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Blowback

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Some unintended consequences in the “War on Drugs”: murderous gangs who lay waste to whole towns.

On the other side, a brutal war between drug gangs has forced dozens of fearful families from the Mexican town of El Porvenir to come to the border seeking political asylum, and scores of other Mexicans have used special visas known as border-crossing cards to flee into the United States. They say drug gangs have laid waste to their town, burning down houses and killing people in the street.

Americans are taking in their Mexican relatives, and the local schools have swelled with traumatized children, many of whom have witnessed gangland violence, school officials say.

“It’s very hard over there,” said Vicente Burciaga, 23, who fled El Porvenir a month ago with his wife, Mayra, and their infant son after gang members burned down five homes in their neighborhood and killed a neighbor. “They are killing people over there who have nothing to do with drug trafficking,” he said. “They kill you just for having seen what they are doing.”

Now, it occurs to me that if you decriminalize “drugs”, the people who trade in them can take advantage of a modern judiciary to settle their disputes instead of simply killing each other.

Written by pavanvan

April 18, 2010 at 11:07 pm

Bush Administration Officials Knew Guantanamo Detainees Were Innocent

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We had been routinely subjected to pronouncements from the Bush Administration that those held in Guantanamo were the “worst of the worst” for some time, and many wondered whether any of them were aware that most of the detainees were totally innocent – that is, tortured for no reason.

Well, wonder no more. (Via Harper’s), the Times of London reports today that senior Bush officials, including, presumably, President Bush himself, were well aware that a majority of the 743 inmates of Guantanamo Bay were there for no reason other than bad luck, but that it would be “politically impossible” to release them.

Behold:

George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld covered up that hundreds of innocent men were sent to the Guantánamo Bay prison camp because they feared that releasing them would harm the push for war in Iraq and the broader War on Terror, according to a new document obtained by The Times.

The accusations were made by Lawrence Wilkerson, a top aide to Colin Powell, the former Republican Secretary of State, in a signed declaration to support a lawsuit filed by a Guantánamo detainee. It is the first time that such allegations have been made by a senior member of the Bush Administration.

Colonel Wilkerson, who was General Powell’s chief of staff when he ran the State Department, was most critical of Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld. He claimed that the former Vice-President and Defence Secretary knew that the majority of the initial 742 detainees sent to Guantánamo in 2002 were innocent but believed that it was “politically impossible to release them”.

This is outstanding work from The Times of London, and yet further evidence in favor of war crimes prosecution for senior Bush administration officials, including, one hopes, President Bush himself. These guys knew as far back as 2002 (the year Guantanamo opened) that they were torturing and imprisoning people for no reason, yet they continued to spout for almost a decade that the inmates of Guantanamo were all hardened terrorists, “the worst of the worst”, etc., etc.

As Scott Horton notes, this would explain why Dick Cheney has been running a massive propaganda campaign to harden American public opinion against an investigation into the previous administration’s conduct at Guantanamo. If any official inquiry got a hold of the documents The Times of London describes in its article, then Mr. Cheney would necessarily have to appear for questioning, and would likely end up in jail.

And how ironic that even if he were sent to jail, he wouldn’t be tortured.

Written by pavanvan

April 11, 2010 at 10:48 pm

Federal Judge Finds NSA Wiretapping Illegal

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Yet another blow to the Bush-Obama warrantless surveillance scheme.

Update: Not that it matters or anything, but Glenn Greenwald was kind enough to point out that according to this judgment, President Bush (and whoever else complied with this program) is liable to spend time in jail. Specifically, the law provides that anyone who violates it shall be subject to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine for each offense. This means that President Bush, Vice President Cheney, CIA Director Michael Hayden and several others are all fugitives. Anyone up for a citizen’s arrest?

Written by pavanvan

April 1, 2010 at 4:30 pm

Health Care: Final Appraisal

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I haven’t posted to heavily on the miserable bit of political theater we call the “health-care debate” because after Obama’s cowardly about-face on the public option it became clear this was reform designed solely in the interests of corporations. And it is interesting to examine how closely the final product (which is to be passed later today) hews to their original demands, how they slowly set the parameters for debate, killing proposal after proposal, until now the majority of our so-called “left” warmly cheers its passage.

