- America has an alarmingly high amount of prisoners in comparison to other Western nations. (Of course, the majority of them are minorities.)
- Rupert Murdoch is trying to add Newsday to his media empire, but is running into complications with the FCC, since he already owns two print publications and two local TV stations in the New York metropolitan area, and a buying a third publication would be illegal. We expect the FCC to cave any day now.
- The three New York City detectives that pumped 50 bullets into city resident Sean Bell, an African-American man, the night before his wedding day got acquitted of all charges. It's so nice to see justice prevail.
- The Senate passed a bill banning genetic discrimination, because unlike sexism and racism, it affects all of them.
- A record number of people across the country have applied for emergency energy assistance grants to help pay electric and oil bills that they couldn't afford this winter.
- Taliban-style laws appear to be making a comeback in Afghanistan.
Friday, April 25, 2008
As I was cruising the blogosphere, I came across an old piece by Chris Floyd, which was #4 on Project Censored's "Top 25 Stories of 2002/2003": "Into the Dark: The Pentagon Plan to Foment Terrorism." Floyd is always a must-read, but this piece, in particular, is essential for anyone who wants to understand the true goals of the "Terror War."
While I believe that engaging war-crazy egomaniacal douchebags such as Thomas Friedman in logical dialog is ultimately more damaging to their ilk than throwing pie in their face, how could you not love seeing Friedman look so pissed-off as he shuffles around the stage at Brown, covered in whip cream?
p.s. For an excellent post on Thomas Friedman's idiocy and blood-lust, please go here.
Glenn Greenwald has a recent post that questions the Colin Powell-with-the-jar-of-anthrax-like "evidence" behind the Bush administration's latest claim that North Korea is helping Syria to develop a plutonium-producing nuclear facility.
The only scary thing about this news is how eerily similar it sounds to the sketchy arguments made by the same administration five years ago about the relationship between Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.
Furthermore, as Greenwald points out, very, very few media outlets are actually getting a second opinion on the validity of this relationship, and are simply parroting the administration's talking points without questioning them.
Is it too much to ask "respectable" news organizations like the Associated Press, The Washington Post and Reuters to question these claims? It can't be that hard to find critical voices on the subject, as the The New York Times has managed to dig up a few. Instead, they're just giving Bush and his sycophants a free pass to spew highly questionable allegations similar to the ones that led to a disastrous, ongoing war.
My question is, has the press corps simply not learned its lesson, or do they just not give a shit?
Thursday, April 24, 2008
I got the answers to my questions about the failed vote on the Lily Ledbetter Act.
Apparently, Harry Reid voted "no" on the act as a tactical move that would allow him to bring the bill of for cloture at a later time (and let's make sure that he does, folks).
Also, I found out why the Republicans wanted to block the bill from coming to a vote in the first place.
The bill that stalled Wednesday would have reset the clock with every paycheck, with supporters arguing that each paycheck was a discriminatory act. But Sen. Johnny Isakson, a Georgia Republican, said the bill would allow retirees drawing pensions to sue their old companies over allegations of discrimination that happened decades ago.
"We're about having integrity in the system, so we have timely complaints, we have timely evidence, and the parties that are there can quickly be remedied," Isakson said.
Republican logic never ceases to boggle the brain. A retired employee who has been discriminated against for years of hard work and now has to live off a smaller pension and social security benefits than their former co-workers due to discrimination should have every right to sue their employer for back pay owed to them. That's their basic right, assholes.
Also, how else to you expect to hold corporations responsible for their illegal actions if they can't be brought to court? Sure, there's a time period in which you can (180 days after your first unequal paycheck), but that is totally unrealistic. In Lily Ledbetter's case, it took almost 20 years for her to discover that she was getting shafted.
The paltry excuse the Republicans offer only further reveals their true motives:
1)Protect the corporations.
2)Keep women in their place.
I guess they saw the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone Wednesday night.
Echidne of the Snakes has a very informative, insightful 3-part-series on the "gender gap" here. It's definitely worth your time.
Thanks to the amazing m for the tip.
Here's another nugget for all of you Gitmo fans out there. From the Washington Post:
Yes, that's right: Your government has authorized the illegal forced drugging of illegally held prisoners. And not only that, but the use of these drugs was experimental by its very nature.
Adel al-Nusairi remembers his first six months at Guantanamo Bay as this: hours and hours of questions, but first, a needle.
"I'd fall asleep" after the shot, Nusairi, a former Saudi policeman captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan in 2002, recalled in an interview with his attorney at the military prison in Cuba, according to notes. After being roused, Nusairi eventually did talk, giving U.S. officials what he later described as a made-up confession to buy some peace.
"I was completely gone," he remembered. "I said, 'Let me go. I want to go to sleep. If it takes saying I'm a member of al-Qaeda, I will.' "
Nusairi, now free in Saudi Arabia, was unable to learn what drugs were injected before his interrogations. He is not alone in wondering: At least two dozen other former and current detainees at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere say they were given drugs against their will or witnessed other inmates being drugged, based on interviews and court documents.
Like Nusairi, other detainees believed the injections were intended to coerce confessions.
The Defense Department and the CIA, the two agencies responsible for detaining terrorism suspects, both deny using drugs as an enhancement for interrogations, and suggest that the stories from Nusairi and others like him are either fabrications or mistaken interpretations of routine medical treatment.
Yet the allegations have resurfaced because of the release this month of a 2003 Justice Department memo that explicitly condoned the use of drugs on detainees.
Written to provide legal justification for interrogation practices, the memo by then-Justice Department lawyer John C. Yoo rejected a decades-old U.S. ban on the use of "mind-altering substances" on prisoners. Instead, he argued that drugs could be used as long as they did not inflict permanent or "profound" psychological damage. U.S. law "does not preclude any and all use of drugs," Yoo wrote in the memo. He declined to comment for this article.
