Sunday, February 28, 2010

Peace Between Israel & the Palestinians

Ain't gonna happen, friendz.

As a State, Israel has territorial ambitions. All States have territorial ambitions. It is one of the requisites for international Statehood. Its 'intentions' aas a State are quite independent of the religion of the dominant faction if Israel at the moment. Everything that is true of Israel now would be true of it whatsoever religious faction/sect were the 'official' sect.

In terms of regional (and global) 'real-politik,' Israel-qua-State CANNOT permit the founding of a fully autonomous, sovereign Palestinian State inside itself.

It would be as if the Navajo had an army, air force, their own economy, industry, and international treaty and trade arrangements. The USofA couldn't tolerate that (with commendable foresight, USers pre-empted that problem with a genocide that is probably historically unmatched, exterminating more than 95% of ALL the original indigenes on on most of two continents, inside approximately 500 years. Spectacular, really.).

In addition, if Israel did accommodate an autonomous Palestinian State, it would face International Law requiring it to negoitiate in good faith with the palestinian State on matters such as a the division of resources. Inasmuch as Israel-qua-state has spent MOST of the 60+ pears of its existence appropriating, one way or another, most of the resources of the region, such negotiations would necessarily include RETURNING control of some of those resources to the Palestinians.

Now I ask you: Can you imagine, in your wildest dreams, what would await Benyamin Netanyahu or any other Israeli "leader" who would make that demand of a crowd of "settlers" or kibbutzim?

Remember Rabin?

Bibi, Tzipi, and Avi do, I guarantee you...

Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Crazy System

But also unjust, dishonorable, dishonest, hypocritical, deranged, heartless, and corrupt:

Mouseland: A parable

Speech, in 1940, by Tommy Douglass, the man most responsible for establishing universal, single-payer health coverage for Canadians; accompanied by relevant graphics...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Pretend News

One result of the frenetic on-rush to unlimited media consolidation in the '80s and '90s was the inevitable commodification of "news." It was predicted, even as it occurred, by scholar/critics such as Bagdikian, Parenti, Chomsky...many more (and me). The integration of entertainment values into both the gathering and the production of the "news" has by now greatly ambiguated the "line"--the differences that make a difference--between "news" and whatever else "news" is not.

That as preface to a cite from and a link to quite fine piece of graphic illustration of just how the insinuation of entertainment into news values has made quotidian the "pseudo-event" predicted by Boorstin in his landmark analysis of "The Image..." in 1961. That was close enough to 50 years ago not to quibble over. Only now, when it's already far too late for anybody to do anything about it, folks are starting to notice.

Coffin's illustrations/graphics are catchy too, appropos, funny, "hip," and far too complicated to try to capture in this primitive text assembler.

5 Things The Media Loves Pretending Are News
By Nick Coffin Feb 19, 2010 683,827 views

Reporting the news is really hard. We've seen those poor guys standing in the hurricanes, trying to hold on to their microphone while debris flies by. And it's a good thing we have them; blogs and Twitter are nice, but to find out what's really going on in the world, at some point you need good old-fashioned journalism.

So can you blame a news outlet for using shortcuts and falling into the same old mistakes and cliches over and over again, just to fill space?

Yes, yes we can.
Coffin then lines up and nicely deconstructs the five "stories," at least one of which it is possible to predict will be seen on any and every newscast on virtually every 'local' station in the country EVERY DAY!

The Five?
5: "Let's Ask Idiots About Science." Wherein celebrity/notoriety is (intentionally/ignorantly) conflated with the possession of a relevant opinion on complicated subjects.

4: "________"-Gate Scandals. There is always some story that serves the propogation of that wretched, stunted fruit of Wm. Safire's lexical loins.

3: The Weather. Like the mountain, it is just there.

2: Recycled Obsessions. The story of e.g., any missing white girl or lost child.

1: Product Placement. "Stories" that are more and more less and less thinly disguised advertizements for the "news" outlet's business and commercial patrons and customers.
It's a nice, precise, concise, parsimonious distillation of the semiotic economy of the institutions. I'd love to have a discussion with somebody who's read the Boorstin book...

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The President's Domestic Entitlements Reform Commission Is Gonna FUCK Us

I have known since the Dims were obviously going to select a 'novelty' candidate (woman or PoC), that the Owners were getting ready to royally fuck us. More evidence of this appears daily, the clearest piece of which is the newly established (by executive fiat, because Congress couldn't/wouldn't LEGISLATE it) National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. This commission is the brainchild of rabid Social Security foe Peter Peterson, and has apparently been sold to/bought by President Shamwow as a way to "get a handle on domestic spending."

