August 30, 2009

It's Been Great Talking to You

In this interview with the New York Times, Tom Daschle has boiled corporate Democrat scumbaggery down to its essence:

NY TIMES: It has been reported that you’re a paid adviser to the insurance giant UnitedHealth Group, which opposes your belief that health care reform needs to have a public option. Why do you work with them?

DASCHLE: On the left there are those who say that you should never talk to people who differ with you on a high-profile issue. My question to the left would be, whom would they advise these insurance companies talk to? Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin? That’s the alternative. They can talk to Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, or they can talk to me.

From the "Internet Escort's Handbook":

...become a well-rounded conversationalist. Having an interest in something beyond your immediate concerns always makes you more appealing to be around. Having knowledge on a variety of topics makes you impressive to clients. Be interesting.

Most of your conversation will be dinner-party conversation – sometimes like a blind date, sometimes a charged political discussion...

Blow them away by being able to effortlessly keep up with whatever conversation they want to have. You’ll make a happy, loyal client.

There are those on the left who say escorts should never talk to people who differ from them on a high-profile issue. My question to the left would be, who do they advise these clients talk to?

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 08:17 PM | Comments (18)

August 28, 2009

Happy Birthday to Our First Black President!

By: Bernard Chazelle

A few hours ago, 100 years back, Lester Young was born. I am sorry I don't have time to write about someone who's one of my absolute jazz heroes. "Prez," the nickname he got from Billie Holiday, is one of the most underrated geniuses in jazz. He not only influenced everyone who came after him but his playing is so subtle and sophisticated it's easy to miss how unbelievably great he was. (So great in fact that he didn't make the army jazz band when he was drafted -- who needs Lester Young when you've got Glenn Miller!) Like Coleman Hawkins, Duke Ellington, and Charles Mingus for that matter, Lester Young did it his own way. He invented his own style, which every great, from Bird to Gordon to Getz, tried to learn from.

YouTube doesn't have a whole lot. (Maybe I should blog about Britney Spears.) But all I wanted to say was "Happy Birthday Prez!"

PS: Pay no attention to Barney Kessel. I don't. For every time I do, I wonder why I even bother putting my clumsy fingers on a guitar...

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 12:15 AM | Comments (7)

August 26, 2009

I Demand We Stop Pampering These Terrorists

By: John Caruso

You may recall a Los Angeles Times article from February which reported that Obama planned to continue Bush's renditions program in largely-unchanged form:

Under executive orders issued by Obama recently, the CIA still has authority to carry out what are known as renditions, secret abductions and transfers of prisoners to countries that cooperate with the United States.

Current and former U.S. intelligence officials said that the rendition program might be poised to play an expanded role going forward because it was the main remaining mechanism -- aside from Predator missile strikes -- for taking suspected terrorists off the street.

This led to the sorry spectacle of prominent liberals attacking the Times for publishing such a "wildly exaggerated" article.  Scott Horton dismissed this "breathless piece of reporting" as "buffoonery", and Glenn Greenwald wrote that "these reports about what Obama 'intends' to do ought to be taken with a huge dose of skepticism, especially where, as here, it is fed to uninformed, gullible reporters by anonymous intelligence operatives."

So what's the latest word on this breathless, wildly-exaggerated bit of buffoonery fed to an uninformed, gullible reporter, which we ought to take with a huge dose of skepticism?

The Obama administration will continue the Bush administration’s practice of sending terrorism suspects to third countries for detention and interrogation, but pledges to closely monitor their treatment to ensure that they are not tortured, administration officials said Monday.

Human rights advocates condemned the decision, saying that continuing the practice, known as rendition, would still allow the transfer of prisoners to countries with a history of torture.

Yeah, sure, but what do they know?  And anyway, the Obama administration says they'll get diplomatic assurances that there'll be no torture (and if you can't take the word of a Syrian diplomat, I don't know who you can trust).  Isn't that enough?

"It is extremely disappointing that the Obama administration is continuing the Bush administration practice of relying on diplomatic assurances, which have been proven completely ineffective in preventing torture," said Amrit Singh, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, who tracked rendition cases under President George W. Bush.

Yes, but the Obama administration is also vowing to "closely monitor" the treatment of the people they kidnap and deliver to foreign governments that make a regular practice of torture, right?  Isn't that enough?

Ms. Singh cited the case of Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian sent in 2002 by the United States to Syria, where he was beaten with electrical cable despite assurances against torture. [...] The task force has proposed a more vigorous monitoring of the treatment of prisoners sent to other countries, but Ms. Singh said the usual method of such monitoring — visits from American or allied consular officials — had been ineffective. A Canadian consular official visited Mr. Arar several times, but the prisoner was too frightened to tell him about the torture, a Canadian investigation found.

Ok, maybe not.

So it looks like the sum total of the "hope" and "change" we're going to see with Obama with regard to rendition is that the innocent people the U.S. kidnaps can hope their torturers will change the diapers they're forced to wear during their torture sessions, so the U.S. official sent to "closely monitor" their treatment (wink, wink) won't gag on the stench of their 3-day-old shit.  It's just sad that there are a few Obama-haters out there who won't admit this is progress.

