Tuesday, July 22, 2014

White House OKs Underwater Torture Chamber

With all eyes glued on the atrocities in Gaza and Ukraine, another homegrown atrocity may soon be underway. The Obama administration has quietly executed one of those sneaky summer weekend news dumps in hopes of nobody noticing or caring. Because what, after all, are pods of insane dolphins, and hordes of dead turtles, and the extinction of an entire whale species compared to hundreds of battered human bodies?

 From Think Progress:
On Friday, the  U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) approved the use of seismic airguns to explore the seabed from Cape May to Cape Canaveral for oil and gas.
These sonic cannons are compressed airguns that get towed behind ships, using dynamite-like blasts to produce sound waves 100,000 times louder than a jet engine underwater every ten seconds. The waves travel through the water and through the ocean floor, bouncing back up at different rates to provide prospective drillers and researchers a better sense of where oil, gas, minerals, and sand lie beneath the waves.
 It’s not a surprise that this is dangerous: even BOEM estimates that this practice will disrupt, injure, or kill millions of marine animals, including the most endangered whale species on the planet. It is less surprising that this risky tactic would be approved in large part to ferret out another source of fossil fuels, risking another BP disaster and emitting more pollution that causes global warming. It’s more surprising that this gambit is being entertained in an area that may not even have that much oil or gas. 
So why is the Obama administration entertaining it? Because he already ticked off "climate change" on his legacy to-do list by trumpeting proposals to reduce carbon emissions at some vague time in the future.  Because compromised politicians want the waters off their sacrosanct borders opened up for the extraction of every last single drop of oil and gas, regardless of the cost. Because the president wants to start handing out drilling leases before he leaves office in 2017. Because there is lots and lots and lots of money to be made for a select few pockets.

As Herman Melville saliently observed in Moby-Dick, "The urbane activity with which a man receives money is really marvelous, considering that we so earnestly believe money to be the root of all earthly ills, and that on no account can a monied man enter heaven. Ah! how cheerfully we consign ourselves to perdition!”

  Perhaps the urbane crowd is hoping that all the audio-executed marine life washing up on our beaches can be recycled into cheap fertilizer, or even cat food for the poor. Notice that the watering holes of the rich and famous -- the Hamptons, Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard (where the Obamas vacation) and Newport -- have so far been granted immunity from having their vistas spoiled by the detritus of the torture ships. Only the waters from Virginia to Florida will be opened to deep-sea blast-mapping.

Still, since the intense sound waves generated by the exploratory rigs can travel for thousands of miles underwater, no pristine shoreline will be immune from the sights and smells of beached whales and rotting turtle carcasses. Maybe once rich people run out of Maine lobsters to feast upon, we'll hear an uproar. By then, of course, it will be too late.

The insatiable oil company executives and the insatiable politicians who serve them will have laughed all the way to the bank.

 Oil Change International activist Steve Kretzman told The Nation's Zoe Carpenter earlier this year,
As the supply of oil and gas goes up, the cost the market perceives for it is going down, thus encouraging more consumption—which is exactly the signal the climate demands that we do not send. If we had a perfect market for energy, working on the demand side alone might do it. But we’re not remotely close to that. Oil is controlled globally by a cartel, heavily subsidized by taxpayers around the world, and insulated from paying various substantial costs such as health, pollution clean-up, military support, and of course the social cost of carbon.
Importantly, stopping greater supply is the best way to stand in the way of Big Oil’s power. You give them access to more oil and gas, they’ll make more profits, and spend more money both looking for even more oil and gas as well as bribing politicians and throwing armies of lawyers at regulations. [Emphasis added]

These industries are based on, and profit from, finding more and more of something that science says we have more than enough of. Every additional field is a step in the wrong direction. It has to start stopping somewhere.
Meanwhile, the Houston Chronicle reports that nine oil companies had been heavily lobbying the White House to get moving on the ocean audio assault, with Obama's resulting acquiescence causing a "seismic rift" with activists:
Environmentalists accused the administration of caving to the oil industry by formalizing an approach that would impose modest limitations on the seismic research instead of mandating more rigorous safeguards or barring the activity altogether.
 "For more than 30 years, the Atlantic coast has been off-limits to offshore drilling,'' said Claire Douglass, campaign director for the conservationist group Oceana. "Our government appears to be folding to the pressure of Big Oil and its big money."
Michael Jasny, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Marine Mammal Protection Project, called seismic exploration "a gateway drug to offshore drilling."
But the oil industry didn't get everything it wanted.
OK. This is the part where should you brace yourself for Obama's cynical "balanced approach."

The fig leaf: Obama, lover of wildlife that he is, will insist that the torture ships include human monitors to scan the waters for breaching whales and other signs of life before they they proceed to destroy the life that they cannot see. If "thar she blows," then the sound-harpoons must be held in abeyance.

And here's the part where the oil cartel hilariously pretends to be very, very miffed at the government's outrageous strong-arm "humanitarian" tactics:
The American Petroleum Institute, the National Ocean Industries Association and other groups were unable to persuade the Interior Department to scale back proposed time-outs to watch for animals before starting testing and requirements that companies shut down activities when dolphins and other animals are nearby.

