Thursday, August 27, 2009

Seven Points On Torture

Regarding the recent release of CIA Inspector General John Helgerson’s report on torture and the CIA, here's Scott Horton in the current issue of Harper's Magazine with seven points that he's drawn from reading it. Reprinted below is point #4; be sure to read them all.

4. All trails lead to the Vice President’s office. At several points, redactions begin just when the discussion is headed toward the supervision or direction of the program and context suggests that some figure far up the Washington food chain is intervening. Moreover, as Jane Mayer recounts in Dark Side, Helgerson’s report was shut down when he was summoned, twice, to meet with Dick Cheney, who insisted that the report be stopped. Cheney had good reason to be concerned. This report shows that the vice president intervened directly in the process and ensured that the program was implemented. The OPR report likewise shows Cheney’s office commissioning the torture memos and carefully supervising the process. It is increasingly clear that torture was Dick Cheney’s special project and that he was personally and deeply involved in it. And the CIA report has some amazing nuggets that show Cheney’s hand. In 2003, after Jay Bybee departed OLC, Cheney struggled to have John Yoo installed as his successor, but ultimately John Ashcroft’s candidate, Jack Goldsmith, prevailed. Goldsmith quickly backtracked on the torture authorizations that Yoo and Bybee gave. The result? The CIA stopped taking its cue from OLC and instead turned to the White House for guidance. It is remarkably vague on the particulars, and blackouts emerge just as passages seem to be getting interesting. But there’s little doubt that Dick Cheney and his staff were pushing the process from behind the scenes.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Bobby, Teddy, Jack

You just have to wonder how different America and the world would be today if...

Ted Is Dead

The Patron Saint of Cocktail Hour is gone, and it's a damn shame, too. I think the best line I've read about his passing was written by my friend Aunti Juli, who said, "Don't RIP, Ted, get health care reform passed!"

So long, Teddy, thanks for everything.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Not-Random Anti-Ten Plus One

Apropos of nothing at all, here is a list of 11 songs that you will never, ever find on my iPod or in my CD collection. If I am a guest in your home or you happen to find me driving along with you in your car somewhere, please, please, please, I beg of you, do NOT ever play any one (or more) of these songs in my presence. Seriously. Please. Because I am one opinionated motherfucker who is not afraid to voice my displeasure about certain things, and I will make your life miserable if you do. So just don't. All right? Thanks.

1. Hotel California by The Eagles. The Dude said it best: "Come on, man. I had a rough night and I hate the fuckin' Eagles, man!" Yeah. What he said. And I especially hate this song. Because once I hear it, it spends the next three days etched into my brain and repeating itself on an endless sound loop in my head, and I. Just. Fucking. Hate. It. Get out of there! Go away! If I never hear this song again in my life, I will already have heard it a thousand times too many.

2. Black Water by the Doobie Brothers. Another tune plant that is sooooo unwelcome and takes days to go away. The '70s are over; stop playing this song on the radio. All of you. You know who I mean. I don't wanna hear some Dixieland, pretty mama, won't you take me by the ears and shake this fucking song out of my head! Please?

3. More Than a Feeling by Boston. I have heard this song more on the local Classic Rock stations in the past few years than I ever did when it was first released and popular. Tom Scholz discovered that you can put an effect on an electric guitar, and, dude, it is totally bitchin'!! Uh, except when it isn't. Stop it. Cut it out. Less than a feeling. More than a numbness all along the left side of your body, so you can't feel your left ear or your toes.

4. Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd. I kind of liked this song the first 60,000 times I heard it. Then, by the second week it was playing on the radio, I kind of got burned out. Not only that, but a Bic lighter burned my thumb once. Or maybe several times. And then there's the live version: "How 'bout you? Are you free as a bird, too?"

5. My Best Friend's Girl by The Cars. Benjamin Orr's voice makes me want to hurl a handful of Quaaludes and empty cocaine packets at anybody with a skinny tie and a mullet. I remember telling people in the late '70s and early '80s that I liked New Wave, and, too often, they would respond with, "Oh, so you like The Cars?" No. No, I do not like The Cars. Didn't like them then, don't like them even more now.