The memo has prompted new calls for the Bush administration to give a full accounting of its treatment of detainees, and to make public detailed prison medical records. Legal experts and human rights groups say that forced drugging of detainees for any nontherapeutic reasons would be a particularly grave breach of international treaties banning torture.
"The use of drugs as a form of restraint of prisoners is both unlawful and unethical," said Leonard Rubenstein, an expert on medical ethics and the president of Physicians for Human Rights. "These allegations demand a full inquiry by Congress and the Department of Justice."
Scott Allen, a physician and co-director of the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights in Providence, R.I, noted that there are no accepted medical standards for the use of drugs to subjugate prisoners. Thus, any such use in interrogations "would have to be considered an experimental use of medicine."
One of the important things to note here is that the confessions extracted from prisoners using these coercive methods were almost certainly false ("Nusairi eventually did talk, giving U.S. officials what he later described as a made-up confession to buy some peace.") Yes, I'm sure glad the Pentagon and the CIA are keeping us safer by tormenting people until they make shit up.
Well, all that remains to be done now is arrest those who authorized and carried out these illegal acts. Pretty clear-cut case of lawbreaking. I'm waiting....
(A note about the Post's article: Like all mainstream media pieces dealing with the abuse of government detainees, it automatically assumes the detainees are "terrorism suspects". In fact, many of the people held by the U.S. in Gitmo and elsewhere were turned in for the flimsiest of reasons—personal grudges, bounties, etc. To refer to all these people as "terrorism suspects" simply because they are held by the U.S. is fundamentally misleading.)
It is all too rare that we get the chance to praise one of our congressional representatives for actually showing leadership and doing something good for the constituents who aren't owners of multi-million dollar corporations.
Therefore, I think we should take this chance to thank Senator Bob Casey Jr. (D-PA) for stepping up and joining the fight against the skyrocketing prices of birth control on college campuses (caused by a congressional oversight last year) by supporting the Prevention Through Affordable Access Bill. Sen Casey represents an interesting concept: An anti-abortion Senator who actually recognizes that one of the best ways to reduce abortion is to provide affordable contraception.
Whether you're from Pennsylvania or not, please head over here to Planned Parenthood to take a minute to encourage Sen. Casey to keep up the good work.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Via The Guardian:
The UN is to halt food handouts for up to 800,000 Palestinians from tomorrow because of a severe fuel shortage in Gaza brought on by an Israeli economic blockade.
John Ging, the director of operations in Gaza for the UN Relief and Works Agency, which supports Palestinian refugees, said there had been a "totally inadequate" supply of fuel from Israel to Gaza for 10 months until it was finally halted two weeks ago. "The devastating humanitarian impact is entirely predictable," he said.
A shortage of diesel and petrol means UN food assistance to 650,000 Palestinian refugees will stop tomorrow, and aid from the World Food Programme for another 127,000 Palestinians due in the coming days will also be halted.
Of course, the negative effects of Israel's blockade is not appearing in any of the mainstream U.S. papers, a point we have made before here at DisPro.
And of course, this collective punishment of the Palestinian people on the part of Israel is completely illegal under international law, not to mention that the entire logic behind the blockade is a tad off. By not feeding bellies, Israel is inevitably feeding Hamas' ranks with thousands of hungry, angry new supporters. A quote taken from a Palestinian makes this clear:
For nearly three weeks, the fuel distributors have effectively been on strike in protest at the shortages. "We ask Israel to declare they will send the right amount of fuel into Gaza that is necessary for our needs," said Mahmoud Khazendar, vice-president of the distributors' association. "If they want to punish Hamas then OK, but not 1.5 million people."
Violence doesn't justify more violence, especially when it's being committed against many for the deeds of a few. Where is the moral authority in that?
No one has summed it up better than AngryBlackBitch:
Anyhoo, a bitch suspects Pennsylvania is glad to see that donkey’s ass crossing the state line.
Indeed, ABB. Indeed.
Freepress.net has launched a campaign to urge Congress to investigate the Pentagon's co-opting of the media for propagandistic purposes. Head over there now, and tell your representatives to take action. Check this out, too:
(Our favorite Rumsfeld talking point: "You go on O'Reilly, and he's eating out of your hand, because you're smart.")
UPDATE: The Senate Armed Services Committee has called for the Pentagon to conduct an internal probe. This is not enough—Congress needs to appoint an independent investigator. Asking the Pentagon to investigate itself is sort of like asking Bush's Justice Department to do the same.
The Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act failed to pass cloture in the Senate today, which means that the senate isn't going to vote one way or the other on this bill for now.
Even though it got the clear majority of votes, it needed 60 to pass. You know what that means? That means that the Republicans pulled one of their little "silent filibusters" against a law that would end discriminatory pay practices against women who make 77 cents or less for every $1 dollar a man makes. And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid let them get away with it by caving in to their demands for a 60 vote filibuster. To prove just how collectively sexist the Republicans in the Senate are, here's the stats from the vote:
- All 49 of the Democrats* and the 2 Independents voted "Yes"
- All but 4 of the 49 Republicans voted "No"
- 2 of those four Republicans were women from Maine: Susan Collins (R-ME) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME). Props to you.
- The only two female senators to vote "no" were both Republicans: Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Elizabeth Dole (R-NC)
- Props also go out to the only 2 male Republicans to vote "Yes": Gordon Smith (R-OR) and John Sununu (R-NH)
Because, well gosh-gee-gollickers, it doesn't really matter what women get paid because they should just be stay-at-home-moms as soon as they pop out a kid, and let the Man of the House bring home the bacon every night, right? And if those bleeding-bag-o'hormones called women can't figure out that they're being "discriminated" against in 180 days of their first unequal paycheck, they shouldn't be paid as well as their more deserving, superior male colleagues anyways, right?
