Friday, July 24, 2009

Shakedowns will continue

The current healthcare bill is a mess, and isn't what America needs. We need to move to a single payer modeled on any of several used by the other democratic industrialized countries.

This is something that United Healthcare Group doesn't want to see. After all, they just posted a 155 percent increase in profits a couple of days ago. It doesn't want single payer, and to it even the public option is unacceptable. So, if the dollars they've poured into Congress weren't enough, they also want their "facts" used.

Since the bill was introduced, the GOP has been citing studies by a "non-partisan, independent research organization," the Lewin Group. Turns out, the Lewin Group is a creature of Ingenix, which is a United Healthcare Group company.

United Healthcare Group and other HMOs have been shaking down healthcare consumers by massive profit taking and it has to stop. This plan doesn't address that or the other ills that make our healthcare the best for a few people, but not most; and double the cost of most single payer systems.

If you don't think we're being taken, one needs only look at UHG's Bill McGuire who has made well over a billion dollars off his company. He tried to take home $1.6 billion when he left his post, but getting caught for backdating options halved the amount he could pocket. HMO overhead is ten times that of the Social Security administration, and they don't have the profit motive to prevent citizens from receiving what's due them.

Shakedown II, Congress brings back moneymaker

One thing both Democrats and Republicans in Congress can agree on, they love healthcare reform that goes nowhere. They learned that back in the early 90's with the Clinton plan. It netted both sides of the aisle more money than any other issue they keep out there to keep the money flowing in.

Remember? Nothing happened, and nothing will happen now. Harry Reid and his cohorts, and Nancy and hers will make sure everyone is happy by doing next to nothing. Reid has already postponed a vote in the Senate. The cash is coming in too hot and heavy to vote. I understand Chairman Baucus has already netted about $3 million. Nice money for doing nothing!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Risk-free Capitalism -- Grand Theft Country

Sam Seder, who had a pointed and funny talk show on Air America and can be found on the web, came up with "Grand Theft Country" to describe what was going on during the Bush-Cheney years. Unfortunately, the moniker still sticks even though the country has "flipped" complete control to the Democrats.

Our new Risk-free Capitalism is really theft

Risk-free capitalism is the precedent created with Bush-Paulson's TARP program, paid for by the taxpayers. Many of these taxpayers got hit twice, losing a significant percentage of their 401k's in what I consider just part of the greatest corruption and scandal in the history of the country, Grand Theft Country.

We should have let these companies fail. They took the money and left us holding the bag.

Money doesn't disappear. The money everyone lost in the latest "Goldman-Sach's bubble" (see Matt Taibi's Rolling Stone article called the Great American Bubble Machine) went into someone's pocket. Some of it is going into Congress's pockets to keep the greed machine going.

Why hasn't anyone asked how the financial giants are able to pay themselves such handsome bonuses? Over the last eight years, pay in the financial sector grew at twice the rate of the rest of Americans pay.

More Bonuses.

Today it was reported in the Washington Post, the big banks will pay themselves nearly 25% more than they did last year. Without shame, at a time the nation is experiencing the worst unemployment in decades and the country is experiencing its greatest indebtedness in its history because it bailed out these very banks, these people are taking more.

How was Hank Paulson able to pay himself a half billion dollars in the few years he was CEO of Goldman-Sachs? Whose money went into his pocket? How is it he then goes on board the Bush team to create TARP and without nary a nod to Congress indebts the country to bailout his company and others that went bankrupt because they were all involved in a fraud on investors and overpaying themselves?

Now, it's another Wall Street insider giving away our money, and more bonuses to those who helped create this failed economy through the corporate ownership of Congress and the White House.

This country has lost its way. It has abandoned so many of its principles it is almost unrecognizable to me. People thought they were voting for change, but the leader elected to replace the last is letting the people continue to "Hope for Change" while he continues every policy and practice of the last administration.

I fear we are no longer a country of, by and for the people. The people are now piddly assets and debtors to the Ownership Society.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

I smell a cover up, but why not the press?

Supposedly, the program Vice President Dick Cheney wanted to keep secret from Congress involved establishing an assassination squad to take out al Qaeda leaders. Even though since 1989, we have established in law that there is no prohibition from taking out even “leaders of state” in a time of war, and these folks are terrorist leaders, not leaders of state.

Also, the current administration has no problem with killing suspected terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the senior al Qaeda leadership are supposedly sitting in caves planning to bring western civilization to an end. Why wouldn't sending in paramilitary units in the Bush-Cheney administration make sense?