I have said often and I have long believed that, just as it required a GOPuke--Nixon, in the instance--to make overtures to China in the '70s, it necessarily would be a Dim who undid the last vestiges of the New Deal. That the Dim performing the execution is the country's first non-White President must provide the Owners an additional, ironic frisson...
Obama's Stealth Entitlement Commission
— By James Ridgeway| Fri Feb. 19, 2010 12:33 AM PST

Less than a month after the Senate rejected a proposal for a bipartisan entitlement commission, President Obama has created his own version by executive order. It is not, of course, called an “entitlement commission”–that unsavory term has been banished from the political lexicon, since it clearly frightens the geezers. Instead, it is called the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. (Who wouldn’t support that?) The shorthand names are the “deficit commission” and the “debt panel.” This last term is remarkably similar to the much-maligned “death panels”–which seems appropriate, since its primary purpose is to pull the plug on old-age entitlements. Despite protestations to the contrary, the commission exists primarily to make cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

The commission's slant is evident from the choice of its two co-chairs: former Wyoming Republican senator Alan Simpson, a long-time foe of entitlements, and Erskine Bowles, the middle- right former Clinton chief of staff. The rest of the 18-member commission will include 6 Republican and 6 Democratic members of Congress, and four more members named by Obama. They are supposed to make a report and recommendations to the president in December, after the fall elections, and Obama is expected to forward the recommendations to Congress.

In the best-case scenario, Congress will do the same thing it has done with all of Obama’s other proposed reforms–i.e. nothing. Because if it acts at all, it will almost certainly decide to pay down the deficit at the expense of the social safety net. While Social Security may be the proverbial "third rail" of politics, the other debt-reducing options--raising taxes on the rich, or making corporations pay their fair share--will be seen as even more deadly in the current political climate.

An aggressive move to cut entitlements is, of course, a long-cherished conservative goal. The Heritage Foundation has been promoting the idea for decades, and was a major cheerleader for creation of a Congressional entitlement commission. Billionaire anti-entitlement activist Pete Peterson has bankrolled a huge lobbying effort for a commission that could ready the cuts, then ram them through Congress on a fast track yes or no vote. When that idea ran into heavy opposition in the Senate, Obama came up with his comparatively toothless version.

The driving force behind the commission—in addition to Peterson’s determined lobbying– is a group of conservative Blue Dog Democrats, some of whom would most likely be just as happy to see Social Security privatized. They will likely join with Republicans to support cuts in Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security.

This same alliance will also be key to a scaled-back health care reform, which looks to bypass altogether the so-called liberals in Congress. Instead, it depends upon senior conservatives in the Republican party, led by retiring New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg. Gregg has said he thinks the health care system needs changing, and he wants to engage in “constructive dialogue” with the president on reform. But any plan Gregg champions will have to be relatively meager and inexpensive. The fiscally conservative Gregg joined with Democrat Kent Conrad to support the Congressional version of a debt commission, and he now seems to be making common cause with the perennial Democratic health care compromiser, Max Baucus.

The long and the short of this situation is that the Democratic administration, along with a small group of conservative Democrats in Congress, may make considerable headway toward doing what neither Ronald Reagan nor George W. Bush was able to pull off. They will likely make cuts to Social Security, while at the same time advancing Obama’s government-subsidized “automatic IRA” scheme, which would divert people’s earnings into 401K-style retirement accounts. These, of course, would be invested by Wall Street, helping to rebuild the finance industry. So in the end, we could see a de facto privatization of a portion of Social Security–the ultimate conservative dream, brought to us by the Democrats.

By the same token, the Democratic-led health care reform is likely to bring about some cuts to Medicare and Medicaid–the only single-payer health care this nation has ever known. It will do so while preserving the power and wealth of the health care profiteers who are largely responsible for skyrocketing costs. The corporations, once again, are set to emerge victorious.

Meanwhile, the old, sick, disabled, and poor, who rely on entitlement programs, will bear the weight of the national debt. The low- and middle-income people still reeling from the recession–who need more, not less, government spending–will be left out in the cold, victims of what the Center for Economic and Policy Research calls “the deficit hawks who distract the public and policy makers from the policies necessary to bring the economy back to full employment.”

The people and policies responsible for running up the deficit look like the only ones who won’t be taking a hit. In a report released on Wednesday called “Where Today’s Large Deficits Come From,” the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities added up the numbers and found: “In fact, the tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the economic downturn together explain virtually the entire deficit over the next ten years.”

