Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Deviant and the Damned

Ex-CIA Director George Tenet is notorious in the annals of atrocity for being an uncool punk with a cold, black heart. But unlike punk rocker Joan Jett and her Blackhearts band, he apparently does give a damn about his bad reputation. 

Waterboarding, he has long insisted, was simply a standard deviation, a perk of his exalted station. Like Adolf Eichmann, Tenet was simply following orders and doing his job when he defied the damned Geneva Conventions and ordered as many as 200 of his operatives to torture a whole bunch of people. It was just a terrible time when the elites running the joint experienced a strange bout of the fear normally reserved for the little people. The blowback of the 9/11 attacks blew their minds.

Even so, Tenet fears that he's going to look mighty strange when that long-suppressed and redacted Senate report on CIA torture comes out later this summer. And to that end, President Barack Obama is bending over backward to insure that Tenet and his co-conspirators are getting a chance to whitewash their own public relations disaster before the rest of us get a peek at it. (Because President Drone has already vowed there will be no such thing as a criminal indictment. What's past is past. We must look forward, not backward while bending over backward. It's a brand new hip generation. Above all, the Kill List president is counting on his own successor to continue paying it forward.)

Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times has the scoop: 
 Just after the Senate Intelligence Committee voted in April to declassify hundreds of pages of a withering report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s detention and interrogation program, C.I.A. Director John O. Brennan convened a meeting of the men who had played a role overseeing the program in its seven-year history.The spies, past and present, faced each other around the long wooden conference table on the seventh floor of the C.I.A.’s headquarters in Northern Virginia: J. Cofer Black, head of the agency’s counterterrorism center at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks; the undercover officer who now holds that job; and a number of other former officials from the C.I.A.’s clandestine service. Over the speakerphone came the distinctive, Queens-accented voice of George J. Tenet.

Over the past several months, Mr. Tenet has quietly engineered a counterattack against the Senate committee’s voluminous report, which could become public next month. The effort to discredit the report has set up a three-way showdown among former C.I.A. officials who believe history has been distorted, a White House carefully managing the process and politics of declassifying the document, and Senate Democrats convinced that the Obama administration is trying to protect the C.I.A. at all costs.
Not surprisingly, Senate Moll Dianne Feinstein helped orchestrate the secret reading sessions for the spies. She apparently quickly recovered from her Senate floor hissy fit earlier this year, when she pretended to be shocked that her CIA buddies were spying on her staffers and hacking into congressional computers. Attorney General Eric Holder, who also never met a thug he didn't like, be they from Wall Street or from Langley, declined to prosecute the Spy vs. Spy imbroglio. Because like banks, the Senate and the CIA are too big to fail.

Senator Ron Wyden, the foil in this triangular kabuki drama, is dutifully playing his part of publicly whining that Obama is protecting the CIA branch of the organized crime cartel which poses as a representative democracy. But of course he never mentions that I word (impeachment.) That is reserved for the Republicans, who serve as useful idiots in the fomenting of primitive tribalism and survival of the Obama Victimization Cult. The GOP ignores the real corruption, because they are absolutely complicit in it. They concentrate on petty stuff, like who lied on Page 1,502 of the Affordable Care Act. It keeps Obama smelling like a wilted plastic rose. It keeps his low-40s approval rating artificially high among people fooled into picking between two sides of the same filthy coin.

Meanwhile, it's apparent from the preview of his own pseudo-indictment that the pseudo-disgraced George Tenet is still calling the shots. Although he'd been forced to resign during the Bush administration over faulty Iraq War intelligence, Bush later awarded him the Medal of Freedom. As a fabulously wealthy private surveillance state contractor and partner in a secretive boutique bank catering to the tech and entertainment industries, Tenet is still a valued part of the powerful and permanent Inner Circle, and remains close to Obama drone henchman and current CIA Chief John Brennan. It was Tenet who invented the Orwellian term "disposition matrix" as the go-to euphemism for government murder by Predator drone. So he is definitely owed.

The Defiant Deviant Duo of the Disposition Matrix: Obama and Brennan

And as for Obama himself? "I was clear throughout this campaign and was clear throughout this transition that under my administration the United States does not torture," he vowed in 2009.

On the other hand....

 "I am really good at killing people," he reportedly bragged to aides during his re-election campaign three years and thousands of drone deaths later.

An' I don't give a damn 'bout my reputation
The world's in trouble, there's no communication
An' everyone can say what they wanna to say
It never gets better, anyway.
So why should I care about a bad reputation anyway?
Oh no, not me, oh no, not me.

Rock on, oh cool crypto-fascist Ship of State.

In related news, a European Human Rights Commission judge apparently did not get the "look forward" message from the Obama administration and defiantly ordered Poland to pay reparations to two torture victims who'd been "renditioned" to a CIA black site prison in that country during the Bush administration. The Obama administration still refuses to even confirm or deny the very existence of such prisons in Europe and elsewhere in the world. Those culpable countries are now vulnerable to prosecution while "the one indispensable nation" is not. Let us hope that the fear factor, if not the ethics factor, inspires Europe to resist calls from the American media-military-industrial complex to enter into World War III for a few drops more of oil and gas.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Gene Sperling's Advice to the Wealth-lorn

 Or: "How the zombie idea of privatizing Social Security can be reanimated by a concern-trolling Wall Street Democrat."

