Sunday, July 17, 2011

The American Diet: The Worst Form of Corporatism

Toward a New Politics of Food
By David Sirota / July 15, 2011

As with most issues in this new Gilded Age, the tale of the American diet is a story of the worst form of corporatism.

The easiest way to explain Gallup’s discovery that millions of Americans are eating fewer fruits and vegetables than they ate last year is to simply crack a snarky joke about Whole Foods really being “Whole Paycheck.” Rooted in the old limousine liberal iconography, the quip conjures the notion that only Birkenstock-wearing trust-funders can afford to eat right in tough times.

It seems a tidy explanation for a disturbing trend, implying that healthy food is inherently more expensive, and thus can only be for wealthy Endive Elitists when the economy falters. But if the talking point’s carefully crafted mix of faux populism and oversimplification seems a bit facile—if the glib explanation seems almost too perfectly sculpted for your local right-wing radio blowhard — that’s because it dishonestly omits the most important part of the story. The part about how healthy food could easily be more affordable for everyone right now, if not for those ultimate elitists: agribusiness CEOs, their lobbyists and the politicians they own.

As with most issues in this new Gilded Age, the tale of the American diet is a story of the worst form of corporatism—the kind whereby the government uses public monies to protect private profit.

In this chapter of that larger tragicomedy, lawmakers whose campaigns are underwritten by agribusinesses have used billions of taxpayer dollars to subsidize those agribusinesses’ specific commodities (corn, soybeans, wheat, etc.) that are the key ingredients of unhealthy food. Not surprisingly, the subsidies have manufactured a price inequality that helps junk food undersell nutritious-but-unsubsidized foodstuffs like fruits and vegetables. The end result is that recession-battered consumers are increasingly forced by economic circumstance to “choose” the lower-priced junk food that their taxes support.

Corn—which is processed into the junk-food staple corn syrup and which feeds the livestock that produce meat — exemplifies the scheme.

“Over the past decade, the federal government has poured more than $50 billion into the corn industry, keeping prices for the crop … artificially low,” reports Time magazine. “That’s why McDonald’s can sell you a Big Mac, fries and a Coke for around $5 — a bargain.”

Yes, it is a bargain, but one created by deliberate government policy that serves the corn industry titans, not by any genetic advantage that makes corn derivatives automatically more affordable for the budget-strapped commoner.

The aggregate effect of such market manipulation across the agriculture industry, notes Time, is “that a dollar (can) buy 1,200 calories of potato chips or 875 calories of soda but just 250 calories of vegetables or 170 calories of fresh fruit.”

So while it may be amusing to use Americans’ worsening recession-era diet as another excuse to promote cultural stereotypes, the nutrition crisis costing us billions in unnecessary health care costs is more about public policy and powerful special interests than it is about epicurean snobs and affluent tastes. Indeed, this is a problem not of individual proclivities or of agricultural biology that supposedly makes nutrition naturally unaffordable — it is a problem of rigged economics and corrupt policymaking.

Solving the crisis, then, requires everything from recalibrating our subsidies to halting the low-income school lunch program’s support for the pizza and French fry lobby (yes, they have a powerful lobby). It requires, in other words, a new level of maturity, a better appreciation for the nuanced politics of food and a commitment to changing those politics for the future.

Impossible? Hardly. A country that can engineer the seemingly unattainable economics of a $5 McDonald’s feast certainly has the capacity to produce a healthy meal for the same price. It’s just a matter of will — or won’t.

[David Sirota, an In These Times senior editor and syndicated columnist, is a bestselling author whose book Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now—Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Everything was released in March of 2011. Sirota, whose previous books include The Uprising and Hostile Takeover, hosts the morning show on AM760 in Denver. E-mail him at or follow him on Twitter @davidsirota.]

Source / In These Times

Thanks to Janet Gilles / Fluxed Up World

[+/-]

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Should You Trust the Mainstream Media?

How the U.S. Government Uses Its Media Servants to Attack Real Journalism
By Glenn Greenwald / July 15, 2011

"The US has stopped running its global network of secret prisons, CIA director Leon Panetta has announced. 'CIA no longer operates detention facilities or black sites,' Mr Panetta said in a letter to staff" - BBC, April 9, 2009


Earlier this week, the truly intrepid investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill published in The Nation one of the most significant political exposés of the year. Entitled "the CIA's Secret Sites in Somalia," the article documented that the CIA uses and effectively controls a secret prison in Mogadishu, where foreign nationals who are rendered off the streets of their countries (at the direction of the U.S.) are taken (along with Somali nationals) to be imprisoned with no due process and interrogated (by U.S. agents). Although Somali government agents technically operate the facility, that is an obvious ruse: "US intelligence personnel pay the salaries of intelligence agents and also directly interrogate prisoners" and are "there full-time," Scahill reported. On Democracy Now on Wednesday, the International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed it has no knowledge of this secret prison.

This arrangement, as Scahill told me yesterday, is consistent with standard Obama administration practice: "they continue even the most controversial Bush terrorism policies by having some other government technically operate it so they can keep their fingerprints off it." Indeed, the administration has even resorted to this playbook by using "torture by proxy" -- as we saw when the Kuwait government, with at least the complicity if not direction of the U.S., detained and beat American teenager Gulet Mohamed during interrogation sessions. Just yesterday, a federal judge "reacted skeptically" to the Obama DOJ's demands for dismissal of a lawsuit (on secrecy grounds) brought by an American citizen imprisoned for four months in Africa, where "U.S. officials threatened him with torture, forced disappearance and other serious harm unless he confessed to ties with al-Qaida in Somalia."