— John Caruso

Posted at 04:15 PM | Comments (78)

Mmmm, Car Exhaust

I was driving down a city street behind a Mercedes. At a stop light I saw it was a diesel and had a bumper sticker that said "This car runs on used vegetable oil." So I rolled down the window and took a deep breath. They must have been telling the truth, because the exhaust from this car smelled DELICIOUS. I tailgated it for six blocks just so I could get more of it.

This story doesn't really have a point, except that it made me hate Ronald Reagan even more than I did already. Here we are, thirty wasted years, millions of blighted lives and one obliterated world trade center later.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 07:17 AM | Comments (8)

August 24, 2009

Forget Single-Payer, It'll Be Single-Sucker

By: Bernard Chazelle

I am so naive about politics Jon should not allow me to blog here until I grow up. I mean, I honestly thought the insurance industry would fight tooth and nail against health care reform. I did. I thought they'd lobby, threaten, and bribe their way to the status quo. How clueless was that, huh?!

Turns out the industry is ecstatic about reform. This past month alone, as the S&P 500 gained 5 points, the two giants, UnitedHealth and Aetna, gained about 15 points each. Why? Because, as BusinessWeek explains:

The Health Insurers Have Already Won.
As the health reform fight shifts this month from a vacationing Washington to congressional districts and local airwaves around the country, much more of the battle than most people realize is already over. The likely victors are insurance giants such as UnitedHealth Group (UNH), Aetna (AET), and WellPoint (WLP)...[I]nsurance CEOs ought to be smiling.

The plan is to get the money directly from your wallet to the insurers' Swiss accounts. The LA Times writes:

"It's a bonanza," said Robert Laszewski, a health insurance executive for 20 years
[T]he industry's reaction to early negotiations boiled down to a single word: "Hallelujah!"

I hear the CEOs put out a cool rap single. It's called "Yes, We Can!"

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 07:37 PM | Comments (20)

Glenn Greenwald vs. Glenn Greenwald

By: John Caruso

Glenn Greenwald is irked that Serious People won't give him the respect he deserves.  First, he took Marc Ambinder to task:

[Ambinder] still says journalists like himself were right to scorn [opponents of the Iraq War] "because these folks based their assumption on gut hatred for President Bush, and not on any evaluation of the raw intelligence."  As always:  even when the dirty leftist hippies are proven right, they're still Shrill, unSerious Losers who every decent person and "journalist" scorns.

And then the whole Beltway political and media establishment:

The overriding Beltway dogma, still, is that the true irresponsible extremists are the "leftists" who stood in opposition to [torture, war, etc]. ...the conventional Beltway wisdom has ossified that it is the childish, petulant ideological Left that, as always, is to blame...

Now, he won't get any argument from me on this; no sir, I wouldn't even think of contradicting such richly-deserved righteous anger.  But he's going to have his hands full with this other guy I've read who goes by the name of Glenn Greenwald, who once made this odious argument:

Those who reflexively criticize every Obama action because they predicted long ago that he would be the same as Bush and want that prediction to be vindicated are but the opposite side of the same irrational coin as those who find ways to justify everything Obama does because they long ago placed the type of faith in him that no political leader should ever enjoy.

See what I mean?  Glenn Greenwald is not going to like that one bit.  And this same Glenn Greenwald repeated (and intensified) the same shoddy attack a month later:

Those who reflexively and blindly criticize whatever Obama does (based on the immovable, all-consuming conviction that he is intrinsically Evil) are nothing more than the opposite side of the same mindless coin as those who reflexively and blindly praise whatever Obama does (based on the immovable, all-consuming conviction that he is intrinsically Good).

It almost sounds like Glenn Greenwald is taking the "petulant, ideological Left" to task for being "irresponsible extremists" in these two quotes, doesn't it?  Like he's saying "these folks base their assumptions on gut hatred for President [Obama], and not on any evaluation of the raw intelligence," and so they're just "Shrill, unSerious Losers who every decent person and 'journalist' scorns," right?

Well, just you wait until Glenn Greenwald hears about this, Glenn Greenwald!  I'm sure he'll write a scathing article denouncing you for attacking those who were right but "were still wrong and unSerious because their motives were bad."  You'll rue the day you directed such "condescending responses" to the "fringe, crazed, out-of-touch radicals" on your left!

Who will ultimately win this battle of irreconcilable viewpoints—Glenn Greenwald, or Glenn Greenwald?  Only time will tell.  But I genuinely hope it'll be the Glenn Greenwald who writes so many worthwhile and insightful articles, and not the Glenn Greenwald who dismisses the "reflexive", "blind" critics to his left one day and then cries foul the next when it's his ox being gored.

— John Caruso

Posted at 12:26 PM | Comments (89)

August 22, 2009

Robert Reich Has the Right Idea

From Politico:

Robert Reich, the former Labor secretary, scholar and commentator, called Tuesday for a “march on Washington” on Sept. 13 —“Grandparents Day” — in support of a health care bill that offers a public option.

Allow me to suggest a parade route.