Former Clinton-Obama economic adviser Gene Sperling, who brought you such populist hits as the repeal of Glass-Steagall and the Sequester, has now written an op-ed in the New York Times, purporting to give advice to the struggling masses in this Age of Inequality:

Share Our Wealth! Invest in 401(k)s!We'll do all the paperwork!

Sperling, a former Goldman Sachs consultant who allegedly left the Obama administration this spring, is now affiliated with the Milken Institute, a think tank in Santa Monica, California. You may remember founder Michael Milken as the "junk bond king" who went to prison in the 90s, back when prosecutors actually prosecuted crooked financiers. Milken has since recouped his billions and has gained respectability in Democratic centrist circles as a political fund-raiser, fixer and philanthropist. And why not? The Age of Inequality is also the Age of Legalized Corruption. Banksters don't go to jail. They simply make deals with prosecutors to stay out of jail and continue victimizing the working stiffs of America.

But I digress. In his Times op-ed, Sperling cynically and ham-handedly bemoans the fact that poor people get less return on their savings than rich people. So what they should do is, hand over all their loose change to Wall Street. He doesn't actually come right out and call for privatizing Social Security, of course, but that's what he's ultimately suggesting within his double-talking verbiage:
A government-funded universal 401(k) would give lower- and moderate-income Americans a dollar-for-dollar matching credit for up to $4,000 saved annually per household. Upper-middle-class Americans could get at least a 60 percent match — doubling the incentive they get today. The match would be open to workers even if their employers were already matching, which would encourage employers to keep contributing to savings. The match would also be available through I.R.A. contributions for those who were self-employed or who wanted to keep saving even while they were temporarily not working.
Employers would have to provide automatic payroll deductions for their employees (while allowing those who still wanted to opt out to do so). Setting the default at “opting in” would ensure that workers did not miss out on the match provided by a universal 401(k). The government could set requirements for low fees, transparency and safety to allow for vigorous competition in the private sector while allowing individual savers access to a version of the plan that members of Congress use for their own retirement savings.
 This proposal is very similar, if not identical to, President Obama's own cynical "MyRA" scam that he rolled out to thundering silence at his State of the Union address this year. So it appears that the name is being changed to protect the malevolent. Sperling lumbers on for awhile before finally cutting to the chase:
 Costs need not be a roadblock. Among many ways to do it, moderate reforms to the estate tax could allow married couples to leave up to $7 million to their heirs tax-free (instead of the current $10.7 million) while generating over $200 billion in resources over the next decade, which could be used to help tens of millions of savers build their own estates. Even if a universal 401(k) ended up costing the government more than expected, it would still increase national savings overall if the public incentives led to additional private savings.
The Reagan zombie is resurrected. It's all trickle-down, all the time. Why didn't Sperling just say so in the first place?  My published comment (which, in retrospect, was more polite than this charlatan deserves):
Since Gene Sperling was touting cuts to Social Security as part of a deficit reduction deal with the GOP as recently as last fall, his universal 401(K) proposal sounds suspiciously like a Wall Street gateway drug to the privatization of FDR's great social insurance program.
Given that 75% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck and don't have any savings simply because there's no money left after they eat, heat and barely survive, this op-ed is a tad disingenuous. And that's putting it kindly.
The part about lowering the cap on the estate tax to $7 million to help the savers of the future is a dead giveaway that this advice column is not meant for the average working stiff or unemployed person -- who's lucky to have two nickels to rub together after robbing Peter to pay Paul every month.
 Sperling does not explain how the $200 billion generated by estate tax reform would help anybody but the trust fund kids.
Here's a thought. How about sending a stimulus check to every man, woman and child in America to spend or save as they see fit? It would provide an immediate boost to the economy. How about raising or scrapping the cap on FICA contributions to ensure the solvency of the trust fund into perpetuity?
How about letting students borrow at the same low rates as banks? How about a guaranteed national income or living wage law?
Enough of these Very Serious and immodest proposals from economists who pretend to care about wealth inequality in an election year.
Speaking of the Krugmanism "very serious people," I suspect that Sperling's op-ed is just part of the vast muffled, orchestrated cry of the wealthy who are being unfairly ignored in this election year.... because politicians don't dare talk about cutting entitlements and immiserating the poor when their own political hides also are contingent upon pretending to care for the voters. The sadism has to be euphemized. Or in this case, Sperlingized. They won't rob you with a six-gun. They'll do it under cover of darkness....  with a Fulgor Nocturnis.

Sperling was among the plutocratic culprits sounding the false alarm over the debt and deficit crisis, debunked soundly in Paul Krugman's last column. So they have to come up with ever newer ways of saying the exact same thing. The latest way is smarmy concern-trolling as a means of stealing from the public and getting even more for themselves.

