Saturday, November 8, 2008

U.S Gap Between Rich and Poor Widening!

By Bob Kendall

October 31, 2008 "Information Clearinghouse" -- "PC" -- Now that the U.S.A. has discovered that only Mexico and Turkey had poverty rates higher than the 30-country study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, what if anything will be done to help the U.S. poor obtain health care?

Politicians, during campaigns, loudly proclaim "The U.S.A. is the greatest nation on earth and the richest."

With the largest, almost incomprehensible national debt in the world, exceeding all prior national debts combined since the U.S. was founded, recent political rants have avoided claiming the U.S.A. to be the richest nation in the world! However, the persistent claim to greatness has been much used in the current election campaigns (rest assured).

Mary Reynolds-Gilmore of Northport, N.Y. in her October 24 Letter to the Editors of the New York Times hit the problem of U.S. health care precisely, stating:

"The problem is cost and access. We will never be first until all Americans have basic health care, health and malpractice executives stop pocketing such a high percentage of our premiums, and we institute a system of medical-specialist juries to control the malpractice frenzy. More money for evidence-based research is not the answer."

Stanley R. Bermann of Santa Fe, New Mexico had this to say in his letter of the same day to the Times:

"What needs to happen is that we have a universal health care program for all Americans. Nothing else will do!

"No American should have to suffer medically and then suffer financially."

Bruce Leff of Baltimore, also writing the same day in the Times, is an Associate Professor of Medicine at John Hopkins University School of Medicine. He explains succinctly:

"The evidence base for most interventions in medicine is lacking, especially so in the area of how to deliver quality care to the most costly patients, the elderly with multiple chronic conditions.

"Improvements in the evidence will be ineffective if they come in the absence of health care payment reform that obliterates the perverse incentives that favor specialty care and glitzy idolatry over diligent primary care and care coordination.

"A vast overhaul of medical education must be aligned with any reforms to achieve success."

This professor's opinion reflects a recent survey of students entering the schools of medicine at U.S. universities, where only 2% wanted to become primary care physicians. The reason? Because the specialty fields of medicine pay much more.

John McCain's much vaunted health care plan is almost amusing if it wasn't so absurd. The Republican health care plan allows a $5,000 tax consideration for health insurance. With almost all health insurance policies $12,000 top $15,000 a year, that doesn't help very much. But even worse is the accompanying nonsense of having to pay taxes on any health insurance coverage supplied by one's place of employment.

After hearing for years the boast about the U.S.A. being the richest nation in the world, possibly the recent survey of 30 nations by the Economic Cooperation and Development study, placing the U.S. above only Mexico and Turkey will bring us down to earth.

Arnold S. Cohen, president of Partnership for the Homeless in New York City in his October 23 letter to the Times touches base with reality:

"During these fragile and uncertain economic times, we'll certainly be seeing thousands upon thousands more people teetering on the precipice, falling into homelessness.

"Just think back to the days of the 2001 economic slump when homelessness in New York City dramatically increased.

"By the fall of 2003, more than 16,000 children were living in homeless shelters.

"The shrinking economy will undoubtedly mean less public financing for critical services and fewer jobs for our neighbors in need. But deep budget cuts -- which may appear on their face prudent -- have historically proved to be fiscally unwise.

"It only manages to push people further into poverty and homelessness, costing taxpayers millions more."

While 45 million Americans lack health care coverage, this Republican-led administration goes on spending $10 billion a month in Iraq. Meanwhile on the business front, U.S. CEO's have the highest salaries in the world!

The Promised Land?

Obama, Emanuel and Israel


November 07, 2008 "Counterpunch" -- -- In the first major appointment of his administration, President-elect Barack Obama has named as his chief of staff Congressman Rahm Emanuel, an Israeli citizen and Israeli army veteran whose father, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, was a member of Menachem Begin's Irgun forces during the Nakba and named his son after "a Lehi combatant who was killed" -- i.e., a member of Yitzhak Shamir's terrorist Stern Gang, responsible for, in addition to other atrocities against Palestinians, the more famous bombing of the King David Hotel and assassination of the UN peace envoy Count Folke Bernadotte.

