Monday, August 31, 2009
Cameron Todd Willingham, Texas, and the death penalty: newyorker.com
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Saturday, August 29, 2009
Via Greg Sargent comes news of a memo being issued this morning to Congressional Democrats that spells out pretty clearly that Americans want a public option included in the final health care reform bill that emerges (hopefully) from Congress. Included in the memo is a summary of various polling surveys assessing the publics desire for a government sponsored insurance plan.
Friday, August 28, 2009
Thursday, August 27, 2009
After an audience member shouted a question about "Obama tags" during a
discussion on wolves, Rammell responded, "The Obama tags? We'd buy some of
those."Rammell, a veterinarian and former elk rancher from Idaho Falls, said his
comment was a joke and he would never seriously talk about President Obama that
way, although he doesn't support anything Obama's done as president."I was just
being sarcastic. That was just a joke," Rammell said. "I would never support him
being assassinated."She kind of caught me off guard, to be honest with
Poor guy, getting caught off guard like that.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
A nationally known expert has concluded that a fire was not arson, a finding that contradicted trial testimony that led to the conviction and execution of a Texas man.
The expert, Craig Beyler, reviewed the case of Cameron Todd Willingham for the Texas Forensic Science Commission, created to investigate allegations of forensic mistakes, the Chicago Tribune reports. The newspaper obtained a copy of his report.
Willingham was convicted of murder for the deaths of his three children who perished in the fire. Beyler is one of nine top fire scientists who have reviewed the case and found that the original investigators relied on outdated theories and folklore, the story says.
Beyler wrote that the state fire marshal investigating the case "seems to be wholly without any realistic understanding of fires and how fire injuries are created.”
Wow. What happens now?
This is what happens when your theology tells you that anything is acceptable in the service of crushing your enemies, that the ends justify the means, and that children must become soldiers in causes they neither initiate nor fully understand.
Thanks to my friend Annette Daley for not only bringing this story to my attention, but suggesting the headline from the classic South Pacific song.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Here is a thought exercise
10,000 people die each year because of lack of health careI think the solution to that problem is to balance the equation
There are a few ways to do that. The obvious and preferable way to do that is to have no body die for lack of health care.That would be fair, just and compassionate.
But their is another way.It doesn't balance by zeroing
It balances at 10 k.
It is pretty simple, for each uninsured person who dies because of lack of health care1 person would need to die because they have health care.
The right can tote their guns, but they don't need them to kill peoplethey can do that simply by being stubborn, loud, and selfish.
And really, at no cost to themselves. So it might be a good idea to have a cost to get them to stop killing 10k americans a year.
I would prefer a more humane solution, but it is worth wondering what would happen if the uninsured were as willing to kill to have what they wanted as the insured are.
No Health Care No Life
I have no dog in this fight about whether Brett Favre should still be throwing a football. I just think it's hilarious that half of my friends are excited as hell, and the other half are fantasizing about him utterly failing and injuring himself. One friend said "I hope his shoulder EXPLODES" on the first play." Another said "Snap crackle pop will be the last thing he hears...that or 'We need a medic...!!!'" Some serious polarity on the Favre.
"This just in...I am an extremely unsatisfactory human being and elected official...film at 11..."
Monday, August 17, 2009
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Obama has ignored all committees except the Finance Committee in the process of health insurance non-reform. Add that to the signals from Selebius, the deal with big pharm and the insurance companies, all the other evidence cited in the post below.
Moreover, industry lobbyists who have already, allegedly, been promised everything they've asked, have nonetheless seen fit to threaten Obama with a barnful of ads if they don't get it.
"This reform, if these stories are true, is a joke. And it's a joke that's being played on you."
It appears that those who were hoping for genuine reform: universal coverage, substantially lower costs, and a symbolic victory for egalitarianism over corporate greed, will get none of those things. After a week that included Rahm Emmanuel taking a giant dump on the Democratic left, Obama cutting a deal promising not to allow Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices, and Kathleen Sebelius giving the green light on insurance cooperatives rather than a public insurance option, it's difficult to see what the Obama administration hasn't bargained away, or what good news there could possibly be for the tens of millions of Americans who are an injury or sickness away from complete economic ruin, and in some cases, death.