As I wrote in my comment to the Krugman piece,
If the debt crisis is such a crock, why are we still saddled with austerity? Correction: why are we still saddled with austerity that exempts the bloated war machine, the surveillance state, and corporate welfare for the super-rich?
It's been estimated that the $398 billion wasted on the F-35 fighter alone could buy each of the 600,000 homeless Americans a $600,000 home. And the GOP is having meltdowns over a paltry $10.10 minimum wage? They'll only fix our roads if employers can delay paying into pension plans?
Deficit hysteria might currently be on "mute," but signs of its undeadness are still out there. Surviving at the White House website is a braggy blurb about the trillions already achieved in deficit reduction, but how "we" still have a ways to go toward "living within our means." Chained CPI for Social Security might be officially gone this election year, but then-Press Sec. Jay Carney assured us that it's still on the table should the GOP ever choose to join the feasting on the old, the sick, and the poor.
Paul Ryan is merely resting his hysterical voice, reclining on his elite hammock of dependency during his Ayn Rand summer reading break.
Meanwhile, even the progressive caucus's proposed "Better Off Budget" devotes $1 trillion more to deficit reduction than it does to investments over the next decade. 
 The austerity cult refuses to die. Could it be because the only people who care about the debt and the deficit are the fat cat plutocrats running the place?

Sperling (left) Joins Obama At the Feast

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

White House OKs Underwater Torture Chamber

With all eyes glued on the atrocities in Gaza and Ukraine, another homegrown atrocity may soon be underway. The Obama administration has quietly executed one of those sneaky summer weekend news dumps in hopes of nobody noticing or caring. Because what, after all, are pods of insane dolphins, and hordes of dead turtles, and the extinction of an entire whale species compared to hundreds of battered human bodies?

 From Think Progress:
On Friday, the  U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) approved the use of seismic airguns to explore the seabed from Cape May to Cape Canaveral for oil and gas.
These sonic cannons are compressed airguns that get towed behind ships, using dynamite-like blasts to produce sound waves 100,000 times louder than a jet engine underwater every ten seconds. The waves travel through the water and through the ocean floor, bouncing back up at different rates to provide prospective drillers and researchers a better sense of where oil, gas, minerals, and sand lie beneath the waves.
 It’s not a surprise that this is dangerous: even BOEM estimates that this practice will disrupt, injure, or kill millions of marine animals, including the most endangered whale species on the planet. It is less surprising that this risky tactic would be approved in large part to ferret out another source of fossil fuels, risking another BP disaster and emitting more pollution that causes global warming. It’s more surprising that this gambit is being entertained in an area that may not even have that much oil or gas. 
So why is the Obama administration entertaining it? Because he already ticked off "climate change" on his legacy to-do list by trumpeting proposals to reduce carbon emissions at some vague time in the future.  Because compromised politicians want the waters off their sacrosanct borders opened up for the extraction of every last single drop of oil and gas, regardless of the cost. Because the president wants to start handing out drilling leases before he leaves office in 2017. Because there is lots and lots and lots of money to be made for a select few pockets.

As Herman Melville saliently observed in Moby-Dick, "The urbane activity with which a man receives money is really marvelous, considering that we so earnestly believe money to be the root of all earthly ills, and that on no account can a monied man enter heaven. Ah! how cheerfully we consign ourselves to perdition!”

  Perhaps the urbane crowd is hoping that all the audio-executed marine life washing up on our beaches can be recycled into cheap fertilizer, or even cat food for the poor. Notice that the watering holes of the rich and famous -- the Hamptons, Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard (where the Obamas vacation) and Newport -- have so far been granted immunity from having their vistas spoiled by the detritus of the torture ships. Only the waters from Virginia to Florida will be opened to deep-sea blast-mapping.

Still, since the intense sound waves generated by the exploratory rigs can travel for thousands of miles underwater, no pristine shoreline will be immune from the sights and smells of beached whales and rotting turtle carcasses. Maybe once rich people run out of Maine lobsters to feast upon, we'll hear an uproar. By then, of course, it will be too late.

The insatiable oil company executives and the insatiable politicians who serve them will have laughed all the way to the bank.

 Oil Change International activist Steve Kretzman told The Nation's Zoe Carpenter earlier this year,
As the supply of oil and gas goes up, the cost the market perceives for it is going down, thus encouraging more consumption—which is exactly the signal the climate demands that we do not send. If we had a perfect market for energy, working on the demand side alone might do it. But we’re not remotely close to that. Oil is controlled globally by a cartel, heavily subsidized by taxpayers around the world, and insulated from paying various substantial costs such as health, pollution clean-up, military support, and of course the social cost of carbon.
Importantly, stopping greater supply is the best way to stand in the way of Big Oil’s power. You give them access to more oil and gas, they’ll make more profits, and spend more money both looking for even more oil and gas as well as bribing politicians and throwing armies of lawyers at regulations. [Emphasis added]