Fuck you. Fuck you for filibustering a piece of legislation that would have protected half of your constituents from unlawful discrimination. Fuck you, Harry Reid, for being a tool to the Republican party. And fuck you, Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) for being tools of the patriarchy.
Although fumes may indeed be spewing forth from my head, fear not, all those who would see the Lily Ledbetter Act passed, for the fight is not yet over. Over at the National Women's Law Center, they have pledged to force the Senate to bring the bill up again and again until it passes. But in order for this strategy to be successful, they need your help and the help of everybody you know who wants to stop women from being treated as second class citizens.
Please take two minutes of your time to see how your Senators voted here, and then call them with the appropriate "Thank You" or "Please reconsider your vote" message. It's up to us now to demand our basic rights as human beings and citizens of the United States of America, because it's obvious that no one else is going to stand up for us.
*Note: According to the National Women's Law Center, although Harry Reid supports the bill he had to vote "no" for some ridiculous technical reason that is still not clear. I will update you when I find out what that is, although I strongly suspect it was because as the tool of the Republican party, he's "technically" supposed to vote how they do.
Here's Lily Ledbetter herself, explaining why she decided to go to court:
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Monday, April 21, 2008
- The Guardian has an excellent, must-read excerpt from Philip Sands' new book, The Torture Team.
- Chris Floyd has an incredibly sad/funny post about the blind spot Americans have for the unfolding Somalian tragedy.
- The New York Times finally got around to "uncovering" the fact that the Pentagon and Bush Administration have used Generals working as "analysts" for major news broadcast companies as part of the government's pro-war propaganda machine. Glenn Greenwald has a very insightful post about the article here.
- The new trailer for Juno II is already out.
OK, that's debatable. Still, even knowing that Clinton is in the middle of a tough campaign and will say practically anything at this point to inch up in the polls, this shocked me:
(From ABC news)
"I want the Iranians to know that if I'm the president, we will attack Iran," Clinton said. "In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them."Even John "Bomb-Bomb-Bomb Iran" McCain hasn't, to my knowledge, said anything this baldly aggressive. Clinton isn't merely saying that "no option is off the table" (the position held by McCain and Obama, and dangerous enough in its own right). And, despite the generous framing of the ABC article ("Hillary: If Iran Attacked Israel With nukes 'We Would Be Able to Totally Obliterate Them'"), she isn't saying that an attack on Iran would be contingent upon their attacking Israel with nuclear weapons. She's saying, with terrifying certainty, that Iran WILL be attacked if she becomes president—period.
Sincere promise or cynical political move? Who knows. But here's the main point: It is now considered perfectly normal for an American presidential candidate to advocate for aggressive, unprovoked war against—and the "total obliteration" of—another country. In an even slightly less insane political landscape, a statement like this would be enough to consign a politician to the fringe. How is it any different, really, from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad saying Israel should be "wiped off the map"?
But the horrifying truth is that this call to mass murder will probably gain no more attention than Clinton's Passover address. That's where we are. Think about that.
Friday, April 18, 2008
So much for hope and change: Via Will Bunch, it seems as though Barack Obama won't do jack shit to prosecute Bush administration officials who have broken the law. (Watch the video here).
Obama starts off by saying he'd have his Justice Department thoroughly review the information we already have before doing anything. Fair enough. But he never actually says that any criminal wrongdoing should be prosecuted (they should be "investigated"). He claims that there needs to be a distinction between criminal lawbreaking and "very bad" policies. True—but the evidence of criminal lawbreaking is already ample. He says he wouldn't want to do anything that congressional Republicans would "perceive" as a "partisan witch-hunt." (The "perceptions" of a bunch of slimy dirtbags are more important than prosecuting a president who repeatedly broke the law.) Then, most absurdly, he claims that impeachment "wouldn't be a fruitful policy to pursue" because it should be reserved for "exceptional circumstances."
So starting a war under false pretenses, explicitly authorizing the torture of prisoners who have been denied their legal right to due process, spying on Americans without a warrant, creating a worldwide system of secret prisons, erecting a wall on the Mexican border that violates environmental and property laws, allowing your underlings at the DOJ to fire attorneys for political reasons, asserting your right to bypass any law you please—not a single one of these things, apparently, constitutes an "exceptional circumstance" for the hope-monger.
It is the height of naivete that the monstrous abuses of the Bush administration will simply go away when the prick leaves office. Because they have not been prosecuted, they have been accepted into the mainstream. If Bush can get away with this stuff, what's to stop the next president from doing the same? Nothing, because nobody—not even the benighted Obama—will do anything to enforce the law.
Many liberal bloggers complain, rightly, about the media's obvious and overwhelming bias in favor of John McCain. But they themselves are guilty of Obama-worship. They have tolerated his pandering and cowardly centrism for much too long. Time to take up arms and start demanding real change, along with real justice.
Update: Let's not forget about preventing states from providing health insurance to middle class children.
- Women are paid only 77 cents for every dollar paid to men.
- African-American women are paid 63 cents for every dollar paid to white men.
- Latinas are paid 52 cents for every dollar paid to white men.
In Lily M. Ledbetter's case, she did not discover that she was making less than her male co-workers - even those with less seniority - until someone slipped her an anonymous note about the matter, after nearly 20 YEARS of service at the Goodyear Tire plant in Gadsden, Alabama. She was the only woman out of 17 employees at the same management level at the plant.
In response to the court's dubious decision, Congress is voting on the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act next week, as early as Wednesday. This bill would allow people to prosecute their employers for pay discrimination without a 180-day time limit by designating each discriminatory paycheck as an ongoing violation of the law.