Scahill's discovery of this secret prison in Mogadishu -- this black site -- calls into serious doubt the Obama administration's claims to have ended such practices and establishes a serious human rights violation on its own. As Harper's Scott Horton put it, the Nation article underscores how the CIA is "maintaining a series of 'special relationships' under which cooperating governments maintain[] proxy prisons for the CIA," and "raises important questions" about "whether the CIA is using a proxy regime there to skirt Obama's executive order" banning black sites and torture.

Despite the significance of this revelation -- or, more accurately, because of it -- the U.S. establishment media has almost entirely ignored this story. Scahill thus far has given a grand total of two television interviews: on Democracy Now and Al Jazeera. No major television news network -- including MSNBC -- has even mentioned his story. Generally speaking, Republicans don't care that the worst abuses of the Bush era are continuing, and Democrats (who widely celebrated Dana Priest's 2006 Pulitzer Prize winning story about Bush's CIA black cites) don't want to hear that it's true.

Meanwhile, the CIA has been insisting that discussion of this Mogadishu site could jeopardize its operations in Somalia, and while that typical, manipulative tactic didn't stop Scahill from informing the citizenry about this illicit behavior, it has (as usual) led government-subservient American media stars to refrain from discussing it. Indeed, Scahill said that this site is such common knowledge in Mogadishu (where even ordinary residents call it "that CIA building") that he'd be "very surprised" if international reporters who cover Somalia were unaware of it; he has confirmed with certainty that at least one correspondent covering East Africa for one of the world's leading media outlets was aware of, but never reported, the CIA's role at this secret prison.

While the establishment media has been largely ignoring Scahill's revelations, a few particularly government-pleasing journalists have been dutifully following the CIA's script in order to undermine the credibility of Scahill's story. CNN's long-time Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr -- one of the most reliable DoD stenographers in the nation (she actually announced that the real Abu Ghraib scandal was the unauthorized release of the photographs, not the abuse they depicted) -- has been predictably tapped by the CIA to take the lead in this effort. Earlier this week, Starr filed a truly incredible report -- based exclusively on a "U.S. official" to whom she naturally granted anonymity -- that had no purpose other than to refute Scahill's report even though Starr never once mentioned that report:

CIA operatives have secretly traveled to Mogadishu, Somalia, to help interrogate terrorism suspects about operations in East Africa and Yemen, a senior U.S. official told CNN Tuesday.

The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, stressed any suspects were under the control of Somali forces and the CIA was present only in "support" of interrogations in recent months. He described the number of times the CIA was present as "very small," adding that he would only say it was "one or two times."

"Only on very rare occasion does the CIA support debriefings of suspected terrorists who are in TFG (Transitional Federal Government) custody," the official told CNN.

Starr pretended that this was a headline-making scoop for CNN -- that a CIA official had bravely revealed some sort of unauthorized secret to her: that the CIA "helps" interrogate a "very small" number of Terrorism suspects in Somalia in a "support" role -- when it was plainly nothing more than an effort to undermine Scahill's report by claiming that the CIA's role was extremely limited (nothing more than a little help given to the Somalis) and that it was Somalia that controlled, ran and maintained responsibility for the prison. Not only did Starr never mention the key facts -- that this prison is kept secret from the ICRC and imprisons detainees without due process who are rendered from other nations at the behest of the U.S. and that the CIA pays the agents there -- but she also helpfully wrote down that "the CIA gets assurances from the [Somali government] that detainees will not be mistreated," and then added that the real significance of the story is that it "underscores the growing U.S. concern about the rise of terrorist networks in the region."

In sum, Starr was handed a CIA press release that falsely denied the key elements of Scahill's story, which she then disguised as an anonymous unauthorized leak that she uncovered. She slothfully and obediently disseminated CIA claims designed to minimize its role in this prison without lifting a finger to resolve the differences between those denials and the numerous facts Scahill uncovered which proved how extensive the CIA's control of the prison (and the rendition program that fills it) actually is.

It's not just lazy but deceitful: uncritically printing anonymous government denials while dressing it up as her own discovery (once Nation representatives complained to CNN, she tacked on this sentence at the end: "Parts of the story initially appeared in the magazine The Nation on Tuesday"). Whether it was Starr who contacted the CIA to obtain this "story" (unlikely) or the CIA which tapped Starr on the head and directed her to print this and she then dutifully complied (far more likely), this was a joint effort by the U.S. Government and its CNN servant to undermine Scahill and his story while appearing not to do so.

Serving the same purpose was this ABC News report by Luis Martinez, which at least has the virtue of being more honest than Starr's report: ABC doesn't pretend to do anything other than serve as obedient stenographer to the CIA by uncritically writing down and passing on the statements of an anonymous Government official in denying Scahill's report. Leaving aside the slovenly practice of granting anonymity to government officials to do nothing other than issue official government claims -- so common a tactic of journalistic malpractice as to not merit comment at this point -- the article does nothing other than print the same CIA claims without expending a molecule of energy to determine if the claims are true.

Worse, ABC allows the CIA to depict Scahill's report as false by uncritically printing the blatant strawmen against which the CIA rails ("CIA Doesn’t Run Secret Prison in Somalia" . . . CIA "refutes a report that the agency runs a secret prison in that unstable country" . . . "A story published in The Nation said that the CIA was running a secret prison to house and interrogate terror suspects"). The whole point of Scahill's article is that while the Somalis exercise nominal control over the prison, that's merely a "plausible deniability" ruse to allow the U.S. to use it at will, as evidenced by the fact that the CIA pays those agents and is continuously present. The "denials" uncritically printed by ABC confirm and bolster Scahill's story, not "refute" it.