The administration could not have signalled their willingness to jettison the public option any more clearly. Obama said it in Grand Junction, Colorado, his right wing Democratic friends said it soon after he did, and then, this morning, Kathleen Sebelius said a public option “is not an essential element" of reform.
In place of the public option? Non-profit cooperatives. What are they? The Nation's Katha Pollitt "poked around online for fifteen minutes and discovered that they're untested, small, unregulated, that they exist in twenty states and that Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota really likes them—but I didn't discover what they actually are." "Cooperatives" have varying definitions, but these insurance co-ops would be "credit unions" to the "banks" of big insurance companies. Of course, a "credit union" approach to banking is a tiny bit more consumer-friendly, and maybe even a tad more reasonably priced, but the existence of credit unions doesn't stop global economic disasters, and insurance cooperatives won't solve the crisis of the uninsured. We are also reasonably certain the co-ops won't be effective (read "competitive," Selebius's favorite word) without raising taxes.
One important reason we should be suspicious of the insurance cooperative option is that Chuck Grassley likes it. Moreover, listen to why he likes it, as he asks his Senate colleagues to "go along with the cooperative movement as we've known it for 150 years in America..." Presumably that's 150 years of cooperatives failing to solve universal coverage, and presumably that century-and-a-half includes the past 50 years of corporate insurance hegemony. I'm not sure Grassley would support any proposal to fund the cooperatives in a significant way; Lord knows the rest of the GOP doesn't. Perhaps he simply proposes to pass legislation mandating that the President mention the presence of already existing cooperatives in his next State of the Union Address...give 'em a little free advertising.
According to Slate, a cooperative would have to be national to be competitive, but that would take some kind of federal gesture the GOP minority wouldn't tolerate (and hence Obama won't push for it). On the subject of funding, Slate's Chris Beam suggests,
in order to be competitive, a co-op would have to offer competitive rates to attract patients. Here co-ops run into a chicken-and-egg problem: They can't get good prices until they have a critical mass of patients, but they can't attract those patients without low prices. A new cooperative would thus need an initial financial boost—probably between $3 billion and $10 billion—to help it reach out to patients and providers alike, plus other start-up costs.
Nor will non-profit co-ops satisfy the most vocal and, apparently powerful, Republicans, who will inevitably charge that they are "government-run health care in drag." George Harris at Kansas City Star's Midwest Voices blog agrees with this assessment, reporting that some Republicans have already voiced opposition to it, though he wasn't specific about which Republicans. But for that matter, why would centrist Democrats work any harder for a non-profit option than a public option? And if Obama caved in this easily to the minority GOP and conservative Democrats, what makes anyone think he won't cave in the complaints about government-subsidized co-ops?
Miles Mogulescu speculates that, much like a watered-down public option, co-ops will be too weak to genuinely compete with insurance companies. Mogulescu, who asks whether Obama is a "Back-Room Blue Dog on Health Care" gets it half right. When it comes to relatively safe culture war issues, Obama, unlike the Clintons, can hang with the left, and do so credibly; I predict the President will eventually push harder on Gay rights and DADT, neither of which will offend the sensibilities of his corporate benefactors.
Health care is different in the same way that the bailouts were different, although the former has caused more pseudo-populist backlash than the latter. Obama, like the Clintons, like every other Democrat to the right of Kucinich (and one only wonders where Dennis's threshold is because he never needs to worry about it being tested within his party), can be a Keynesian only to a point, must accept the fundamentals of free markets, and must periodically prostrate himself before the corporate altar on questions of redistribution. Mogulescu's observant article also points out that Rahm Emmanuel told progressive Democrats they were "fucking stupid" for criticizing right wing Democrats who were gutting the public option. Although some progressives may prefer masochism in their private lives, I hope they'll walk away from an abusive relationship in their political lives, 'cause if we needed another reminder of the need to build an independent progressive coalition, this is it. I'd rather be called "reformist" by a bunch of doctrinaire Marxists and Anarchists than have the Democratic Party's Chief Asshole call me stupid. At least the radicals will be fighting for my interests and the interests of my family.