The petroleum institute has called those restrictions "arbitrary and unnecessary," asserting they were based on flawed projections about the number of animals that could be hurt.
"Operators already take great care to protect wildlife, and the best science and decades of experience prove that there is no danger to marine mammal populations,'' API's upstream director, Erik Milito, said Friday."Restrictions that have no scientific basis can easily discourage exploration, private investment and job creation. Regulators should rely only on sound science when setting permit requirements."
 Other limitations formalized Friday include closing access to the migratory routes of the endangered North Atlantic right whale and prohibiting multiple seismic surveys from being conducted simultaneously.
This is the propaganda that lulls the public into thinking that a meaningless "balanced approach" which juggles the rights of polluters to profit and the rights of helpless animals to live is tantamount to ethical policy. It's one more example of the lesser evilism philosophy purporting to justify the neoliberal deregulation of capitalism through measurement of allowable collateral damage. No more than one dead sea turtle per barrel of oil! No more than one demented dolphin pod per sea floor gas field! On paper, anyway. Artificial restrictions, like the medieval plenary indulgences that got rich sinners into heaven, shall grease what's left of their rudimentary moral compasses.
The administration stopped short of requiring companies to use still-developing, quieter technologies for mapping what lies below the seabed.Walter Cruikshank, acting director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said the agency relied on public comments, scientific research and other evidence in developing the safeguards, first outlined in February.
"We are taking every step we think is reasonable to try and put those protections in place while still allowing surveys to occur," Cruikshank told reporters on a conference call.
The Obama administration is nothing if not reasonable. The auditory comfort and mental health of marine life will not be allowed to interfere with progress. The fish larvae which may be killed in the blasts should have picked more responsible parents, I guess. If whales are discomposed by the noise, they should just evacuate the blast areas and find different lodgings.... that is, if the deafening roar hasn't already interfered with their sense of direction.

As Claire Douglass of Oceana writes, Obama's cave to big oil could also have the untoward effect of destroying three quarters of a million jobs in the fishing and tourism industries. And never mind the abuse of human rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. If underwater creatures had rights, the blast-mapping proposal would probably be deemed torture, a war crime under the Geneva Conventions:
According to the government’s own estimates, these dynamite-like blasts could injure and possibly kill up to 138,200 marine mammals, while disrupting the necessary activities of millions more. Impacts to marine mammals could include everything from temporary or permanent hearing loss, to the disruption of vital behaviors like communicating, feeding, mating, calving, migrating, and masking of biologically important sounds.
 "Sound and light bombardment is used to disorient, cause anxiety, and even contribute to personality disintegration, as well as to deprive the person of sleep. It is often combined with other tactics," reports the UN Committee against Torture. That body has also determined that “sounding of loud music for prolonged periods” constitutes torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment both when it is used in combination with other methods of interrogation and when it is used by itself.

And auditory torture is still being used at Guantanamo, according to human rights groups. From The Justice Campaign:
 Noise has been used by torturers to either mask sounds of others being tortured, such as when children’s music was played by the Gestapo when beating Walter Bauer, or when they are trying to disrupt sleep, terrorise or create emotions within the prisoners. In 2004, a U.S. military official admitted that ‘uncooperative prisoners strip to their underwear, having them sit in a chair with shackled hand and foot to a bolt in the floor, and forcing them to endure strobe lights and screaming loud rock and rap music played through two close loudspeakers, while the air conditioning was turned up to maximum levels.’ See, Neil A. Lewis, ‘Broad Use of Harsh Interrogation Techniques is Described at Cuba’, New York Times, October 17th 2004; and Darius Rejali, ‘Torture and Democracy’, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 2007, p.360-366. Australian officials attributed the noise over the years to ‘construction and equipment noise’, after David submitted a complaint about not being able to sleep to Australian embassy officials. Letter to David Mcleod from Simeon Gelding, Assistant Secretary Consular Branch, 23rd March, 2006.
Meanwhile, Obama is threatened with lawsuits on grounds of making too many recess appointments and over-tinkering with the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. Impeachment on grounds of both human and animal cruelty, however, is not on the table.

 "For there is no folly of the beast of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men." -- Herman Melville, Moby Dick

The Endangered Right Whale: Latest Torture Victim

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Field Notes From a Lagging Indicator

By William Neil


Anyone with a social conscience or who has just followed the news since 2010 knows that the struggle for decent health care is not an issue that can stand isolated from other intimately intertwined factors, although our medical and political system tries to keep it that way. My tale  is not unique….it has been already lived by millions if not tens of millions of others, and the pattern by now has become a familiar horror story, if not a drill: a medical crisis leads to an income crisis which leads to a housing crisis…which can in turn create a further medical crisis.  My situation is not the worst, but it is mine and it seems bad enough, so I thought I would share it with Sardonicky readers because living it out in silence does no one any good, and indeed, seems to me to be a form of acquiescence if not complicity with the status quo.  

What follows began as a dialogue triggered by an essay recently sent out by William Greider on the failures of the Democratic Party…I shared my response with those on the Email list and it turned into a dialogue with one of the recipients on the efficacy, or not, of our new health care system, the ACA. From my email sent out earlier this month:

“Thanks for getting back to me.  Just for the greater public interest and your own education, my private life and struggles are now going public, and I've increasingly been working that perspective into my last four essays, over the past three years.  So here are my facts, and I won't take them any further than the Affordable Care Act’s reality for me.  I hope the President's plan has been able to help millions.  