6. Enter Sandman by Metallica. I am a huge fan of live music. I can listen to live music of almost any genre and enjoy it. A few years ago, Metallica opened for the Rolling Stones here in San Francisco, and I thought, well, I'm not that familiar with their oeuvre, but I always like live music. So I decided I would come early, check out their act, and I expected to enjoy at least some of their songs, if not the whole set. I desperately want that ninety minutes of my life back. It's been more than five years and I still want that time back. And my memory of that Metallica show erased. I am almost willing to trade a bottle in front of me for a frontal lobotomy if it will take away the memory of that show. I fucking hate Metallica, and I didn't realize that until I saw them perform.

7. Always With Me, Always With You by Joe Satriani. I realize Joe is technically proficient, but he has absolutely zero soul. He has not played a note that moved me in any discernible way in his entire career. His high-pitched noodling has, however, driven me to fits of distraction on more than one occasion. His music makes me actively shudder. I may be mistaken, but I believe he plays at least half his notes in a register that only dogs can hear.

8. Owner of a Lonely Heart by Yes. This is the aural equivalent of a headache in my eye. The weird changes in this musical migraine and the whiny vocal just make me want to lie down in a quiet, dark room for about three days. Instead of listening to this song, can I just smack myself in the temple every five seconds with a ball peen hammer? Please? I say NO to Yes.

9. When the Lights Go Down in the City by Journey. Yes, I know this is about San Francisco. I get it. That doesn't stop it from being one of the lamest songs to ever become an anthem for any number of drunken yuppies and bridge-and-tunnel wannabes who feel compelled to sing along every time this song is played at the beginning of a fireworks display at the ballpark... or anywhere else I am unfortunate enough to be present when this load of crap starts playing. When it comes to Journey, I never started believing.

10. What I Like About You by The Romantics. Another song that I thought I might like the first two or three times I heard it... and then, later in the day, I realized the vocals were weak, the lyrics insipid and whole thing inane. Then I started hearing it a lot. And a lot more. And that was just the late '70s. Flash forward, thirty-some years later, and I'm still hearing this song on television, advertising beer, and on the radio, just... just because they hate me, I guess. What I would really like about YOU is if you could somehow make this song go away. For as long as I live. You would be my best friend forever if you could.

**Bonus** My Ding-a-Ling by Chuck Berry. I love Chuck Berry, I truly do. I hate this song. The man who wrote Johnny B. Goode, Maybelline, Rock and Roll Music, Roll Over Beethoven, Nadine, Sweet Little Sixteen, Carol, Back in the USA, School Days and SO many more seminal songs that shaped 20th Century rock and roll only scored ONE number one hit... and it was THIS lame-ass song?!? Arrrggh. You people fucking suck. All y'all. Every single one of you that bought this stupid Dr. Demento throw-away novelty piece of musical offal. I want you to play with my ding-a-ling, you bastards. And then I want you to suck a fart out of my ass for making this a number one song, while Johnny B. Goode only made it to #8. That is just wrong on every imaginable level.

Apologies as necessary to those of you who happen to agree with me, but were offended by the snark. Condolences to those of you who had one or more of your favorite songs tweaked here. Perhaps you need to reconsider.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Speaking of smackdowns, few people do it better than Jon Stewart. Here are a couple of recent clips from The Daily Show that really put the wood to the Republic asshats trying to derail health care reform. Big thanks to my pal robo for these links.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Glenn Beck's Operation
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealthcare Protests

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Healther Skelter
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealthcare Protests

Hurray For Barney Frank

Once again, the American Right embraces Teh Stoopid. Proudly. Nice smackdown, Barney Frank. You go.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Insurance Jive

From the Courage Campaign.