By now, dear reader, it should not surprise you that doubts are even beginning to emerge about the one aspect of reform upon which we'd thought we'd achieved universal consensus: pre-existing conditions. This is also what the administration gets for their compromising gesture of marginalizing single payer so early in the game; many of us predicted that the tactic wouldn't get anywhere. Smelling blood, now even hack Republicans like Orin Hatch are joining Palin and Limbaugh in framing universal health care as darkly totalitarian.
Katha Pollitt wonders:
Whatever happened to, um, health? Wasn't that a big part of the original case for reform? The 46 million uninsured, the 20,000 people who die every year for lack of medical care, the studies showing that people without insurance get worse care than those with it, even after car crashes? Where are all those people with infuriating stories of being denied essential care by insurance company bureaucrats, and those who thought they were covered when they weren't, and those who were hit with huge bills because of fine print in their contracts? What about the people who can't quit their jobs because they need the insurance? The people who struggle and sacrifice to pay enormous premiums? The people who cut their pills in half to save money, or who can't afford them at all? And what about doctors? My internist and gynecologist no longer even take private insurance because of the endless hassles and frustrations. Why don't we hear more about how fed up doctors are with the status quo?
Katha, I wish this debacle could be reduced to whose stories we heard, and whose promises were broken. But what "we" hear is irrelevant if it isn't what the kleptocrats want us to hear. Those calling health care Obama's "Waterloo" might consider extending the metaphor to reformist Democratic politics in general. I'd say more, but Rahm Emmanuel might call me "fucking stupid."
It certainly looks that way, with the White House courting the GOP by offering to replace the public option with "cooperative, non-profit insurance." What gives?
Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama says a potential administration shift from a government-run health insurance to a privately run cooperative is something that opponents like him should consider.
Shelby is a vocal opponent of the health care overhaul proposed by President Barack Obama. Shelby says he sees insurance co-ops as "a step away from the government take over of the health care system."
He says "that's something we should look at."
Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota has been pushing the co-op system as an alternative to a government-run public option to help cover the nation's nearly 50 million uninsured. Conrad says it's an idea that has worked well in other business models.
Sigh...good for you, Mr. Pre$ident. Your corporate overlords are smiling and patting you on the head for this.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
~Salam Ali, English Trainer
Well-said, Mr. Ali. Not just be informed, but to "become acquainted."
Spearheaded in the Kurdish city of Duhok, Iraq Debate aspires to promote equality through debating--including teaching government officials to debate. "Because all sections of Iraqi Society are equal," the group says, "we wish to establish a fair forum for all Iraqi people to develop logical, presentational, and leadership skills." It's certainly better to see people talking than either avoiding or physically hurting one another, and, as I will argue in an extension of my essay on debate in 2006, I'm not convinced the small increase in culturally imperialist/liberal hegemonic influence of "switch side debate" outweighs, by any stretch at all, the benefits of deliberative democracy--especially since, in the current epoch, such imperialism is inevitable.
Great job and kudos to my friend Muhammad, who has made this his fully committed project--I even speculate, a life project. I catch him online at what are crazy hours in Duhok. Get some sleep, Muhammad.
Friday, August 14, 2009
When Republican politicians and right-wing talking heads bemoan the fictitious “death panels” that they claim would arise from health care reform, they are concealing a sinister reality from their followers. The ugly fact is that every year we fail to reform the existing system, that failure condemns tens of thousands of people to die—either because they have no insurance or because their insurance companies deny coverage or benefits when they become ill.