I receive early SS retirement, reduced amount, out of economic necessity, well under $1500; I receive a small NJ pension under $500 and work part time at Target for $8.97 per hour.  As my second year evaluation rolled around in April, I received a 22 cent per hour raise bringing me to that figure.  I got a good evaluation.  My 2013 gross income was just under $34,000.  I am single, divorced.  I applied for the OCA (That should be ACA but I guess the “O” for Obama, does just as well) on Dec. 17, 2013 plugged in all the numbers on the Maryland Exchange and was told quickly and bluntly that I did not qualify for a) Medicaid (income cut-off 14,000) and b) any subsidy. 

Now I live in one of the most expensive counties in the country, Montgomery County, MD but none of these calculations take that into account, only the income.  The County Council's own numbers show that the minimum wage required to be out of poverty is $17.50 per hour.  I finish most months with only $100-$200 to spare, sometimes less, and have been living on the edge that way for two years now.   I haven't missed a credit card payment yet, but my two bills for the cards are $140 each and bound to rise as the $20,000 in medical bills, or more, is, as slowly as I can manage, added to them.  My rent is 1,450 per month and I have to pay all utilities.  I still owe my landlord for several months’ rent when my savings ran out three years ago and before the Social Security arrived and I had to go back to work.  I live at his forbearance on a month-to-month lease and have, most months, paid him what I can spare as “back rent” owed.  

For further economic clarification, and in preparation for testimony before a Republican ethics committee on debtors and personal character, I have not purchased a single appliance or capital good for the past ten years; two pots and pans and a computer (replacing an eight year old one, and a necessity in modern life) in 2011, which went, along with car repairs, auto insurance and vet bills for my beloved Josie, a Belgian Malinois now deceased, on the credit cards out of necessity.  My last vacation was 2006 and I didn't pay for it.  My car is 14 years old - a VW beetle from much happier times.

So when my heart crisis arose out of the blue (I've never smoked and don't drink) with no prior history...here I am.  Over the past week I've spent hours on the phone to utilize the "life event” (I guess they don’t like to use the word crisis, which is surely what it is) clause of OCA in MD, and the drop in income at Target of 50% means I can get a subsidy of $333 per month on the premium and 73% on the co-pays and deductibles...but the only plan I can make is still $165 for the premium plus 900 deductibles and 5200 out of pocket (reduce them by 73%) plus whatever the plan is on drugs (I’ll pay 20-30%).  So very helpful, but still an additional expense with my reduced income and other fixed costs. Ah, I forgot to add an important detail: failing to qualify for ACA/OCA in December, I was planning on picking up Target’s medical coverage for part time workers, at a pretty affordable rate. Unfortunately, they dropped it entirely in the early winter of 2014.

I spent most of today on the phone with our Montgomery County's housing assistance programs.  We are one of the most progressive and sophisticated county governments in the nation.  There is no additional money, long waiting lists (years in some cases) and/or lottery luck for any/all of the housing problems.  Summary: no help on the horizon and none likely to arrive.  If I get an eviction notice, I can get emergency help for one month rent and security deposit...but there are no available public housing places...go read the private want ads was the advice. The system, as one neighbor told me, gets you a little more help when you are homeless, surrounded by your belongings, sitting  in the middle of the street – destitute, in other words.  In preventing that destitution, there is almost no help, and women with dependent children will, rightly so, be first in line.   I told the social worker that I would kill myself before entering the group shelter system.  He seemed to take that easily in stride.  I don’t know if that is courage or cowardice on my part, and I won’t know until if and when I stare that situation in the face.  And I guess it will depend on your  point of view.  I’m trying now not to have that staring match.

I live in the smallest one story house type in the entire county built in 1953: about 1100 sq. feet.  I don't know if I can survive, if I can find, a small one bedroom apt. near me - they all seem to be 1200-1400 dollars....no help.

So that's the story.  With a great deal of luck I can make the August rent, no way September.   I have no criminal record, great driving record (although my eyesight is now going downhill) and have 1400 pages - or more than four large books - in essays written over seven years ...you've seen two brief unpolished samples...Such is the state of my state, and our social service "net" for someone in my circumstances at age 64.  If the heart troubles (two bouts of angioplasty) don't kill me, the stress of just facing this reality probably will.  When I was discharged last week from the hospital after my first operation, I saw the listing of psychological factors contributing to heart disease centered on various types of stress.  I scored an A+ on each of them…the basic facts of my life over the past nine years.

And I apologize now for using the term medical "Gulag," that is not the best description.  

My mounting waiting room experience though, the beaten, bent people who are being shepherded through a very impersonal system with high technological capabilities and very low humanity treatment ones,  leaves me still with the sense that I am in a vast "refugee" flow...that's what it feels like...my appointments aside from the one hospital procedure and one due next week led me to this vision: rather than a "Gulag,"…the complexes where I get diagnosed, blood and credit drawn out of me...are in sprawling one and two story office complexes that go on for square mile after square mile around Shady Grove hospital...like the old industrial towns of Newark, Philadelphia,  Camden and Detroit in their glory days,  there is a vast subdivision of labor and practice which fragments the experience and ups the demands on patients.  It is industrial medicine and I had no idea of the tremendous and confusing physical network which surrounds the hospital. 

