Tag: Obama Administration

Public Health Back on the Frontburner with Ebola Panic

Posted by – October 22, 2014

Nick Analysis: Focus on Long-term Policy Choices

This attack ad put out by “The Agenda Project,” an org that apparently exists solely to place anti-GOP TV spots, is aimed at the electorate voting in the upcoming decisive midterm races for House and Senate. And it is unique in several ways.
Most obviously, the ad is almost singularly brutal, tying the Ebola outbreak to the years of budget cutting to NIH that has meant harsh limits on vaccine and related infectious disease research along with rollbacks in all NIH’s areas of research.  The images and sounds expertly scare the crap out of you. The use of medical equipment like a heart monitor, the ominous beat of the machine, or using respiratory aids (here, the sound of an Ambu® bag pumping at the beginning and end of the spot) to invoke the patient on the brink, the tension of the emergency that could go either way, is definitely unsettling. When you yourself, like me, are on a ventilator, you notice these things more, and it is more troubling.

guy in hazmat suit grasping a TV remote & saying to his wife

Political cartoon by Mark Streeter of the Savannah Morning News

But despite the utter shamelessness of this ad, it contributes something important by raising (or suggesting) a key question: do you really want a smaller government in a world where we need a robust response to infectious diseases like Ebola?

Cut cut cut everything has consequences. The end result is that the significant resources you need when diseases spread and shit gets real aren’t there. Our health infrastructure was and is largely unprepared for deadly plagues like this. Look at the awful state of our emergency departments, even at prestigious academic hospitals, to begin to understand HOW unprepared we are.

The ad spins events to fault only the Republicans for the budget slash and burn, when Democrats are deeply complicit: their compromise, “sequestration,” cut deep across the board. As I wrote back in August, some of the same Congresscritters who sequester-hammered the NIH, cutting the crap outta research into ALS and other neuromuscular diseases with everything else, doused themselves with ice buckets for ALS research when the Ice Bucket Challenge went viral.
Abusive boyfriend bringing you flowers, it felt like, except the victim is a vast chunk of the population that is sick and need all the help they can get.

It is more radical to tell the truth on the failings that exist on all sides, the Democrats too. I want the truth, man, and will never be a sycophant.

As for President Obama and his role in all this, he has sometimes prioritized other things in budget battles, sometimes gone to bat for CDC funding. But it would be false not to include the context: all of the budgets this president signed that ended up cutting preparedness-for-public-health-emergencies were compromise budgets. The Congressional Republicans decide on an extreme scorched earth budget, slash and burn to everything across the board except for “essentials” like arming jihadis against Assad in Syria or continuing the notorious non-flying F-35 program, then the president threatens to veto the budget until a compromise is forged.  Instead of making his own budget and selling a real and compelling alternative to austerity, inspiring the country to support his vision, he compromises, signs the scorched earth lite budget and then goes golfing with CEOs.

To simplify: President Obama’s compromise budgets have been nearly as bad for public health funding as the Republicans’ first offer-budgets.

The Republicans are expected to win both camels of our bicameral legislature in DC (Congress) on November 4th. I worry that the scorched earth budgets will get even scorchier.
Hopefully the issue of funding for infectious diseases stays on the frontburner, at the forefront of budget debates at least, after the Ebola panic is out of the news cycle and past its usefulness as campaign ammunition, long-term.

The key questions that affect the America we will live in over the long haul, what gov’t should do and not do, how public monies should be allocated, how we regulate the dumping of toxic waste, civil liberties vs. a police state, these should be what we debate and focus on solving.

The Ebola outbreak is scary, a much more serious pandemic than the swine flu. The H1N1 porcine influenza was initially hyped as super deadly, but the strain that spread in the U.S. was ultimately no deadlier than normal seasonal flu (regular influenza is horrendous—I’ve had it—so don’t get me wrong). But when there was so much unhinged fearmongering over H1N1, New York stopped releasing the numbers of influenza patients amidst the panic, and people were being pressed to wear surgical masks that don’t protect against the microscopic flu virus, I blogged against it.
I would never blog against Ebola over-caution like that. Ebola is a hemorrhagic fever like the BLACK DEATH that wiped out nearly 2/3 of the European population. Ebola hemorrhagic fever isn’t as contagious as that history reshaping bubonic plague, but it’s apparently VERY contagious in the end stages when the victim’s viral load is highest and they are hemorrhaging like crazy. This Ebola outbreak has already proven devastating, killing over 5,000 people in West Africa as of this post’s time of posting.  Not taking Ebola seriously, not taking reasonable precautions isn’t liberal or conservative, it’s just DUMB!

But infectious diseases have a life cycle in the aggregate as well as on the individual level, and all outbreaks end.  Ebola will be long forgotten by this time next year, whereas the policy choices on health care infrastructure, how we fund public health will be just as important and relevant then and always. Remember the long-haul!

Nick

 

VP Biden Accidentally Suggests U.S.-Asia Influence Waning

Posted by – December 27, 2013

December 5th, 2013, Vice President of the U.S. (VOTUS) Joseph R. Biden, speaking to a conference room-full of PRC diplomats and dignitaries after meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, made an accidentally revealing comment:

The United States has a profound stake in what happens here, because we needwe are, and will remain—a Pacific power, diplomatically, economically, and military [sic].”

Judge for yourself, but this comment, calculated to reassure allies and make the top echelons of the Beijing regime think twice about aggressive moves in the region, kind of rang hollow or, at least rang… awkward.

To me, the “we need, we are, and will remain a Pacific power” had the ring of uneasiness, the sound of an aging boxer trying to talk tough and he can hardly convince himself.
Let me know if you think differently, but I thought it revealed something akin to the male peacock who is strutting to impress but no longer pulling it off (the female peacocks are rolling their eyes) or the schoolyard bully power-posing in front of the doors to get kids’ lunch money, but it’s more pathetic than intimidating, because the bully has repeatedly shown himself unable to back it up, even a little girl on crutches backed him down.
During Biden’s visit to East Asia, he repeated various versions of the “we really are a resident Pacific power” message, and it did more to confirm we really aren’t than anything.
Someone who is actually powerful doesn’t have to keep trying to convince people.

VP Biden went on an emergency tour of East Asia to address the recent controversy over the PRC imposing an “Air Defense Identification Zone” (ADIZ) over a huge swath of airspace of the East China Sea, including, most provocatively, the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands (referred to as the “Diaoyu Islands” in mainland China).  To set up such an expansive ADIZ over disputed territory, nearly half of it overlapping the pre-existing Japanese ADIZ, particularly claiming the airspace of islands controlled by your primary rival country, has, as Biden said, “caused significant apprehension in the region.”  ADIZs have been around since the post-WWII years, so they’re not new, but they never have overlapped like this before over others’ territory.

No one else wrote about how odd Biden sounded in Beijing, so I did… unearthing the unexpected and unnoticed, that’s a big part of what blogging is for, I think.

Nick

My Take on the Great Gov’t Shutdown of 2013

Posted by – October 8, 2013

I’ve blogged about many historical events over the years, deeply exploring significant events for Medicaid and health care reform, for state politics, for national politics…and I think the current federal government shutdown is one of the most significant political events I’ve covered.  I think it represents a major turning point.