Worse still, the ABC report justifies the CIA program by quoting the anonymous CIA official as describing the program as "the logical and prudent thing to do." ABC then helpfully adds that "senior U.S. officials have expressed concern that al Shabab may be trying to expand its terror operations beyond Somalia" and that " U.S. government officials worry that those lawless regions might become a safe haven for al Shabab and other terror groups." There is no discussion -- zero -- of the illegal aspects of maintaining a secret prison, the dangers of allowing unchecked renditions of prisoners to Somalia hidden from international human rights monitoring, or the likely violations of Obama's highly-touted Executive Orders. Like Starr's CNN report, this article is nothing more than a CIA Press Release masquerading as an ABC News "news article," the by-product of a joint effort by the CIA and another establishment news outlet to make Scahill's report look erroneous, sloppy and irrelevant.

Just consider what happened here. Scahill uncovered this secret prison because he went to Mogadishu -- dangerously unembedded, as very few journalists are willing to do -- and spent 9 days there aggressively digging around. By contrast, Starr published her report by being handed a CIA script which she blindly read from without any other work, and ABC's Martinez then did the same. But it's CNN and ABC that are considered -- by themselves and establishment D.C. mavens -- to be the Serious Journalists, while Scahill's report is heard only on Democracy Now and Al Jazeera. That's because "Serious Journalism" in Washington means writing down what government officials tell you to say, and granting them anonymity to ensure they have no accountability.

Through this method, the U.S. Government need not directly attack real journalists. They simply activate their journalistic servants to do it for them, and those servants then dutifully comply, this ensuring that they will continue to be chosen as vessels for future official messages.

UPDATE: Last night, Scahill also appeared on RT's The Alyona Show to discuss his report, bringing his total number of TV interviews to 3 (like Democracy Now and Al Jazeera, RT also covers vital stories that the establishment media steadfastly ignores, which is why it's despised and mocked by DC media stars).

Source / Salon

Fluxed Up World

[+/-]

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Chief Amerikkkan War Criminals Go Free

Doesn't this make Barack Obama and members of his administration culpable for actively harboring war criminals? Richard Jehn

Avoiding Impunity: The Need to Broaden Torture Prosecutions
By Marjorie Cohn / July 9, 2011

JURIST Contributing Editor Marjorie Cohn of Thomas Jefferson School of Law says that all instances of torture must be investigated as violations of US and international law and a failure to do so will allow impunity for those who authorized these actions...

President Barack Obama declared "nobody's above the law" in 2009, as Congress contemplated an investigation of torture authorized by the Bush administration. However, Obama has failed to honor those words. His Justice Department proclaimed its intention to grant a free pass to Bush officials and their lawyers who constructed a regime of torture and abuse. US Attorney General Eric Holder announced last week that his office will investigate only two instances of detainee mistreatment. He said the department "has determined that an expanded criminal investigation of the remaining matters is not warranted." Holder has granted impunity to those who authorized, provided legal cover, and carried out the "remaining matters."

Both of the incidents that Holder has agreed to investigate involved egregious treatment and both resulted in death. In one case, Gul Rahman froze to death in 2002 after being stripped and shackled to a cold cement floor in a secret American prison in Afghanistan known as the Salt Pit. The other man, Manadel al-Jamadi, died in 2003 at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. He was suspended from the ceiling by his wrists, which were bound behind his back. Tony Diaz, a military police officer who witnessed al-Jamadi's torture, reported that blood gushed from his mouth like "a faucet had turned on" when al-Jamadi was lowered to the ground. These two deaths should be investigated and those responsible punished in accordance with the law.

The investigation must also have a much broader scope. More than 100 detainees have died in US custody, many from torture. Untold numbers were subjected to torture and cruel treatment in violation of US and international law. General Barry McCaffrey said, "We tortured people unmercifully. We probably murdered dozens of them during the course of that, both the armed forces and the C.I.A."

Detainees were put in stress positions, including being chained to the floor, slammed against walls, placed into small boxes with insects, subjected to extremely cold and hot temperatures as well as diet manipulation, blaring music, and threats against themselves and their families.

At least three men were waterboarded, a technique that makes the subject feel as though he is drowning. Pursuant to the Bush administration's efforts to create a link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times. Abu Zubaydah received this treatment on 83 occasions.

US law has long recognized that waterboarding constitutes torture. The United States prosecuted Japanese military leaders for torture based on waterboarding after World War II. The Geneva Conventions and the US War Crimes Act make torture punishable as a war crime.

Lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel under President George W. Bush, including John Yoo and Jay Bybee, wrote the torture memos. They redefined torture much more narrowly than the Convention Against Torture and the War Crimes Act, knowing interrogators would follow their advice. They also created elaborate justifications for torture and abuse, notwithstanding the absolute prohibition of torture in our law. When the United States ratified the Convention Against Torture, it became part of US law under the Constitution's Supremacy Clause. The convention says, "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture."

Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Yoo have all said they participated in the decision to waterboard and would do it again. Thus, they have admitted the commission of war crimes. Major General Anthony Taguba, who directed the investigation of mistreatment at Abu Ghraib, wrote, "there is no longer any doubt as to whether the [Bush] administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account."

Taguba's question has been answered. None of those lawyers or officials will be brought to justice. Outgoing CIA Director Leon Panetta said, "We are now finally about to close this chapter of our agency's history." Ominously, David Petraeus, incoming CIA Director, told Congress there might be circumstances in which a return to "enhanced interrogation" is warranted. That means torture may well continue during Obama's tenure. This is unacceptable.

Not only is torture illegal; it does not work and it makes people outside the US resent us even more. High-level interrogators such as FBI agent Ali Soufan have said the most valuable intelligence was obtained using traditional, humane interrogation methods. Former FBI agent Dan Coleman agrees. "Brutalization doesn't work," he said. "Besides that, you lose your soul."