 My last trip to the blood lab, yesterday, went like this:  I saw my cardiologist Tues...he said you need this blood work, and  have to fast ten hours; I went to the Quest firm, right next door; they don't have a receptionist or an office manager it seems, they all multitask, but I couldn't verbally set up an appointment, face-to-face at their office,  I had to call and go through an automated system.  When I finally set it up, two days later, and when I went in after fasting at 9:30 for a 10:00 appointment…they said they had no record of it...but took me anyhow after a 35-40 minute wait.  The person who drew the blood had a credit card machine right in the examination drawing room; I told her I only wanted to put $50 down, but the system would take only the full swipe for $306.  We made each other laugh with the absurdity; but that afternoon I left critical comments about the low morale, lack of receptionist and no office manager to keep it going – and praised the humanity of the worker, caught, along with me, in this vast system of extraction.  And reminding them of the outrageousness of the credit card machine in an examination room....

That's all for now, thanks for asking, I needed to get this word out.  My "samizdat."  I really don't know if I will make it and only the  glimmer of the hope that I can tell the story, almost as it happens in real time,  to change what others might have to face,  keeps me going. “

Bill Neil
Rockville, MD
PS  I have emerged alive from my second round of angioplasty, or cardiac catheterization, in technical terms.  I tried my best to keep a sense of humanity alive in all my interactions with so many people caught up in this vast system, and I had some wonderfully frank exchanges with nurses, aides and cleaning people.  In some ways, I was working to keep their spirits up, besides my own, knowing a bit about “life on the job.”  But I failed on the last day, after my overnight stay, waiting and wading through the prolonged “discharge process.” It was the knowledge, beyond my own health and the medical aspects of the hospital, that upon my walking out of that recovery room, I would be heading down to visit the “charity” application office for help in dealing with the vast bills I had accumulated without any medical “coverage.”  I knew better, the full risks of not having insurance at my age, of skipping check-ups and all the tests that ought to be run after one turns 50-55, much less 60.  And I had lived with and been married to an emergency room doctor myself, a wonderful woman…but the bleak, on the edge finances of the last five years of my life overruled all, seem now like a vast, blind driving fate I could not overcome.  And the last part of my body that I thought would let me down, my heart, had done so.   So I was angry and yelled at the nurse’s station that after their good medical care I was going to face the grim financial reaper, that was the other side of it and I could not suppress the anger.  My discharge nurse then gave me a pep talk about keeping a “positive attitude.”  She was very, very good, in retrospect, but that wasn’t her best moment – nor mine either. 


(Ed. note -- I'd also like to direct readers to this recent essay by activist and writer Bill Neil.)

Masters of War and Hypocrisy

What a difference a body count makes.

Over the weekend, a numerical tie was reached between the corpses littering a field of Ukrainian sunflowers and the corpses spread out within the Gaza outdoor prison. The temporary parity achieved was 298 people in each locale. The Ukrainian crash death toll is static, while the Gazan casualties keep piling up. Today alone, an additional 87 Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers died.

The plane crash victims have engendered the usual official outrage from government officials pretending to be capable of such a normal human emotion. Photos and life stories of the passengers have been spread out on the front pages and on the TV screens. But with the exception of the young boys playing on the beach, the civilian Palestinians shot and bombed to death have been described by the same sanctimonious officials as unfortunate collateral damage.

President Obama fumes from one side of his mouth that Putin and Russia will have to pay for this atrocity. And from the other side of his mouth he humbly requests that Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu use a little restraint in his own killing spree. Obama wants the whole world to punish Russia. He wants the whole world to support Israel, not matter what.

Russian-made military hardware allegedly killed innocent airline travelers. American-made military hardware kills innocents throughout the world. The day before a surface-to-air missile shot a jumbo jet out of the sky, Predator drone missiles blasted yet another group of Muslim "militants" on the Obama Kill List into oblivion. And on Saturday, a dozen more people died in a similar American attack.

American drone operators often target the rescuers and recovery crews of drone casualties in what's euphemistically described as a "double tap." This practice  is a war crime.  But that didn't stop Secretary of State John Kerry from railing on TV against "drunken separatists" who had the nerve to dishonor crash victims by "unceremoniously" placing their bodies in refrigerated railroad cars.

The New York Times, fully on board with the US government-spawned propaganda, actually had headlines blaring that the "rebels" were holding the corpses hostage!
 Pro-Russian separatist militiamen have seized custody of the bodies of about 200 victims of the Malaysia Airlines passenger jet that was blown out of the sky by a surface-to-air missile, Ukrainian officials said on Sunday, and rebels continued to limit access to the crash site in eastern Ukraine, blocking the work of experts even as hundreds of untrained local volunteers were picking through the wreckage with sticks.
I guess the drunken mobs should count themselves lucky that a drone double-tap was not in the cards when they decided to go "picking" through the wreckage in order to place the corpses into body bags.

And while Kerry is demanding accountability and intact bodies, Obama himself has been granted legal immunity from accounting for his own 2,000-plus corpse count. The Senate has quietly absolved him of a requirement to divulge the names and other particulars of his drone victims. As far as the actual bodies are concerned, there was likely very little left to "pick through" anyway -- no necessity to treat them with respect, refrigeration, cremation, burials, or funerals to appease the grieving relatives. Obama has also been granted continuing permission from the Congress he pretends to despise to keep classified the names of any American citizens who might potentially be placed on his Kill List.

It's a wonder they all don't explode from the sound of their own hypocrisy. But that would require an actual conscience.