Fiorello LaGuardia famously said “There is no Democratic or Republican way of cleaning the streets,”¹ sometimes remembered as “there’s no Democratic or Republican way to take out the garbage,” which expresses a perceived truism, an underlying assumption that while political parties may disagree ferociously on many issues, all candidates agree on their basic role, and will take out the garbage, be competent.  For nearly the entirety of U.S. history, this has been true; you could take it for granted that the government would keep up basic services just to avoid the embarrassment.  Electoral self-interest if nothing else.  In Profiles in CourageJohn F. Kennedy put it this way, “Of course, both major parties today seek to serve the national interest. They would do so in order to obtain the broadest base of support, if for no nobler reason.”²

These truisms are no longer true.  We can no longer take it for granted that “there’s no Democratic or Republican way to take out the garbage.”  The Republicans will now vote to stop picking up garbage and everything else (literally, Washington, DC garbage collection ground to a halt during the 1995-96 government shutdown and more of that can be expected this month) unless their demands are met.  And their demands aren’t clear this time around, whereas in ’95 the conflict was more along the lines of “Democrats want spending to be Y and Republicans want spending to be X” and the Congress failed to pass a CR to fund things until a compromise was reached, after a combined 21 days of the federal government being closed.

In this shutdown, the reason isn’t a budget conflict.  As near as I can tell, the reason is “because Obamacare.”  Which is bizarre, since Obamacare exchanges are one of the only parts of the federal government they didn’t shut down.  That’s right, we’ve closed the NIH, HHS, Homeland Security, FEMA, the CDC, the FCC, EPA, DOE, the Department of Education, military academies—in New York State alone there’s West Point and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (also known as the Midshipman’s Academy, where all classes have been canceled until further notice),

a National Park Service guard puts up a closed sign in front of the Lincoln Memorial, reading "because of the federal government shutdown all national parks are closed."

a National Park Service guard puts up a closed sign in front of the Lincoln Memorial, reading “because of the federal government shutdown all national parks are closed.”

NASA, the National Park Service, meaning every national monument and national park—from Yellowstone to Yosemite, from the Lincoln Memorial to Mt. Rushmore, and even the baby panda at the National Zoo—are on hold until further notice, and that’s a short list, plus we can’t forget that some people at the above agencies, and many more in departments like the FAA, NSA, the Secret Service, people at the NOAA and the National Weather Service, the judges and clerks and bailiffs of the entire federal judiciary, the Capitol police—and hopefully the person feeding the pandas and other animals at the National Zoo—are working as “essential employees” without pay, but have to come in nonetheless, and Congress has caused all this SNAFU over Obamacare but Obamacare itself is untouched by the shutdown.  So we have this super surreal scene of nearly the whole government shutting down Oct. 1 as the Affordable Care Act exchanges opened Oct. 1.

So, as this political cartoon by Omaha World-Herald‘s Jeff Koterba satirizes, furloughed federal employees could shop for health insurance on the Obamacare exchanges with their new-found free time.

Ah yes, the “evil socialist plot” of people shopping for and buying health insurance online continues.

If I had time to draw my own political cartoon on this, it would show the “House of Reprehensibles” on one side, the capitol dome boarded up, giant “CLOSED” and “NO OBAMACARE” signs, and tumbleweeds of a ghost town in the foreground, and on the other side there’s a panel cut-out with a representation of the digital world, computer up front and everyone wrapped around for blocks to sign up beneath a green sign reading “OBAMACARE EXCHANGES – OPEN.”

The government’s shuttered in protest of Obamacare.  Obamacare is open for business.  No one seems to emphasize this insane contradiction.

As much as I have problems with the Affordable Care Act, primarily its failure to prioritize the most disabled and most vulnerable, leaving those who are in poverty because of serious disability and/or chronic illness to make due with increasingly underfunded Medicaid and Medicare systems, I don’t want it defunded or repeated and I see government shutdown as counter to everything we need.
And as much as I have problems with Barack Obama, he’s right to not cave to this nonsense.  He’s right to say “you don’t get to demand concessions for doing your job.”  He’s right to say “you’re not doing me some sort of favor by doing the most basic part of your role, some sort of favor you can exchange for concessions.”

If the President caves, the danger is we have to play chicken with national ruin every year and no medium-term or long-term programs can be sustained and projects we undertake as a great civilization, like next gen energy, new transit and internet infrastructure, lunar or Martian bases, new breakthroughs in medicine, can’t happen.  Gone will be anything outside of the typical venture capital cycle.  This is an important TED Talk about the United States’ decades-long failure to tackle longer-term, more ambitious projects.  These larger projects are what make us a great nation.  Much more attention should be paid to this, because I think it’s make-or-break for us on a civilizational level.

The gerrymandering has gotten so bad, the House districts-“base of support” so narrow, we’ve got rightist extremism unprecedented in recent decades, something I’ve tried to describe on this blog.³   Next, I want to blog about HOW and WHY an alarming number of Congressional Republicans have apparently devolved, regressing from comparably responsible businessman-types to incoherent lunatics so rage-inebriated that they’re about one notch above tantrum-ing toddlers scribbling “WHO IS JOHN GALT” in their own feces on the walls of the Capitol rotunda.

But back to my main point, I think this shutdown represents a major turning point because it’s the first time the “LaGuardia rule”—that “there’s no Democratic or Republican way to take out the garbage”—has been broken this brazenly and visibly. In the upcoming midterm elections in autumn 2014, Democrats may finally have something that they’re not too inept to communicate clearly and consistently, run on, and win on: “my opponent is for shuttering the government.”  There could be a tectonic shift ahead, a tipping point when voters become reluctant to re-elect guys who hate the federal government too much to keep basic services going.

President Obama is reclining with his hands behind his head while giving the House GOP all the rope needed to hang themselves.  Of course, key Tea Partiers don’t see the backlash coming from within their hermetically-sealed media echo chamber.

Nick

 

1. Attributed to Fiorello LaGuardia, mayor of New York City, by Murray W. Stand in Charles Garrett, The La Guardia Years, Machine and Reform Politics in New York City (1961), p. 274.

2. John F. KennedyProfiles in Courage (1956), p. 15.

3. see past posts tagged Republican Revolution II. I think many of the Tea Party’s grievances spring from a legitimate place, and do try to be fair.  Generally I’m much more sympathetic to the movement than its members of Congress.

Chaining down the money you’ve earned: the debate over Chained CPI

Posted by – April 11, 2013

The debate over Chained CPI has been heating up all over the country and all over the web.

What’s Chained CPI?
Congressman Ellison explains.

Rep. Ellison recorded this video in December. If he were recording today, he’d mention that PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA is the driving force behind Chained CPI, despite its intense unpopularity on all sides. This is a video of Rep. Greg Walden, chairman of the National Republican Campaign Committee, calling Chained CPI a “Shocking Attack On Seniors.”

The AARP is organizing against this, and the Republicans are going to use this against President Obama in the 24/7 campaign season for sure (and that’s already begun).

Chained CPI is so awful because it imposes costs on those who can least afford it, doesn’t bridge yawning budget gaps, and reinforces the false right-wing “out of control entitlements” talking point. In fairness to conservatives, they’re opposing Chained CPI, and right now the only people pushing this are from a certain, grotesque strand of neoliberalism…. Barack Obama is making this draconian plan the centerpiece of his 2014 budget proposal, David Axelrod defends it with ease on TV, and founding director of the Congressional Budget Office Alice Rivlin calls it “absolutely necessary.”

The disability community has to unite on this, and fight back with the full-throated message that we’ve earned Social Security, it isn’t an entitlement! The entire “social insurance” concept is that it’s an earned benefit. With every paycheck, a worker pays into Social Security, pays pays pays pays pays, and when they retire they receive that earned benefit. The earned benefit usually amounts to around $14,000 a year, meager, well beneath the poverty line, and that is what neoliberals want chained down as an “out of control entitlement.”