[Marjorie Cohn is a professor of law at Thomas Jefferson School of Law. She is a past president of the National Lawyers Guild and she lectures throughout the world on international human rights and US foreign policy. Cohn is also a news consultant for CBS News and a legal analyst for Court TV, and provides legal and political commentary on BBC, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, NPR, Air America and Pacifica Radio. She is the editor of The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse (NYU Press 2011).]

Source / The Jurist

Fluxed Up World

[+/-]

Friday, July 8, 2011

American Collusion with Israeli War Crimes Unabated

Peace activist Rachel Corrie being interviewed by a TV crew in the Rafah refugee camp in 2003, two days before being killed by an Israeli bulldozer. Photograph: Getty.

US Collusion in the Gaza Blockade is an Affront to Human Rights
By Cindy Corrie / July 8, 2011

My daughter's death shows the cruelty of an America that won't protect its own and is complicit in harming Palestinian civilians

When Greek authorities prevented the US ship the Audacity of Hope leaving its port in Athens this week, they dealt a blow to a group of brave and principled Americans who were trying to carry thousands of letters from US citizens to those who wait on Gaza's shores.

I know many of the people who were on this boat, and my family's letter was part of their cargo. In 2003 my daughter Rachel Corrie made her journey to Gaza and was run down and killed by a US-made Israeli military Caterpillar D-9 bulldozer. She was trying to protect a Gazan family and their home, one of thousands illegally destroyed in Israeli military clearing operations.

Now my family is on a parallel journey with those activists as we return this week to Israeli court to confront Colonel Pinhas Zuaretz, the commanding officer of the Gaza Division's Southern Brigade in 2003. His testimony should shed light not only on actions of troops responsible for Rachel's killing but also on the Israeli military's broad failures as an occupying power to protect civilian life and property.

This week's flotilla was travelling to Gaza, as Rachel did, to stand with Palestinians against oppression and illegal occupation and for a just, enduring peace.

Some liken the action to those of "freedom riders" who 50 years ago journeyed bravely to the American south to oppose racist laws that kept blacks and whites from sitting together on buses. The flotilla participants are pursuing Israeli and US policy that provides access and egress for Gazans commensurate with what other peoples enjoy in their homelands. They demand freedoms for Gazans that we in the US celebrate for ourselves but are complicit in denying to Palestinians.

A senior administration official in 2010 told our family that the blockade of Gaza was a "failed policy". He emphasised that the attack on the first flotilla that claimed nine lives (including a US citizen) was tragic, but had created movement for lessening restrictions for Gaza.

Some members of Congress have declared the "imprisonment" of Gazans a greater threat to Israeli security than rockets from Gaza. Nevertheless, a year after the Israeli commando attack on the Mavi Marmara, the US has been unwilling or unable to influence Israel to make many of the changes still needed.

In 2003 Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon promised President Bush a "thorough, credible, and transparent" investigation into my daughter's killing. The US government's position continues to be that the promise has gone unfulfilled. In 2008 the Department of State wrote: "We have consistently requested that the government of Israel conduct a full and transparent investigation into Rachel's death. Our requests have gone unanswered or ignored."

After eight years, our family remains engaged in prolonged court proceedings seeking accountability that the US government has been unable to secure – though it has no difficulty sending Israel $3bn annually in weapons that do the damage.

The US government has failed repeatedly to obtain accountability for its own citizens and Palestinian civilians harmed by Israel. Now, it is an accomplice in manipulating policing of the Mediterranean and maintaining Israel's naval blockade of Gaza. It has thwarted and threatened citizens acting in the nonviolent tradition of our most revered champions of human rights. Much of the world is watching, disgusted with US abandonment of its own and with its collusion in the imprisonment of the people of Gaza.

Gaza flotillas reflect the world's embrace of the Palestinian cry for freedom – and most immediately their cry for an end to the blockade and siege of Gaza. Israel and the US may slow or stop the boats, but in doing so, will only find themselves increasingly isolated. Civil society is acting and will continue to until the US government and others catch up. Only when we apply to Israel/Palestine a framework of international law, human rights, and a belief in freedom and equality for every human being, is there realistic hope for a sustainable resolution and peace.

During the course of our lawsuit those not on the witness stand often figure most in my thinking. Palestinian and Jewish Israelis have supported our family's needs for legal assistance, housing, translation, medical care and companionship. I treasure memorable conversations over meals in homes and Haifa neighbourhood cafes, and the friends who come to be with us at court. Whatever the eventual judgment from the legal system, Israeli supporters have made clear that what happened to Rachel, and to many others in this poisonous conflict, should not have occurred and should not continue.

Rachel did the right thing going to Gaza – taking all of us with her. Her example is best served by supporting those who journey there in the same brave spirit, acting upon values articulated in our own Declaration of Independence, rather than circumventing them as our government seems bound to do.

© 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited
Cindy Corrie

[Cindy Corrie is the mother of Rachel Corrie (1979–2003), who was was a US member of the International Solidarity Movement. She was killed in Gaza by an Israel Defence Forces bulldozer when she was standing in front of a Palestinian's home, attempting to prevent IDF forces demolishing the home.]

Source / Guardian/UK

Fluxed Up World

[+/-]

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Health Care in Amerikkka: We're Just Not Paying Attention

Health Care Debate: It's Time to Get Outraged
By Wendell Potter / July 5, 2011

One of my favorite bumper stickers reads, "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention."

That's sort of how I feel about the health care debate. If more Americans paid attention to the fate of neighbors and loved ones who have fallen victim to the cruel dysfunction of our health care system, they would see through the onslaught of lies and propaganda perpetrated by special interests profiting from the status quo.

Since I started speaking out against the abuses of the insurance industry, I have heard from hundreds of people with maddening and heartbreaking stories about being mistreated and victimized by the greed that characterizes so much of the profit-driven American health care system.