Why We Need Real Health Care Reform

From The Independent:

August 15, 2009
The brutal truth about America's health care

An extraordinary report from Guy Adams in Los Angeles at the music arena that has been turned into a makeshift medical centre

They came in their thousands, queuing through the night to secure one of the coveted wristbands offering entry into a strange parallel universe where medical care is a free and basic right and not an expensive luxury. Some of these Americans had walked miles simply to have their blood pressure checked, some had slept in their cars in the hope of getting an eye-test or a mammogram, others had brought their children for immunisations that could end up saving their life.

In the week that Britain's National Health Service was held aloft by Republicans as an "evil and Orwellian" example of everything that is wrong with free healthcare, these extraordinary scenes in Inglewood, California yesterday provided a sobering reminder of exactly why President Barack Obama is trying to reform the US system.

The LA Forum, the arena that once hosted sell-out Madonna concerts, has been transformed – for eight days only – into a vast field hospital. In America, the offer of free healthcare is so rare, that news of the magical medical kingdom spread rapidly and long lines of prospective patients snaked around the venue for the chance of getting everyday treatments that many British people take for granted.

In the first two days, more than 1,500 men, women and children received free treatments worth $503,000 (£304,000). Thirty dentists pulled 471 teeth; 320 people were given standard issue spectacles; 80 had mammograms; dozens more had acupuncture, or saw kidney specialists. By the time the makeshift medical centre leaves town on Tuesday, staff expect to have dispensed $2m worth of treatments to 10,000 patients.

The gritty district of Inglewood lies just a few miles from the palm-lined streets of Beverly Hills and the bright lights of Hollywood, but is a world away. And the residents who had flocked for the free medical care, courtesy of mobile charity Remote Area Medical, bore testament to the human cost of the healthcare mess that President Obama is attempting to fix.

Christine Smith arrived at 3am in the hope of seeing a dentist for the first time since she turned 18. That was almost eight years ago. Her need is obvious and pressing: 17 of her teeth are rotten; some have large visible holes in them. She is living in constant pain and has been unable to eat solid food for several years.

"I had a gastric bypass in 2002, but it went wrong, and stomach acid began rotting my teeth. I've had several jobs since, but none with medical insurance, so I've not been able to see a dentist to get it fixed," she told The Independent. "I've not been able to chew food for as long as I can remember. I've been living on soup, and noodles, and blending meals in a food mixer. I'm in constant pain. Normally, it would cost $5,000 to fix it. So if I have to wait a week to get treated for free, I'll do it. This will change my life."

Along the hall, Liz Cruise was one of scores of people waiting for a free eye exam. She works for a major supermarket chain but can't afford the $200 a month that would be deducted from her salary for insurance. "It's a simple choice: pay my rent, or pay my healthcare. What am I supposed to do?" she asked. "I'm one of the working poor: people who do work but can't afford healthcare and are ineligible for any free healthcare or assistance. I can't remember the last time I saw a doctor."

Although the Americans spend more on medicine than any nation on earth, there are an estimated 50 million with no health insurance at all. Many of those who have jobs can't afford coverage, and even those with standard policies often find it doesn't cover commonplace procedures. California's unemployed – who rely on Medicaid – had their dental care axed last month.

Julie Shay was one of the many, waiting to slide into a dentist's chair where teeth were being drilled in full view of passers-by. For years, she has been crossing over the Mexican border to get her teeth done on the cheap in Tijuana. But recently, the US started requiring citizens returning home from Mexico to produce a passport (previously all you needed was a driver's license), and so that route is now closed. Today she has two abscesses and is in so much pain she can barely sleep. "I don't have a passport, and I can't afford one. So my husband and I slept in the car to make sure we got seen by a dentist. It sounds pathetic, but I really am that desperate."

"You'd think, with the money in this country, that we'd be able to look after people's health properly," she said. "But the truth is that the rich, and the insurance firms, just don't realise what we are going through, or simply don't care. Look around this room and tell me that America's healthcare don't need fixing."

President Obama's healthcare plans had been a central plank of his first-term programme, but his reform package has taken a battering at the hands of Republican opponents in recent weeks. As the Democrats have failed to coalesce around a single, straightforward proposal, their rivals have seized on public hesitancy over "socialised medicine" and now the chance of far-reaching reform is in doubt.