“We’re not going to have the White House forever, folks. If he doesn’t do this, Paul Ryan is going to do it for us in a few years,” said a longtime Obama aide…

This kind of thinking, “give me your lunch money now, or the big bully down the hall will take it and you won’t like how he does it” from the White House is disturbing, and a bad omen (the correct answer is “no, I’d prefer the dignity of a public fight with the enemy to a silent surrender to a quisling”).

Unless we can create a groundswell of opposition to chains and chainsaw policies, the future for the elderly and disabled is indeed bleak.

The oddball lefty blog Crooks & Liars has the best, most comprehensive sources and lib commentary on Chained CPI that I’ve seen in the leftosphere so far. Hat tip to them.

Nick

High-Speed Rail Vital for PWD and the Nation; Why Have the Promises Evaporated?

Posted by – March 28, 2013

High-Speed Rail (HSR) would help everyone and boost the economy but would disproportionately benefit PWD—people with disabilities—because for a significant percentage of us, it’s difficult to impossible to use the airlines. And with the TSA confusing the grit you get on your hands operating a manual wheelchair with “bomb residue” again and again, fewer PWD will bother (President Obama mentioned the TSA-free joy of rail himself). High-speed rail has become a necessity for the social and economic relations of Americans, but sadly the promises the Obama Administration has made on high-speed rail have not been fulfilled.

I want high-speed rail that goes up and down the Eastern United States at 500mph so I can go from NYC to my family in Washington DC and Norfolk.

Imagine the economic benefit HSR could bring to the United States and Canada, if we had two-hour trips from NYC to Toronto or four-hour trips to Montreal or Ottawa! Imagine the ability of West Virginians to zip in an hour to Washington DC for jobs that simply don’t exist in Appalachia! Imagine the life-blood this would be for tech start-ups, when suddenly software engineers and DIY white hat hackers can whoosh in from Quebec to Boston or NYC for in-person collaboration! Imagine people able to work in New York but live in relatively-inexpensive Cleveland. That kind of economic game-changer is necessity. That kind of hope is a necessity, and President Obama really tapped into that…

…and then did absolutely nothing.

That’s right, nearly three years after the sweeping promises about Chinese-style bullet trains, not a single yard of HSR has been put down. We didn’t get the high-speed bus system The Onion proffered as a post-austerity alternative either. 😛

The below AC 360 segment, “Keeping Them Honest,” explains where the billions in funding Congress appropriated for high-speed rail went. It all went to slow rail. As is also true of the news stories that I share on Twitter, I don’t always agree with everything in a given article I post, and in the case of this “Keeping Them Honest” segment, I don’t agree with CNN reporter Drew Griffin that allocating federal funding to make extant Amtrak routes less slow is “a boondoggle,” nor is the general thrust of the report that the entire thing is a shameful waste of taxpayer dollars representative of my point of view. I know people who use that very Vermont route, and those routes need funding too. But Drew Griffin is RIGHT that the Obama Administration and President Obama himself promised Americans high-speed rail, on camera, numerous times, and so far it’s a promise they’ve not kept; the only project the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) allotted HSR funding for that can actually be construed as high-speed rail, is the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) project to connect San Francisco to Los Angeles with a one-way travel time of at least 2 hours and 40 minutes, and it’s been bogged down with NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) lawsuits and red tape so severely that not a single track has been laid. He’s RIGHT to ask, “you’ve promised us bullet trains like the Europeans and Japanese have had since the 1980s; where’s the high-speed rail?” Why can’t we have nice things?

This high-profile failure to deliver public transportation technology that Americans need should trigger much more discussion. Why is the executive branch unable to deliver on its promises, even after Congress appropriated the funding necessary? We need to discuss the general direction here, because we’re headed for eight years of Democrats running the executive branch and still our trains are stuck at 1950s speeds, we have a 1950s power grid, and our existing transportation infrastructure (rail, roads, highways, bridges, airports, ports) got a D+ for 2013 from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). At least one of America’s bridges may crumble this year and lead to a mass casualty event. It feels like MALAISE.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) is now evidently so chastened by ridiculous NIMBY lawsuits arguing the deleterious effects of high-speed trains on “aesthetics,” that they’ve begun to move forward with a pared down, slow-speed rail plan that they promise is only temporary (the “blended plan,” they call it). The founder and former head of CHSRA has now come out against this plan, since it doesn’t meet the Prop 1A ballot initiative’s requirements for true high-speed rail. If truly rapid transit for the masses, and all its social and economic benefits, can be thwarted long-term by some wanker micro-minority concerned about—not environmental impact, since rail reduces pollution vs. cars and buses—aesthetic impact alone, then that says something very distressing about where we are headed.

I don’t usually blog about transportation, but I want this space to showcase writing about the unreported and under-reported stories, amplify the voices of the unrepresented, and this issue hasn’t gotten a third of the coverage and discussion it warrants. Our leaders make sweeping, epic promises and too often the media doesn’t follow up in any sustained way. I do wish the private sector would lay high-speed rail and bring in the newest Japanese bullet trains, a mega corporation would definitely get more media discussion than the CHSRA, but they would likely give up after a week of the BS posed by regulatory hurdles, intractable NIMBYites, and the red tape nightmare of building across multiple state and county jurisdictions.
We have to put it out there to the people, over and over again, that we need current technology for high-speed rail, we need truly rapid transit, widely available and accessible, for many reasons, but freedom of movement for the poor and disabled populations who have the greatest difficulty accessing transportation at the top of the list.

Nick

Wow!! Obama appointments sold to highest bidder

Posted by – February 10, 2013

Dear reader:

We’re facing really horrible corruption in our government; it’s getting so bad, we’re nearing like end-stage Byzantine Empire type corruption, with the rot of corruption undermining every government bureaucracy, every political appointment, and the decay reinforced by a corrupt people and the government feeding it back to people in this demonic loop.

This is how bad it’s gotten: it’s become so common for presidents to reward their biggest presidential campaign “donors” with cushy ambassadorships abroad, a study, “What Price the Court of St. James’s? Political Influences on Ambassadorial Postings of the United States of America,” published by two researchers (J.W. Fedderke and D. Jett) out of Penn State’s International Relations Dept. in partnership with Economic Research South Africa (ERSA) have now pinpointed the approximate price tags attached to ambassador appointments in the current system (quid pro quo is only illegal bribery if outside the campaign contribution system, kids!)

Fedderke and Jett discovered that big donors who directly contributed $550,000, or bundled contributions of $750,000, had a 90 percent chance of being posted to a country in Western Europe.

“What we can observe is data on contributions and postings,” Dr. Fedderke said in an interview. “And on the basis of that, we can infer an implicit valuation on postings in monetary terms — even if they haven’t contributed that much.”

When isolating a country’s wealth over other factors, Luxembourg came in at the top of the chart, with a posting there valued at $3.1 million in direct contributions, while an appointment to Portugal was predicted to have a value of $602,686 in personal contributions. The model suggests that bundlers can get the same posts for less: Portugal was valued at about $341,160 in bundled contributions, Luxembourg at $1.8 million.

When factoring in a country’s tourist trade, however, France and Monaco top the list, with the level of personal contributions at $6.2 million and bundled contributions at $4.4 million.

The prices, authors note, vary considerably depending on which factors to emphasize. And in some cases, the actual nominees appeared to “overpay” for their positions — raising or giving more than the model would suggest was necessary — and in some cases “underpay.” That is because some donors bargain poorly for their positions, the authors suggest, while others may possess attributes (business experience, a personal connection to the president) that aid their case. But regardless of the model, Dr. Fedderke and Dr. Jett found, political ambassadors are more likely to be appointed to those countries that are wealthy, popular tourist destinations and safe.