View Larger Map

- Aaron Datesman

Posted at 11:21 AM | Comments (24)

August 20, 2009

Capitalism: A Love Story

Looks like a good movie:

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 07:09 PM | Comments (11)

The Real Death Panels

By: John Caruso

As a fan of the oddly-shaped roll of toilet paper otherwise known as Investor's Business Daily, I'm deeply saddened to have remained ignorant of this outstanding performance of theirs for the past two weeks:

...many Britons were surprised to read a recent editorial in the American newspaper Investor’s Business Daily. The editorial stated, "People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn’t have a chance in the UK, where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless." Well, Hawking was in fact born in Britain and has lived there his whole life. The newspaper was forced to run a correction. Hawking said, "I wouldn’t be here today if it were not for the NHS. [I have received a large amount of high-quality treatment without which I would not have survived.]" That’s the National Health Service of Britain.

After expunging this exquisite error from the original article (the soberly-titled "How House Bill Runs Over Grandma"), IBD issued a petty, quibbling non-apology of a "retraction", in which they stated that Hawking "was a bad example" to illustrate their thesis.  This prompted one pithy commenter to respond:

Picking Hawking wasn't just "a bad example." It was a counterexample. And one that shows sloppy, partisan thinking at that. Now ask yourselves, how many counterexamples do you have to see before you change your minds about something?

This is actually far too charitable, since it implies that IBD is concerned enough about silly trivialities like "facts" that any amount of evidence could convince it that the position dictated by its ideology is the wrong one.  But a second commenter offered an even better response, in the form of an anecdote which I think you'll agree is truly hilarious:

My brother died in January after about 15 years of living with ALS. His death occurred after his health insurance (top of the line) was exhausted. My efforts to get the insurance carrier to extend coverage three more months to permit him to be around for the birth of his first grandchild, after which he was to be removed from his ventilator, were denied. This is the American system.

Oops, did I write "hilarious"?  I meant "horrifying beyond imagining."  (Though to be fair, the corporate health insurer in this anecdote didn't technically "run over Grandpa", since they prevented this man's brother from becoming a grandfather in the first place.)

What is hilarious here is that while we're wasting time talking about absurd straw men like government "death panels"—meaning nothing more menacing than elective end-of-life counseling (formerly endorsed and even sponsored by many Republicans, until their lunatic wing's propaganda pushed them away from it)—there are actual, literal corporate death panels ending the lives of people in this country every single day.

These corporate death panels operate under the overriding principle of minimizing costs and maximizing profits.  And if you can't see what that means for the people unfortunate enough to need life-saving health care from them, you may have a promising future on the editorial staff of Investor's Business Daily.

[ Previous dust-ups with IBD here and here.  Funny stuff, but I can't take any credit for that, since IBD provides all the humor up front. ]

— John Caruso

Posted at 12:54 PM | Comments (14)

August 18, 2009

Jury Duty Democracy

By: Bernard Chazelle

I suggest that all US senators and representatives should be picked at random among the adult population. Like jury duty. Except that if you're chosen you can say no. The job will be prestigious and well remunerated, so most lucky winners will say yes. I've given this idea a lot of thought, that is, as much thought as one can pack in 2.5 seconds, so maybe there's a GIANT flaw but here are the pros and cons.


1. We'd get politicians of average intelligence: no difference.

2. We'd get politicians of average honesty: huge improvement.

3. We'd get the thin Bell curve tail of lunatics, sex perverts, and psychopaths: huge improvement. Right now we get a "only-the-crazies-join-the-crazies" power-law distribution that produces the Joe Liebermans of the world.

4. We'd get no elections hence no electoral campaigns hence no campaign financing hence no lobbyists hence no corporate pimping: huge improvement.

5. We'd get true representation of the American people, and not true representation of the super-rich: huge improvement.

6. We'd get more women and minorities in government. We'd get an average of 2 lawyers in all of Congress. Yes, 2! (They'd probably sue each other and cause no harm.) Again, huge improvement.

7. If jury duty is any indication, we'd get people who often take their job seriously: huge improvement.


1. You don't get to choose your representatives. Like today. Right now you get to choose people but they are not in any way your representatives, so there would not be the slightest difference on that score.

2..... I dunno. I am sure there's a second flaw somewhere. You have to help me here.

PS: I don't recommend this for the US presidency because the variance is too high.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 06:52 PM | Comments (53)

August 17, 2009


By: John Caruso

Two entirely unrelated articles for your consideration.  First, "Study Finds Big Storms on a 1,000-Year Rise":

The North Atlantic Ocean has spawned more hurricanes and tropical storms over the last decade than it has since a similarly stormy period 1,000 years ago, according to a new study. [...]

The study's lead author, climate scientist Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University, said finding a reliable way to reconstruct centuries of past hurricane activity could help scientists tease out whether future climate change will alter storm patterns.

Next, "Oil lobby to fund campaign against Obama's climate change strategy":

The US oil and gas lobby are planning to stage public events to give the appearance of a groundswell of public opinion against legislation that is key to Barack Obama's climate change strategy, according to campaigners.

A key lobbying group will bankroll and organise 20 ''energy citizen'' rallies in 20 states. In an email obtained by Greenpeace, Jack Gerard, the president of the American Petroleum Institute (API), outlined what he called a "sensitive" plan to stage events during the August congressional recess to put a "human face" on opposition to climate and energy reform. [...]

The API strategy also extends to a PR drive. Gerard cites polls to test the effectiveness of its arguments against climate change legislation. It offers up the "energy citizen" rallies as ready-made events, noting that allies – which include manufacturing and farm alliances as well as 400 oil and gas member organisations – will have to do little more than turn up.