The best estimate of the annual death toll among Americans of working age due to lack of insurance or under-insurance is at least 20,000, according to studies conducted over the past decade by medical researchers, and the number is almost certainly rising as more and more people lose their coverage as costs continue to go up.
They die primarily because they didn’t have the coverage or the money to pay doctors and thus delayed seeking treatment until it was too late. They don’t get checkups, screenings and other preventive care. That is why uninsured adults are far more likely to be diagnosed with a disease, such as cancer or heart disease, at an advanced stage, which severely reduces their chances of survival.
Insurance company bean-counters literally are death panels. And lack of insurance puts you before the metaphorical death panel every day.
Continuing on a theme from my last post: How many more Stephen Hawkings, Einsteins, Amelia Earharts, Neil Armstrongs, can we produce if we achieve universal health care coverage, a system where people will love longer and healthier, where fewer babies will die in infancy...by the way, our infant mortality rate is higher than most countries, and higher than any country that has national health care. Just how pro-life are you? What's the difference between a baby who dies because of a lack of prenatal and preventative care, and an aborted baby? Aren't both of those babies losing their potential? What's the difference, pro-lifers? Right, there is none.
Universal health care is a step forward in the evolution of humanity. It's a step forward because it will help realize more human beings' potential. Say that unapologetically.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Here's why this is important: Because the root of the conservative/libertarian argument is that public schemes of distribution destroy meritocracy. There is a contrasting view, however, that seems intuitively, and experientially, more true: Universalizing public goods will make potential geniuses into real geniuses, and will open up space and possibility for millions of people who, at any given moment, don't currently have it.
This guy had, along with his gun, a sign that said "It's time to water the tree of liberty" which as you know means "with the blood of tyrants..." Matthews unwittingly made him a hero, but I can't blame him for wanting to pick this guy apart. Krostric seemed minimally smart but resorted to the typical far-right enthymemes and "I'm not saying directly we should kill our leaders" kind of stuff. Of course, his lamentation concerning property rights will be latched onto by the right-libertarians as being the crux of this message (see what little I have to say on the concept of property here). But it's the "water the tree" phrase that carries the most significance here. These are not people who want to debate. We have entered into a state of incipient fascist thuggery: Instead of voting for pro-life candidates, these people kill abortion doctors. Instead of debating health care reform, these people pay millions of dollars to coordinate shout-downs.
Enjoy your 15 minutes, William.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
My "purist" friends, from all their different vantage points, will probably get upset at my willingness to "compromise" -- but I probably wouldn't be their friends if I weren't so willing. And with my willingness to compromise comes my right and responsibility to ask tough questions to all sides. Out of that facilitation and clash will emerge the new visions, blueprints, demands, slogans, and strategies we need to respond to the decline of capital, the rise in incipient fascism and know-nothing conservative brutality, and the corporatization of the public sphere.
If you share a desire for these things, you should join us.
Monday, August 10, 2009
~Israeli jazz musician Gilad Atzmon
I can't seem to have a conversation with anyone concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without feeling like the person I'm talking to has ontologically prioritized one side's view of reality, that side's metaphysics, ideology, catalog of personal experiences, over the other. And once they've done that, they can calculate the lives of even innocent Israelis and Palestinians--even children--as means to an ultimate political end. Although I'm suspicious of universalizing ethics, my response to this conflict has always been a very specific insistence on solutions that view the ordinary people involved as ends in themselves rather than means to an end.
Viewing Israelis and Palestinians as ends in themselves also means viewing them as agents in themselves, not as extensions of their leadership--elected or otherwise. Elections are important, but those who cry "but Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East"* or "but Hamas was elected!" overestimate their importance in determining the character of a people, and underestimate the way in which elections are always already rigged by their containing systems.
So it is that I find myself compelled to write about Israel and Palestine again, but dreading doing so because I am likely to be smacked on both sides of my head, by friends, pundits, and anonymous strangers accusing me of preaching "moral equivalency," when in fact I am advocating a third perspective: that of the ordinary people on both sides of the conflict, who might find themselves dragged into it, or might have the prejudices you would expect them to have, but who also have the potential to search for solutions to the conflict outside of a paradigm of victory and defeat, and who are not only capable of, but seemingly eager to form personal and political bonds with their so-called "enemies."