Source: Study Puts ‘Cost’ to Landing Diplomatic Posts – NYTimes.com

This year, the race to press the president for purchased ambassadorships is more intense than ever, due to the unprecedented flood of donations from billionaires to Obama and Obama’s “independent” (LOL LOL} Super PAC during the 2012 election cycle. Vogue editor Anna Wintour, one of Obama’s biggest bundlers, was pushing to be ambassador to Britain. But she was edged out by “someone who had done even more for Mr. Obama: Matthew Barzun, a genial former technology executive who spent 20 grueling months as finance chairman of the president’s national fund-raising operation.” “The president now has six years of relationships, not two years,” said Andy Spahn, a public relations and political consultant who, along with Jeffrey Katzenberg, the film producer, was Mr. Obama’s top Los Angeles fund-raiser. ‘So I expect that it will be a lot more competitive this time around.’” Source: Well-Trod Path – Political Donor to Ambassador – NYTimes.com
Of course, the salient point is missed, none of these people have diplomatic experience!! DUDE! What happens when delicate negotiations with Britain are needed? what if an EU Parliament meeting at the Espace Léopold in Brussels is bombed by terrorists? what if the French government falls amid nation-wide protests and general strikes? or if Spain is gripped by riots (again)? This isn’t your father’s Western Europe. A placid tourist destination can quickly turn into a global flashpoint of popular unrest and/or ground zero in the newest financial earthquake. Placing corporate donors in charge could be very self-destructive.

Now, it’s even worse. Obama has appointed the CEO of REI (Recreational Equipment Inc.) and top Democratic Party fundraiser Sally Jewell to head the Dept. of Interior, which stewards our national parks, national lands, the resources on national lands and runs the widely-despised Bureau of Indian Affairs. Media coverage of Jewell is (so far) lauding her appointment, the overwhelming majority showing positive quotes; of course, the literal merger of corporate CEO and federal agency isn’t questioned.

President Obama is now expected to nominate Penny Pritzker “Chicago hotel scion and businesswoman and Obama mega-bundler” for Secretary of Commerce. Pritzker “ranks #255 in 2012 on the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans” and “was reportedly in the hunt for that job back in 2008” but withdrew when predatory lending and toxic subprime mortgages perpetrated by the family zombie bank was exposed. That’s apparently A-okay for today’s cabinet! This is gross.
Source: Obama donor Pritzker for Commerce Secretary? – In the Loop – The Washington Post
The narrative I expect the media to spout is: “Gender equality WOO! Pritzker is the second female Commerce Secretary in U.S. history! Isn’t it great how wonderful the wonderful Obama Administration is, the greatest, most gender diverse administration evah!”
A cabinet of only uber rich people is not DIVERSE! it’s actually really awful, elitist, and undemocratic, and horrible!

It’s a very bad thing when your government won’t even consider candidates outside of the mega-wealthy 0.5% that bribe donate to campaigns.

Damn, dude! That’s corrupt.

Nick

Living in Zomerica

Posted by – January 16, 2013

How I’ve Changed Since Moving to New York City

or…

Living in Zomerica

I started out and made my name as an activist in Alabama, where the left is deeply influenced by Martin Luther King Jr. I always spoke in the language of Biblical and moral imperatives, sometimes overtly, very much in the tradition of the Southern left, and I even had the chance to speak at Martin Luther King’s church in Montgomery (click for article and photo of that experience). I’m currently working on a memoir that details this part of my life, how I grew up in foggy South Alabama and became a successful activist.  It opens on my speech in Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church.  So, from the beginning, I feel a gap between me and left politics nationally; I come from a vastly different place than most people involved in politics.

That gap is now a chasm. After I moved to New York City in August 2008, the economy went belly up, and I saw every aspect of the world change. New York City’s hospitals began to crumble in a serious way. Several important hospitals closed. The state rehab hospital I was stuck in until September 10th, 2009, will close in 2014 and the patients they don’t move to the new location in Harlem—probably around 2,000 people out in the cold (by my own math) because of less available space—will be screwed. Living in this facility, the fact that most of my fellow patients had no hope of ever getting out, that the system is never going to respond, that I got out due to LUCK, was very clear to me.

For a time in fall 2008, it seemed the bad actors that built an elaborate house of cards atop mortgage scams and derivatives fraud would face the consequences of their actions, and, after going through bankruptcy as their victims had to, would finally make way for a new generation of financial professionals who would re-build. Instead, the Democratic party-run Congress gave the bad actors trillions, so an awful system can continue to hurt the American people. Constituents went ballistic; naturally, calls and letters were 100-1 opposed to TARP. Initially it was voted down in the House, right-wingers from Texas had the most impassioned arguments against this shocking, bald-faced corporate welfare. Then Vice President Cheney swooped in, lobbyists and their millions came knocking, and TARP passed overwhelmingly. Former IMF chief economist Simon Johnson characterized this as a “quiet coup.” That corporate influence could override the will of the people, and so quickly, indicated to me that FDR’s nightmare, private entities becoming more powerful than the state, was here.

Unhappy events abroad have retaught us two simple truths about the liberty of a democratic people. The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic State itself. That, in its essence, is fascism — ownership of government by an individual, by a group or by any other controlling private power.
The second truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if its business system does not provide employment and produce and distribute goods in such a way as to sustain an acceptable standard of living. Both lessons hit home. Among us today a concentration of private power without equal in history is growing.

— President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Simple Truths message to Congress (April 29, 1938)

I had always thought of government having enormous potential to be an instrument for all Americans, we the people, doing things together that we can’t do as individuals; after all, civil rights legislation triggered a tectonic shift in Alabama. But there I was, in a state hospital on the island in the East River named after FDR, realizing that everything had changed.  The U.S. experiment trying to have a democracy and unrestrained influence of plutocrats over elections simultaneously was over; the transformation into corporate state, by which I mean government of the corporation, by the corporation, for the corporation, was complete. The corporate class has utterly monopolized the levers of power via campaign finance; government will not be an engine of good for the foreseeable future. This was a very difficult conclusion for me to come to, I want government to be a change agent, but the conclusion became unavoidable.

The state is such a marionette, it props up banks that were already exsanguinated by malfeasance and mismanagement; instead of shuttering dead banks, the marionette pumps in billions and billions, creating zombie banks. These zombie banks are a new and disturbing sight in America, insolvent and decayed, but remaining open thanks to government largesse.  They take deposits, but no longer function as banks in the traditional sense; they don’t do loans or extend lines of credit to small businesses, but they may eat other banks and turn them into zombie banks. TARP wasn’t temporary as promised. It’s still reanimating zombie banks, and since the continued aid isn’t reviving the banks, I wonder if the purpose isn’t simply funneling wealth upwards to the puppet masters, the banks’ primary role to be conduits.

We also have zombie financial firms, zombie real estate, zombie schools, zombie hospitals. Too many of us have become zomericans.

A few months after that, I applied for affordable housing. I got a rejection letter back about 60 days later. It said that the Section 8 list had been closed since 2006, and “your application has been destroyed.” Great feeling.
In the Fiscal Cliff Bill, Goldman Sachs got subsidized housing for their building in Manhattan (triple tax exempt, no local, state or federal taxes, plus they get Liberty Bonds, only supposed to be for WTC reconstruction). Not kidding. Even in a time of supposed austerity.  This alone has really changed my thinking. For details, see Naked Capitalism | Eight Corporate Subsidies in the Fiscal Cliff Bill

If it weren’t for a series of serendipitous and bizarre events that made it possible to move in with Alejandra (my partner), who has affordable housing through a different, local, program, I’d still be in the facility. I’ve lived here since September 10th 2009, in Lower Manhattan. I am bizarrely lucky, and know it. And I’m very grateful.