Many other people send me links to articles or broadcasts they have seen. When I worked in the insurance industry, we called them "horror stories," and for good reason. The circumstances people often found themselves in were nightmarishly horrible. As an industry PR guy, my mission was to keep as many of those horror stories out of the media as possible. We didn't want the public to know.

It occurred to me recently that Americans are not sufficiently outraged because they either don't hear these stories or, if they do, don't believe how commonplace they are or that anyone they know could experience the same misfortune. Or they might hear that more than 50 million Americans don't have insurance because they can't afford it or, in many cases, can't buy it even if they can afford it, but they don't stop to think that real human beings make up that abstract 50 million figure.

The reality is that these stories are indeed commonplace. Almost all of us -- regardless of our age, income, job or political affiliation -- are just a layoff or plant closure away from being uninsured, or a business decision beyond our control from being underinsured, or an illness away from being forced into bankruptcy and homelessness.

My life changed when I really started paying attention a few years ago. I now have a new mission -- to help people become aware of and understand what is going on around them. So, starting today, I will be sharing on an occasional basis some of the horror stories like the ones I used to work so hard to keep out of the press. My hope is that people will begin to remember why reform is so necessary and why repealing "ObamaCare," despite its shortcomings, is not a real option.

You might have heard about this first one. Even if you have it bears retelling. A few weeks ago, a man in North Carolina was arrested for robbing a bank for $1 so he could get government-provided health care in prison.

Fifty-nine-year-old Richard James Verone has a tumor in his chest and two ruptured disks, but no job or health insurance. He is one of those 50 million Americans I mentioned earlier. Verone told reporters he asked for only a dollar to show that his motives were medical, not monetary. Because of his "preexisting" medical conditions, no private insurer will have anything to do with him. He wasn't destitute enough to qualify for Medicaid, the government program for low-income Americans, or old enough to qualify for Medicare, the government program for people 65 and older.

Verone and millions of other Americans who have a history of illness are considered by private insurers to be "uninsurable." Insurance company underwriters consider them an excessive risk to profits. Even insurers that operate as nonprofits, like many Blue Cross plans, refuse to sell coverage to a third or more of Americans who apply because they've been sick in the past. Many of the people they turn down are children who were born with birth defects.

Shortly after Verone staged his robbery, one of the contestants in the Miss USA pageant revealed during a nationally broadcast interview that she is homeless. Why? Her sick mother could not pay both the rent and her mounting medical bills. Twenty-three-year-old Blair Griffith was evicted along with her mother and brother just weeks after she won the title of Miss Colorado.

"I didn't know what to think" when sheriff's deputies starting putting the family's belongings in garbage bags, she said. "It was shocking. And then I saw my mom on her knees crying and begging them, 'Please don't do this to me' and then looking up at me and saying, 'I'm so sorry.'"

Blair's mother, a widow, lost her health insurance soon after suffering a severe heart attack. She was unable to get another policy. She and her children eventually had no choice but to join an untold number of other Americans who are homeless because they can't pay their medical bills. Many are bankrupt as well as homeless. Medical debt is the leading cause of bankruptcy in the United States.

The third story I want to share with you hasn't made headlines. Most such stories never do. A few days ago a young woman who said she'd been raped sent me an e-mail to ask if I might be able to help her find insurance.

"I am in the process of hiring a broker to help me find insurance, but it is just very overwhelming and sad," she wrote. "I have been denied by three major companies or had riders attached that will not cover anything related to HPV, cervical cancer, medications, or treatments. Basically, they will do nothing for me."

She wrote, essentially, to beg for help.

"I have never talked about what happened (to me), but I am learning that this is too big to handle on my own. There are so many barriers, and while I consider myself an intelligent person, I am by no means an expert when it comes to dealing with insurance agencies. I will take and am grateful for all the help that I can get."

I hope I can help her, but there is no assurance that either I or a broker or anyone else for that matter can help her get the coverage and access to care she needs. She is an apparent victim not just of rape but also of an unjust system that has devolved into seemingly intractable dysfunction while we were not paying close enough attention.

These are just three people whose lives have taken a tragic turn because of America's profit-driven private health care system. There are literally millions of other stories, many of which are even more maddening and heartbreaking.

When the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) is fully implemented in 2014, the number of uninsured Americans will be reduced by 30 million, and many of the insurance industry's most egregious practices -- including refusing to sell coverage to people with preexisting conditions -- will be outlawed.

Let's hope that there will be far fewer horror stories after 2014. But the new law is just the beginning. We still will have a long way to go before we have universal coverage, like every other developed country in the world.

Universal coverage, in my view, is the ultimate goal we all should share. Remember this if nothing else: Until we achieve it, you and your loved ones could easily be facing your own horror stories.
Wendell Potter

[Wendell Potter is former Vice President of corporate communications at CIGNA, one of the United States' largest health insurance companies. In June 2009, he testified against the HMO industry in the U.S. Senate as a whistleblower. He is now the Senior Fellow on Health Care for the Center for Media and Democracy in Madison, Wisconsin.]