These industries are based on, and profit from, finding more and more of something that science says we have more than enough of. Every additional field is a step in the wrong direction. It has to start stopping somewhere.
Meanwhile, the Houston Chronicle reports that nine oil companies had been heavily lobbying the White House to get moving on the ocean audio assault, with Obama's resulting acquiescence causing a "seismic rift" with activists:
Environmentalists accused the administration of caving to the oil industry by formalizing an approach that would impose modest limitations on the seismic research instead of mandating more rigorous safeguards or barring the activity altogether.
 "For more than 30 years, the Atlantic coast has been off-limits to offshore drilling,'' said Claire Douglass, campaign director for the conservationist group Oceana. "Our government appears to be folding to the pressure of Big Oil and its big money."
Michael Jasny, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Marine Mammal Protection Project, called seismic exploration "a gateway drug to offshore drilling."
But the oil industry didn't get everything it wanted.
OK. This is the part where should you brace yourself for Obama's cynical "balanced approach."

The fig leaf: Obama, lover of wildlife that he is, will insist that the torture ships include human monitors to scan the waters for breaching whales and other signs of life before they they proceed to destroy the life that they cannot see. If "thar she blows," then the sound-harpoons must be held in abeyance.

And here's the part where the oil cartel hilariously pretends to be very, very miffed at the government's outrageous strong-arm "humanitarian" tactics:
The American Petroleum Institute, the National Ocean Industries Association and other groups were unable to persuade the Interior Department to scale back proposed time-outs to watch for animals before starting testing and requirements that companies shut down activities when dolphins and other animals are nearby.

The petroleum institute has called those restrictions "arbitrary and unnecessary," asserting they were based on flawed projections about the number of animals that could be hurt.
"Operators already take great care to protect wildlife, and the best science and decades of experience prove that there is no danger to marine mammal populations,'' API's upstream director, Erik Milito, said Friday."Restrictions that have no scientific basis can easily discourage exploration, private investment and job creation. Regulators should rely only on sound science when setting permit requirements."
 Other limitations formalized Friday include closing access to the migratory routes of the endangered North Atlantic right whale and prohibiting multiple seismic surveys from being conducted simultaneously.
This is the propaganda that lulls the public into thinking that a meaningless "balanced approach" which juggles the rights of polluters to profit and the rights of helpless animals to live is tantamount to ethical policy. It's one more example of the lesser evilism philosophy purporting to justify the neoliberal deregulation of capitalism through measurement of allowable collateral damage. No more than one dead sea turtle per barrel of oil! No more than one demented dolphin pod per sea floor gas field! On paper, anyway. Artificial restrictions, like the medieval plenary indulgences that got rich sinners into heaven, shall grease what's left of their rudimentary moral compasses.
The administration stopped short of requiring companies to use still-developing, quieter technologies for mapping what lies below the seabed.Walter Cruikshank, acting director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said the agency relied on public comments, scientific research and other evidence in developing the safeguards, first outlined in February.
"We are taking every step we think is reasonable to try and put those protections in place while still allowing surveys to occur," Cruikshank told reporters on a conference call.
The Obama administration is nothing if not reasonable. The auditory comfort and mental health of marine life will not be allowed to interfere with progress. The fish larvae which may be killed in the blasts should have picked more responsible parents, I guess. If whales are discomposed by the noise, they should just evacuate the blast areas and find different lodgings.... that is, if the deafening roar hasn't already interfered with their sense of direction.

As Claire Douglass of Oceana writes, Obama's cave to big oil could also have the untoward effect of destroying three quarters of a million jobs in the fishing and tourism industries. And never mind the abuse of human rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. If underwater creatures had rights, the blast-mapping proposal would probably be deemed torture, a war crime under the Geneva Conventions:
According to the government’s own estimates, these dynamite-like blasts could injure and possibly kill up to 138,200 marine mammals, while disrupting the necessary activities of millions more. Impacts to marine mammals could include everything from temporary or permanent hearing loss, to the disruption of vital behaviors like communicating, feeding, mating, calving, migrating, and masking of biologically important sounds.
 "Sound and light bombardment is used to disorient, cause anxiety, and even contribute to personality disintegration, as well as to deprive the person of sleep. It is often combined with other tactics," reports the UN Committee against Torture. That body has also determined that “sounding of loud music for prolonged periods” constitutes torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment both when it is used in combination with other methods of interrogation and when it is used by itself.

And auditory torture is still being used at Guantanamo, according to human rights groups. From The Justice Campaign:
 Noise has been used by torturers to either mask sounds of others being tortured, such as when children’s music was played by the Gestapo when beating Walter Bauer, or when they are trying to disrupt sleep, terrorise or create emotions within the prisoners. In 2004, a U.S. military official admitted that ‘uncooperative prisoners strip to their underwear, having them sit in a chair with shackled hand and foot to a bolt in the floor, and forcing them to endure strobe lights and screaming loud rock and rap music played through two close loudspeakers, while the air conditioning was turned up to maximum levels.’ See, Neil A. Lewis, ‘Broad Use of Harsh Interrogation Techniques is Described at Cuba’, New York Times, October 17th 2004; and Darius Rejali, ‘Torture and Democracy’, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 2007, p.360-366. Australian officials attributed the noise over the years to ‘construction and equipment noise’, after David submitted a complaint about not being able to sleep to Australian embassy officials. Letter to David Mcleod from Simeon Gelding, Assistant Secretary Consular Branch, 23rd March, 2006.
Meanwhile, Obama is threatened with lawsuits on grounds of making too many recess appointments and over-tinkering with the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. Impeachment on grounds of both human and animal cruelty, however, is not on the table.