Those who are absolutely certain that the best way to defeat extremism is to crush it in a vice grip, and who drone on about Palestinian intransigence, are unwitting generators of self-fulfilling prophesy.
Islamization is undoubtedly growing in the Strip. Government ministers are urging women to wear loose-fitting, modest clothing and asking shopkeepers to remove female mannequins from their windows. During my visit, I saw a warning given to adults and children not to wear T-shirts or sweaters with certain "inflammatory" English words and phrases, such as "Madonna," "pork," "kiss me," "I am ready for sexual affairs" and "vixen."Radical Islam grows where you try to squeeze the life and will out of its potential converts.
Journalist Fares Akram, whose father was murdered by the Israelis during the January war, told me that he feared the people of Gaza were too exhausted and preoccupied with daily life to worry about the creeping implementation of Sharia law."
It's precisely because Israel is a partial democracy that we can question conservative Israelis' treatment of their critical-minded fellow citizens. Plumber and gay peace activist Ezra Nawi may be jailed for 18 months for opposing the demolition of Palestinian homes. “Being gay," he says, "has made me understand what it is like to be a despised minority." Of course, we are all familiar with the charges of "self-hating Jew" bandied about, particularly in the context of American Jews critical of Israeli aggression, but even levelled against undoubtedly establishment folks like Rahm Emmanuel.
But, as Gilad Atzmon speculates, Israel may be "imploding" under the implications of its own posturing and ethical license.
Breaking The Silence is an advocacy group made up of IDF reservists in Israel. BTS has been conducting investigations and soliciting testimony from IDF reservists. They have done so anonymously, and the testimonies have been damning; I've blogged about this before. Conservatives in Israel hate soldiers who document war crimes as much as conservatives here in America hate talkative, critical soldiers.
Now, in what is certainly cynical politics in its own right, we've learned that some European countries are funding BTS and other internal Israeli peace and human rights groups. This isn't illegal, and I won't even venture into its ethics. But it could probably be replaced or supplemented with something more constructive on the part of those governments. MuzzleWatch reports:
Netanyahu has asked Spain, Britain and The Netherlands to stop directly funding the Israeli human rights group Breaking the Silence (BTS). BTS has been releasing IDF soldier testimony on the invasion/massacre in Gaza. The accounts by the soldiers are harrowing and document war crimes. The Israeli government claims that governmental support of “politicized” NGOs undermines democracy in the Jewish state. Netanyahu is “contemplating legislation that would ban foreign government funding for groups such as Breaking the Silence.” The main argument is that foreign governmental funding of non-governmental institutions that are ostensibly working “against” the interests of the duly elected government are undemocratic. Ron Dermer, Netanyahu’s senior political adviser, was quoted as saying that funding from foreign embassies for the group amounted to “blatant and unacceptable” intervention in Israel’s internal affairs.But the Moriah Fund's Don Futterman makes the following arguments: (1) That BTS verifies all its charges and won't go public with a charge without at least one other "reliable source;" (2) that it allows anonymous testimony because (3) soldiers are threatened with retribution; (4) that more and more soldiers are coming forward despite those threats, because of which (5) the Israeli government is in a panic. That last charge may be particularly true given the pressures being brought down from the United States concerning Israeli heavy-handedness and obstanance on settlements and so on.
BTS gathers and then publicizes testimony in both words and pictures from soldiers who are willing to come forward. The organization makes every effort to check the veracity of these testimonies, and will not publish any soldier's comments unless it has corroborating testimony from at least one other reliable source. BTS promises anonymity to these witnesses, to allow them to testify as openly and fully as possible, despite social norms urging them to keep silent, and the threat of possible retribution from within the IDF.According to BTS's public statement: "the IDF has never denied the [validity of the] testimonies and it and the foreign ministry's virulent reaction... only strengthens the position of the testifying soldiers, who are not willing to be exposed..."