James Ridgeway is a senior correspondent at Mother Jones. For more of his stories, click here.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The "Citizens United" CorpoRat Cheat Sheet!

Via TPM:
In the wake of last month's Citizens United ruling, a powerhouse Washington lobbying firm is informing its corporate clients on how they can use middlemen like the Chamber of Commerce to pour unlimited amounts of money into political campaigns, while maintaining "sufficient cover" to avoid "public scrutiny" and negative media coverage.

A "Public Policy and Law Alert" on the impact of the Supreme Court's ruling, prepared by two lawyers for K&LGates and posted on the firm's site last Friday, notes that, thanks to disclosure rules, corporations could alienate their customers by spending on political campaigns -- especially because they could become the target of negative media coverage.

So, what's a corporation looking to advance its political goals to do? According to the alert, written by K&L lawyers Tim Peckinpaugh and Stephen Roberts:

[G]roups of corporations within an industry may form coalitions or use existing trade associations to support candidates favorable to policy positions that affect the group as a whole. While corporations that contribute to these expenditures might still be disclosed, this indirect approach can provide sufficient cover such that no single contributing entity receives the bulk of public scrutiny.

In other words, just use lobby associations as handy pass-throughs, to obscure from the public your involvement in the race. Simple!

In fact, as we've reported, that's a tactic that corporations already routinely use, and that the Chamber of Commerce pioneered over the last decade. But the Citizens' United decision means these campaigns can now directly advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate -- and can do it right up to Election Day.

In an interview with TPMmuckraker, Peckinpaugh denied that the alert represents guidance to clients on how to make an end-run around disclosure rules. "We're just stating what the law indicates," he said.

Peckinpaugh characterized the alert as a Q&A that offers an "assessment" of the state of the law, rather than as legal or strategic advice for clients. "It's just stating the obvious," said Peckinpaugh. Indeed, a disclaimer makes clear that it does "not contain or convey legal advice."

Still, the alert is intended for the firm's corporate clients -- and it appears to give a strong hint as to how K&L is advising those clients behind closed doors.

Another section of the alert makes clear that U.S. subsidiaries of foreign corporations will now be able to spend unlimited amounts to sway elections -- a point that top Republicans like Sen. Mitch McConnell have tried to muddy.

Peckinpaugh and Roberts write:

Will U.S. subsidiaries of foreign corporations be exempt?
Yes. The definition of "foreign national" exempts any person that is "not an individual and is organized under or created by the laws of the United States or of any State or other place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States and has its principal place of business within the United States." 22 U.S.C. § 611(b)(2). The Federal Election Commission ("FEC") has determined that this exemption includes a U.S. corporation that is a subsidiary of a foreign corporation, so long as the foreign parent does not finance U.S. political activities and no foreign national participates in any decision to make expenditures.

On the whole, though, Peckinpaugh and Roberts suggest caution. "Just because a corporation may make an independent direct advocacy expenditure doesn't mean that it should," they write.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

How Health Insurance Parasites Injure Their Hosts

In a blatant, transparent, and pretty smart bid for more leverage in the health insurance reform battles (and to boost readership, too, one supposes), HuffPost is soliciting stories which illustrate the damages and injuries inflicted upon people who have had the temerity to expect their HIP coverage to aid them in getting well.

For millions of Americans, adequate health care is still out of reach -- and not just because of spiraling premium costs.

As President Obama pointed out in a NYT op-ed last summer, a recent survey found that over the last three years, more than 12 million Americans were either refused overall coverage, refused coverage for a specific condition or subject to higher premium costs.

And even those who believe they're fully insured may not be as protected as they hope. Recurring examples of insurers digging up and scrutinizing customers' old records after they get sick suggest perverse incentives for companies to dump their customers once they fall ill. Some insurance companies have even been found to award bonuses and better performance reviews to employees who revoke the most policies.

We compiled a list of some of the worst cases of insurance companies denying sick customers access to medical care. Check them out below -- and if you've been denied coverage, click (HERE, scroll down) and tell us your story.
Case in point:
After 17-year-old college student Jerome Mitchell tested positive for HIV in 2002, his health insurance company retroactively annulled his coverage. Fortis Insurance claimed that a nurse's note written before his coverage began may have indicated that Mitchell had already known he had contracted HIV. The note turned out to be an error, and earlier this year, the South Carolina Supreme Court called the company's behavior "reprehensible" and ordered it to pay Mitchell $10 million in damages.
Now, please refer back to the italicized text in the HuffPost description of its enterprise.

Do you detect any anomaly, any puzzling tropes, and suggestive usages?