I encourage you to sign the petitions (here and here) being collected by the National Women's Law Center and the ACLU to encourage your congress members to vote for this legislation.
If you want to find other ways to get involved, check out the websites of the two previously mentioned organizations as well as MomsRising.org, an organization dedicated to making American corporate culture more family-friendly.
Donating your name and two minutes of your time will help make America a more just place for everybody.
So if you haven't watched the recent Democratic debate held in Philly on Wednesday, lucky you! You missed one of the most atrocious examples of shoddy and self-righteous journalism ever to play out in front of a mass audience here in the U.S. We mean ever. (No, we haven't forgotten Tim Russert.)
Basically, ABC News (the host of the debate) had two of their stooges, Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos go on stage and re-hash (for the first 45 minutes of the debate) a whole bunch of petty, insignificant questions about the kind of drivel that the media has been blithering on about for the past month or so, including flag pins, sniper fire, America-hating pastors, aging members of the Weather Underground, and small-town bitterness.
Arguably worse was some of the coverage the debate received in the mainstream media. As Glenn Greenwald notes, in their report on the debate in yesterday's Washington Post, Anne Kornblut and Dan Balz devoted about 97 paragraphs to recounting this trivial bullshit, before remarking that "the debate also touched on Iraq, Iran, the Middle East, taxes, the economy, guns and affirmative action."
Because, after all, the little people out there are just too darned ignorant to understand or care about boring stuff like that. As Greenwald argues in his take of the debate, journalists repeatedly choose to dish this deliciously dirty personality-based politics out because they consider themselves the true representatives of where the "salt of the earth", down-home, small-town average people want to see the political discourse go.
Of course, in reality this is a disgustingly condescending and hypocritical self-designation of the press and punditry class to take on. When is the last time these overpaid gasbags ever had to choose between flute lessons for the kids or saving for retirement because their job has stopped paying overtime? Or when is the last time they prayed that it wasn't "the call" every time the phone rang, because their child was in Iraq? Answer: Never. They simply want to feel important while being big slackers: the less substance in their reports, the less they actually have to work on doing their Goddamn job.
Time and again, poll after poll shows that what most concerns the American people is the ever-faltering economy, Iraq, and health-care. Why then, are we getting 45 minutes of vapid nonsense when we should be forcing the presidential candidates to answer tough questions about how the hell they plan to clean up after Bush and the kids in his administration?
Various right-wing talking heads have suggested that the only people who should be angry about this travesty are supporters of Clinton and (especially) Obama. It is true, of course, that Republicans are largely pleased with the debate (because it plays right into their talking points), and Democrats are fuming. But you shouldn't have to be an Obama supporter to care about journalistic integrity. Here at DisPro, we have often voiced sharp criticism of Obama, and we wouldn't consider ourselves unconditional Obama (or Clinton) supporters. Indeed, while the odious likes of David Brooks (and Stephanopoulos himself) go to great lengths to defend their despicable dialog, the truth is that, according to a poll conducted by the Philadelphia Daily News, 85% of Americans are disgusted with the debate that took place on Wednesday. It was a complete waste of their time. And yet, in a testament to the true scale of egoism these so-called "journalists" possess, even after hundreds of angry blog posts and thousands of disgruntled comments on ABC's website, both moderators can't seem to find anything wrong with their pathetic performance.
Ultimately, the debate provided a good look at how low our political discourse has sunk in this country, thanks to ABC ogres like Gibson and Stephan-umpa-loompoulos and their disgraceful sycophants in the media.
MoveOn is conducting a petition to ABC concerning the networks outrageous lack of substance in the debate and demanding better coverage in the future. You can sign it here. You know you want to. Do it. Go on, do it. Please?
What was Joan Walsh thinking?!
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
You no longer need to sign into OpenID to comment on our blog, so now the process will be supremely easy. As Uncle Ben once said, "with great power comes great responsibility," so if you choose to post anonymously, please refrain from being a big jerk. Respect the blog, and the blog will respect you.
Quill and Farol
p.s. Please please please comment!
One of the unspoken rules of our establishment press (and our political establishment in general) is that the Israeli government can do no wrong. Israel, we are told, is a beacon of democratic freedom in a land dominated by barbarians. Their interests are ours because they are peace-loving and good, and whatever military action they take is always in self-defense.
Because of this unspoken rule, the many horrendously brutal policies Israel has enacted over the years have been under-reported, if even reported at all, here. When, before the recent raids in Gaza, an Israeli defense minister threatened the people of Gaza with "a bigger shoah", this extraordinarily chilling statement received no mention here. Later, when the Israeli military denied wounded Gazans access to medical care, that, too, went unnoticed. But, after the raids, when eight Israeli students were killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber, the story was right up there on the front page of the New York Times. So it goes, and so it will continue to go for a long while.
In order to read truly balanced coverage of this conflict, you have to go to non-American news sources. In the latest issue of The Guardian, Rory McCarthy has an excellent article detailing Israel's ongoing demolition of Palestinian homes in the West Bank in order to make room for more (illegal) settlements. The piece should be read in full, but some relevant excerpts follow:
In the end it came down to a single-page letter, written in Hebrew and Arabic and hand-delivered by an Israeli army officer who knocked at the front door. The letter spelt the imminent destruction of the whitewashed three-storey home and small, tree-lined garden that Bassam Suleiman spent so long saving for and then built with his family a decade ago.
It was a final demolition order, with instructions to evacuate the house within three days.
If Suleiman was in any doubt about the Israeli military's intentions he had only to look outside his back door where large piles of rubble and broken concrete mark the remains of the seven of his neighbours' houses that were demolished in the same way last year.