Meanwhile, follow the money. It leads straight into the coffers of the masters of war: the weapons manufacturers, the oil and gas industries, the big banks, and the politicians who so ably serve them before spinning through the revolving doors for their big cash payouts.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

People Are Not Illegal

 Here's a snippet from Tuesday's regular White House briefing, in which press flack Josh Earnest was confronted about the gut-churning televised spectacle of a planeload of mothers and children being deported from the US and dumped into the most dangerous city on the planet.
MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jeff, the flight that you’re referring to was a flight that was operated by the Department of Homeland Security in their capacity as a law enforcement agency, that they were enforcing the law.  So that is a decision that was made by that law enforcement agency.
I would point out, though, that that is a reflection of the effort that this administration has made to increase the resources that are used to deal with this surge that we’ve seen in recent days.  That flight was composed of -- the people who were on that flight were individuals who had attempted to enter this country without documentation and were traveling with a minor, so these were so-called family units.  And they had been apprehended at the border. 
They had been detained at the Artesia facility in New Mexico that we opened up a just a few weeks ago.  And it is a reflection in part of this administration’s commitment to prioritize the cases of recent border crossers, and that should be a clear signal, again, to individuals who are contemplating making the dangerous journey, or putting their children in the hands of a criminal to make the dangerous journey from Central America to the United States, that if apprehended at the border, they will be -- they're entitled to due process, but they will not be welcomed to this country with open arms.
Q    So you’ve made clear that it was DHS.  But is the White House or the President involved at all in authorizing that flight and/or future flights like it?
MR. EARNEST:  Well, the President is responsible for setting out sort of the topline policy for -- adding additional resources within his capacity as the head of the executive branch to address some of these problems.  And he’s certainly been working closely with the Secretary of Homeland Security to surge those resources to open these facilities.  He directed the FEMA Director to step in and play a role in coordinating among DHS, DOD and HHS, who are the agencies involved in this broader effort.  So there is a role for the President to play in terms of making decisions about where to devote our resources and how those resources should be deployed to address this specific problem.  But when it comes specifically to enforcing the law, that's the responsibility of law enforcement officials, and that flight reflects their commitment to carrying out their duties.
As USA Today reports,
 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said they are among nearly 82,000 migrants from Central America who have been returned this fiscal year.
"As President Obama, the vice president and (Homeland Security) Secretary (Jeh) Johnson have said, our border is not open to illegal migration, and we will send recent illegal migrants back," she said.
Even some Democratic politicians who can usually be counted upon to stay herded in the Obama veal pen are rediscovering their lost moral compasses in the face of this blatant inhumanity. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, to her credit, is finally saying no to The One. Maybe it's out of concern for her own political hide and the Hispanic vote, and maybe it's out of true compassion for the child refugees. But whatever the reason, her public repudiation of Obama's heartlessness is a refreshing breath of fresh air. I'd actually been waiting for her to urge her caucus to "embrace the suck" as she has done so often before, when it came to caving on the president's austerity budget, social security cuts and punting on unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless.

That Obama is actually trying to placate the growing throngs of gun-toting xenophobes hurling epithets at distressed refugee families is a new low -- even for him. His equation of children with invading hordes that require a military "counter-surge" ranks right down there with his drone assassination crusade against other brown-skinned "foreigners" in other parts of the world. It also helps explain how his administration can defend Israel on what is increasingly looking like a genocide against Palestinians.

It's more than sociopathy. It's pure evil, institutionalized and sanitized. It's weaponry labeled as humanitarianism:

Hear us then: we know.
You are our enemy. This is why we shall
Now put you in front of a wall. But in consideration
of your merits and good qualities
We shall put you in front of a good wall and shoot you
With a good bullet from a good gun and bury you
With a good shovel in the good earth.-- Slavoj Zizek

My New York Times comment in response to Charles Blow's column (heartfelt and true, except for the fact that he places all of the blame for the current outbreak of bigotry on Republicans and none on Obama):
 It's good to see more Democratic leaders taking a compassionate stand on behalf of the refugee children. Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday publicly rebuked the White House's initial call for mass deportation of the children and willingness to negotiate with the xenophobes. The displaced people who fled for their lives are no different than the Katrina victims.
But witness the nauseating haste with which the mother-child family units are being deported. The moms are being punished for sharing the hazardous journey north with their kids, rather than sending them on alone. It speaks volumes about pols who pontificate about the sanctity of the intact family!
The refugees are just the latest scapegoats in this richest country on earth with the most extreme wealth disparity on earth. The have-littles are demonizing the have-nothings, and the have-everythings are just egging them on. It's the same old divide and conquer technique rulers always use to pit various oppressed groups against one another.
In Murrieta, the population skyrocked by 200% during the burst bubble of a first decade of this century. Among its top 10 employers are such low wage hell-holes as Walmart, Sam's Club, Lowe's, Home Depot and Target. When the mayor complained his town is getting a black eye, he boasted that Murrieta is home to 700 (!) charities and a Bible center. Desperation and old-time religion make for a perfect xenophobic storm.
It's not an immigration crisis. And human beings cannot be illegal.
I was paraphrasing another Nobel Peace Prize recipient:

 No Human Being is Illegal

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Medical Mutiny: The Power of One

A Navy nurse refused early this month to force-feed Guantanamo hunger-striking detainees on grounds of conscientious objection, and has since been "reassigned" to other duties. From Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald:
A prison camp spokesman, Navy Capt. Tom Gresback, would not provide precise details but said Monday night that the episode had “no impact to medical support operations at the base.”
“There was a recent instance of a medical provider not willing to carry out the enteral feeding of a detainee,” he said in an email. “The matter is in the hands of the individual’s leadership.” 
The unnamed medic is the first known Gitmo staffer to refuse to partake in what the United Nations describes as torture and a breach of international law, and the brass euphemizes as "medical support operations." Detainees, many of whom have been cleared for release but remain indefinitely imprisoned because of "instability" in their home or potential host countries, began their hunger strike 18 months ago.