Source / Common Dreams

Fluxed Up World

[+/-]

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Fourth World War

Source / Google Video

Fluxed Up World

[+/-]

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Nima Shirazi: How Far Have We Come? Boston in 1774 and Gaza in 2011

The "Deplorable" Acts: The ‘Quartet’ Comments on Gaza
By Nima Shirazi / July 2, 2011

Provided always, That if any goods, wares or merchandise, shall be laden or put off from, or discharged or landed upon, any other place than the quays, wharfs, or places, so to be appointed, the same, together with the ships, boats, and other vessels employed therein, and the horses, or other cattle and carriages used to convey the same, and the person or persons concerned or assisting therein, or to whose hands the same shall knowingly come, shall suffer all the forfeitures and penalties imposed by this or any other Act on the illegal shipping or landing of goods. - Boston Port Act of 1774 (14 Geo. III. c. 19)

On March 30, 1774, in response to the Boston Tea Party, the British Parliament enacted the Boston Port Act, effectively shutting down all commerce and travel in and out of Massachusetts colony. The law, known as one of the Intolerable Acts, was enforced by a British naval blockade of Boston harbor. These punitive acts, which collectively punished an entire colony for the acts of resistance and frustration of a few, served to unite the disparate colonies in their fight for self-determination, sovereignty, and natural and constitutional rights. Colonies as far away as South Carolina sent relief supplies to their compatriots in Massachusetts. As a result of British imperial overreach, the First Continental Congress was convened on September 5, 1774. The Congress, in turn, established the Continental Association, a solidarity pact among the colonies to boycott all British goods and, in the event of continued British aggression, to stand as one in their fight for independence.

237 years later...

The so-called "Middle East Quartet" - that is, the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia - has issued a "Statement on the Situation in Gaza" today.

It is a brief and unsurprising document. No mention of a "siege" or "blockade," of course. While it states that the "conditions facing the civilian population in Gaza" are "unsustainable," it provides absolutely no indication of the extent of the humanitarian crisis (i.e. 80% aid dependency, 95% of water is undrinkable, a mere 20% is food secure, 36% unemployment - 47% among Gaza's youth - and 38% living below the poverty line).

The statement ignores all of this. Instead, it "notes that efforts have improved conditions over the last year, including a marked increase in the range and scope of goods and materials moving into Gaza, an increase in international project activity, and the facilitation of some exports."

Yet, these "improved conditions" are illusory. For instance, a recent report found that while, since June 2010, there has been "improved access to formerly restricted goods, including some raw materials, the increased imports of construction materials (cement, gravel and steel bar) through the tunnels from Egypt, and the improved volume of imports of construction materials for PA-approved projects implemented by international and UN organizations helped reactivate the local economy in Gaza," this "[e]conomic growth has not translated into poverty reduction."

More importantly, "Israeli restrictions on access to markets (imports on a range of raw materials and exports) and access to natural resources (land and water), as well as the increasing transport costs due the closure of Karni crossing" make it virtually impossible for real economic sustainability - through private sector growth - to occur. Furthermore,

The recent decrease in unemployment in the Gaza Strip is mainly linked to the construction and agricultural sectors which have some of the lowest wages and employ mainly unskilled/casual laborers. The new access regime allowed for an increasing number of construction projects under the UN or international umbrella, but failed to trickle down the benefits to the private sector. The latter is still relying on tunnels for the supply of construction materials. The agricultural sector is seasonal and more than half of the labor force is composed of unpaid family members.


Ongoing restrictions on the movement of goods and artificially-inflated food prices and transport costs continue to impact the economy even after the new access regime, and thereby the June 2010 decision failed to impact the viability of the tunnel economy.


The new access regime did not translate into a tangible relaxation of exports despite the 8 December 2010 cabinet decision by the GoI [Government of Israel], and the consecutive agreement with the Quartet Representative in February 2011. The blockade is still in place. Apart from a very low rate of cash crops exported, no other goods have been exported out of the Gaza Strip under the new access regime. The unpredictability of the crossing, frequent power cuts, as well as increased transportation costs do not ensure sustained exports of agricultural goods. Moreover, the exports are cut from their market of origin.

Nevertheless, the Quartet Statement commends Israel for the recent approval of $100 million in construction material to be allowed into Gaza and used to build 18 schools and 1,200 houses. Distraction accomplished.

But then things get even more ridiculous.

The statement reads:

The Quartet recognizes that Israel has legitimate security concerns that must continue to be safeguarded. Members of the Quartet are committed to working with Israel, Egypt and the international community to prevent the illicit trafficking of arms and ammunition into Gaza and believe efforts to maintain security while enabling movement and access for Palestinian people and goods are critical.

Naturally, Palestinians in Gaza - y'know, the ones who keep getting murdered by Israeli bullets, tank shells, mortars, missiles, cluster bombs and flechettes - are not entitled to the same kind of security guarantees. While the U.S. continues to supply the occupying power with the latest killing machines and heavy-duty artillery, the occupied are denied their own right to resist brutality and slaughter. One wonders, if "illicit trafficking of arms and ammunition into Gaza" is to be avoided, what channels are available for the legal transfer of weaponry and mechanisms for self-defense? Oh right, there are none. Something about barrels, fish, and white phosphorous comes to mind.

The Quartet Statement then goes on to voice its opposition to the 2011 Flotilla - without mentioning its stance on international law and whether or not the blockade is legal (hint: it's not) and blah blah blah "established channels" blah blah "established land crossings."

The disconnect is staggering. While the Quartet condemns the Flotilla, it has already acknowledged the slight benefits of Israel's "new access regime" implemented in June 2010 as a direct consequence of the 2010 Flotilla. So, while calling for an end to that tactic, they already understand full well that it is the only thing that has worked so far to bring attention to the blockade and to force Israel to act (even meagerly) on its obligations.

And then the kicker:

The Quartet regrets the injury and deaths caused by the 2010 flotilla, urges restraint and calls on all Governments concerned to use their influence to discourage additional flotillas, which risk the safety of their participants and carry the potential for escalation.

Read that again. "Injury and death caused by the 2010 flotilla." Not by the heavily-armed and armored Israeli commandos who illegally stormed the ships in international waters and shot nine innocent people to death. No no, the "flotilla" is to blame. Just for the record, here's what the United Nations - a member of the Quartet! - had to say about last year's Mavi Marmara massacre:

The conduct of the Israeli military and other personnel towards the flotilla passengers was not only disproportionate to the occasion but demonstrated levels of totally unnecessary and incredible violence. It betrayed an unacceptable level of brutality. Such conduct cannot be justified or condoned on security or any other grounds. It constituted grave violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law.