"API will provide the up-front resources," the email said. "This includes contracting with a highly experienced events management company that has produced successful rallies for presidential campaigns."

As I pondered this second article, I thought: what if in some parallel universe we were facing a similar global threat, but with the difference that this threat could only be resolved in a way that promised to be massively profitable to the oil companies?  Maybe the only practical solution to this planetary crisis (known on parallel Earth as "global flensing") was to release far more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere through increased usage of fossil fuels.

Imagine the American Petroleum Institute financing "energy citizen" rallies calling on politicians in Washington to pass mandatory SUV-ownership laws in order to counter global flensing and create jobs.  Imagine endlessly repeated TV commercials with Chevron spokespeople telling you that if you really love the planet, you'll a) stop taking the bus to work and b) call your representatives to demand that they take action to recarbonize the atmosphere.  Imagine high-priced PR firms sending lobbyists to Capitol Hill to guarantee that corporate emissions minimums would be mandatory rather than voluntary.  Imagine oil company CEOs fanning out on Sunday talk shows to demand swift, binding government regulation to address this dire threat.  And finally, imagine comprehensive global flensing legislation, backed by every oil company in the country, sailing through Congress in 1997—rather than some pathetic set of half-measures limping along (and under withering attack) over a decade later.

(Fun, isn't it?  And beyond the oil companies: imagine the Clinton administration backing the Kyoto Flensing Protocol to the hilt—even going so far as to insert a controversial clause mandating lower gas mileage in all new school bus-size SUVs.  Imagine hoards of angry conservatives screaming that it's our patriotic duty to drive any distance over 75 feet.  Imagine dozens of leftist global flensing skeptics signing a letter claiming the whole thing is a hoax cooked up by the oil companies, but being mocked—when they weren't being ignored—by the corporate media.  And imagine the problem being resolved so quickly that some people would wonder if there'd ever really been anything to worry about.)

That's life in the parallel universe.  Unfortunately, in this universe the only obvious way to address the global threat we face has the entirely unacceptable side effect of reducing the profits of the most powerful corporations on the planet.  And next to that, what is the continued existence of human civilization as we know it?  Not much, apparently.

Oh well; just our bad luck for ending up in a reality whose existential threat has such an unfortunate profit distribution.  But while we're fighting over the last few cockroaches and waiting for another mega-typhoon to put us out of our misery, we can at least console ourselves with the thought that in maybe half of the other parallel universes out there, everything turns out just peachy.

WILL THIS PRE-PLAGIARISM NEVER CEASE?  Ralph Nader often says that "If the oil companies owned the sun, we'd have solar by now."  I really wish he'd stop stealing my bits before I make them up, since people may get the crazy notion that it's me copying him and not the other way around.

— John Caruso

Posted at 09:11 PM | Comments (21)

August 15, 2009

Massive Cover-Up By Rick Perlstein

Rick Perlstein has written a long piece on the history of crazy in the U.S. for the Washington Post. He even mentions that "anti-Catholic conspiracy theorists...had their own powerful political party in the 1840s and '50s."

But what is "Mr." So-Called "Rick" Perlstein leaving out?

The Glorious History of America's Own ANTI-MASONIC PARTY!!!!

Why is this man so frightened of THE TRUTH?

Why does he spell his last name without an "a"? Is it because "a" is also the first letter of AMERICA, the country HE HATES SO MUCH????

Why did Perlstein lie so shamelessly? Is Perlstein secretly in league with the perfidious Masons? Or is he attempting to destroy the Masons, which are our country's last best hope? OR BOTH?!?!?

SERIOUSLY THOUGH: The real concern of the Washington Post is that regular Americans are failing to believe the right lies.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 12:01 PM | Comments (21)

Meanwhile, In A Civilized Country

By: John Caruso

While we're fruitlessly begging our government to please, please, please prosecute the torturers among us, Argentina is actually doing it:

A former general who headed a notorious detention centre during Argentina's military rule has been sentenced to life in prison for human rights abuses.

Santiago Omar Riveros commanded the Campo de Mayo military barracks on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.

He was found guilty of involvement in the 1976 murder of 15-year-old communist youth member, Floreal Avellaneda, who was tortured to death.

Some 30,000 people disappeared or died in Argentina's 1976-1983 "Dirty War".

Riveros's former intelligence chief, Fernando Verplaetsen, was also jailed for 25 years in connection with the boy's killing.

Even if it did take 33 years, these vicious bastards will be spending the rest of their lives looking out through prison bars.  Beautiful.  Thanks yet again to Latin America for giving us a glimpse of what a civilized society looks like.

For comparison, let's take a look at how the United States is currently dealing with one of its most infamous at-large criminals, three decades after his worst crimes:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a speech on July 28 to the U.S.-China Business Council that Kissinger has been a close adviser and praised the former secretary of state for his contributions.

"And on a personal note, let me say that since taking this job, I've relied on the wise counsel of many of my predecessors, and Secretary Kissinger has been among the most generous and thoughtful with his guidance and advice," Clinton said.

Learning at the master's feet.  Brings a tear to your eye, doesn't it?

Maybe this is apples and oranges, though; after all, it's not like Kissinger had any connection with the military junta that tortured that 15-year-old boy to death and murdered thousands of other human beings in Argentina.  Right?