In rapid response to this news, the editorial in the next day's Arab News (Jeddah) was entitled "Don't pin much hope on Obama -- Emanuel is his chief of staff and that sends a message". This editorial referred to the Irgun as a "terror organization" (a judgment call) and concluded: "Far from challenging Israel, the new team may turn out to be as pro-Israel as the one it is replacing."

That was always likely. Obama repeatedly pledged unconditional allegiance to Israel during his campaign, most memorably in an address to the AIPAC national convention which Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery characterized as "a speech that broke all records for obsequiousness and fawning", and America's electing a black president has always been more easily imagined than any American president's declaring his country's independence from Israeli domination.

Still, one of the greatest advantages for the United States in electing Barack Hussein Obama was the prospect that the world's billion-plus Muslims, who now view the United States with almost universal loathing and hatred, would be dazzled by the new president's eloquence, life story, skin color and middle name, would think again with open minds and would give America a chance to redeem itself in their eyes and hearts -- not incidently, drastically shortening the long lines of aspiring jihadis eager to sacrifice their lives while striking a blow against the evil empire.

The profound loathing and hatred of the Muslim world toward the United States, which has always had its roots for America's unconditional support for the injustices inflicted and still being inflicted on the Palestinians, can fairly be considered the core of the primary foreign policy and "national security" problems confronting the United States in recent years. Why would Obama, a man of unquestioned brilliance, have chosen to send such a contemptuous message to the Muslim world with his first major appointment? Why would he wish to disabuse the Muslim world of its hopes (however modest) and slap it across the face at the earliest opportunity?

A further contemptuous message is widely rumored to be forthcoming -- the naming as "Special Envoy for Middle East Peace" of Dennis Ross, the notorious Israel-Firster who, throughout the 12 years of the Bush the First and Clinton administrations, ensured that American policy toward the Palestinians did not deviate one millimeter from Israeli policy and that no progress toward peace could be made and who has since headed the AIPAC spin-off "think tank", the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Nevertheless, since it is almost always constructive to seek a silver lining in the darkest clouds, a silver lining can be found and cited. For decades, the Palestinian leadership has been "waiting for Godot" -- waiting for the U.S. Government to finally do the right thing (if only in its own obvious self-interest) and to force Israel to comply with international law and UN Resolutions and permit them to have a decent mini-state on a tiny portion of the land that once was theirs.

This was never a realistic hope. It has not happened, and it will never happen. So it may well be salutary not to waste eight more days (let alone eight more years) playing along and playing the fool while more Palestinian lands are confiscated and more Jewish colonies and Jews-only bypass roads are built on them, clinging to the delusion that the charming Mr. Obama, admirable though he may be in so many other respects, will eventually (if only in a second term, when he no longer has to worry about reelection) see the light and do the right thing. It is long overdue for the Palestinians themselves to seize the initiative, to reset the agenda and to declare a new "only game in town".

Furthermore, in February, Israel will elect a new Knesset. Bibi Netanyahu, who, most polls and coalition-building calculations suggest, is most likely to emerge as the next prime minister, has one (if only one) great virtue. He is absolutely honest in not professing any desire (however insincere) to see the creation of any Palestinian "state" (whether decent or less-than-a-Bantustan in nature) or to engage in any talks (even never-ending and fraudulent ones) ostensibly about that possibility. His return to power would definitively slam the door on the illusion of a "two-state solution" somewhere over an ever-receding horizon.

This would constitute a blessing and a liberation for Palestinian minds and Palestinian aspirations. Their leadership(s) could then return, after a long, costly and painful diversion, to fundamental principles, to pursuing the goal of a democratic, nonracist and nonsectarian state in all of Israel/Palestine with equal rights for all who live there.

This just goal could and should be pursued by strictly nonviolent means. If the goal is to convince a determined and powerful settler-colonial movement which wishes to seize your land, settle it and keep it (eventually cleansing it of you and your fellow natives) that it should cease, desist and leave, nonviolent forms of resistance are suicidal. If, however, the goal were to be to obtain the full rights of citizenship in a democratic, nonracist state (as was the case in the American civil rights movement and the South African anti-apartheid movement), then nonviolence would be the only viable approach. Violence would be totally inappropriate and counterproductive. The morally impeccable approach would also be the tactically effective approach. The high road would be the only road.