It also found "clear evidence to support prosecutions of the following crimes within the terms of article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention: willful killing; torture or inhuman treatment; willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health," and stated that Israel had seriously violated its obligations under the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including the "right to life...torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment...right to liberty and security of the person and freedom from arbitrary arrest or detention...right of detainees to be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person...[and] freedom of expression."

Based upon "forensic and firearm evidence," the UN fact-finding panel concluded that, of the nine murders, the killing of Turkish-American citizen Furkan Dogan and that of five Turkish citizens by the Israeli troops on the Mavi Marmara "can be characterized as extra-legal, arbitrary and summary executions."

Also, from whom is the Quartet "urg[ing] restraint"? They never say. Clearly not Israel! That would be anti-Semitic. Maybe they're wishing 86-year-old Hedy Epstein should calm the hell down. Maybe Alice Walker should chill out. But Israeli soldiers executing civilians on the high seas? Whatever.

The statement concludes with a single sentence: "The Quartet also calls for an end to the deplorable five-year detention of Gilad Shalit." Deplorable. The capture and detention of a single Israeli Occupation soldier receives the deepest condemnation of the entire document. But what were the "conditions facing the civilian population in Gaza" - 1.6 million people - again? Oh right, "unsustainable." Obviously, were the siege simply more sustainable and less of a burden, it wouldn't be an issue. But since it's "unsustainable," it should probably be addressed somehow since the Quartet is "concerned."

But does the Quartet call for an end to the four-year naval blockade or the five-year siege or the 44-year occupation or the airstrikes or kidnappings or buffer zone sniper shootings or drone attacks or collective punishment? Nope. But they sure do "call for an end to the deplorable five-year detention of Gilad Shalit."

Because, after all, it's clear that the life of one Israeli soldier is more important than a million and a half Palestinians any day of the week...and especially over July 4th weekend?


July 3, 2011 - Even the New York Times' usual Netanyahu mouth-piece Ethan Bronner was forced to admit the inconvenient truth about the necessity and effectiveness of the flotilla tactic:

The Israeli position defies a brutal truth: last year’s flotilla made a big difference for the people of Gaza — at a terrible cost in lives — by refocusing international attention on their plight and forcing a change in Israeli policy. Today, twice as many goods enter from Israel as before. Nonetheless, Gaza remains a deeply sad and deprived place.

Source / Wide Asleep in America

Fluxed Up World

[+/-]

The Destructive Politics of 'Other'

Photograph: David Kadlubowski/Corbis.

Nero's Fire
By Jim Rigby (pastor of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, Austin) / June 20, 2011

A United States Senator claimed this week that the wildfires in Arizona were possibly started by immigrants. When asked to produce his evidence, he backed off a bit, but the damage was done. Another layer of mythological sediment had settled over the unexamined lives of the American people. Some had come to believe the fires destroying much of Arizona are not the result of climate change, nor poor water management, but, instead, are a curse brought about by strangers in our midst.

The technique has a classic lineage. A leader redirects the attention of the people away from the powerful guilty and upon the weakest and most vulnerable innocents in the population. For Nero it was the Christians, but it could have been any marginal group of outsiders. Immigrants have always made perfect scapegoats. The problem is that blaming our problems on scapegoats also means not confronting the actual roots of our suffering.

To be sure, some fires are probably started by immigrants trying to make do in dried out areas, but there is a larger fire smoldering that threatens to take down our entire nation. Our nation’s infrastructure shimmers and crackles with heat. The rich are getting richer and poor are getting poorer. The poor did not start that fire, but, like Nero, our rich elite assure us that America’s problems come from the weakest among us.

A moment of thought would be sufficient to realize who ever robbed America, would still have the booty. The poor are innocent by definition. The rich are suspects by definition. The real fire was not and could not be set by the powerless. It could only be set by the heartlessly rich and the mindlessly violent.

America’s immigration problem doesn’t begin when someone crosses U.S. borders in search of a better life. America’s immigration problem begins when our corporations cross over into other parts of the hemisphere and destabilize the economies of other nations. Our immigration problem begins when our military is used to destabilize entire nations in the name of “American” interests. America’s immigration problem begins when we in the United States forget that the word “America” refers to an entire hemisphere and not to ourselves alone.

Centuries of exploitation have produced masses of rootless sojourners who wander our hemisphere without a real home. The walls we are building to keep them out are becoming our own prison. Privately run prisons intended to exploit immigrants will easily and unavoidably come to house dissident citizens as well. As the saying goes, “None of us is free while one of us is in chains.”

We who are not rich have two options as I see it. We can wait until we also become pawns in some rich person’s game, or we can declare our solidarity with humanity now while we still have the power to do something. Perhaps if we stopped selling out the weak, we could find critical mass to stand up to the strong. Liberation movements have a chant, “the people united cannot be defeated”. Alone we are helpless, together we can take back our world. It comes down to a choice of whether we will speak up for the universal human rights of all people, or will go on trusting Nero until Rome burns.

St Andrews Sermon 2011-05-29 from St. Andrew’s Church on Vimeo.

* * * * * * *

The Term Is 'Refugee,' Not 'Immigrant'
By Telebob / July 2, 2011

One of my pet peeves is that people continue to call the flood of humans coming across our border from Mexico, 'immigrants' and 'illegal immigrants'. I think in order to more accurately describe this issue, it would help if we call them by their true names... 'refugees.'

The racists and reactionaries in Arizona and other places love to depict these people as criminals, drug dealers, social misfits who come across our border seeking to sop up our social services, collect welfare, burden our schools, and prey upon our population with criminal practices of all kinds.