 "For there is no folly of the beast of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men." -- Herman Melville, Moby Dick

The Endangered Right Whale: Latest Torture Victim

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Field Notes From a Lagging Indicator

By William Neil


Anyone with a social conscience or who has just followed the news since 2010 knows that the struggle for decent health care is not an issue that can stand isolated from other intimately intertwined factors, although our medical and political system tries to keep it that way. My tale  is not unique….it has been already lived by millions if not tens of millions of others, and the pattern by now has become a familiar horror story, if not a drill: a medical crisis leads to an income crisis which leads to a housing crisis…which can in turn create a further medical crisis.  My situation is not the worst, but it is mine and it seems bad enough, so I thought I would share it with Sardonicky readers because living it out in silence does no one any good, and indeed, seems to me to be a form of acquiescence if not complicity with the status quo.  

What follows began as a dialogue triggered by an essay recently sent out by William Greider on the failures of the Democratic Party…I shared my response with those on the Email list and it turned into a dialogue with one of the recipients on the efficacy, or not, of our new health care system, the ACA. From my email sent out earlier this month:

“Thanks for getting back to me.  Just for the greater public interest and your own education, my private life and struggles are now going public, and I've increasingly been working that perspective into my last four essays, over the past three years.  So here are my facts, and I won't take them any further than the Affordable Care Act’s reality for me.  I hope the President's plan has been able to help millions.  

I receive early SS retirement, reduced amount, out of economic necessity, well under $1500; I receive a small NJ pension under $500 and work part time at Target for $8.97 per hour.  As my second year evaluation rolled around in April, I received a 22 cent per hour raise bringing me to that figure.  I got a good evaluation.  My 2013 gross income was just under $34,000.  I am single, divorced.  I applied for the OCA (That should be ACA but I guess the “O” for Obama, does just as well) on Dec. 17, 2013 plugged in all the numbers on the Maryland Exchange and was told quickly and bluntly that I did not qualify for a) Medicaid (income cut-off 14,000) and b) any subsidy. 

Now I live in one of the most expensive counties in the country, Montgomery County, MD but none of these calculations take that into account, only the income.  The County Council's own numbers show that the minimum wage required to be out of poverty is $17.50 per hour.  I finish most months with only $100-$200 to spare, sometimes less, and have been living on the edge that way for two years now.   I haven't missed a credit card payment yet, but my two bills for the cards are $140 each and bound to rise as the $20,000 in medical bills, or more, is, as slowly as I can manage, added to them.  My rent is 1,450 per month and I have to pay all utilities.  I still owe my landlord for several months’ rent when my savings ran out three years ago and before the Social Security arrived and I had to go back to work.  I live at his forbearance on a month-to-month lease and have, most months, paid him what I can spare as “back rent” owed.  

For further economic clarification, and in preparation for testimony before a Republican ethics committee on debtors and personal character, I have not purchased a single appliance or capital good for the past ten years; two pots and pans and a computer (replacing an eight year old one, and a necessity in modern life) in 2011, which went, along with car repairs, auto insurance and vet bills for my beloved Josie, a Belgian Malinois now deceased, on the credit cards out of necessity.  My last vacation was 2006 and I didn't pay for it.  My car is 14 years old - a VW beetle from much happier times.

So when my heart crisis arose out of the blue (I've never smoked and don't drink) with no prior I am.  Over the past week I've spent hours on the phone to utilize the "life event” (I guess they don’t like to use the word crisis, which is surely what it is) clause of OCA in MD, and the drop in income at Target of 50% means I can get a subsidy of $333 per month on the premium and 73% on the co-pays and deductibles...but the only plan I can make is still $165 for the premium plus 900 deductibles and 5200 out of pocket (reduce them by 73%) plus whatever the plan is on drugs (I’ll pay 20-30%).  So very helpful, but still an additional expense with my reduced income and other fixed costs. Ah, I forgot to add an important detail: failing to qualify for ACA/OCA in December, I was planning on picking up Target’s medical coverage for part time workers, at a pretty affordable rate. Unfortunately, they dropped it entirely in the early winter of 2014.

I spent most of today on the phone with our Montgomery County's housing assistance programs.  We are one of the most progressive and sophisticated county governments in the nation.  There is no additional money, long waiting lists (years in some cases) and/or lottery luck for any/all of the housing problems.  Summary: no help on the horizon and none likely to arrive.  If I get an eviction notice, I can get emergency help for one month rent and security deposit...but there are no available public housing places...go read the private want ads was the advice. The system, as one neighbor told me, gets you a little more help when you are homeless, surrounded by your belongings, sitting  in the middle of the street – destitute, in other words.  In preventing that destitution, there is almost no help, and women with dependent children will, rightly so, be first in line.   I told the social worker that I would kill myself before entering the group shelter system.  He seemed to take that easily in stride.  I don’t know if that is courage or cowardice on my part, and I won’t know until if and when I stare that situation in the face.  And I guess it will depend on your  point of view.  I’m trying now not to have that staring match.