"How would you feel when you've spent 20 years finishing your life's project?" said Suleiman, 38, a teacher. He began moving his furniture out after the letter, from the civil administration of Judea and Samaria, the defence ministry department responsible for the Israeli-occupied West Bank, came on January 31. Now there are just a couple of plastic chairs in his front room and in the hallway the carpets are rolled up and ready to be moved. Clothes are piled on the floor and the shelves are empty, save for a stack of documents charting the story of the impending demolition. His brother, Husam, has already left the ground floor flat but the new washing machine and fridge stand still wrapped in plastic. Suleiman, his wife and two children wait for the bulldozers.
"Everything I did in my life was for what's now inside this house and now it's going to be destroyed," said Suleiman. "It's very hard for me to find somewhere else to live."
The Israeli authorities argue that Suleiman's house was built in a part of the West Bank known as area C, a designation from the era of the Oslo Accords which means Israel has full military and administrative control. In order to build, a Palestinian must apply for a permit from the Israeli authorities. If there is no permit - as in Suleiman's case - the building is liable for demolition.
The article goes on to detail not only how the rate of demolitions has increased over the past year, but how some Palestinians who were originally told their homes weren't even in Area C are now finding them demolished, as well. "Silent transfer" is too polite a term: this is ethnic cleansing, pure and simple.
Area C covers 60% of the West Bank, home to around 70,000 Palestinians. It is also the area in which most Jewish settlements, all illegal under international law, are built. Compelling statistical evidence shows that while it is extremely hard for Palestinians to obtain building permits, settlements continue to grow rapidly.
Research by the Israeli group Peace Now found that 94% of Palestinian permit applications for Area C building were refused between 2000 and September 2007. Only 91 permits were granted to Palestinians, but 18,472 housing units were built in Jewish settlements. As a result of demolition orders 1,663 Palestinian buildings were demolished, against only 199 in the settlements. "The denial of permits for Palestinians on such a large scale raises the fear that there is a specific policy by the authorities to encourage a 'silent transfer' of the Palestinian population from area C," Peace Now said.
But I know this ethnic cleansing isn't really Israel's fault. I know Israel has no choice but to do this, because Barack Obama told me that the conflict in the Middle East "emanates from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam."
You find out it just got that much worse. Via the New York Times, it seems that more and more insurance companies are adopting a new pricing plan that changes their co-payment policies to something referred to as a Tier-4 plan. Instead of charging a fixed sum (like $20 or $30) for a given prescription that may cost between $1,000-$3,500, insurance companies are now charging clients a certain percentage (as much as 30%) of the total cost of ridiculously expensive medication. FYI, 20% of $3,500 is $1,050. Imagine spending that every time you needed to buy a bottle of pills for medication necessary to extend your life.
In fact, the people affected most by the new Tier-4 fad are chronically ill people suffering from diseases like cancer, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Apparently, this change is being increasingly adopted by insurance companies claiming that higher co-payments for sick people mean lower premiums for healthy people:
Private insurers began offering Tier 4 plans in response to employers who were looking for ways to keep costs down, said Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, which represents most of the nation’s health insurers. When people who need Tier 4 drugs pay more for them, other subscribers in the plan pay less for their coverage.
But the new system sticks seriously ill people with huge bills, said James Robinson, a health economist at the University of California, Berkeley. “It is very unfortunate social policy,” Dr. Robinson said. “The more the sick person pays, the less the healthy person pays.”
What. The. Fuck.
I thought the point of insurance was to help you pay for medical costs if you got sick. If not, what the hell is the point of insurance?
Another disturbing facet of this incomprehensibly irresponsible policy change is that this trend began with Medicare insurance companies, almost all of which have switched to the Tier-4 pricing plan, and has recently spread to 10% of private insurance companies. So people who are disabled, impoverished, or on some kind of state aid - the people who are least likely to be able to afford the rising costs - are being severely affected by Tier-4 tyranny.
Although good news may be on the horizon for people with private insurance - some companies like Kaiser are "reassessing" the new policy due to customer's concerns - the fact is, nobody knows how many people these drastically rising costs are affecting. How many people out there, in the middle of this recession, are having to choose between life-saving medication and other expenses like their mortgage, college for their kids, and increasingly expensive staples such as milk, bread and eggs?
I think that Americans have taken the "put-your-nose-to-the-grindstone-don't-ask-for-anything-pray-to-God-to-take-care-of-us" level of independence too far. We have to recognize that our government has a duty to care for the citizens who pay taxes to it, who send their kids to war for it, whose purchases keep the economy from going even farther down the toilet. The truth is, the government needs to step in and fix the God-forsaken cruel joke that is the U.S. health-care system, but that won't happen until we demand it; until the People demand it, all of us.
It's not demanding socialism, it's demanding justice.
Friday, April 11, 2008
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
In a story that (sadly) should come as no surprise to anyone who's been following the ongoing U.S. occupation, The Guardian reports that the Bushies are planning for an "open-ended" (read: permanent) military presence in Iraq:
Needless to say, the administration does not intend to submit this plan for congressional approval. And—also needless to say—this Congress probably won't do anything besides whine about that.
A confidential draft agreement covering the future of US forces in Iraq, passed to the Guardian, shows that provision is being made for an open-ended military presence in the country.
The draft strategic framework agreement between the US and Iraqi governments, dated March 7 and marked "secret" and "sensitive", is intended to replace the existing UN mandate and authorises the US to "conduct military operations in Iraq and to detain individuals when necessary for imperative reasons of security" without time limit.
The authorisation is described as "temporary" and the agreement says the US "does not desire permanent bases or a permanent military presence in Iraq". But the absence of a time limit or restrictions on the US and other coalition forces - including the British - in the country means it is likely to be strongly opposed in Iraq and the US.
Iraqi critics point out that the agreement contains no limits on numbers of US forces, the weapons they are able to deploy, their legal status or powers over Iraqi citizens, going far beyond long-term US security agreements with other countries. The agreement is intended to govern the status of the US military and other members of the multinational force.