What we're getting doesn't smell right. The press is offering us un-named former CIA sources saying stuff like: “People look at killing terrorists with drones differently than they do with an assassin's bullet... Well, the al Qaeda leadership is all over the world, in different countries, and how do to you effectively coordinate this covert activity with their governments? What if our operatives get caught?” "It sounds practical, but when you look at it, it isn't."

Excuse me?

These excuses are terribly thin. Let's look at this in the context of what we already know.

Other countries are already involved in our covert activities, and in some cases neither our government nor the CIA informed their governments. Extraordinary Rendition was practiced by the CIA, which involved kidnapping innocent people in Italy, Germany, Canada. It supposedly has also netted some not so nice people. In addition, the CIA sent them off to secret Black Prisons located in other foreign countries. In some cases we know the countries were aware of the existence of existence of these prisons, but we still don't know the full story.

BTW: These secret prisons are still in operation, as a key al Qaeda source, who was tortured months before the White Legal Counsel and the Department of Justice rewrote the definition of torture to make it “legal,” died under suspicious circumstances in a Libyan prison a couple of months ago. He was the sole source used by the Bush-Cheney White House to “fix the intelligence to the policy” through his testimony there was a link between al Qaeda and Iraq. One of several falsehoods perpetrated by this administration to invade a harmless country.

CIA operatives have been caught. There is an extraordinary rendition case moving very slowly in the Italian courts involving several CIA operatives.

The record of the Bush-Cheney White House informing Congressional Committees within the law is already shady. An example is the problem of when and how it informed Congress that torture was being used in interrogations. Torture is a war crime. This was a secret kept until images started showing up, and as noted much is still secret. There is movement toward an investigation, but it is being stymied. See today's Washington Post.

CIA has already been accused misinforming members of Congress. An investigation is considered because there are apparently differences in the stories the CIA told the members of the “Gang of Eight” regarding its enhanced interrogation techniques. This is likely because members were either individually briefed or with only a couple of other members present. Under such circumstances the chances of the “Gang of Eight” having gotten a complete record are almost nil. This is hardly fulfilling the obligation of keeping the Intelligence Committees fully informed of covert activities. They still aren't informed. We haven't been informed.

Common Sense. It doesn't make sense that an assassination program wasn't operational. As Senator Bond in today's papers said, a targeted assassination program is exactly what we'd expect our CIA to be involved in. The key targets are supposedly in countries that have our permission to target and kill suspected Taliban, no less al Qaeda leadership, so again, what's the secret that had to be kept from Congress?

The question it really boils down to is why would Vice President Dick Cheney tell the CIA it didn't want Congress to know about a common sense program that would be legal, unlike other programs undertaken by the CIA in secret and with at least partial, if not full knowledge of the Gang of Eight, and with or without the consent the other countries?

There can be only a one plausible explanation, this isn't the program that is being kept secret. This is a cover up. Right now, the press is playing along. They are carrying the same story with the same weak sound bites. I wonder what entertainment news is going to make us, Congress and the DoJ forget all about this?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Clown exits, comedian enters, veep bombs

It's been quite a week. A clown exits the political stage, former comedian and satirist takes the oath... finally, and Vice President Joe Biden shows the administration's hand isn't so different from the last administration's.

Palin runs out on job for the good of Alaska

I'm on the same page as E. J. Dionne of the Washington Post. Sarah Palin's political career is over. She says it's for the good of Alaska and she's right. She wasn't fit for office, and she certainly wasn't fit to be Vice President, although I'm beginning to wonder about Biden.

Despite all the spin, the fact is who wants a leader who quits before the job is done. Adversity or not, no one wants a quitter. It's not like the responsibility of being governor was thrust upon her. She ran for office. She took an oath. She quit before her term was up.

After she's finished with her book, you'll see her on TV again. I was surprised she also left CNN. Wouldn't the wingnuts much rather look at Sarah Palin than "one too many nights in the poker parlor" William Bennett? Bill once had something to say, but since being on message is so important the GOP, they all share the same teleprompter. Sarah will be back, but not running.

Al Franken takes office for the good of Minnesota and our Country

The not-very-confident self-help character played by Al Franken on Saturday Night Live, Stuart Smalley made this part of his Daily Affirmation, "I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and dog-gone it, people like me." It certainly fits Senator Al Franken, who finally took office after winning the Minnesota seat from Norm Coleman. However, the last phrase of should probably be modified to "enough people like me."