I live in the smallest one story house type in the entire county built in 1953: about 1100 sq. feet.  I don't know if I can survive, if I can find, a small one bedroom apt. near me - they all seem to be 1200-1400 help.

So that's the story.  With a great deal of luck I can make the August rent, no way September.   I have no criminal record, great driving record (although my eyesight is now going downhill) and have 1400 pages - or more than four large books - in essays written over seven years've seen two brief unpolished samples...Such is the state of my state, and our social service "net" for someone in my circumstances at age 64.  If the heart troubles (two bouts of angioplasty) don't kill me, the stress of just facing this reality probably will.  When I was discharged last week from the hospital after my first operation, I saw the listing of psychological factors contributing to heart disease centered on various types of stress.  I scored an A+ on each of them…the basic facts of my life over the past nine years.

And I apologize now for using the term medical "Gulag," that is not the best description.  

My mounting waiting room experience though, the beaten, bent people who are being shepherded through a very impersonal system with high technological capabilities and very low humanity treatment ones,  leaves me still with the sense that I am in a vast "refugee" flow...that's what it feels appointments aside from the one hospital procedure and one due next week led me to this vision: rather than a "Gulag,"…the complexes where I get diagnosed, blood and credit drawn out of me...are in sprawling one and two story office complexes that go on for square mile after square mile around Shady Grove the old industrial towns of Newark, Philadelphia,  Camden and Detroit in their glory days,  there is a vast subdivision of labor and practice which fragments the experience and ups the demands on patients.  It is industrial medicine and I had no idea of the tremendous and confusing physical network which surrounds the hospital. 

 My last trip to the blood lab, yesterday, went like this:  I saw my cardiologist Tues...he said you need this blood work, and  have to fast ten hours; I went to the Quest firm, right next door; they don't have a receptionist or an office manager it seems, they all multitask, but I couldn't verbally set up an appointment, face-to-face at their office,  I had to call and go through an automated system.  When I finally set it up, two days later, and when I went in after fasting at 9:30 for a 10:00 appointment…they said they had no record of it...but took me anyhow after a 35-40 minute wait.  The person who drew the blood had a credit card machine right in the examination drawing room; I told her I only wanted to put $50 down, but the system would take only the full swipe for $306.  We made each other laugh with the absurdity; but that afternoon I left critical comments about the low morale, lack of receptionist and no office manager to keep it going – and praised the humanity of the worker, caught, along with me, in this vast system of extraction.  And reminding them of the outrageousness of the credit card machine in an examination room....

That's all for now, thanks for asking, I needed to get this word out.  My "samizdat."  I really don't know if I will make it and only the  glimmer of the hope that I can tell the story, almost as it happens in real time,  to change what others might have to face,  keeps me going. “

Bill Neil
Rockville, MD
PS  I have emerged alive from my second round of angioplasty, or cardiac catheterization, in technical terms.  I tried my best to keep a sense of humanity alive in all my interactions with so many people caught up in this vast system, and I had some wonderfully frank exchanges with nurses, aides and cleaning people.  In some ways, I was working to keep their spirits up, besides my own, knowing a bit about “life on the job.”  But I failed on the last day, after my overnight stay, waiting and wading through the prolonged “discharge process.” It was the knowledge, beyond my own health and the medical aspects of the hospital, that upon my walking out of that recovery room, I would be heading down to visit the “charity” application office for help in dealing with the vast bills I had accumulated without any medical “coverage.”  I knew better, the full risks of not having insurance at my age, of skipping check-ups and all the tests that ought to be run after one turns 50-55, much less 60.  And I had lived with and been married to an emergency room doctor myself, a wonderful woman…but the bleak, on the edge finances of the last five years of my life overruled all, seem now like a vast, blind driving fate I could not overcome.  And the last part of my body that I thought would let me down, my heart, had done so.   So I was angry and yelled at the nurse’s station that after their good medical care I was going to face the grim financial reaper, that was the other side of it and I could not suppress the anger.  My discharge nurse then gave me a pep talk about keeping a “positive attitude.”  She was very, very good, in retrospect, but that wasn’t her best moment – nor mine either. 


(Ed. note -- I'd also like to direct readers to this recent essay by activist and writer Bill Neil.)

Masters of War and Hypocrisy

What a difference a body count makes.

Over the weekend, a numerical tie was reached between the corpses littering a field of Ukrainian sunflowers and the corpses spread out within the Gaza outdoor prison. The temporary parity achieved was 298 people in each locale. The Ukrainian crash death toll is static, while the Gazan casualties keep piling up. Today alone, an additional 87 Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers died.