At this point, it should be increasingly clear that the entire purpose of the "surge" was not to create enough stability for political reconciliation (as we were told), but to lay the groundwork for a permanent U.S. presence in the region, the better to control its oil resources and launch other wars of aggression. (The plan assures us that the U.S. doesn't intend to use Iraq as a base to attack other countries. Right. The peace-loving USA would NEVER preemptively attack another country!)
But, with the war becoming ever more unpopular at home, the administration is resorting to increasingly desperate scapegoating to keep popular support afloat. In his latest article for Salon.com, Gary Kamiya notes that the Almighty General Petraeus has been accusing big, bad Iran of supporting the Sadr army in the recent intra-Shia clashes. Kamiya debunks this as falsehood, and demonstrates that its purpose is to provide a new Grave Threat to justify the ongoing occupation:
It's the same, endless cycle of lying and scapegoating used to justify more imperialist aggression. I wonder when we'll ever get bored with it. On second thought, maybe we've already become too bored with it.
It's blame-blame-blame, blame-blame Iran. We've heard this song before. The Bush administration warbles it every time it needs to justify its failed Iraq policies and rally a skeptical public. Evil Iran, our archenemy, a charter member of the Axis of Evil, is killing American troops, and we can't leave Iraq, or Ahmedinejad and his cronies will take over the whole country. It's an updated version of the Cold War "domino effect" argument, with Iran taking the place of the communist menace. And in the latest version, Muqtada al-Sadr, the vehemently anti-American cleric, is portrayed as Public Enemy No. 1, an Iranian tool fighting the good guys in the Maliki government. U.S. troops have been fighting Sadr's militia in Baghdad's Sadr City in the last few days, making it even easier to portray him this way.
There's just one problem with this story: It's nonsense.
The truth is that the Maliki government and its allied Shiite faction, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI, formerly known as SCIRI), are much closer to Iran than the Sadrists are. Maliki's campaign against Sadr isn't a noble crusade by the good Iraqi government against the bad Iranian-backed Sadrists, but a battle waged by a weak Shiite leader backed by one militia, ISCI's Badr Corps, against another, stronger Shiite leader, Sadr, with his own militia, the Mahdi Army. Not only that, the "good" militia, the Badr Corps, was created in Iran by Iran's Revolutionary Guard -- the same organization whose Quds Force the United States notoriously declared to be a "terrorist organization" last year. The maraschino cherry on this sundae of absurdity: It was the head of that Quds Force, an Iranian general, who bailed out Maliki after Maliki's assault on Basra ignominiously failed, forcing him to send officials to Iran to broker a truce.
Sunday, April 6, 2008
Well, this is quite shocking. I mean, who could have guessed that after all the righteous outrage in Congress and the establishment press regarding Blackwater's killing of 17 civilians last September that...absolutely nothing would be done about it, and the mercenaries' contract would be renewed with barely a whisper of indignation from anybody?
Except, of course, for the Iraqi people themselves, who now have the renewed opportunity to be massacred at random. From Reuters:
BAGHDAD, April 5 (Reuters) - Iraqis expressed anger on Saturday at news the United States had renewed the contract of Blackwater, a private security firm blamed for killing up to 17 people in a shooting incident last year.But what the Iraqi people think does not, of course, matter to the corporate crooks who run the occupation of their country.
"Renewing this contract means we will see this sort of thing again in the streets," Abbas Hasoun, a grocer, said. "I wish we could turn the page on this, but keeping this company here means bloodshed will continue."
A traffic policeman who said he was questioned in Turkey by the FBI about the shooting was patrolling on Saturday the same busy traffic circle where the incident took place.
"I went to Turkey and testified about what I saw, but all my efforts were in vain when I heard the news," said the policeman who asked that his name not be published for security reasons.
Make no mistake: Blackwater isn't going anywhere anytime soon, not even if the "progressive" Barack Obama wins the presidency. In a story that largely escaped the attention of the Obama-worshipping liberal blogosphere, Jeremy Scahill reported that Obama has explicitly refused to support legislation banning private contractors from Iraq.
Aren't you glad there are so many stark differences between our left-wing and right-wing candidates on foreign policy issues?
Via the New York Times:
For years, Johnson & Johnson obscured evidence that its popular Ortho Evra birth control patch delivered much more estrogen than standard birth control pills, potentially increasing the risk of blood clots and strokes, according to internal company documents.
But because the Food and Drug Administration approved the patch, the company is arguing in court that it cannot be sued by women who claim that they were injured by the product — even though its old label inaccurately described the amount of estrogen it released.
This legal argument is called pre-emption. After decades of being dismissed by courts, the tactic now appears to be on the verge of success, lawyers for plaintiffs and drug companies say.
Make no mistake of what this means for you and your loved ones: If the FDA, a chronically underfunded and overburdened bumble-fuck of a bureaucratic institution says that a product is safe, it preemptively prohibits you from any compensation you or your family is due if in fact ::GASP:: the medical product is not safe.
But why would the FDA ever approve a product it knew wasn't safe, you ask? Well, the Great and Almighty infallible FDA seems to have no godforsaken clue every time a product is indeed unsafe. Drug companies (as they are often wont to do for profit) have been known to 1) straight up lie to FDA 2) submit misleading trials to the FDA 3) manipulate the FDA into approving its product prematurely.