No American president -- least of all Barack Obama -- could easily support racism and apartheid and oppose democracy and equal rights, particularly if democracy and equal rights were being pursued by nonviolent means. No one anywhere could easily do so. The writing would be on the wall, and the clock would be running out on the tired game of using a perpetual "peace process" as an excuse to delay decisions (while building more "facts on the ground") forever.

Democracy and equal rights would not come quickly or easily. Forty years passed between when, on the night before his assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King cried out that he had been to the mountain top and had seen the promised land and when Barack Obama was elected as president of the United States. (The Bible suggests a similar waiting period in the wilderness for Moses.) Forty-six years passed between the installation of a formal apartheid regime in South Africa and the election of Nelson Mandela as president of a fully democratic and nonracist "rainbow nation".

While it may be be hoped that the transformation would be significantly quicker in Israel/Palestine, it is clear that many who already qualify as "senior citizens" will not live to see the promised land. However, if the promised land of a democratic state with equal rights for all is correctly and clearly perceived and persistently and peacefully pursued, there is ample reason for confidence that Israel/Palestine will one day experience the tearful exaltation of a "Mandela Moment" or an "Obama Moment", restoring hope in the moral potential both of a nation and of mankind, and that the Jews, Muslims and Christians who live there will finally reach their promised land.

Silence on War Crimes

By Andy Worthington

November 04, 2008 "fff"(Future of Freedom Foundation)--- November 3, 2008 -- - Last week, Bill Kovach, former Washington Bureau Chief of the New York Times and the founding chairman of the Committee of Concerned Journalists, blasted the U.S. media for its failure to ask tough questions of both presidential candidates regarding their opinions of the Bush administration’s unprecedented adherence to the controversial “unitary executive theory” of government.

The theory, which became prominent in the Reagan administration, but has peppered U.S. history, contends that, when he wishes, the president is entitled to act unilaterally, without interference from Congress or the judiciary. This is in direct contravention of the separation of powers on which the United States was founded, and critics have long contended that it is nothing less than an attempt by the executive to seize the dictatorial powers that the Constitution was designed to prevent.

Under the cover of the wartime powers granted in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and with encouragement from lawyers including, in particular, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff (and former legal counsel) David Addington, President Bush has pursued the theory relentlessly, issuing a record number of “signing statements” to laws passed by Congress, designed to prevent the nation’s politicians from interfering in the executive’s quest for unchecked power.

He has also approved a number of secret memos, which, in conjunction with various “signing statements,” have authorized what numerous critics of the administration regard as war crimes. These include detaining prisoners seized in the “war on terror” as “illegal enemy combatants” and holding them without charge or trial, dismissing the protections of the Geneva Conventions, redefining torture and approving its use by the U.S. military and the CIA, and authorizing “extraordinary rendition” and the use of secret prisons.

As if to prove what he was saying, Bill Kovach’s speech to a meeting of international journalists in Washington, D.C., went unreported in the U.S. media (and I located it only on the website of a Jamaican newspaper). And yet in many ways Kovach could have gone further, and could also have asked why the presidential candidates themselves have been silent about the current administration’s crimes.

The answer, sadly, is that the executive’s thirst for unfettered executive power is not a priority for voters, even when it spills out of foreign wars and offshore prisons and onto the U.S. mainland. Too many Americans, it seems, are unconcerned or unaware that the president can even hold U.S. citizens and legal residents as “enemy combatants” and can imprison them indefinitely on the U.S. mainland without charge or trial, as the cases of Jose Padilla and Ali al-Marri reveal in horrific detail.

As a result, gross abuses of power in the name of the “war on terror,” and the dictatorial theory that underpins them, have largely been ignored on the campaign trail.

Over the past two years, Senator Barack Obama repeatedly declared his support for habeas corpus, a cornerstone of American law, inherited from the English, which prohibits arbitrary imprisonment and grants all prisoners the right to know why they are being held. He defended habeas corpus while resisting the Military Commissions Act of 2006, a poisonous piece of legislation, which not only stripped the Guantánamo prisoners of their habeas rights, but also reinforced the president’s right to seize and detain indefinitely anyone he regarded as an “illegal enemy combatant,” and attempted to grant immunity to the president and his minions for any actions that might one day be regarded as war crimes.