The plane crash victims have engendered the usual official outrage from government officials pretending to be capable of such a normal human emotion. Photos and life stories of the passengers have been spread out on the front pages and on the TV screens. But with the exception of the young boys playing on the beach, the civilian Palestinians shot and bombed to death have been described by the same sanctimonious officials as unfortunate collateral damage.

President Obama fumes from one side of his mouth that Putin and Russia will have to pay for this atrocity. And from the other side of his mouth he humbly requests that Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu use a little restraint in his own killing spree. Obama wants the whole world to punish Russia. He wants the whole world to support Israel, not matter what.

Russian-made military hardware allegedly killed innocent airline travelers. American-made military hardware kills innocents throughout the world. The day before a surface-to-air missile shot a jumbo jet out of the sky, Predator drone missiles blasted yet another group of Muslim "militants" on the Obama Kill List into oblivion. And on Saturday, a dozen more people died in a similar American attack.

American drone operators often target the rescuers and recovery crews of drone casualties in what's euphemistically described as a "double tap." This practice  is a war crime.  But that didn't stop Secretary of State John Kerry from railing on TV against "drunken separatists" who had the nerve to dishonor crash victims by "unceremoniously" placing their bodies in refrigerated railroad cars.

The New York Times, fully on board with the US government-spawned propaganda, actually had headlines blaring that the "rebels" were holding the corpses hostage!
 Pro-Russian separatist militiamen have seized custody of the bodies of about 200 victims of the Malaysia Airlines passenger jet that was blown out of the sky by a surface-to-air missile, Ukrainian officials said on Sunday, and rebels continued to limit access to the crash site in eastern Ukraine, blocking the work of experts even as hundreds of untrained local volunteers were picking through the wreckage with sticks.
I guess the drunken mobs should count themselves lucky that a drone double-tap was not in the cards when they decided to go "picking" through the wreckage in order to place the corpses into body bags.

And while Kerry is demanding accountability and intact bodies, Obama himself has been granted legal immunity from accounting for his own 2,000-plus corpse count. The Senate has quietly absolved him of a requirement to divulge the names and other particulars of his drone victims. As far as the actual bodies are concerned, there was likely very little left to "pick through" anyway -- no necessity to treat them with respect, refrigeration, cremation, burials, or funerals to appease the grieving relatives. Obama has also been granted continuing permission from the Congress he pretends to despise to keep classified the names of any American citizens who might potentially be placed on his Kill List.

It's a wonder they all don't explode from the sound of their own hypocrisy. But that would require an actual conscience.

Meanwhile, follow the money. It leads straight into the coffers of the masters of war: the weapons manufacturers, the oil and gas industries, the big banks, and the politicians who so ably serve them before spinning through the revolving doors for their big cash payouts.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

People Are Not Illegal

 Here's a snippet from Tuesday's regular White House briefing, in which press flack Josh Earnest was confronted about the gut-churning televised spectacle of a planeload of mothers and children being deported from the US and dumped into the most dangerous city on the planet.
MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jeff, the flight that you’re referring to was a flight that was operated by the Department of Homeland Security in their capacity as a law enforcement agency, that they were enforcing the law.  So that is a decision that was made by that law enforcement agency.
I would point out, though, that that is a reflection of the effort that this administration has made to increase the resources that are used to deal with this surge that we’ve seen in recent days.  That flight was composed of -- the people who were on that flight were individuals who had attempted to enter this country without documentation and were traveling with a minor, so these were so-called family units.  And they had been apprehended at the border. 
They had been detained at the Artesia facility in New Mexico that we opened up a just a few weeks ago.  And it is a reflection in part of this administration’s commitment to prioritize the cases of recent border crossers, and that should be a clear signal, again, to individuals who are contemplating making the dangerous journey, or putting their children in the hands of a criminal to make the dangerous journey from Central America to the United States, that if apprehended at the border, they will be -- they're entitled to due process, but they will not be welcomed to this country with open arms.
Q    So you’ve made clear that it was DHS.  But is the White House or the President involved at all in authorizing that flight and/or future flights like it?
MR. EARNEST:  Well, the President is responsible for setting out sort of the topline policy for -- adding additional resources within his capacity as the head of the executive branch to address some of these problems.  And he’s certainly been working closely with the Secretary of Homeland Security to surge those resources to open these facilities.  He directed the FEMA Director to step in and play a role in coordinating among DHS, DOD and HHS, who are the agencies involved in this broader effort.  So there is a role for the President to play in terms of making decisions about where to devote our resources and how those resources should be deployed to address this specific problem.  But when it comes specifically to enforcing the law, that's the responsibility of law enforcement officials, and that flight reflects their commitment to carrying out their duties.
As USA Today reports,
 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said they are among nearly 82,000 migrants from Central America who have been returned this fiscal year.
"As President Obama, the vice president and (Homeland Security) Secretary (Jeh) Johnson have said, our border is not open to illegal migration, and we will send recent illegal migrants back," she said.
Even some Democratic politicians who can usually be counted upon to stay herded in the Obama veal pen are rediscovering their lost moral compasses in the face of this blatant inhumanity. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, to her credit, is finally saying no to The One. Maybe it's out of concern for her own political hide and the Hispanic vote, and maybe it's out of true compassion for the child refugees. But whatever the reason, her public repudiation of Obama's heartlessness is a refreshing breath of fresh air. I'd actually been waiting for her to urge her caucus to "embrace the suck" as she has done so often before, when it came to caving on the president's austerity budget, social security cuts and punting on unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless.