The new documents are two memoranda of conversations (memcons) with the visiting Argentine foreign minister, Admiral Cesar Augusto Guzzetti - one with Kissinger himself on October 7, 1976. At the time, the U.S. Congress was about to approve sanctions against the Argentine regime because of widespread reports of human rights abuses by the junta. [...]

According to the memcon's verbatim transcript, Secretary of State Kissinger interrupted the Foreign Minister's report on the situation in Argentina and said "Look, our basic attitude is that we would like you to succeed. I have an old-fashioned view that friends ought to be supported. What is not understood in the United States is that you have a civil war. We read about human rights problems but not the context. The quicker you succeed the better… The human rights problem is a growing one. Your Ambassador can apprise you. We want a stable situation. We won't cause you unnecessary difficulties."

Oh, right.

Given Kissinger's "old-fashioned views", I think he should consider supporting his misunderstood "friends" Riveros and Verplaetsen by protesting their convictions in a way that's dramatic enough to draw the appropriate level of international attention to this grave injustice.  Let me be the first to suggest self-immolation.

[ Previous paean to the long arm of Argentinian law here. ]

— John Caruso

Posted at 11:25 AM | Comments (11)

August 14, 2009

Rip Off Inc. II

By: Bernard Chazelle

The US spends at least twice as much per person on health care as any other country on earth.

In the 70s, American social scientists introduced the concept of "amenable mortality," which tallies "the number of deaths from certain causes before age 75 that are potentially preventable with timely and effective health care."

In a study of 19 countries, including the US, 14 Western European countries, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, the US ranks dead last.

According to the authors, if the U.S. had been able reduce amenable mortality to the average rate achieved by the three top-performing countries, there would have been 101,000 fewer deaths annually by the end of the study period.

No doubt those hard-working doctors, insurers, hospital administrators, and drug manufacturers deserve their hard-earned pennies.


— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 11:45 PM | Comments (13)

The Sun Veep

By: Aaron Datesman

I enjoyed this gem from today’s Washington Post article about Dick Cheney.

But there is a sting in Cheney's critique, because he views concessions to public sentiment as moral weakness.

The article goes on to state that this view “distinguishes Cheney from King Louis the XIV of France because Dick Cheney isn’t French.”

ADDED BONUS: Wait! There’s another buried morsel!

Cheney himself has said, without explanation, that "the statute of limitations has expired" on many of his secrets.

Ah, Washington Post! The newspaper who couldn’t find anything newsworthy in the Downing Street Minutes! You’re such a tease!

— Aaron Datesman

Posted at 11:48 AM | Comments (11)

August 13, 2009

Channeling Orwell

By: Bernard Chazelle

Checking the MSNBC headlines, this caught my eye:

Order to protect Afghan civilians frustrates U.S. troops

Protect? Protect from whom?

Translation: Order to protect Afghan civilians from US troops frustrates US troops.

Drive to reduce casualties slows Marines’ progress.

Progress, what progress?

Translation: The world's mightiest military has been fighting the "cavemen" for 8 years and, according to its commander on the grounds, is losing the war to the cavemen. Why? MSNBC explains :

U.S. troops are under orders not to attack if civilians would be harmed.

When you can't kill the women and children, then "progress slows down" and freedom & democracy must wait.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 04:19 PM | Comments (19)

Rip Off Inc

By: Bernard Chazelle

Free market laws (such as they are) don't apply to health care, the reason being that there's no a priori limit on how much one is willing to spend on one's health. That's why the government must regulate the industry. Your average gastroenterologist makes $457,000, with the top 10 percent making $715,600. Only in America.

American medications manufactured in New Jersey are between 35 and 55 percent cheaper to buy in Europe than in... New Jersey. Obama's "historic" deal with Big Pharma will allow Americans to save how much? 50%, 30%, 20%? Answer: 2 percent. Greg Palast reports on another backroom deal between the White House and the American Hospital Association:

In all, the Obama back-room deal will "reduce" our $26 trillion total hospital bill over the next decade by one-half of one percent.

Regarding the deal with Big Pharma kingpins,

[they] did not actually agree to cut their prices. Their promise with Obama is something a little oilier: they apparently promised that, over ten years, they will reduce the amount at which they would otherwise raise drug prices. Got that? In other words, the Obama deal locks in a doubling of drug costs, projected to rise over the period of "savings" from a quarter trillion dollars a year to half a trillion dollars a year. Minus that 2%.

Doctors, hospitals, and pharmaceuticals make too much money. (So do, to a lesser extent, health insurers, but they have another problem: they're incompetent.) Until the government forces all these folks to cut their incomes by a half, there won't be any meaningful health care reform. And that's why there won't be any meaningful health care reform.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 02:37 PM | Comments (25)

August 11, 2009

Global Day of Action for Honduras

By: Bernard Chazelle

These are tough times for democracy in Honduras. But at least they are fighting for their rights. Join them in their struggle and go to Nell's blog to find out what you can do.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 12:10 AM | Comments (11)

August 09, 2009


I'm busy with a job that requires me to sleep every night in a giant 19th century former insane asylum. (Long story.) So I'll be barely here for a while longer, but thanks to Bernard, John, Nell and Aaron you should not go unentertained.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 06:15 PM | Comments (9)

August 08, 2009

Honduras: some hope, not enough change

Guest post by Nell of A Lovely Promise

I've been blogging about the coup in Honduras since it happened. My posts include links to many other sources for those who want to follow along closely in English. I'd like to single out the outstanding work of The Real News Network, which Jon has praised here in the past (Honduras segments here; each one includes a transcript for the video-challenged and those who prefer the speed of reading).