Most damaging of all has been the tide of vociferous right-wing opponents whipping up scepticism at town hall meetings that were supposed to soothe doubts. In Pennsylvania this week, Senator Arlen Specter was greeted by a crowd of 1,000 at a venue designed to accommodate only 250, and of the 30 selected speakers at the event, almost all were hostile.

The packed bleachers in the LA Forum tell a different story. The mobile clinic has been organised by the remarkable Remote Area Medical. The charity usually focuses on the rural poor, although they worked in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Now they are moving into more urban venues, this week's event in Los Angeles is believed to be the largest free healthcare operation in the country.

Doctors, dentists and therapists volunteer their time, and resources to the organisation. To many US medical professionals, it offers a rare opportunity to plug into the public service ethos on which their trade was supposedly founded. "People come here who haven't seen a doctor for years. And we're able to say 'Hey, you have this, you have this, you have this'," said Dr Vincent Anthony, a kidney specialist volunteering five days of his team's time. "It's hard work, but incredibly rewarding. Healthcare needs reform, obviously. There are so many people falling through the cracks, who don't get care. That's why so many are here."

Ironically, given this week's transatlantic spat over the NHS, Remote Area Medical was founded by an Englishman: Stan Brock. The 72-year-old former public schoolboy, Taekwondo black belt, and one-time presenter of Wild Kingdom, one of America's most popular animal TV shows, left the celebrity gravy train in 1985 to, as he puts it, "make people better".

Today, Brock has no money, no income, and no bank account. He spends 365 days a year at the charity events, sleeping on a small rolled-up mat on the floor and living on a diet made up entirely of porridge and fresh fruit. In some quarters, he has been described, without too much exaggeration, as a living saint.

Though anxious not to interfere in the potent healthcare debate, Mr Brock said yesterday that he, and many other professionals, believes the NHS should provide a benchmark for the future of US healthcare.

"Back in 1944, the UK government knew there was a serious problem with lack of healthcare for 49.7 million British citizens, of which I was one, so they said 'Hey Mr Nye Bevan, you're the Minister for Health... go fix it'. And so came the NHS. Well, fast forward now 66 years, and we've got about the same number of people, about 49 million people, here in the US, who don't have access to healthcare."

"I've been very conservative in my outlook for the whole of my life. I've been described as being about 90,000 miles to the right of Attila the Hun. But I think one reaches the reality that something doesn't work... In this country something has to be done. And as a proud member of the US community but a loyal British subject to the core, I would say that if Britain could fix it in 1944, surely we could fix it here in America.

Healthcare compared

Health spending as a share of GDP

US 16%

UK 8.4%

Public spending on healthcare (% of total spending on healthcare)

US 45%

UK 82%

Health spending per head

US $7,290

UK $2,992

Practising physicians (per 1,000 people)

US 2.4

UK 2.5

Nurses (per 1,000 people)

US 10.6

UK 10.0

Acute care hospital beds (per 1,000 people)

US 2.7

UK 2.6

Life expectancy:

US 78

UK 80

Infant mortality (per 1,000 live births)

US 6.7

UK 4.8

Source: WHO/OECD Health Data 2009

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Speaking Ill Of The Dead

Conservative pundit and noted American traitor Robert Novak has died. The man who outed Valerie Plame, and who claimed on CNN that death squads in El Salvador were "a liberal myth," has finally shuffled off this mortal coil. If there were any justice in this world, he would have died in prison after being convicted of treason for the Plame outing. I didn't like the son of a bitch when he was alive, and I am not going to feign sympathy or compassion for him now that he's dead. When it comes to public figures dying -- especially those who through their words and/or deeds, were responsible for harm coming to this country and to our society -- I tend to follow the Hunter S. Thompson model.

So I do not mourn Mr. Novak's passing, but rather lift a glass and darkly toast the death of the treasonous bastard. Good riddance.

Public Option Explained

Thanks to my pal Buffoon for this.
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