I call your attention to the phrase "perverse incentives." They are nothing of the kind, within the logic of the corpoRat/capitalist enterprise that is Health Insurance Parasitism. Inside that logic, nothing is MORE rational than to cut your losses. If that means killing people--because in this society, inability to be insured is a (slow) death sentence--then so be it. "Incentivizing" functionally corpoRat behavior is not "perverse."

It is, of course, the logic of the corporaRat/capitalist model itself that is fundamentally perverse, flawed, stunted.

But apparently the author of the HuffPost post, Grace Kiser, either couldn't bring herself to say so, or it was not in her scope of interpretation.

Either is distressing, from a putative source of meaningful social critique.

Monday, February 15, 2010

FUUKING Outrageous; NC School Secretary Fired For Speaking Spanish to Spanish-Speaking Parents

Via a lead on FB, to this:

According to a recent report in the Charlotte Observer, Ana Ligia Mateo, a secretary for Devonshire Elementary School in Charlotte, was fired for speaking Spanish to Spanish-speaking parents.
Mateo, who has since filed a lawsuit against the school district, claims that in 2008, Suzanne Gimenez, the new principal of Devonshire Elementary, arrived and quickly instituted a "no-Spanish rule." Gimenez (who is not Hispanic herself but is married to a Hispanic man), notified staff members that they were not to engage with parents in Spanish. English was to be the only means of verbal communication.
After this rule was handed down, Mateo continued to speak in Spanish to parents who had difficulties with English both in person and on the phone. Mateo's lawsuit describes an instance where a parent arrived, clearly distraught, claiming her son had been sexually assaulted while at school. Yet Gimenez prevented Mateo from translating for the parent, instead suggesting that the woman's seven-year-old son do the translating.
This is verbatim the letter I sent to the Distr4ict bureaucracy:
You cretinous, moronic, jingoistic, nativist dung-buckets, I am writing because I have just learned about the case of Ana Ligia Mateo, a secretary in your district who was fired for speaking Spanish to the Spanish-speaking parents of students at her school. On what planet do you drooling, feculent trogs live?

Our communities are diverse and our public schools ought to serve all students and all parents. Refusing to communicate with parents simply because they speak Spanish does a disservice to all students and couldn’t possibly help your educational goals, unless they included isolating, alienating, and disenfranchising people who, despite their differences, are membersw of your community and deserve your respect.

Education is too important to exclude and alienate significant numbers of students and parents, or to be left in such hands as yours, particularly if you are going to persist in such insulting, belittling behaviors without acknowledging your errors..

I therefore DEMAND your district to immediately and publically renounce all English-only rules in your schools, re-hire Ms. Mateo, and issue a public apology to the parents and the students whom your discriminatory and arguably racist acts apparently intentionally affronted.

--Signed. Dr. Woody, Ph.D.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Breaking! From The Dept. of NCHEAT*: HIP* Profits Soar

*NCHEAT = "Nobody Could Have EVER Anticipated This!"
*HIP = "Health Insurance Parasites"

Via FDL:

Report: Insurers enjoy record-breaking profits as they cut 2.7 million people from their rolls
By: Jason Rosenbaum Thursday February 11, 2010 10:42 am

Health Care for America Now has a new report out today on the insurance industry’s profits and customer base [pdf] and the statistics are shocking:
The five largest U.S. health insurance companies sailed through the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression to set new industry profit records in 2009, a feat accomplished by leaving behind 2.7 million americans who had been inprivate health plans. For customers who kept their benefits, the insurers raised rates and cost-sharing,and cut the share of premiums spent on medical care. Executives and shareholders of the five biggest for-profit health insurers, UnitedHealthGroup inc., WellPoint inc., Aetna Inc., Humana Inc., and Cigna Corp., enjoyed combined profit of $12.2 billion in 2009, up 56 percent from the previous year. It was the best year ever for Big Insurance.

The 2009 financial reports from the nation’s five largest insurance companies reveal that:
The firms made $12.2 billion, an increase of $4.4 billion, or 56 percent, from 2008.

Four out of the five companies saw earnings increases, with CIGNA’s profits jumping 346 percent.
The companies provided private insurance coverage to 2.7 million fewer people than the year before.

Four out of the five companies insured fewer people through private coverage. UnitedHealth alone insured 1.7 million fewer people through employer-based or individual coverage.

All but one of the five companies increased the number of people they covered through public insurance programs (Medicaid, CHIP and Medicare). UnitedHealth added 680,000 people in public plans.