Now, there can be no doubt that HCR will have a few benefits for the public. The bill vastly expands coverage (albeit at the barrel of a mandate), outlaws discrimination against pre-existing conditions, claims to lower costs, and supposedly provides generous subsidies for those who can’t afford insurance (still unclear on how that’s supposed to work). But I want to stress that these public benefits are incidental to the bill’s primary purpose, which was to preserve the employer-based model of health insurance, and particularly to enrich the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. As I mentioned earlier, health stocks have shot upward on news of the bill’s passage.

A short history of health-care reform, detailing its spiral into in oblivion:

First, President Obama announced that a single-payer system would be completely off the table. Britain, Canada, France, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, Denmark and Finland, Norway, Germany, and many other “developed” countries, all use single-payer – and while one can hotly debate the efficacy from a user-standpoint, those countries all get universal coverage for a fraction of the cost – which was supposed to be the goal of this bill.

Single-Payer means the government automatically covers every citizen and negotiates directly with doctor and pharmaceutical agencies. This, naturally, gives it greater bargaining power, which is one reason Canada pays 40% less for its medicine.  President Obama even admitted that the US cannot insure all Americans – and thus, cannot claim “universal healthcare” – without single-payer. However, such a plan would have demolished the massive profits and control our health care providers enjoy, so it wasn’t even discussed.

Defeated, progressives consoled themselves with the knowledge that President Obama favors a  “public option”. This would have entailed setting up a government-run nonprofit health care provider to compete with private insurers, much in the way public universities compete with private universities or the USPS competes with Fed Ex. President Obama  campaigned strongly for a public option,  but then vacillated once in office, and finally came out against it. The bill, finally, does not contain a public option, and it should be easy to see why private insurers would be pleased with that exclusion.

Okay, a necessary loss – but can we at least buy into Medicare? Nope. Import drugs from counties where they’re cheaper? Hell no. Remove the anti-trust exemption, wherein price-fixing is legal for insurance companies? Not yet. So what, then, does the bill do?

It forces 35 million uninsured Americans to either qualify for a subsidy or reach into their pockets and fork over a few thousand dollars per year to the existing insurance monopolies, significantly increasing their power with an absence of any independent regulation.  The insurance industry got literally everything they wanted – not a single new regulation, not one control on their frankly ludicrous system of pricing – and the so-called “liberals” got precisely nothing.

A few conclusions flow:

a) Insurance companies are essentially giant regional monopolies, each sovereign over all the health-insurance sold within a swath of land. They are exempt from anti-trust law, and are free to collaborate on their prices or arbitrarily set them as high as they wish.

b) The US Government is now authorized to use state power to compel its citizens to purchase this overpriced and frankly worthless product.

c) The companies, in return, promise not to callously deny coverage to the previously-afflicted and otherwise act with some modicum of humanity.

Michael Tomasky in The New York Review of Books gives an excellent rundown on “The Money Fighting Health Care Reform”, which is an odd title since his article ends up detailing the money fighting for the bill that just passed. Anyone who still thinks that the health insurance industry considers this bill a loss would do well to read it.

Some final notes:

  1. The Health insurance sector spent over half a billion dollars lobbying to shape the final HCR bill, by June ’09, more than a million dollars per day.
  2. The biggest pharmaceutical lobbying group, PhRMA, spent $6 million in the past few weeks advertising for the final HCR bill, and this is after they already spent $150 million earlier on the same thing.
  3. Major insurance providers WellPoint, Atena, Anthem Blue and many others also support the bill.
  4. The so-called “Baucus Plan”, which formed the basis for the final bill, was authored by his aide Liz Fowler, a former VP at WellPoint.
  5. Obama’s “health czar”, Nancy-Ann Deparle, who was also instrumental in arriving at the current bill, received $5.8 million dollars in 2009 from health insurance firms.

Written by pavanvan

March 23, 2010 at 2:57 pm

US Holding 27,000 Secret Prisoners Around the World

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Many people think that since Guantanamo only holds around 700 prisoners, and since that’s the only US secret prison that happens to be in the news, our crimes when it comes to torture and indefinite detention only extend to a few hundred prisoners. But Clive Stafford Smith, a valiant defense lawyer for many of the innocent US ‘ghost prisoners’, claims that the US is holding more than 27,000 secret prisoners in undisclosed hell-holes around the world.