 A team of ethicists had urged a "medical mutiny" at the facility. And one brave soul finally heard the message. One person decided to ignore President Obama's plaintive excuse that "I don't want these individuals to die."

As Rupert Coville, spokesman for the UN High Commission on Human Rights, explains, force-feeding was formally deemed cruel and unacceptable punishment by a panel of international medical ethicists in 1975.

"Even if intended to benefit, feeding accompanied with threats, coercion, force or use of physical restraints is a form of inhuman and degrading treatment. Equally unacceptable is the force feeding of some detainees in order to intimidate or coerce other hunger strikers to stop fasting," it (the panel) said.

And as one detainee wrote in a memorable New York Times op-ed last year, forced feeding is degrading and extremely painful. He described the ordeal this way:
A team from the E.R.F. (Extreme Reaction Force), a squad of eight military police officers in riot gear, burst in. They tied my hands and feet to the bed. They forcibly inserted an IV into my hand. I spent 26 hours in this state, tied to the bed. During this time I was not permitted to go to the toilet. They inserted a catheter, which was painful, degrading and unnecessary. I was not even permitted to pray.
I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t. There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone. 
It took over a year, but at least one would-be torturer was humane enough to crack. I wonder where this guy was "reassigned." Hopefully he's not in a prison cell with Chelsea Manning, that other famous conscientious objector, while awaiting his court martial. But whoever he is, he is a hero.

Meanwhile, it seems the torturers themselves have been stupid and sadistic enough to actually film their grotesqueries. And the Obama administration is, not surprisingly, mightily resisting FOIA demands for the release of the tapes for public viewing. I guess it's just one of those uncomfortable photo-ops that might place the president in a bad light. It would be a grotesquerie too far.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Happy Bastille Day!

Here's a little something to help get those head-upon-pike visions dancing in your heads:

The Obama administration has given yet another sloppy, wet, incestuous kiss to the criminal financial enterprise of which it is an integral part. And taking a cue from Republicans, they're even scapegoating Bengha-a-a-a-zi for their delay in announcing their settlement with Citigroup. You read that right. This is a settlement between partners. There will be no prosecution. The guy whom the administration is actually prosecuting is one of those CIA assets terrorism fellows they flew in from Libya just in time to look tough for the mid-term elections.

The New York Times immediately lets you know that Eric Holder's Justice Department and the banksters of Citigroup are co-conspirators who achieved rapprochement during a fraught series of high-level meet-ups, divvying up the territory and the loot. Citigroup even gets "top billing" in the lede. We know right away who's the Boss, and who's the obsequious factotum in this modern retelling of "The Godfather."
Citigroup and the Justice Department have agreed to a $7 billion deal that will settle a federal investigation into the mortgage securities the bank sold in the run-up to the financial crisis.
 The settlement, announced on Monday morning, includes a $4 billion cash penalty to the Justice Department – the largest payment of its kind – as well as $2.5 billion in so-called soft dollars earmarked for aiding struggling consumers and $500 million to state attorneys general and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.
That four billion ostensibly going to DOJ will be direct-deposited to Treasury, which will hasten to open wide its window to Wall Street. The "penalty" money will be recycled into overnight zero-interest loans between sharks. The money earmarked for struggling consumers will go through middle-men creditors and bureacrats. Because they struggle too, in their endless greedy quest for more, more and more. And some will go into the FDIC to insure TBTF banks against in-house theft loss. Who knows -- there might be a few bucks left over for a Gotti-style neighborhood block party. That would probably take the shape of Obama eating pizza with his latest human photo-op prop that is not you -- so don't get your hopes up.
The deal, after months of contentious negotiations, averts a lawsuit that would have proved costly for both sides and resolves a civil investigation into Citigroup’s packaging and selling of mortgage securities that soured during the financial crisis, causing large losses to investors.
If you can't make the time to endure those boring negotiations with your weak government partner, then don't do the crime. Also, get your P.R. people ready to feed the New York Times your version of the story. That would be a piece of pulp fiction that transforms some of the worst consumer fraud in the history of the world into little snack-packs that just mysteriously "went sour" all by themselves, causing investors to feel nauseous. There will be no mention of all of the millions of regular people who became jobless and homeless as a result of the crime spree.
“The bank’s misconduct was egregious,’’ Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a statement. “As a result of their assurances that toxic financial products were sound, Citigroup was able to expand its market share and increase profits.”
As a result of their wink-and-nod assurances, Barack Obama was also able to expand his administration with Citigroup wise guys, many of whom collected fat bonuses from the bank on their way to their new gig -- ready, willing and able to double-stiff the stiffs they've left rotting in foreclosed America.

As Elizabeth Warren observes,
 Starting with Robert Rubin – a former Citi CEO – three of the last four Treasury secretaries under Democratic presidents have had Citigroup affiliations before or after their Treasury service. (The fourth was offered, but declined, Citigroup’s CEO position.) Directors of the National Economic Council and Office of Management and Budget, as well as our current U.S. trade representative, also have had strong ties to Citigroup.
So Eric Holder dutifully slaps their wrists even as he slaps government kisses all over their expanded asses. He absolves them by euphemizing some of the worst fraud in the history of history as mere "misconduct."
The consumer relief will involve financing for the construction and preservation of affordable multifamily rental housing, principal reduction and forbearance for residential mortgages and other direct consumer benefits from various relief programs, the bank said.
Ah yes, rental housing. Citigroup is among the felons who bought up all those foreclosed houses for cash, at bargain prices, and are now renting them back to the same people they once unceremoniously kicked out. Citigroup is a slumlord trillionaire. Even worse, oftentimes they don't even have the right to suck more money from the homes they foreclosed -- because they don't actually own them!