According to the organization, following the conclusion of Operation Cast Lead last January, soldiers were directly instructed not to speak of their experiences or the destruction they had witnessed. When reports of alleged misdeeds by soldiers during the war were publicized in March, BTS asserts that leading combat units received severe warnings against speaking out, and were told there would be serious repercussions if they did so.
The fact that soldiers have nonetheless testified to BTS about the Gaza operation appear to have caused panic within the government.
The conversation is only made more difficult by publications and groups that are so blindly "pro-Israel" that the mere existence of accusations against the IDF is evidence of BTS's intention to "undermine one of Israel's bedrock institutions." Really? Undermine? Not improve through criticism? Israeli Civil rights activist Gila Orkin writes:
Rather than engaging in meaningful analysis and debate of the disturbing contents of these testimonies, Israeli officials have chosen to try to silence and discredit the messenger while completely ignoring the message.
* ... but wait! I thought we brought democracy to Iraq...?
Saturday, August 08, 2009
The brazen contempt for public opinion displayed by the executives of failed banks and corporations as they reward themselves with multi-million-dollar bonuses, looted from funds provided by taxpayers, exposes the unalterably reactionary and socially destructive character of the American ruling class. It will do anything to protect its wealth and privileges. The AIG affair is typical of a society in which the rich, intoxicated by privilege, believe that they can do what they wish, unencumbered by legal, let alone moral restraints. President Obama's Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, a multimillionaire (like many other members of the administration), cheated on his taxes—with no legal or professional consequences. Paying taxes, as we were once told by a real estate mogul, "is for little people."
One is struck by the degree to which the American ruling class has acquired the characteristics of a decadent aristocracy. Self-obsessed and narcissistic, it seems utterly impervious to the feelings and sentiments of that portion of society that is compelled to work for a living. In the midst of the AIG scandal, one of the leading business columnists for the New York Times, Andrew Ross Sorkin, argued that the $160 million bonuses must be paid to AIG, in the interest of preserving the sanctity of contracts! And yet, the same columnist has called for the ripping up of the contracts of autoworkers and the elimination of benefits and the lowering of wages. Legal standards, as we see, are determined by class interests.
Thursday, August 06, 2009
As the Washington Independent points out, if only he'd been a right wing wacko arguing that Obama was born in Kenya...or Antarctica...or on Mars or something, he could have been discharged to save the Army some face. But because he stuck to his principles, he was treated accordingly.
Wednesday, August 05, 2009
Tuesday, August 04, 2009
Sunday, August 02, 2009
But I need to make an important caveat and clarification: Disengagement in itself is not a bad thing. Alternative models are important. Blueprints might have been counterproductive in 1848, but the lateness of late capitalism necessitates them now.
So here's the thing: Here's my challenge to the disengagement crew: I want to see you disengage from the state, and capital, and whatever you perceive to be the complex power structure that holds us down--but I want to see you do it without disengaging from the needs and struggles of your African, or Latino, or Indigenous brothers and sisters. Convince me that your disengagement will be more progressive, more inclusive, and more loving than staying here and fighting for a better society.
If all you want to do is implement a market-based outside alternative, you won't convince me of those things, because I don't trust the market alone (or often at all) to meet people's needs--material, spiritual or otherwise.
If you're going to argue that whites have the right live in their own communities and establish their own rules of exclusion (I'm pretty sure the right to discriminate is an ulterior motive for many disengagers), then we have nothing more to talk about. I'd suggest building a spaceship rather than a boat or mountain cabin.
Because ultimately, my deeply misled friends, you can't run away and form your own little micronations or A-framed cabins and get away from the challenges facing humanity. They'll catch up to you, and while it might be fun to think about ten thousand little shootouts and civil wars brewing, or keeping the door to your shelter shut while your neighbors scream and beg, I invite you to consider some more life-affirming alternatives to taking your balls ... and going home.