Senator Obama has also stated that he will “reject torture without exception,” and last August delivered a speech in which, touching on all the administration’s law-shredding excesses, he declared,

As President, I will close Guantánamo, reject the Military Commissions Act, and adhere to the Geneva Conventions. Our Constitution and our Uniform Code of Military Justice provide a framework for dealing with the terrorists … The separation of powers works. Our Constitution works. We will again set an example to the world that the law is not subject to the whims of stubborn rulers, and that justice is not arbitrary.

In June this year, when the Supreme Court (which had granted the Guantánamo prisoners statutory habeas corpus rights in June 2004) rejected the habeas-stripping provisions of the Military Commissions Act and its predecessor, the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, and ruled that the prisoners’ habeas corpus rights were constitutional, Senator Obama was swift to congratulate the justices, calling the ruling “an important step toward reestablishing our credibility as a nation committed to the rule of law, and rejecting a false choice between fighting terrorism and respecting habeas corpus.”

Since then, however, the Obama campaign has gone silent on executive power and the administration’s war crimes, and Senator Obama has only spoken out publicly on one occasion in September, in response to an assertion by Sarah Palin, at the Republican conference, that “Al-Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America and he's worried that someone won't read them their rights.”

Senator Obama responded by telling supporters in Michigan that habeas corpus was “the foundation of Anglo-American law,” which “says very simply: If the government grabs you, then you have the right to at least ask, ‘Why was I grabbed?’ And say, ‘Maybe you've got the wrong person.’” He explained that it was an essential safeguard, “because we don't always have the right person. We may think it's Mohammed the terrorist, but it might be Mohammed the cab driver. You might think it's Barack the bomb-thrower, but it might be Barack the guy running for president.” His conclusion drove the argument back to where it should have been, but it has sadly not been repeated since: “Don't mock the Constitution. Don't make fun of it. Don't suggest that it's not American to abide by what the founding fathers set up. It's worked pretty well for over 200 years.”

Another reason for disappointment is that, by refusing to raise these issues, Senator Obama has allowed John McCain to comfortably maintain the Republicans’ “traditional” role as protectors of national security, without having the basis of that assumption challenged, and has also failed to exploit Senator McCain’s shameful hypocrisy, as he has drifted to the right to appeal to the Republican base.

Even before the campaign became all-consuming, Senator McCain (an outspoken opponent of torture, as the result of his own experiences in Vietnam) had a spotty record on the abuse of executive power — and even on the prevention of torture by U.S. forces. Although he attempted to introduce a ban on torture by all U.S. personnel in the Detainee Treatment Act, he allowed himself to be bullied by Dick Cheney into excluding the CIA from the act’s provisions, and the following year he willingly endorsed the Military Commissions Act.

This year, however, Senator McCain’s flight from his own convictions has accelerated alarmingly. In February, he conveniently shelved his lifelong opposition to torture by voting against a bill banning the use of torture by the CIA, and after the Supreme Court’s habeas ruling in June, he declared that it was “one of the worst decisions in the history of this country,” even though, in 2005, he had told NBC’s Meet the Press that the problem with Guantánamo was that the prisoners continued to be held without “any adjudication of their cases.”

However, the main reasons for being disappointed that the crimes of a rogue administration have barely been mentioned as the election approaches are these: firstly, that I can only wonder, in spite of Senator Obama’s fine words, whether the Democrats in general, who famously ruled impeachment “off the table” when they gained a political majority two years ago, would in fact be unwilling to cede power if it was theirs to wield; and secondly (and most significantly), because it allows those responsible for the long list of egregious crimes that have soiled America’s name to leave office unchallenged. Donald Rumsfeld may be long gone, and George W. Bush nothing more than a shadow, but in the office of the vice president, Dick Cheney and David Addington, the architects of this unprecedented assault on the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the UN Convention Against Torture, the War Crimes Act and the Geneva Conventions have been allowed to maintain their dangerous delusions, nurtured through decades of support for executive overreach in the administrations of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush.

As law professor Scott Horton explained to the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer for an in-depth analysis of Addington in 2006, the mission of the vice president’s closest adviser “and a small group of administration lawyers who share his views” has been to “overturn two centuries of jurisprudence defining the limits of the executive branch. They’ve made war a matter of dictatorial power.”

In conclusion, then, I can only note that it’s a sad indictment of a country’s state of mind when the ruling administration has been devoted to dictatorial powers and war crimes, but an election campaign comes and goes as though it had never happened.