Let's get right to the eating of crow. On the day after the coup in Honduras, Bernard was completely right here, and I was wrong:

Of course, Obama had to "condemn" the coup (too "over the top") ... but a chastened, defanged Zelaya returned to power would be the best of all worlds for the US (we defend democracy but anyone who plays footsy with ALBA may be kidnapped in his pajamas against Obama's will).

In retrospect, it's clear that the administration had decided on the chastening strategy early on. In refusing to formally define it as a coup, which would have required a complete aid cutoff and the withdrawal of the U.S. ambassador, Secretary of State Clinton gave the clearest possible signal to the usurpers that the economic hammer would not come down:

Asked whether it was a U.S. priority to see Zelaya reinstalled, Sec. Clinton said: "We haven't laid out any demands that we're insisting on, because we're working with others on behalf of our ultimate objectives."

More than a month on, the State Department is still pretending to conduct a "legal review" of whether the coup is a coup, offering excuses that insult the intelligence of even reflexively moderate observers.

The rest of this somewhat long post is behind the jump. For those who don't want to click the link, here's the bottom line:

The coup is and was all about stopping the increasing influence of the Honduran popular movement, but it's failed, galvanizing them instead. Their daily, non-stop actions have been met with intense repression, but they just won't fade away. As you read this, ordinary Hondurans by the thousands are walking from all corners of the country to Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, the two biggest cities, where the streams of people will join on Tuesday, August 11 to form the biggest anti-coup demonstrations of the last month. They're calling on people around the world to hold events in solidarity, marking Tuesday as a Global Day of Action for Honduras. (Info on DC event).

Do something to help them end the coup. (Specific suggestions later today here and on my blog). Email the State Department (click the 'Email question/comment' tab) and White House to take these actions:

- Recognize and condemn the human rights violations being committed by the coup regime in Honduras.

- Formally declare it a military coup to trigger the Foreign Assistance Act: cut off U.S. economic aid and withdraw Ambassador Llorens.

- Revoke the diplomatic visas of all coup participants and supporters.

- Freeze the U.S. assets of all coup officials and funders.

- Join with other Latin American governments to pledge not to recognize the results of the November elections unless they're held under the legitimate elected government headed by Pres. Zelaya.

See my comment below (11:37am) for a few related thoughts.

The U.S. government hasn't lifted a finger to help and isn't going to without intense pressure. The Obama administration's distaste for the Honduran left is what they have in common with the coup backers. But you knew that; they have the same distaste for us.

Although the U.S. voted with the all the other members of the Organization of American States on the morning of July 4 to revoke Honduras' membership until Zelaya was returned to office, Clinton was doing nothing concrete to support the OAS efforts to restore the legitimate president. While every other country withdrew its ambassador, she folded her hands and planned for doomed-in-advance "negotiations" that would have the effect of legitimating the violent usurpers, rewarding the coup plotters by meeting several of their political demands, and enabling them to make a good start at running out the clock, i.e. hanging on in office until the winner of the presidential elections this November 29 is inaugurated.

Knowing this, the coup regime blew off the OAS president when he visited, and on July 5 the military set up snipers and put trucks on the runway at the airport to prevent Zelaya from flying home. The soldiers fired into the crowd of the tens of thousands of Zelaya supporters who'd surrounded the airport. One shot to the head killed Isis Murillo, the son of an anti-logging activist. La Prensa, a newspaper owned by major coup backer Jose Canahuati, photoshopped the blood out of an AP photographer's iconic photo of Murillo being carried away

Despite this vivid proof that there was nothing to the coup regime's claims that they wanted to arrest Zelaya for defying a Supreme Court order upholding a hastily passed law against holding the opinion poll, despite the obvious fact that the military was in charge and making it impossible for the president to return to Honduran territory, Clinton still refused to consider the formal coup designation. She stepped in to set up "negotiations" to be mediated by Oscar Arias. The day before they began, the U.S. suspended military aid. This was the last concrete anti-coup action our government took for the next three weeks, during which daily demonstrations were met with increasing levels of repression by police and military.

The military shut down newspapers, TV, and radio stations they deemed too hostile to the coup regime. Some of the media got court orders allowing them to reopen, but most who did self-censored to prevent more trouble.

The families of members of Congress and Zelaya cabinet members who have spoken out in the U.S. against the coup have been shot at and assaulted in their homes. Anti-coup activists have been assassinated, some in classic death-squad style. Another demonstrator was shot dead by police and dozens wounded in the violent mass arrests of the last week. In each public death, as with Isis Murillo, the coup regime and its official thugs claimed that demonstrators themselves killed the victims (a line echoed by putsch defenders from Gen. Vasquez to Tegucigalpa Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez to "human rights ombudsman" Ramon Custodio to human pond scum coup lobbyists Lanny Davis and Otto Reich).

