain Huysman said the Afghan forces are critically important in establishing trust and communication with the citizen population. “We can’t read these people, we’re different,” he said. “They’re not going to tell us the truth. We’ll never get to build and transition” — the last phase of the operation — “unless we have the Afghans.”

With casualties beginning to mount, American military officials say they want at least a full brigade of Afghan forces in Helmand, thousands more than are here now.

“With casualties beginning to mount,” and indeed they are and they will. Captain Huysman is honest enough to know that he or anyone else in command doesn’t know what they are doing or why they are doing it. It seems to me that Obama and his tactical advisors are merely flying by the seat of their pants. It isn’t a good sign when you see them improvising as they go as in this hearts and minds fiasco. Once again I don’t think that there is an actual overall plan for these criminal wars, these guys who believe they know how to lead have no plan, they are playing it by ear, experimenting to see what will work even while they spend human lives on both sides to achieve some nebulous fantasy both ill-defined and dangerously ignorant of what repercussions their meddling will produce. On the other hand if the goal is to produce instability throughout the world I think their strategy will work wonders.

Monday, July 06, 2009

William Engdahl on The Real News

William Engdahl discusses his book Full Spectrum Dominance: Totalitarian Democracy in the New World Order. In spite of his invoking the bugbear of the "new world order", this seems like a surprisingly sober argument, at least based on this interview clip.

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Hecklers vs. Lawrence Summers

I remember a while back the Associated Press putting out a sort of trial balloon regarding heavy-handed enforcement of their copyrights and wanting to limit passages of over five words(!) being quoted without explicit permission. Now they have a Youtube channel, and they aren't disabling the embed code, unlike the BBC's world news channel, although the regular BBC channel on Youtube is also unrestricted.

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Saturday, July 04, 2009

Why I Hope Joe Biden Never Runs for President: Part 2

Jason Ditz over at Anti-War.com who does a marvelous job has another gem from Biden. Biden is a ceaseless fountain of wisdom it would seem.


Speaking with Iraqi officials on the second day of his three day visit, Vice President Joe Biden warned that the United States might reconsider its military commitment to the nation if “Iraq were to revert to sectarian violence or engage in ethnic violence,” insisting that the “American people would have no interest” in going through that situation yet again.

This really and truly is the limit. First of all, as Biden must know, there will be a referendum held in July where the people of Iraq will vote on whether or not to end the U.S. occupation as much as a year earlier than stipulated in the SOFA. Of course the question remains would the U.S. honor such a vote and considering the rank arrogance on display with Biden you really have to wonder if they would honor it. Keep in mind the U.S. had to agree to the referendum in order to get the Iraq government to sign on with the SOFA.

Secondly, this is the most upside-down statement I have ever read. Almost all thinking and rational people know the violence occurring in Iraq was and still is due to the invasion. But what is really over the top here is Biden insisting that the American people would have no interest in going through that situation again. The American people never had an interest in the invasion. They still don’t. But what Biden is saying is that it is the fault of Iraq that we invaded them in the first place. Is that really what happened? I guess I must have missed something over the last seven or so years.

Why I Hope Joe Biden Never Runs for President

Joe Biden had the following to say during his visit to Iraq.


"We did it in Saddam's palace and I can think of nothing better," Biden said, referring to the naturalisation ceremony at Al-Faw Palace near Baghdad airport.

"That SOB is rolling over in his grave right now," he said of executed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, who was toppled from power in the 2003 US-led invasion.

Besides sounding like a real jerk Biden -- who is known to have hoof-in-mouth disease -- reveals something about our Democratic leadership. Well actually it reveals a few things. Biden’s message reeks of arrogance and shows a lack of respect for the people of Iraq. It’s not so much that a lot of people miss Saddam (or maybe they do) but Biden forgets that the invasion and occupation was illegal and more importantly that Iraq had never done anything against the U.S., nothing at all. It also cost over one million Iraqi lives and here is Biden spitting on their graves. What an asshole.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Identity Politics

It seems to me that when people become embroiled in Democrat vs. Republican arguments all the participants in said argument have succumbed to that age old temptation to argue about the wrong thing. It is as pointless as arguing which is better – vanilla ice-cream or chocolate. They taste a little different but they’re essentially identical, they are both ice-cream.

I have been writing criticisms of Obama and the Democratic Party for over a year and that is not because I think the Republicans are better in some way. It is because it was obvious that after the failure of the Iraq War and the tanking economy that the Democrats would be in power plus the realization that the Democrat leadership is just as gung-ho for imperialism as the Republican leadership, in fact I think you could make a solid argument that the Democrats are more gung-ho than the Republicans with the exception of W. Bush perhaps. If the Republicans were in power now it is quite likely I would be writing more about them but they aren’t.

I have felt for some time that American politics are identity politics where just like in the American car culture, the car that people choose to drive is in some manner an extension of themselves. Why did W. Bush buy a ranch in Texas and then do photo-ops of cutting brush? Identity politics, that’s why. I’m sure all successful politicians know that it is the packaging that counts, not what’s in the container. I suspect that this identify thing outweighs what any political party actually does in the eyes of people who choose to belong either party.

Ideology also plays a role in identity politics. According to legend the Republicans are the conservative party promising small government and fiscal responsibility yet when have they ever even remotely achieved this? Never. The Democrats ideology is supposedly more liberal and amendable to valuable domestic programs. Yet it was a Democratic president – Bill Clinton—who destroyed the Welfare program, a valuable safety net. The Democratic leadership also likes to portray their murderous wars as “Humanitarian” and sees itself as leading a recalcitrant world to a new liberal Democratic utopia. It goes without saying that when judging a politician that what party they belong to is irrelevant as is half of what they say. The only way to judge them is by their actions yet that is so rarely done in what passes for political discussion today.

So should I dislike someone because they support one or other of the two major parties? You would have to dislike an awful lot of people if that is the case especially if you don’t support either party which I do not.

The truth can be found in more than one place. The truth doesn’t belong to a particular ideology or political party. And if you find yourself dismissing a valuable insight from someone because they like Obama or Ronald Reagan or whoever then you are a victim of identity politics.