I met Al Franken at a fundraiser in our neighborhood when he entered the race. I asked him if he was going to fight. He knew what I meant, and said yes. He later said as much when spoke of that other great fighter for Minnesota and the people, Paul Wellstone. By the way, besides being very smart and caring, he and Wellstone also were very good wrestlers. If Al can take them down on the Senate floor like Paul could, Minnesota and the country will have another champion of the people.

Joe the V.P. gives Israel unilateral strike authority echoing the neocons

The most disturbing news this week was Vice President Biden "apparently" giving Israel the green light to bomb Iran's nuclear sites if it feels threatened. President Obama said yesterday that it wouldn't be in line with America's policy. We wouldn't want to see anything that could percipitate war throughout the entire Middle East. (I guess he feels we're doing enough already.)
Unfortunately, our supposed legal scholar of a President didn't want to take the opportunity to renounce President Bush's unilaterally invading another country when there was no real or apparent threat of danger. Yet, another Bush-Cheney violation of international law is allowed to remain as precedent. Yet again, another disappoint upon so many others from an administration not even six months old.

Up until this week, I at least thought Obama would hold for the environment, but Cap and Trade shoots that in the foot, too. More financial trading and not much for the environment... the lawyers and Wall St. win this one.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

In our name, but again, not in our news

Pictured above is Razia, an eight-year-old Afghani girl scarcely a year older than Sasha Obama. The house in her village was hit with a white phosphorus bomb. Her two sisters were mercifully killed instantly in the 2300 degree chemical fire that has eaten away the flesh of little Razia.

Phosphorus only needs oxygen to burn, and it will burn until the phosphorus is gone or deprived oxygen. It is also poisonous. So, besides incinerating any flesh, organs or bone it touches, a mere 50 milligrams is enough to kill a person, as the poison attacks the heart, liver and kidneys.

The use of white phosphorus on civilians and the places where they live is a violation of 1980 amendments to the Geneva Convention. But then, our unrepentant violation of the “quaint” Geneva Conventions by committing torture has already made a mockery of international law. The soviet-built Bagram Air Base, where Razia is being treated is another site where we have been warehousing and torturing suspects in our “war on terror.” More than two dozen prisoners have been murdered, tortured to death or have died without autopsies being performed--another violation of treaties our country promoted and signed.

The two countries which produce and use white phosphorus for their arsenals, the United States and Great Britain, have prevented its classification as a chemical weapon. They argue that it is used only for illuminating the battlefield at night, routing the enemy from dug-in positions and to create smokescreens for our troops. The evidence runs to the contrary, as the savagely burned bodies and victims in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in Gaza by the Israeli military, attest.

Dollar and Cents

There is an alternative to white phosphorus: red phosphorus. Red phosphorus is less poisonous and relatively harmless. However, our military doesn't use red phosphorus because it's "too expensive.” This is the same military that has seen its budget increase eight percent a year for the last eight years, increasing its share of our GNP by over two percent. If you think that increase is due to only our wars, think again.

Not in our media

I didn't find these images on an American media web site. I found them on Here we are inundated with partisan sound bites and entertainment coverage like the days and pages of “news” on the death of Michael Jackson. Our media rarely spends any time on war, and we don't see pictures of our wars. Until recently, we couldn't even see pictures of the flag draped coffins of our soldiers who have died without just cause in our criminal campaigns.

With the highest percentage of journalists killed in any war, and with what few journalists left embedded with our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are left in the dark about these wars that have already gobbled $1.2 Trillion. Despite great intelligence and maps, I find it more than a coincidence that the same tank that took out Iraqi state television, also destroyed the Baghdad studios of al Jazeera and attacked the Palestine Hotel filled with journalists from all over the world. Our government doesn't want us to see, hear or read about these unjustifiable wars, no less their consequences.

More recently, our military said it would show the world a video that would prove it didn't kill over 120 civilians in a village several months ago, claiming only about 30 died. It didn't show it, and no one will see it. After examining their video, the military retracted their claim and said they wouldn't release the footage because it would only inflame and embolden our “enemies.” I think the images of Razia show we are already inflaming the people of the region.

I cry for Razia, and the families of the hundreds of thousands of innocents, like Razia's sisters, needlessly dead because of our unwarranted invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. However, I cry more for my once beloved country.

The Spin?

I did a Google search and found that there were a few sites carrying an AP (embedded at Bagram) "feel good" story about our American military doctors saving her life, gaving her the doll, etc., but no mention of the illegality of using white phosphorus. A few British papers covered the story, but for the most part their angle was "who was responsible?" Some are blaming the Taliban! But really, the blame is on the United States and NATO for creating this situation by their invasion, occupation and indiscriminate killing of civilians.