No one in the Obama administration has said a public word in criticism. The only concrete action the State Dept. has taken in the last month against the regime came a day after Nike, The Gap, and two other big U.S. apparel corporations with Honduran factories wrote an open letter to Clinton encouraging her to "support democracy", making it clear they meant the OAS position of restoring Zelaya. (The letter was the result of delicate and skillful work by labor activists.) State revoked the diplomatic visas of five coup participants, notably not including the usurper "president" Roberto Micheletti or Gen. Vasquez.

Obama cheerleaders have insisted that Clinton's approach is her own and doesn't reflect administration policy. That's crap. Though Honduras is well down on the list of White House priorities, and presidents often don't involve themselves in the details of implementation, Secretaries of State carry out administration policy, period. In any case, Obama's recent remarks defending U.S. inaction make any continued effort at "if the czar only knew" analysis pointless:

"I can’t press a button and suddenly reinstate Mr. Zelaya ... we are only one country among many and we are going to deal with this in an international context." [Obama made a point to] "note the irony that the people that were complaining about the U.S. interfering in Latin America are now complaining that we are not interfering enough."

This is rank bullshvt. The OAS is sending another delegation to Honduras on Tuesday, the same day that large anti-coup demonstrations are planned for Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. The coup regime has dismissed the OAS mission in advance. [Update 4:20pm, 9 Aug: Now Micheletti says his government won't even let the delegation in the country.] The one and only thing that could force the usurpers to take it seriously is concrete support from the Obama administration for the mission; that would be dealing with the problem in an international context. What he means, though, is 'in the international context of our choosing': fantasy negotiations supervised by Arias. Obama could have pressed a few buttons in the Reuters interview instead of mocking opponents of the coup: At a minimum he could have criticized the coup government's human rights abuses and expressed support for the upcoming OAS delegation. If he wanted to exert himself, he could have hinted that the U.S. will work within the OAS on a joint pledge that none of the member states will recognize the winner of the November presidential elections if the campaign is conducted under the coup regime.

While Clinton was out of the country on July 20, Dep. Secretary of State Philip Crowley essentially restated Bernard's analysis, helped along by a reporter who spells out the implications:

CROWLEY: We certainly think that if we were choosing a model government and a model leader for countries of the region to follow, that the current leadership in Venezuela would not be a particular model. If that is the lesson that President Zelaya has learned from this episode, that would be a good lesson. ...

QUESTION: When you say that the Venezuelan Government is – should not be an example of government for any leader --

MR. CROWLEY: I’m a believer in understatement.

QUESTION: Can you say that again? (Laughter.) It’s like – it’s justifying, sort of, the coup d’état, because if any government try to follow the socialist Government of Venezuela, then it’s fair, then, that somebody can try to make it – you know, defeat the government or something like that?

The U.S. president who catered to the fascist base has been replaced by the one who caters to the sane, "responsible" power brokers, who are happy to have the far right as a way to keep the rest of us in line, just as Bernard pointed out. In case you think that this kind of response is limited to uppity foreigners, reflect on what Obama's response to the Honduran coup has in common with his health care "reform". Having no intention whatsoever of making any change that would inconvenience the money men, he finds the wingnut screamers handy; they make what he's offering look pretty good by comparison. Don't settle for it. Another world is possible.

{I'd be happy to supply links for any part of this post on request. Many but not all are on my blog; I just didn't think I'd ever get this posted if I waited to gather them all.}

—Nell Lancaster [Updated 4:20pm 9 August to fix Real News link, correct typos, and add action requests. Updated 7:45pm 11 August to fix State Dept web comment link.]

Posted at 04:55 PM | Comments (75)

August 07, 2009

"Au Hasard Balthazar"

By: Bernard Chazelle

I had originally intended to blog about the Schubert sonata but now it seems pointless. The clip says more about it than I ever could.

This film is about a donkey. It's one of the great works of art, on a par with a Dostoyevsky novel or a Vermeer painting. Godard called it "the world in an hour and a half." Balthazar the donkey gets passed around from one owner to the next, and experiences a little bit of love and much cruelty. He incarnates all that is good, noble, and innocent about the world, yet he is not anthropomorphized. He suffers but does not know about revenge. He serves but never complains. The film is more than an allegory. Balthazar's suffering does not represent ours; his sweetness is not offered as a model for us; the cruelty of the human world is not symbolic. Balthazar is saintly and we are not. Feel free to make of that whatever you want.

It's not a religious movie but the baptism in the opening scene makes it clear that Balthazar is not just the central character of the movie but its spiritual anchor. It's an extraordinarily beautiful film that makes no concessions to the viewer. You must go to it; it won't come to you. It's not an easy road to travel. The director, Robert Bresson, is virtually unknown here but his influence in cinema has been enormous. He pretty much invented a whole new way of making movies. He never achieved the notoriety of Bergman, Fellini, or Bunuel, though he was a greater director. He is a cult figure among the new realist American directors as well as Chinese and Iranian film makers (Iran being home to perhaps the best contemporary film-making). Bresson shared a lot with Coltrane: spiritual, fearless, original, and completely uninfluenced by the taste of his audience. Or for that matter, his actors. Like Brecht, he rejected the very notion of acting, shooting the same scene 50 times to strip it of any emotion from the actors. He made very few films, but most of his output will be remembered in 1,000 years from now, assuming there's still a humanity to remember anything.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 01:10 AM | Comments (12)

August 06, 2009

The Old Testament President

By: Aaron Datesman

Maybe it’s all those years I attended Mennonite Bible School, but this report in the LA Times

We don't know much about how it works, but in 2007, Marc Garlasco, the Pentagon's former chief of high-value targeting, offered a glimpse when he told Salon magazine that in 2003, "the magic number was 30." That meant that if an attack was anticipated to kill more than 30 civilians, it needed the explicit approval of then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld or President George W. Bush. If the expected civilian death toll was less than 30, the strike could be OKd by the legal and military commanders on the ground.

reminds me of this (Genesis 18:22-26)

The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the LORD. Then Abraham approached him and said: "Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" The LORD said, "If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake."