But the endless greed-washing and self-serving continue through their Times mouthpiece:
We believe that this settlement is in the best interests of our shareholders, and allows us to move forward and to focus on the future, not the past,” Citigroup’s chief executive, Michael L. Corbat, said in a statement.
They are just like the unprosecuted Bush torturers, whom Obama also failed to prosecute. Of them, he'd also infamously said "We must look forward, not backward." Citigroup will forge ahead, screwing the citizens of the world with impunity as they reap more rewards for themselves.
He (AG Holder) said the settlement on Monday did not absolve “Citigroup or its individual employees” from facing future criminal charges.
Yes, it does. He knows it, we know it and the Wall Street mafia knows it. Eric Holder still works for them. He's just temporarily changed his geographical location in order to provide them with the exact same legal services he'd been giving them for decades.

To be fair, though, the actual task of settling with the Citigroup mob fell to Obama consigliere Tony West, third in command at the DOJ family. It fell to West to hilariously blame the time-consuming Benghazi prosecution for failure to take Citigroup to even a civil trial, let alone a criminal proceeding and finally sending a bunch of plutocrats to prison. (West, incidentally, previously handled Habeas petititions of Guantanamo detainees and once privately represented convicted American Taliban, John Walker Lindh.) 

 How times have changed. Because now West is invested in the civil rights of banks, which unlike the regular humans rotting in prisons, are deemed corporate persons too big and fat to jail. So the Times is on it again, insinuating that Justice is really, really getting tough on them this time:
Time was running out. Prosecutors had set a deadline of June 13 for Citigroup to present its best offer. Although Theodore Wells Jr. and Brad Karp, two of the bank’s lawyers at Paul Weiss, sought an extension, Mr. West and Mr. Graber said no.
With only hours to go, Citigroup was dealt a rude shock. News reports indicated that the Justice Department was planning to sue the bank.
To Citigroup, the message from the Justice Department was clear: Ratchet up the offer or face a long and bruising court battle. That evening, with the threat looming, Mr. Wells phoned Mr. West to raise the prospect of a broader settlement that would include state attorneys general from California and elsewhere, as well as the F.D.I.C. Mr. West — whose sister-in-law happens to be the attorney general of California — suggested an extra $900 million payment for the states and the F.D.I.C.
Oh well. What threatened to become a small-scale mob war, upsetting the  hierarchy of the government-corporate cartel, turned out to be just more Godfather Kabuki theater. Lots of offers were made that ultimately could not be refused. The only one taking the hit is the American public.

Tony West is not only married to California AG Kamala Harris's sister (a vice president of the Ford Foundation). His incestuous bona fides also include work as a Democratic Party bagman finance director in between stints in the previous Citigroup administration (a/k/a the Clinton presidency) and at various white shoe law firms. He worked as Obama's fund-raising co-chair during the 2008 campaign, raising $65 million in California alone. Obama, and Citigroup, eventually showed their gratitude by elevating him to Number Three in the DOJ cartel.

Unlike the good old organized crime days of the Mafia, the money no longer even needs to be hidden in paper bags. The corruption is right out there in the open. They're proud sociopaths, gleefully rubbing our noses in it. On Bastille Day, no less.

They're counting on whimpering puppies. So let's surprise them with some pissed-off pit bulls for a change.

Marchons, citoyens!

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Mapping of the Terror Trains

Look a-yonder what's coming down that railroad track. It's the Oil Bombin' Special, and while it's not bringing your baby back, it is most definitely bringing the Bakken. Crude, that is: millions of gallons of highly flammable fracked Bakken oil and Alberta tar sands product are sloshing at breakneck speed through thousands of North American towns, every single day.

Towns like Lac-Megantic, Quebec where one year ago this month an oil train derailed and exploded, killing 47 people and incinerating the central business district.

If you live within half a mile of railroad tracks, chances are that you are among the 25 million people living within a blast zone. But since railroad and oil companies are afraid they'll lose money if you are actually informed that you are in harm's way, the government has not seen fit to issue color-coded terror threat alerts to vulnerable populations. People might protest, or otherwise interfere with deregulated late capitalism.

But thanks to the efforts of environmental groups, information on routes and deadly cargo is slowly dribbling out anyway. One group, ForestEthics, has even devised a simple tool whereby you can type in your locale to instantly discover how at-risk you and your loved ones really are:
For the first time ForestEthics has brought Google mapping capabilities together with railroad industry data on oil train routes across the US and Canada. The tool uses US Department of Transportation guidance for emergency response, identifying the one mile evacuation zone in the case of an oil train fire or a half mile in the case of a spill. The group used census data to estimate the number of Americans living in the one mile blast zone, but the map also shows schools, sports stadiums, town halls, and landmarks across the country within the danger zone.