Remember, 95% of detainees in US custody were seized randomly and brought to us to us by bounty hunters – sold, essentially, for a few thousand dollars –  and ex-Bush officials are already on record saying that most of them are innocent. Everyone who has the rotten luck to end up in US custody gets tortured in some manner or another, be it by sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, “stress positions” (being forced to stand, arms outstretched for days at a time), or whatever else the soldiers decide to do with you. There are no exceptions.

And lest we forget, at least 100 of these detainees, and likely far more, were horrifically tortured to death. The most terrifying part about this is that there’s no law. None. You can be a US citizen, minding your own business one day, and the next be transported to an unknown location, placed in sensory deprivation for 1,301 days, pumped full of LSD and PCP, beaten within an inch of your life, shocked with electrodes, mock-executed, water-boarded, etc. The ‘interrogators’ are limited only by their imaginations. There are no written rules.

“Sensory deprivation” is a rather euphemistic phrase for what I am convinced is the most horrifying and brutal torture ever devised. The procedure is precisely as it sounds – you are “deprived” of your senses – but that description fails to convey the sheer terror involved. Imagine: you are sitting there with blackout goggles, thick ear-pads, and heavy gloves. You float in a sea of nothingness, seeing, hearing, smelling, and feeling nothing. You don’t know how long this will last – maybe a day, maybe a week – but what’s more, you feel your sensation of time and space breaking down. Just imagine it! Total silence and darkness for days, weeks at a time!

Jose Padilla, who remained this way for 1,301 days.

Donald O. Hebb, the psychiatrist who pioneered the technique, found that his subjects experienced “acute hallucinations” after just one day in the “deprivation chamber” and “total psychosis” after only two days. He estimated that six to eight days would be the maximum anyone could endure while keeping their sanity intact, and later claimed he had “no idea what a potentially vicious weapon this technique could be”. Jose Padilla was kept in sensory deprivation for 1,301 daysthat is, 43 months. Can you imagine it – continuous silence and darkness for almost four years? They say “don’t try this at home”, but do try it! Sit in a room for just one day with blackout goggles and earmuffs on, wearing thick gloves, and preferably shackled to a fixed object. I have nightmares about this. But for Jose Padilla, a US citizen, it was all too real.

Finally, I should hasten to remind the Obama Administration, who has already endorsed kidnapping, interrogation by torture, and indefinite detention, that these practices are illegal via the Supreme Court’s Hamdan v. Rumsfeld decision, which stipulates that all detention practices must conform to Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention. I wonder if this constitutional lawyer cares with the Supreme Court thinks.

Texas Board of Education Replaces Thomas Jefferson with John Calvin

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Think Progress has a good analysis of some recent changes to the Texas Board of Education curriculum. I’m pretty frightened of this sort of thing:

The Texas Board of Education has been meeting this week to revise its social studies curriculum. During the past three days, “the board’s far-right faction wielded their power to shape lessons on the civil rights movement, the U.S. free enterprise system and hundreds of other topics”:

– To avoid exposing students to “transvestites, transsexuals and who knows what else,” the Board struck the curriculum’s reference to “sex and gender as social constructs.”

– The Board removed Thomas Jefferson from the Texas curriculum, “replacing him with religious right icon John Calvin.”

– The Board refused to require that “students learn that the Constitution prevents the U.S. government from promoting one religion over all others.”

– The Board struck the word “democratic” from the description of the U.S. government, instead terming it a “constitutional republic.”

Ouch.

Written by pavanvan

March 14, 2010 at 3:34 pm

Nuclear Reactors: Israel – 3; Iran – 0

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Iran gets a “draft proposal” for new sanctions – Israel fires up its third nuclear reactor.

Update:

Our Vice-President has just announced a blank cheque policy for Israel, saying: “There is no space between the United States and Israel when it comes to Israel’s security“.

Written by pavanvan

March 9, 2010 at 6:16 pm

Posted in Policy

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