We live very close to Zuccotti, so we observed the Occupy Wall Street movement closely. Alejandra and I are part of the Occupy “disability caucus,” trying to bring disability issues to the attention of the wider movement. Just holding meetings where people with disabilities can talk openly about their predicament following the collapse of the economy has been very valuable; our concerns never see the light of day in media and political circles. And contrary to media portrayals, the old economic configuration is gone and never coming back.

Occupy Wall Street is a reaction to the economic system dying, its apparent murder via mismanagement, malfeasance and predation shoving it off the cliff. There’s no complex list of demands. It’s a protest of the crimes of the bad actors of Wall Street, the resulting collapse of the economy and the attendant suffering, and our political system’s inability to even see the problem. The Occupiers tend to be students or recent grads who bought into the American dream, got into debt pursuing advanced degrees, then realized the economy had capsized and there were no jobs with a living wage, much less jobs in their fields they expected would provide them desperately needed upward mobility and loan repayment. A lot of dreams shattered on the iceberg of the 2008 economic collapse. The concerns expressed by Occupy Wall Street are completely legitimate.

The response to Occupy by the NYPD, the FBI, the rest of our agencies was awful. It removed any doubt I had that we have a corporate state, because the security establishment (NYPD, FBI, etc.) responded to protests against the obviously harmful practices of corporations like Goldman Sachs as a direct attack on the state itself. Though it was called Occupy Wall Street, the NYPD never let the protesters get near Wall Street around the NYSE building; they cordoned off the area around it and sent a very clear and violent message whenever Occupiers tried——in non-violent marches—to get past the barricade. Several times, I saw Occupiers, by the thousands—amazingly strong numbers, cross in front of our building to get closer to Wall Street. The most violent responses from the NYPD came in these moments, that’s when the tear gas and rubber bullets came out, that’s when you have officers breaking heads and mounted police blocking streets with highly coordinated Roman-style formations. I learned a lot from this. It seemed very important to protect the people in and around the NYSE from even seeing the protests. They also—in the final weeks of the occupations in Lower Manhattan—had a new satellite-dish-looking technology that disabled cell phones, cameras, and other digital devices, so the more violent incidents couldn’t be photographed or documented in any way.

Both the NYPD and FBI have acknowledged the non-violence of Occupy Wall Street. The movement has hewed to Martin Luther King’s teachings of non-violent civil disobedience almost flawlessly. But simultaneously the FBI labeled it a terrorist group. Heavily censored FBI memos (released in response to a FOIA request, but not until the media lull between Christmas and New Year’s to reduce exposure) revealed a lot about the government response to Occupy. The JTTF (Joint Terrorism Task Force) was deeply involved in monitoring the movement and writing memos about “the threat” to banks and other financial institutions; the memos’ tone treats the corporations like they’re the customers. Then there’s the infamous assassination memo, revealing the FBI knew an outside group in Texas planned to kill Occupy “leaders” with suppressed sniper rifles “if deemed necessary.” The memos provide a rare, disturbing look into the thinking of our security establishment, which, by the way, hasn’t lifted a finger to investigate ridiculously obvious malfeasance on Wall Street. For an excellent analysis of these memos, and links to the documents themselves, see: Naked Capitalism | Banks Deeply Involved in FBI-Coordinated Suppression of “Terrorist” Occupy Wall Street

A lot of things, especially the economy, have changed dramatically for the worse since autumn 2008. The system has decayed to a frightening degree. But it isn’t that I hate the rich. I don’t. And I don’t blame capitalism; capitalism at its best, when not corrupted beyond all recognition, encourages lower prices and better services through competition. Giant corporate welfare troughs like TARP and ObamaCare, requiring every American to buy health insurance from select companies, enshrining certain banks by name as “Too Big To Fail,” these things have nothing to do with capitalism. This is Mussolini-style corporatism. Corporatism is the problem. The segment of the corporate class that’s monopolized the Congress and executive branch with big money, the estimated .05% of Americans who max out at the legal limit for campaign contributions each year, these guys are the problem, not “the rich” writ large. As I document in a recent post, we’re now in the America of Congressman Bribo and the House of Bribasentatives. We’ve allowed a tiny, shadowy minority to monopolize the levers of power, which makes impossible the aim of our founding fathers, for, as Federalist No. 52 put it, a Congress “dependent upon the People alone.” (Source) Since we have allowed this, which isn’t a “conspiracy,” but rather total spinelessness and capitulation of our craven political class in the face of a corporate class that very openly pursues its self-interest with more and more sophisticated methods, we increasingly enter FDR’s nightmare, and the attendant “acceptable standard of living” problems that he mentioned.

My thinking has changed dramatically. Back in Alabama, surrounded by GOP wins in the 94% Soviet-range, I thought electing Democrats en masse would put us on a better path, or at least help a little via incremental reforms (I was always skeptical of the powerful). Now, I realize movements are everything. Now, the Left gets most of my resentment. They have capitulated and betrayed their own to such an extent, for so long, monstrosities like ObamaCare, which, at its core is $400 billion in subsidies to the dying private health insurance industry, are embraced as “liberal.” ObamaCare is not progressive; it takes us backward. It doesn’t address any of the Medicaid issues I have fought to bring to light over the years. Instead, it is almost solely about federal cash propping up zombie health insurance, as jobs increasingly no longer provide health insurance. We’ve entered an economy based on freelancing and short-term contracts, and I’m not saying that it is necessarily bad in-and-of-itself, but it’s the reality and instead of addressing the reality, ObamaCare addresses employer health insurance plans that are increasingly a relic of the 20th century economy. The economic configuration we grew up with is GONE. ObamaCare is like inventing a better 8-track player in 2012, there is a major disconnect from reality.

Ultimately there is no power to narcissistic, self-indulgent thinking. Authentic thinking originates with an encounter with the world.

— Abraham Joshua Heschel, in Ch. 5 of Who Is Man? (1965)

The disconnect between the liberal establishment and the realities for the rest of us has increasingly widened as the Left courts the same donors at the top of the corporate food chain, the .05%. That disconnect upsets me the most. It means they’re not encountering the world, not seeing the painful realities and unintended consequences of their policies. The hermetically-sealed bubble they live in is obvious when liberal pundits are baffled by protests. “Why are they protesting?” they ask, as debt, unemployment, and hunger reach unprecedented levels.

Death of the Liberal Class by Chris Hedges presents overwhelming evidence of the Left’s “death.” Obama is particularly appalling. I felt some guarded optimism at first, but what faith I had that Obama would help quickly evaporated; I don’t see anything that this administration has done as great. The few times Obama admits there are serious problems under his administration of happy optimistic shiny wonderfulness, like when he did the Q&A on immigration on Univision, he acts powerless to lead, or even affect change in any of the federal agencies that answer to him. Has corporate influence neutered him that thoroughly?