The only protection consumers had in case the FDA failed to do its job properly and/or the drug companies misled the public was the ability to file suit against the product makers and manufacturers, until a Supreme Court ruling in February prohibited most suits against the makers of medical devices (e.g. pacemakers, etc.). Meanwhile, a case appearing before the court next term may grant immunity to drug makers as well. This is the kind of gross negligence on the part of the court you get when, apparently,
The Bush administration has argued strongly in favor of the doctrine [of medical preemption], which holds that the F.D.A. is the only agency with enough expertise to regulate drug makers and that its decisions should not be second-guessed by courts.The NYT article details the suit against the Johnson&Johnson product the Ortho Evra birth control patch, which is thought to have lead to at least 50 deaths -including that of an 18 year old girl - due to its absurdly (and illegally) high estrogen levels. Although its use has dropped 80% after 3,000 people filed lawsuits against its makers, Ortho Evra is still a widely available option for birth control. Meanwhile, the FDA is still sitting on its ass, scratching its head about what possibly could have gone wrong in this case as it becomes increasingly clear that Johnson&Johnson gave the FDA a misleading amendment to a trial result that showed the patch to have dangerously high estrogen levels.
How many people will have to die or become seriously injured before the court realizes that public health and well-being cannot rest solely on the shoulders of a politically manipulated, overstretched and incompetent bureaucracy? For that matter, when will public health and well-being come before the interests of shameless, greedy corporations and self-serving government officials?
Saturday, April 5, 2008
A new article in the International Herald Tribune sheds some light on congressional investing practices. Surprise, surprise: it turns out members of the U.S. Congress have about $196 million invested in defense companies. Which might just explain the prolonged dragging-of-feet on the part of Congress in getting us out of the quagmire that is Iraq.
Something that actually comes as a shock, however, is that Democrats have significantly more investments in defense companies than Republicans ($3.7 million vs. $577,500, respectively).
Clearly, Democrats who go along with Bush policies regarding "national security" or the "war on terror" (see "Feinstein, Dianne") don't do so because they are afraid of looking "soft" on terror and/or national security.
The truth is that Congress has too much invested in the ongoing occupation of Iraq to do anything to mitigate it. The only possible way the US will ever end the occupation is if the people demand it—and, according to polls, they DO demand it. Too bad our egomaniacal press corps still has its head too far up its ass to relay that demand.
Friday, April 4, 2008
In a recent bloggingheads.com video, Glenn Greenwald and Time.com journalist Ana Marie Cox debated whether or not hobknobbing with politicians and public figures they cover skewes the way in which journalists portray their hosts in the national media.
Take, for example, the now infamous video of the press party at John McCain´s ranch in Sedona, Arizona. His daughter Meghan, the videographer, croons over how ¨the guys from the Politico brought my mom flowers¨ while McCain himself serves up some reportedly very juicy ribs.
Now consider for a moment the kind of coverage John McCain receives in the media. From the Washington Post story on the press party:
This is entirely representative of the coverage McCain typically receives. He's portrayed as the honest, "straight-talking", manly-man centrist, while Obama is the effeminate weakling who can't bowl, and Hillary is the cold, calculating bitch.
If he loses the presidency, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) will have a career as a barbecue chef
to fall back on.
At his weekend cabin just outside Sedona on Sunday
afternoon, McCain took a break from campaigning and grilled ribs and chicken for
three dozen reporters, some staff members and a few Republican friends from the
Dressed in jeans, an L.L. Bean baseball cap, sunglasses and a sweat shirt featuring a
picture of his family, McCain held court the way he does almost daily aboard his
"Straight Talk Express" bus.
Yet, in the bloggingheads dialogue, Cox goes to the utmost lengths to defend both McCain and the conduct of her peers. She repeatedly - absurdly - insists that socializing with the people you're assigned to cover doesn't make you any less willing to ask them tough questions. Then, at about the 25-minute mark, Greenwald mentions the media's recent half-assed coverage of McCain's blatantly false statements regarding the relationship between Iran and Al-Qaeda, and he demonstrates fairly conclusively that a bias exists in McCain's favor. Cox, who seems visibly subdued, provides no meaningful rejoinder; instead, she changes the subject to how bloggers are making her job difficult (boo-hoo).
Indeed, one of the most telling moments in the video occurs when Cox states that she isn't afraid of being wrong - just of people not listening to her. We think it's fair to conclude that Cox inadvertently reveals that the pack mentality that plagues all journalism - but particularly campaign coverage - in the establishment press is actually the result of the insecurities of the journalists themselves. They want to be recognized, thought of as powerful, and those who bestow favors on them are in turn viewed favorably.
Thursday, April 3, 2008
By now the latest revelations of U.S. policy on torture have hit the blogospheric fan, and while the continued authorization of torture by the government is old news, the Yoo Memos validated what were previously just speculations held by opponents of the pro-torture policies. The most important by far is the now indisputable fact that these orders came from the top and trickled down to the bottom, not the other way around, as the administration has consistently claimed.
The fact is, senior officials, including former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, William Haynes, the general counsel to the U.S. Department of Defense, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, and former undersecretary of defense for policy (the no. 3 position at the Pentagon) Douglas Feith, have their dirty little fingerprints all over the atrocities being committed at Guantánamo and around the world in the name of the United States of America.
For an incredibly in-depth and damning explanation of the story behind how the higher-ups in Washington directed underlings in the military to use more "aggressive techniques" that constitute a violation of the Geneva Conventions and the U.S. Constitution, see Philippe Sands' jaw-dropping article "The Green Light" in Vanity Fair (of all places...keep up the good work, guys). It demands to be read in full.
Besides the previously mentioned proof of top-down influence, some of the article's revelations that stuck out to us most were:
1. Douglas Feith is a comically diabolical man. This evil little shit actually glowed with delight has he told Sands how clever his circumvention of Geneva was:
Douglas Feith had a long-standing intellectual interest in Geneva, and for many years had opposed legal protections for terrorists under international law. He referred me to an article he had written in 1985, in The National Interest, setting out his basic view. Geneva provided incentives to play by the rules; those who chose not to follow the rules, he argued, shouldn’t be allowed to rely on them, or else the whole Geneva structure would collapse. The only way to protect Geneva, in other words, was sometimes to limit its scope. To uphold Geneva’s protections, you might have to cast them aside.