I think it is really important for us to do what we can to use the correct language in describing them. These 'immigrants' come here not so much because they see the USA as the land of opportunity and plenty (it sure isn't easy when they get here), but because they are being forced out of their lives in Mexico by the drug wars, the destruction of the Mexican economy, the destruction of Mexican small agriculture, and a slow decline into literal starvation. The failure of the Maquiladora system along the border, the price supports for American corn (that allows corn to be sold at below growing costs), and the massive demand for illegal drugs in the USA are the prime causes of the virtual failure of the Mexican state. The USA really hates it when the failure of our own policies and the blowback comes and rubs our noses in our own shortsightedness.

By using the words 'Mexican Refugees' we in just a few syllables highlight the fact that these people are here mainly against their own best hopes and will. "Immigrants" signifies a voluntary decision to come here, "Illegal Immigrants" signifies voluntary migration with ill intent, but 'refugee' states the case as it is. People who have been forcibly uprooted from their lives in their native country by circumstances beyond their control or ken.

Maybe when the USA starts to understand that the failure of Mexico is a bigger threat to "the American Way of Life" than ten Al Qaeda's in Afghanistan that they will bring the troops home and save the public treasure to fight a battle that is much more fundamental and important than the politics of oil and opium.

Source / Google Rag Blog Group

Fluxed Up World

[+/-]

Friday, July 1, 2011

For Amerikkkan Torture, There Will Be No Justice

Torture Crimes Officially, Permanently Shielded
By Glenn Greenwald / July 1, 2011

In August, 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder -- under continuous, aggressive prodding by the Obama White House -- announced that three categories of individuals responsible for Bush-era torture crimes would be fully immunized from any form of criminal investigation and prosecution: (1) Bush officials who ordered the torture (Bush, Cheney, Rice, Powell, Ashcroft, Rumsfeld); (2) Bush lawyers who legally approved it (Yoo, Bybee, Levin), and (3) those in the CIA and the military who tortured within the confines of the permission slips they were given by those officials and lawyers (i.e., "good-faith" torturers). The one exception to this sweeping immunity was that low-level CIA agents and servicemembers who went so far beyond the torture permission slips as to basically commit brutal, unauthorized murder would be subject to a "preliminary review" to determine if a full investigation was warranted -- in other words, the Abu Ghraib model of justice was being applied, where only low-ranking scapegoats would be subject to possible punishment while high-level officials would be protected.

Yesterday, it was announced that this "preliminary review" by the prosecutor assigned to conduct it, U.S. Attorney John Durham, is now complete, and -- exactly as one would expect -- even this category of criminals has been almost entirely protected, meaning a total legal whitewash for the Bush torture regime:

The Justice Department has opened full criminal investigations of the deaths in CIA custody of two detainees, including one who perished at Iraq's notorious Abu Ghraib prison, U.S. officials said Thursday.

The decision, announced by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., means continued legal jeopardy for several CIA operatives but at the same time closes the book on inquiries that potentially threatened many others. A federal prosecutor reviewed 101 cases in which agency officers and contractors interrogated suspected terrorists during years of military action after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks but found cause to pursue criminal cases in only two. . . .

The two token cases to be investigated involve the most grotesque brutality imaginable: they apparently are (1) a detainee who froze to death in an American secret prison in Afghanistan in 2002 after being ordered stripped and chained to a concrete floor, and (2) the 2003 death of a detainee at Abu Ghraib whose body was infamously photographed by Abu Ghraib giving a thumbs-up sign. All other crimes in the Bush torture era will be fully protected. Lest there be any doubt about what a profound victory this is for those responsible for the torture regime, consider the reaction of the CIA:

"On this, my last day as director, I welcome the news that the broader inquiries are behind us," said a statement from CIA Director Leon Panetta, who will take over as defense secretary on Friday. "We are now finally about to close this chapter of our agency's history" . . . . At CIA headquarters on Thursday, Holder’s announcement was greeted with relief. . . .

Consider what's being permanently shielded from legal accountability. The Bush torture regime extended to numerous prisons around the world, in which tens of thousands of mostly Muslim men were indefinitely imprisoned without a whiff of due process, and included a network of secret prisons -- "black sites" -- purposely placed beyond the monitoring reach of even international human rights groups, such as the International Red Cross.

Over 100 detainees died during U.S. interrogations, dozens due directly to interrogation abuse. Gen. Barry McCaffrey said: "We tortured people unmercifully. We probably murdered dozens of them during the course of that, both the armed forces and the C.I.A." Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who oversaw the official investigation into detainee abuse, wrote: "there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account."

Thanks to the Obama DOJ, that is no longer in question. The answer is resoundingly clear: American war criminals, responsible for some of the most shameful and inexcusable crimes in the nation's history -- the systematic, deliberate legalization of a worldwide torture regime -- will be fully immunized for those crimes. And, of course, the Obama administration has spent years just as aggressively shielding those war criminals from all other forms of accountability beyond the criminal realm: invoking secrecy and immunity doctrines to prevent their victims from imposing civil liability, exploiting their party's control of Congress to suppress formal inquiries, and pressuring and coercing other nations not to investigate their own citizens' torture at American hands.

All of those efforts, culminating in yesterday's entirely unsurprising announcement, means that the U.S. Government has effectively shielded itself from even minimal accountability for its vast torture crimes of the last decade. Without a doubt, that will be one of the most significant, enduring and consequential legacies of the Obama presidency.

© 2011

[Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book "How Would a Patriot Act?," a critique of the Bush administration's use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, "A Tragic Legacy", examines the Bush legacy. His next book is titled "With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful."]

Source / Salon

Fluxed Up World

[+/-]