Here are my own observations: I’ve never heard Obama say the words “poor” or “poor people.” There’s no connection to Martin Luther King’s legacy or his poor people’s campaign. The newspeak-esque language that’s used is always “middle class families,” or “working families,” which is not only bloodless and doesn’t acknowledge the suffering out there, but also sends the message “don’t worry corporate lobbyists, we only want to help families that work, not those pitiful lazy wretches who can’t find work.” Never is the disintegration of the family that’s happened in-tandem with economic disintegration mentioned. Though the homeless heavily dotted the streets of Washington DC in 2003 when I was there, and it must be exponentially worse post-collapse, Obama can’t find the strength to say the word “poor,” much less mention the homeless people he must pass in the presidential limousine.

The fact that the left media meekly pleads with Obama: The Nation | White House Meeting with Low-Income Americans? —Obama has not met meaningfully, not once, with poor people or anti-poverty activists (but the author still can’t say the P-word!) and Salon | Will Obama cave on Social Security? shows how far we’ve fallen.

The bubble seems so impenetrable, it’s looking like the Orwellian caste system: there’s the Inner Party: the 0.5%, the segment that controls the elections, the president, Congress, and the corporate class, then the Outer Party: the craven media, political parties, left and right organizations, universities, etc., who are recognizable by their eagerness to serve and provide cover to those within the Inner Party so they maintain the pillowy cocoon of economic safety during the present instability. Then, there’s everyone else. I’m reluctant to call us proles, since there’s still a lot of wealth in our ranks, even an upper-middle-class, but we don’t have much voice and the Outer and Inner Party aren’t very aware of our concerns.

The collapse of The Left is so complete that Mussolini-style corporatism is now the “center,” and pursued doggedly by the Obama and his administration of corporate courtiers. I now blame The Left more than the GOP, much more than the Tea Party, who are responding to the economic collapse and bailout culture same as Occupy. I wish Occupy and the Tea Party could band together and fight the bailouts that are continuing.

We need to look at HOW it got so bad. The corporate culture is suspect #1. It bombards us constantly like the TVs in Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty-Four you can never turn off. Turn that $#!T off. Too often, the messages coming through are “buy our newest product, and [subtext] buy this thing, it’s all you need to be happy! You don’t need community, church, a moral core, the Bible, etc etc etc.” The messages coming in via mass corporate culture are usually the exact opposite of the inherent value of human life, humans having inherent value and sanctity and dignity, instead, the only value lies in what you produce, your income, or how ruthless you are. Not to mention the pornification of everything; if I had a daughter, I would burn the TV. Several rabbis have pointed out, the dominant mass media culture is closer to the ancient Greek culture that glorified the body and beauty over everything else, than Jewish and Christian cultures that glorified spiritual and intellectual ability. The messages we’ve become acculturated with, have resulted in our loosening our grip on the moral imperatives we must hold fast to….

We’ve lost a lot. Movements which forced President Nixon to sign important legislation like the Clean Water Act, OSHA, etc., they’re gone now. The labor movement is mostly gone.
What do we need to do to fight back against corporate dominance, national decay, and the zombification of everything? First, we need a realistic assessment of where we are and how bad it’s gotten. Then, we have to, on the macro level, build new regional and national movements that articulate the concerns of the poor and disabled, in language that flows from the conscience and moral imperatives that can’t be denied. Only radical love can beat radical evil; I’m for radical love. Occupy Wall Street needs to come back into the streets, but much more is needed. We need the kind of movements that are so powerful, the corporate state has to respond, like Solidarity in 1980s Poland or Tahrir Square in Egypt. Movements are everything.

On the micro level, we must rebuild community. Americans have too often bought into the cult of the self, that if you just buy the new product, you don’t need others. We’ve been lulled into isolation, buying the idea that government will take care of those in need: the poor, the disabled, the elderly. Even when Medicare and Medicaid did provide for the material needs of people like me, which is less and less true today, there’s a need for social and spiritual connection. I myself really need community. We have to rebuild communities that provide those connections. Churches and synagogues need to be a part of this effort, and need to articulate the moral imperatives that give movements their power.

Here’s an example of the moral thinking movements need, from Catholic theologian Paul Tillich:

…When Augustine equates the Kingdom of God with the church and the Kingdom of Satan with the great world empires, he is partly right and partly wrong. He is right in asserting that in principle the church is the representative of the Kingdom of God; he is wrong in overlooking the fact…that the demonic powers can penetrate into the church itself, both in its doctrine and institutions. He is right to the extent in which he emphasizes the demonic element in every political structure of power

— Paul Tillich in Theology of Peace

…The technical development is irreversible and adjustment is necessary in every society, especially in a mass society. The person as a person can preserve himself only by a partial non-participation in the objectifying structures of technical society. But he can withdraw even partially only if he has a place to which to withdraw.

…It is the task of the Church, especially of its theology, to describe the place of withdrawal, mainly the “religious reservation.” It is the task of active groups within and on the boundary line of the Church to show the possibilities of attack, to participate in it wherever it is made and to be ready to lead it if necessary.

…Christian action must find a way to save the person in the industrial society.

— Paul Tillich, The Person in a Technical Society

We have to find the strength to build very new movements that articulate the reality the poor face. We can’t wait for a moribund Congress and Goldman Sachs-controlled presidency to do it. Without national renewal, we face national collapse.

Looking forward to your comments,

Nick

Recommended reading: The Working Poor: Invisible in America by David K. Shipler

The Death of the Liberal Class by Chris Hedges

Feed your brain a long-form meal, not a sound-bite

Mitt Romney: Can You Help Us, Mr. Fix It? (Part 2)

Posted by – February 10, 2012

Continuing my comments on Mitt Romney’s “very ample safety net” statement on CNN; see the first half of my post: Mitt Romney: Can You Help Us, Mr. Fix It? (Part 1)

So, as I said in Part 1, it’s very important to assess presidential candidates in a just and fair manner, and too often the news media is blaring the one sentence “not concerned about the very poor” sans context. But, to be honest, Romney’s answer is even worse when examined in its full context and nuance. Gail Collins over at the NYT wrote an excellent line-by-line breakdown of Mitt’s full statement. I won’t reprint her words here but I highly recommend you take a look.

Romney’s statement (read it here in full) singles out the 95% of Americans in the middle as his main concern. He’s not concerned about the top 1% and that leaves the bottom 4% he isn’t concerned about. Basic arithmetic shows the bottom 4% are those earning under $5,000 annually, a group politicians barely notice exist, much less spend time helping. This category would probably encompass mostly the elderly and disabled, and the homeless, including a lot of homeless veterans.

The most intelligent and spot-on post I’ve seen on this so far in the sprawling blogosphere is from the Columbia Journalism Review’s Campaign Desk: Three Thoughts on Mitt Romney’s ‘Very Poor’ Day : CJR
What makes it great is it actually does what journalism should, dig beneath the noise and the claims and try and unearth the facts. It points out that when Romney says the bottom 4% have a “very ample safety net” and it’s the middle class that needs help, it reveals a deep misunderstanding about the safety net in his brain. The article points out that social programs, for example Medicaid, spend more on long-term care for the elderly and disabled than on any other line item, and plenty of those folks qualify under medical assistance and Medicaid keeps them perched barely on the edge of a middle class quality of life. The article also cites data showing that many beneficiaries of Medicaid are actually middle-class families—certainly families in that broad “90-95 percent of Americans” that Romney says he wants to help—who “would otherwise be stuck with the full tab for care for their elderly and disabled relatives.” Medicaid is life support for the middle class as much as it’s a “safety net” for “the very poor.” More people should be cognizant of this data. Paul Ryan is: he hates that Medicaid is benefiting the middle class.

When pressed by CNN’s Soledad O’Brien after his initial “very poor” remark, Romney went on to say “We will hear from the Democrat Party about the plight of the poor.”
Essentially, he’s saying that’s their job, not Republicans’ role.