But that way of thinking didn’t square with the Geneva system itself, which was based on two principles: combatants who behaved according to its standards received P.O.W. status and special protections, and everyone else received the more limited but still significant protections of Common Article 3. Feith described how, as he and Myers spoke with Rumsfeld, he jumped protectively in front of the general. He reprised his “little speech” for me. “There is no country in the world that has a larger interest in promoting respect for the Geneva Conventions as law than the United States,” he told Rumsfeld, according to his own account, “and there is no institution in the U.S. government that has a stronger interest than the Pentagon.” So Geneva had to be followed? “Obeying the Geneva Conventions is not optional,” Feith replied. “The Geneva Convention is a treaty in force. It is as much part of the supreme law of the United States as a statute.” Myers jumped in. “I agree completely with what Doug said and furthermore it is our military culture It’s not even a matter of whether it is reciprocated—it’s a matter of who we are.”
Feith was animated as he relived this moment. I remained puzzled. How had the administration gone from a commitment to Geneva, as suggested by the meeting with Rumsfeld, to the president’s declaration that none of the detainees had any rights under Geneva? It all turns on what you mean by “promoting respect” for Geneva, Feith explained. Geneva didn’t apply at all to al-Qaeda fighters, because they weren’t part of a state and therefore couldn’t claim rights under a treaty that was binding only on states. Geneva did apply to the Taliban, but by Geneva’s own terms Taliban fighters weren’t entitled to P.O.W. status, because they hadn’t worn uniforms or insignia. That would still leave the safety net provided by the rules reflected in Common Article 3— but detainees could not rely on this either, on the theory that its provisions applied only to “armed conflict not of an international character,” which the administration interpreted to mean civil war. This was new. In reaching this conclusion, the Bush administration simply abandoned all legal and customary precedent that regards Common Article 3 as a minimal bill of rights for everyone.
(Feith then lit a pipe, twirled his moustache, and went, "BWAHAHAHAHA!")
This type of circular logic is emblematic of the current administration's agenda to legislate immunity for those complicit in its reckless law-breaking, such as the telecom companies involved in warrantless wiretapping.
2. Feith, along with John Yoo, are now ensconced in cushy teaching positions in two of America's most respected educational institutions - Georgetown University and Berkeley College, respectively. It is utterly horrifying that these war criminals are actually getting paid to teach the future lawyers of America the ways of justifying torture and the circumvention of the U.S. Constitution and international law to achieve the ends of a corrupt and morally bankrupt administration. Which is a great segue into our third point...
3. These kind of people still enjoy protection from prosecution for their crimes by an apathetic Congress and press corps. It is absolutely reprehensible that an article of this magnitude goes largely unnoticed by the very people whose duty it is to inform the public of this blatant disregard of the law, not to mention those who should be punishing lawbreakers. If Congress doesn't investigate the claims made by Sands in his article, it will be complicit in the deeds committed by these war criminals.
4. Sands reveals that some of these prisoners in Gitmo are actually being tortured our of their minds after 54 consecutive days of "enhanced interrogation techniques":
The abusive interrogation of al-Qahtani lasted a total of 54 days. It ended not on January 12, as the press was told in June 2004, but three days later, on January 15. In those final three days, knowing that the anything-goes legal regime might disappear at any moment, the interrogators made one last desperate push to get something useful out of al-Qahtani. They never did. By the end of the interrogation al-Qahtani, according to an army investigator, had “black coals for eyes.”5. What happened in Gitmo lead directly to what happened in Abu Ghraib. The Haynes memo made it all the way to Iraq via a general and legal consultant at Guantánamo months before the scandal was uncovered, surely contributing to the appalling abuse of prisoners by U.S. soldiers. While it is highly unlikely that the "torture team" will ever be tried for their crimes in our own country, Sands holds out hope that if they ever step foot on foreign soil again, what happened to another infamous war criminal - Pinochet - might just happen to them.
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
From The Guardian:
In a just world, all of this would be causing national outrage. It would be on the front page of every major newspaper and discussed by every TV pundit. But in the twisted world that has become reality in the U.S. today, it's just accepted that the government can break our laws with impunity. (Or, in the more polite language preferred by media outlets, "bypass" them. Can we please retire this word—at least, as it applies to laws—forever? When the government ignores the law, or asserts that it is above it, it BREAKS THE LAW, pure and simple).
Faced with a litany of lawsuits and objections to its plans to build a 670-mile fence along the border with Mexico, the US government moved yesterday to bypass more than 30 laws and regulations in its effort to complete the fence by the end of the year.
Opposition to the 2006 secure fence act, which instructed the department of homeland security to build the fence by the end of 2008, has united an unlikely coalition of property owners and environmentalists.
Property owners and developers have launched numerous lawsuits to deny the government access to their lands, arguing that their property rights would be violated or the values of their homes suffer.
Environmentalists have challenged the government, saying that the plans would harm the natural habitats of species ranging from big cats to owls.
Native American groups have also protested that their traditional lands and burial sites would be desecrated by the fence.
The administration's action echoes a controversial provision of a 2005 act, which allowed the department of homeland security to waive all laws "necessary to ensure expeditious construction of the barriers and roads".
In a way, there's really very little reason to be surprised by what the administration is doing here. This is, after all, an administration that has consistently asserted that it is exempt from laws that apply to everyone else. If lawyers at Justice can author decisions claiming that the U.S. has the right to violate treaties regarding torture to which it is a party, then why can't the Department of Homeland Security just decide to break "over 30 laws and regulations" in order to pander to the xenophobia of the Republican base? It makes perfect sense, in a sick sort of way.