The proportion of premium dollars spent on health care expenses went down for three of the five firms, with higher proportions going to administrative expenses and profits.
Nobody saw that comin', did they? A complete surprise. Knock me over with a feather, at the same time youi proffer me a guess as to the amount of time and money the HIPs have ALREADY spent figuring out ways to game every possible scenario that may or may not emerge from Congress...

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Nostalgia Chick; "The Smurfette Principle"

A semiotics of sexual signs: Harvesting "gender tropes" for fun and profit...

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

We Don' Need No Steenkeen Libraries!

Via Susan Ohanian's blog/page comes word that Prez. Shamwow's pro forma 'budget freeze' will be destructive at least in that it freezes library funding, and omits school libraries from education increases entirely.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Obama (this week) released his FY2011 Budget Proposal to Congress, calling for a freeze to federal library funding under the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA), the primary source of federal funding for libraries.

Under the President’s plan, LSTA would be level-funded at $214 million.

As Americans deal with the weakened economy, they are using their libraries more than ever before, visiting them over 119 million times each month. American Library Association (ALA) President Camila Alire said freezing federal funding for libraries at this time of increased demand will hinder libraries from serving job-seekers, who are flocking to the library for help with online job searching and applications, resume writing, computer classes and much more.

"During this time of hoped-for economic recovery, public libraries are one of the greatest tools our nation has, and a lack of federal support jeopardizes this critical institution," Alire said.

"President Obama often speaks about helping America get back to work, and libraries are critical access points to information and resources that are helping job-seekers every day. Unfortunately, countless libraries in our country are suffering from state budget cuts that have resulted in staff loss, reduced hours, or even closures. Many libraries have managed to efficiently use what little resources they have, but they are hanging on by a thread.

Federal funding may be a small percentage of the funding America’s libraries receive, but it is critical. The ALA calls on Congress to support America’s libraries by not only restoring the funding lost to libraries in the President’s budget proposal but by increasing the funding, which is desperately needed."

The President's budget also included a $400 billion investment into education but did not include specific funds for school libraries. Alire said the federal government should invest in school libraries to ensure every student graduates from high school with 21st century skills.

"It is alarming that the President did not recognize the value of school libraries in today’s schools and include them in this effort to improve education," Alire said.

"Research repeatedly shows that a well-funded and fully staffed school library program with a state-licensed school librarian is an integral component of a student’s education."

— Press Release
American Library Association


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Making the World Safe For Democracy?

I have a "pet theory" on the history and future of fascism.

It's that the wars of the 20th Century were NOT fought to end fascism, but to determine which version would prevail. Ever since the industrial revolution, the merger of the Corporation and the State has been inevitable. The only issue, really, was which would subsume the other.

WW I put an end to the European dynastic/monarchical models. WW II (and the Cold War, too) was about whether in the winning version a) the corporation would absorb the state or b) whether the state would command the corporations. Japan's theocratic/monarchical model survived WW I, but fell in WW II; it was a version of version #b.

Our version, #a, prevailed. And that is where we are today.

But now there's China, too. China appears to be succeeding along the lines of version #b. If China grows powerful enough, rapidly enough, and the USer decline proceeds apace, it wouldn't take a genius to predict another bloody confrontation of the competing versions could easily erupt as the retreating American Empire resists encroachment from a powerful rival...

P.S. There's a corollary theory, and that is that "fascism" as Mussolini invented it in the '20s is modeled fundamentally and primarily on the structures of the Roman Catholic Church. The genius of the Church is the installation of the 'eternal succession.' Imagine, instead of Il Papa, Il Duce, and you get the idea...

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Rebbi is completely and totally FULL OF SHIT!

Listen to his earnest codswallop, and to Sam's disposal of same with reference to Elvis.

There is no difference between believing in "God" and believing that Elvis lives.

To further make the relevant point, here is a brief compendium of stupid shit that 'believers' accuse atheists of, via AtheistRevolution:
If you write your own atheist blog or even visit one on a semi-regular basis, you have undoubtedly been exposed to all sorts of ludicrous arguments from Christian trolls. At least, it may seem that way. With a little analysis, I believe you'll discover that most of the arguments bleed together into a fairly small number of common themes. In this post, I'll consider some of the most common and share some thoughts on how to handle them.

I intend the following to be a non-exhaustive list of the most common absurdities atheists hear from Christians:
You can't prove there's not a god.
Atheism takes as much faith as Christianity.
Atheism is a religion.
You aren't really an atheist; you're just mad at god.
Without god, people have no reason to be moral.
I have utterly no use for folks who figger you gotta have "god" to be good.