This references a political balance that may have existed 30 years ago, when Tip O’Neill and outspoken liberals controlled the House of Representatives and made sure the concerns of the poor were heard sometimes, but most certainly doesn’t exist now. No Democratic party leader that would remotely try to balance the scales toward the poor has existed since the era Tip O’Neill clinked high ball glasses in the Oval Office with Ronnie after 6 o’clock, and spent all his working hours before 6pm standing up to President Reagan, fighting for his blue-collar, poor base. He was by the unions, for the unions, and that doesn’t exist anymore. That is over; Tip O’Neill died in 1994 and no one remotely like him has succeeded him. Nancy Pelosi, the longest-serving Democratic Speaker of the House since O’Neill (she served four years) spends more time cozying up to corporate interests than unions. Instead of O’Neill, a hardscrabble Catholic boy from a poor Irish district, fighting the good fight for every day blue-collar people, we have Pelosi, an aloof elite holding a net worth of approximately $58 million in real estate, stock, and businesses she and her husband own, and is now facing an insider trading scandal. Sadly, Chris Hedges is right about the death of the liberal class.

When was the last time you heard Pelosi or Obama, or even the Clintons talk about the very poor? About the impoverished elderly? About people with disabilities? About the marginalized and excluded bottom 4% of Americans who have no apparent “trampoline out of poverty”? If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard “from the Democrat party [sic] about the plight of the poor” over the past 20 years, I doubt I’d have enough nickels to make a phone call. Democrats frequently speechify about “working families,” when the problem is American families aren’t working, they can’t find enough work to make ends meet; too much of our economic base has been off-shored, and there hasn’t been enough innovation to replace what’s been lost. Obama and Pelosi talk about the middle class, campaigning for that big demographic same as Mitt Romney is, minus mentioning the “very poor” at all.

So given the Democrats abdicating their past role as fighters for the poor, we have to ask the Republicans as well, Romney included, for assistance for those trapped at the bottom, for help fixing the safety net and the upward ladder.

Unfortunately, the video footage is coming out, showing that “the people who need the help most are not the poor” is a recurring theme in Romney’s stump speeches. This is really troubling stuff, particularly after all the data has again and again shown the U.S. to lead the developed world in poverty [Source]. Also, as Romney says “if [the safety net] has holes in it, I will repair them,” he’s simultaneously pushing forth a tax plan that would blow a hole in social programs’ funding like we’ve never seen: Romney Tax Plan Would Require Slashing Social Safety Net … Says Romney Economic Adviser. It is disturbing that Romney says we have a “very ample safety net” while the next minute pushing a tax plan that—based on the analysis of his own economic adviser—would require slashing the very social programs he’s saying he’ll “repair.” Yet another contradiction from Willard “Mitt” Romney, the human mystery wrapped in an enigma. I want to reform the system to revolutionize how it sees us and respects our individual freedom, we need a very big change, I like the possibilities in some of Senator Wyden’s ideas for replacing Medicaid—which he calls a “caste system”—with something better and more equitable; what we don’t need is to destroy the program, death from a thousand cuts.

Still, I hope for some kind of educational moment can come out of this. That’s why I’ve written Romney HQ a letter. I have nothing against Governor Romney as a person, I’m sure he’s a great, affable guy, and I’d love to meet him to work on bringing individualized funding, choice and competition to Medicaid/Medicare instead of “one size fits all.” We don’t really know what kind of Republican Willard is deep down or how he’ll really govern—is he a lefty Rockefeller Republican like his dad, a moderate pragmatist like George H. W. Bush, a hard-right Reagan-and-Ayn-Rand type?—we don’t know. So why not assume he can be very reform-minded like his dad; why can’t Mitt be the one to lead the way in revolutionizing Medicaid and Medicare to be completely different? Choice, competition, individualized budgeting, cash and counseling—let’s go!

After all, Romney supporters like to refer to Mitt Romney as “Mr. Fix-it.” I’ve seen dudes holding “Romney: Mr. Fix-it” signs prior to the debates on cable news. I found this image on mittromneycentral.com:

Mr. Fix- It, America needs a proven leader with a strong conservative message.
Fan art by MittFan12 (Steve Thomas)
In a bizarre interlude, me finding this “Romney Mr. Fix it” image led to me stumbling into the mittromneycentral.com chat room by accident. Most of the supporters in the chat were polite and cordial in answering my questions, and I left there with more respect for Team Romney than I came in with…

Mitt Romney, please fix the safety net.

U.S. Expat Professor From Benghazi Talks To Jon Stewart (a pro-intervention viewpoint)

Posted by – April 4, 2011

Everyone interested in understanding the current crisis in the Middle East should watch Jon Stewart’s conversation with Mansour O. El-Kikhia, a Benghazi-born professor who chairs the political science department at UT San Antonio. This is an important pro-intervention viewpoint to think about, though I differ in pivotal areas and OPPOSE American intervention in a third concurrent war in the Islamic world.

Dr. El-Kikhia tells Jon Stewart that he had to leave Libya in 1980 after yet another crackdown on Benghazi. He says he was trying to drive to work one day when the police choked off traffic, directing the traffic flow so that all incoming cars had to go past a series of hanging corpses–a message to the people of Benghazi about what will happen to dissidents.

The interview doesn’t have time for details, but one should note that Benghazi and its province Cyrenaica have long hated its rival in the west, Tripoli. I know at one point, Benghazi forced Qaddafi’s troops out and have built a 4-star hotel where the barracks was.

It became the capital city of Emirate of Cyrenaica (1949-1951) under Idris Senussi I. In 1951, Cyrenaica was merged with Tripolitania and Fezzan to form the independent Kingdom of Libya, of which both Benghazi and Tripoli were capital cities. Benghazi lost its capital status when the Free Officers under the leadership of Muammar Gaddafi staged a coup d’état in 1969, whereafter all government institutions were concentrated in Tripoli. Even though king Idris was forced into exile and the monarchy abolished, support for the Senussi dynasty remained strong in Cyrenaica.

Benghazi – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Dr. El-Kikhia said he was very supportive of the U.S. air strikes that saved Benghazi, including his family, from being killed by pro-Qaddafi forces. He made a point of saying “President Obama thank you!”

When Jon Stewart asked El-Kikhia the question that is on the lips of many of us, what do we do when not only civilians in Benghazi but also civilians in Syria, Yemen, Bahrain are under threat and we can’t bomb everywhere, he surprised me… answering that while Obama can’t bomb more, he has an opportunity to re-imagine the world order and address the root problem, the nation-state as run since the Westphalian system began in 1648; the old, severely outdated 1648 conception of the nation-state doesn’t make sense anymore given the communications and technology of the New Millennium.

My opinion: The nation-state hasn’t EVER made sense for the Middle East or Africa and has caused horrible violence. Libya will likely break into at least two, warring (possibly genociding each other) nations without some serious devolution of powers allowing the partisans on all sides of this old regional feud a divorce and autonomous states…like the UAE is a federation of separate, powerful emirates (Dubai, Abu Dhabi, etc.) BUT El-Kikhia never went into detail about this or what Obama can do specifically. I think Obama will miss the historic opportunity to insert new ideas about the nation-state into the process and won’t even be ready for Libyans to return to separate emirates of Cyrenaica and Tripolitania, so paranoid is America about “disunion” since our own U.S. Civil War.

El-Kikhia said he’d hate to see a world run by America’s rival, China. He believes in U.S. global leadership, I suppose because Benghazi could have been wiped out without it.