That Obama is actually trying to placate the growing throngs of gun-toting xenophobes hurling epithets at distressed refugee families is a new low -- even for him. His equation of children with invading hordes that require a military "counter-surge" ranks right down there with his drone assassination crusade against other brown-skinned "foreigners" in other parts of the world. It also helps explain how his administration can defend Israel on what is increasingly looking like a genocide against Palestinians.

It's more than sociopathy. It's pure evil, institutionalized and sanitized. It's weaponry labeled as humanitarianism:

Hear us then: we know.
You are our enemy. This is why we shall
Now put you in front of a wall. But in consideration
of your merits and good qualities
We shall put you in front of a good wall and shoot you
With a good bullet from a good gun and bury you
With a good shovel in the good earth.-- Slavoj Zizek

My New York Times comment in response to Charles Blow's column (heartfelt and true, except for the fact that he places all of the blame for the current outbreak of bigotry on Republicans and none on Obama):
 It's good to see more Democratic leaders taking a compassionate stand on behalf of the refugee children. Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday publicly rebuked the White House's initial call for mass deportation of the children and willingness to negotiate with the xenophobes. The displaced people who fled for their lives are no different than the Katrina victims.
But witness the nauseating haste with which the mother-child family units are being deported. The moms are being punished for sharing the hazardous journey north with their kids, rather than sending them on alone. It speaks volumes about pols who pontificate about the sanctity of the intact family!
The refugees are just the latest scapegoats in this richest country on earth with the most extreme wealth disparity on earth. The have-littles are demonizing the have-nothings, and the have-everythings are just egging them on. It's the same old divide and conquer technique rulers always use to pit various oppressed groups against one another.
In Murrieta, the population skyrocked by 200% during the burst bubble of a first decade of this century. Among its top 10 employers are such low wage hell-holes as Walmart, Sam's Club, Lowe's, Home Depot and Target. When the mayor complained his town is getting a black eye, he boasted that Murrieta is home to 700 (!) charities and a Bible center. Desperation and old-time religion make for a perfect xenophobic storm.
It's not an immigration crisis. And human beings cannot be illegal.
I was paraphrasing another Nobel Peace Prize recipient:

 No Human Being is Illegal

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Medical Mutiny: The Power of One

A Navy nurse refused early this month to force-feed Guantanamo hunger-striking detainees on grounds of conscientious objection, and has since been "reassigned" to other duties. From Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald:
A prison camp spokesman, Navy Capt. Tom Gresback, would not provide precise details but said Monday night that the episode had “no impact to medical support operations at the base.”
“There was a recent instance of a medical provider not willing to carry out the enteral feeding of a detainee,” he said in an email. “The matter is in the hands of the individual’s leadership.” 
The unnamed medic is the first known Gitmo staffer to refuse to partake in what the United Nations describes as torture and a breach of international law, and the brass euphemizes as "medical support operations." Detainees, many of whom have been cleared for release but remain indefinitely imprisoned because of "instability" in their home or potential host countries, began their hunger strike 18 months ago.

 A team of ethicists had urged a "medical mutiny" at the facility. And one brave soul finally heard the message. One person decided to ignore President Obama's plaintive excuse that "I don't want these individuals to die."

As Rupert Coville, spokesman for the UN High Commission on Human Rights, explains, force-feeding was formally deemed cruel and unacceptable punishment by a panel of international medical ethicists in 1975.

"Even if intended to benefit, feeding accompanied with threats, coercion, force or use of physical restraints is a form of inhuman and degrading treatment. Equally unacceptable is the force feeding of some detainees in order to intimidate or coerce other hunger strikers to stop fasting," it (the panel) said.

And as one detainee wrote in a memorable New York Times op-ed last year, forced feeding is degrading and extremely painful. He described the ordeal this way:
A team from the E.R.F. (Extreme Reaction Force), a squad of eight military police officers in riot gear, burst in. They tied my hands and feet to the bed. They forcibly inserted an IV into my hand. I spent 26 hours in this state, tied to the bed. During this time I was not permitted to go to the toilet. They inserted a catheter, which was painful, degrading and unnecessary. I was not even permitted to pray.
I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t. There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone. 
It took over a year, but at least one would-be torturer was humane enough to crack. I wonder where this guy was "reassigned." Hopefully he's not in a prison cell with Chelsea Manning, that other famous conscientious objector, while awaiting his court martial. But whoever he is, he is a hero.

Meanwhile, it seems the torturers themselves have been stupid and sadistic enough to actually film their grotesqueries. And the Obama administration is, not surprisingly, mightily resisting FOIA demands for the release of the tapes for public viewing. I guess it's just one of those uncomfortable photo-ops that might place the president in a bad light. It would be a grotesquerie too far.