Oil train traffic has increased by more than 4,000 percent in the past five years, from 9,500 tank cars in 2008 to more than 400,000 in 2013, mostly Bakken crude from North Dakota and tar sands from Alberta, Canada. Derailments, spills, and fires are also on the rise.
My town is "safe," being more than half a mile from the tracks on which the oil is being transported. Of course, the entire rail route from Albany, NY south to a major storage tank facility is just yards from the recently cleaned-up Hudson River. My son's riverside apartment is right in the middle of the blast zone, as is the elementary school both my children attended.

Albany has become such a main hub of Bakken crude and Alberta tar sands shipments that it is now known as "Houston on the Hudson." Residents of an apartment complex located just yards from storage cars protested and got city and state officials to demand disclosure and protection from the oil and transport companies, who've been loath to provide them. Most government officials, it turns out, have only been learning of the dangers from the citizens and activist groups themselves. Or, so they say.

Riverkeeper notes that the oil is also being transported by barge. The whole scenic Hudson Valley area that I call home has become a virtual oil pipeline. As have the homes of countless others:
Nationwide, shipping crude oil by rail has jumped sixfold since 2011, according to American Association of Railroads data, and rail shipments from the Bakken region have jumped exponentially since 2009. This ad-hoc transportation system has repeatedly failed—and spectacularly. The fires resulting from derailments of Bakken crude oil trains have caused fireballs and have burned so hot that emergency responders often can do nothing but wait—for days—to let the fires burn themselves out. In just over six months, four major Bakken crude oil train derailments resulted in: the death of 47 people and the total destruction of several square blocks in the village of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in July 2013; an intractable spill in fragile wetlands in Aliceville, Ala., in November 2013; the evacuation of thousands of people living within a five-mile radius after a fireball spewed caustic smoke in Casselton, N.D., in December 2013; and, an explosive fire in Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, in January 2014. The same type of crude oil, carried by the same type of train cars involved in these derailments, are traveling through New York State today.
 New York has had three near misses: In December 2013, a train carrying empty oil tanker cars collided with a truck at an at-grade crossing in West Nyack, Rockland County. In December 2013, a train carrying crude oil derailed in Cheektowaga, near Buffalo. In February 2014, a train with 97 empty oil cars derailed just north of Kingston, NY, near populated areas, a business district .
As McClatchey Newspapers reports, more crude oil was spilled in train derailments last year than in the previous four decades combined:
Including major derailments in Alabama and North Dakota, more than 1.15 million gallons of crude oil was spilled from rail cars in 2013, according to data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
By comparison, from 1975 to 2012, U.S. railroads spilled a combined 800,000 gallons of crude oil. The spike underscores new concerns about the safety of such shipments as rail has become the preferred mode for oil producers amid a North American energy boom.
The federal data does not include incidents in Canada where oil spilled from trains. Canadian authorities estimate that more than 1.5 million gallons of crude oil spilled in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, on July 6, when a runaway train derailed and exploded, killing 47 people. The cargo originated in North Dakota.
Nearly 750,000 gallons of crude oil spilled from a train on Nov. 8 near Aliceville, Ala. The train also originated in North Dakota and caught fire after it derailed in a swampy area. No one was injured or killed.
The federal Department of Transportation recently issued a weak order that simply requires companies to inform local and state governments when the bomb trains will be barreling down the tracks. It doesn't require stronger cars, but merely "suggests" better construction. And companies only have to be transparent when more than a million gallons hurtle through at a time. As in war, limited collateral damage is apparently acceptable.

Only two days after this "emergency" May directive from the federal government, there was another derailment near Denver, resulting in the spill of more than 6,000 gallons of crude oil. Google "oil train" on any given day and chances are good you'll find a derailment story only a day or two old.

State officials, meanwhile, have been busily signing "confidentiality agreements" with rail executives, promising not to disclose the dangers they pose to citizens. Delaware is only the latest state to buckle to industry pressure. State Homeland Security spokesperson Kimberly Chandler whimpered, "The disclosure of this sensitive information to the general public could impact transportation security and public safety."

From the Del Marva News Journal:
Rail companies balked at states disclosing too much information, citing security concerns and commercial confidentiality for their clients.
CSX and Norfolk Southern officials said they sent all relevant information to Delaware per the Department of Transportation's order, but both asked state officials not to disclose any details on crude oil shipments.
"We feel that the disclosure of specific routes, specific amounts, timetables, schedules undermines our competitiveness in this environment," Norfolk Southern spokesman Dave Pidgeon said.
In other words, protesters might show up near the tracks and at corporate board meetings.  Knowledge might spread throughout the land, destroying both profits and pollution. The flames of greed might be quenched!

As the great DeSmogBlog points out, oil companies and their transportation partners have been quietly lobbying the White House to quash the same safety regulations it pretends to tout. At one recent meeting, industry poobahs complained that strengthening the brake systems on the bomb trains would cut too deeply into their bottom line. They also complained that a proposed regulation requiring that stopped trains be constantly monitored by human beings would be way too costly. 

It was an unattended train with bad brakes that caused the Lac-Megantic disaster. And when bad stuff like that happens, you know the story. Mistakes were made, because who could ever have guessed that the brakes were crap? Whoever could have predicted that a renegade down-sloping curve would dare get in the way of crude progress? 

In this brutal age of neoliberalism, nothing gets in the way of progress. Even in destroyed Lac-Megantic, the oil trains are coming back

And meanwhile the culprits have learned that they can always absolve themselves of responsibility by using friendly bankruptcy courts to simply transfer ownership. The politician-bribing plutocrats pocket the change and never go to prison. And the public pays the price.

Until and unless we decide we've finally had enough.