Jon Stewart asked if the Libyan rebels will turn into the Taliban once armed by the U.S., and Dr. El-Kikhia reassured him that the resistance movement wants a democracy, and Libyans have never had a theocracy, that isn’t what anyone is advocating. He said the Libyan people are grateful to the United States, and celebrating with American flags. I don’t necessarily buy what he’s saying about the rebels unquestioningly, because you really can’t predict what the rebels could BECOME once the war is over.

At the end, El-Kikhia said that before Qaddafi’s tyrannical rule ruined everything, Tripoli was a wonderful city, with golf courses and sailing clubs in the warmest, most beautiful part of the Mediterranean Sea! I think it’s important to remember that the Islamic world doesn’t have to be all about brutal, repressive, fanatical fundamentalist hellholes. Libya’s beaches were a tourist destination, Beirut was the “Paris of the East,” Baghdad was a rising cultural center, with beautiful women in ’60s cocktail dresses sipping Courvoisier in open-air bistros along the Tigris, and Iran looked like this. The young people of the region want the lives in their parents’ old photographs, and if the U.S. would be smarter, it could really happen.

Do The Orwellian Police State Cha-Cha!!

Posted by – September 30, 2010

Last week, like the careful student of political science I am, I was reading the full text of the Pledge to America, the new policy platform for the GOP’s Fall Election campaign…
The thing that disturbed me the most is that the text so emphasizes the Constitution and a return to the Constitution, all this restoration language,

House Republican Leader John Boehner and posse, behind a podium with a shiny "Pledge to America" sign, introduce their new Pledge to America (photo credit: Drew Angerer/The New York Times)

but despite unprecedented law enforcement overreach in recent years, COMPLETELY IGNORES civil liberties (Bill of Rights, Amendments 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, etc)!! The text explicitly mentions the Tenth Amendment, and of course they’re all about THE RIGHT TO OWN A GUN (even automatics, heavy weapons, bazookas, RPGs, etc) but evidently the rest of the Bill of Rights simply doesn’t exist!

Does no Republican behind this pledge think of civil liberties as part of the Constitution?

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (in California) just ruled that police placing tracking devices on cars in private driveways is totally legal because “there’s no expectation of privacy in driveways.” Unless you’re rich and can lock your vehicle in a garage or behind a fence with private security guards, that is.

Government agents can sneak onto your property in the middle of the night, put a GPS device on the bottom of your car and keep track of everywhere you go. This doesn’t violate your Fourth Amendment rights, because you do not have any reasonable expectation of privacy in your own driveway — and no reasonable expectation that the government isn’t tracking your movements.

That is the bizarre — and scary — rule that now applies in California and eight other Western states. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which covers this vast jurisdiction, recently decided the government can monitor you in this way virtually anytime it wants — with no need for a search warrant.

It is a dangerous decision — one that, as the dissenting judges warned, could turn America into the sort of totalitarian state imagined by George Orwell. It is particularly offensive because the judges added insult to injury with some shocking class bias: the little personal privacy that still exists, the court suggested, should belong mainly to the rich.

This case began in 2007, when Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents decided to monitor Juan Pineda-Moreno, an Oregon resident who they suspected was growing marijuana. They snuck onto his property in the middle of the night and found his Jeep in his driveway, a few feet from his trailer home. Then they attached a GPS tracking device to the vehicle’s underside.

After Pineda-Moreno challenged the DEA’s actions, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit ruled in January that it was all perfectly legal. More disturbingly, a larger group of judges on the circuit, who were subsequently asked to reconsider the ruling, decided this month to let it stand. (Pineda-Moreno has pleaded guilty conditionally to conspiracy to manufacture marijuana and manufacturing marijuana while appealing the denial of his motion to suppress evidence obtained with the help of GPS.)

Excerpted from: The Government’s New Right To Track Your Every Move With GPS – TIME

Neither Team Donkey nor Team Elephant have expressed the slightest concern. Not a word.

This editorial cartoon by Adam Zyglis depicts President Obama as Uncle Sam in one of those WWII-era Army recruitment posters, but with the banner "I HEAR YOU," and the words "Expanded Surveillance" printed on his big ears.

Not a word either concerning the new FBI/Obama Administration proposal to make every data method tappable and un-encryptable!!!

To counter such problems, officials are coalescing around several of the proposal’s likely requirements:

  • Communications services that encrypt messages must have a way to unscramble them.
  • Foreign-based providers that do business inside the United States must install a domestic office capable of performing intercepts.
  • Developers of software that enables peer-to-peer communication must redesign their service to allow interception.

“It would be an enormous change for newly covered companies,” he said. “Implementation would be a huge technology and security headache, and the investigative burden and costs will shift to providers.”

Several privacy and technology advocates argued that requiring interception capabilities would create holes that would inevitably be exploited by hackers.

Steven M. Bellovin, a Columbia University computer science professor, pointed to an episode in Greece: In 2005, it was discovered that hackers had taken advantage of a legally mandated wiretap function to spy on top officials’ phones, including the prime minister’s.

“I think it’s a disaster waiting to happen,” he said. “If they start building in all these back doors, they will be exploited.”

Susan Landau, a Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study fellow and former Sun Microsystems engineer, argued that the proposal would raise costly impediments to innovation by small startups.

“Every engineer who is developing the wiretap system is an engineer who is not building in greater security, more features, or getting the product out faster,” she said.

Moreover, providers of services featuring user-to-user encryption are likely to object to watering it down. Similarly, in the late 1990s, encryption makers fought off a proposal to require them to include a back door enabling wiretapping, arguing it would cripple their products in the global market.

But law enforcement officials rejected such arguments. They said including an interception capability from the start was less likely to inadvertently create security holes than retrofitting it after receiving a wiretap order.

They also noted that critics predicted that the 1994 law would impede cellphone innovation, but that technology continued to improve. And their envisioned decryption mandate is modest, they contended, because service providers — not the government — would hold the key.

“No one should be promising their customers that they will thumb their nose at a U.S. court order,” Ms. Caproni said. “They can promise strong encryption. They just need to figure out how they can provide us plain text.”

Excerpted from: U.S. Tries to Make It Easier to Wiretap the Internet – NYTimes.com

In a normative political system, we would have an opposition party to oppose these kinds of outrageous excesses; part of any political system is supposed to be the people raising cain when there are rights violations, but neither party gives us an outlet for that. Right now, the Republican party is supposed to be the opposition party; that’s why I brought up the “Pledge to America.” But they don’t oppose unlimited surveillance and limited civil liberties, in fact, they’re like “bahbah-bahbahBAAHH, I’m lovin’ it!!” Even though they’re calling for a return to the Constitution, they’re acting like the Bill of Rights doesn’t include civil liberties of any sort (other than gun rights).

In the Republican party’s defense, we expect Republicans to be the authoritarian police state party, they are supposed to have that Big Brother ideology. And, in opposition, the Democratic party is supposed to be chock-full of “card-carrying members of the ACLU” who stand up for civil liberties and defend all forms of art (even pornography) and freedom of speech and privacy in the Bill of Rights, etc. The problem is how the Democrats have completely caved and sold out on their traditional positions. Why? Just so they’re not labeled “unserious” and barred from the good parties in a post-9/11 neoliberal authoritarian climate? How did we, the American people, divinely-appointed guardians of human freedom around the world, allow it to go so far?

Right now, there is NO opposition party against America sliding into an Orwellian police state. If we’re to keep the U.S. a Republic in any sense, that has to change!

An image with Benjamin Franklin and his famous quote "Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both."

Nick