I don’t think we want any American politician to be playing in the same league as the Old Testament LORD. Generally I would prefer instead that the President be about as powerful as a big-city mayor.

That this is moral idiocy of the highest order is blazingly obvious. But it’s also something else: cowardice. Any person willing to contemplate the murder of innocents to preserve himself is a coward.

President Obama, I’m looking right at you.


— Aaron Datesman

Posted at 12:05 AM | Comments (112)

August 05, 2009

Lacking Qualifications

By: Bernard Chazelle

John McCain will vote against the appointment of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court because "she lacks a key qualification."

Apparently, Judge Sotomayor does not know how to skin a moose.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 02:36 PM | Comments (13)

August 04, 2009

"God's Song"

By: Bernard Chazelle

If you were God, you'd be thanking your lucky star that the leaders of your opposition consist of blowhards named Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens. But, if you were God and you listened to Randy Newman's "God's Song," then perhaps you'd begin to worry.

On the musical side of Newman's theology, here are two tidbits:

At (0:59), the song's tonal center moves to the iv, ie it modulates from Cm to the iv (Fm). Newman grew up in New Orleans and actually knows about music, so he does what Bach did in "Es is vollbracht," at (0:21), ie, he modulates to the V of Fm, ie, C. In the 19c, Baroque harmony got trimmed and simplified. Randy Newman harmonizes his music much as Schubert would. It has none of Bach's complexity but it's still elegant. Though I can imagine Bach rolling his eyes and paraphrasing Melanie, "What have they done to my harmonies?"

At (1:14), another lovely classical device. Instead of going i-iv, you take it to their relative majors, ie, instead of Cm-Fm, you play Eb-Ab. You find these kinds of substitutions a lot in gospel music but rarely in British rock.

Everything else is pretty much straightforward.

PS: Some readers have asked me what I meant by moving the tonal center, as opposed to just changing chords. There's a huge difference and I'll try to give a quick explanation. I'll use Am (to avoid accidentals).

1. Say you're playing in Am. That means your Western ear is preconditioned to a certain set of sounds, specifically the scale of the relative major of Am, which is C (that's a 3rd higher than A). Never forget the single most amazing fact about music, which is that a major scale and a minor one share exactly the same notes! So your ear is ready for any combination of A,B,C,D,E,F,G, and none others. Suppose now that you are tired of playing the Am chord. What can you do? The rule is, move sequentially along the cycle of fifths either clockwise or counterclockwise, and you'll be fine. OK, say you move counterclockwise. That lands in you in Dm (the fourth of Am). The Dm chord consists of the notes D,F,A: they're all in your key of C so it's all legit. You can play Dm all you want. It sounds different from Am, but your ear is still glued to Am, ie, to the key of C. Your tonal center is still Am. Say you get tired of Dm and you go clockwise from Am, which takes you to Em. The notes are E,G,B. They're also in the key of C and your tonal center is still Am.

2. You can try any combination of these 3 chords (and many pop songs are based on just these 3). The chords have different names, ie, Am, Dm, Em, but you're always in the key of C. The tonal center is still Am. You're still eating the same chocolate chip cookie: you can eat the chocolate chips separately and then the cookie; they're different just like Am, Dm, Em, but they all fit within the same snack.

3. When Randy Newman moves to the iv at (0:59), it's just as though he's moving from Am to Dm (if we transpose his Cm to our Am). Right? So his tonal center hasn't changed, correct? No. Wrong!!!! His tonal center has moved to Dm. It's now an entirely new dish, with its own key. He's now drinking a milkshake. The natural scale of Dm is the scale of F (the scale of "Sultans of Swing"): it's D, E, F,G,A,Bb,C. There's a B flat, so the tonal center cannot be Am. But wait a minute! Newman doesn't even play a Bb, so how do I know he's moved to the key of Dm if he does not even play any note in that key that's not in the old one! How do you know you've landed in France if you don't even hear anyone speak French?

4. I know because Randy Newman played the A major chord. OK, fine. So I take it that A major has a B flat somewhere and that was the giveaway that supposedly told my ear that we've moved to Dm. I get it. The A major with its Bb gave it away! That music stuff is really trivial.

5. Well,... unfortunately... A major does not have a Bb. Now, for sure, Newman played a note that's not in Am, so we know we're somewhere else. But where? Why should we think we're in Dm if we hear a note Bb that's not even in that key?

6. Beats me. Whatever that Bach dude was smoking, I'd like to try. This thing is whack.

7. You're right to feel frustrated. There's a long history behind this madness. Before we get to it, let's recap. Our tonal center is Am, so the notes are A,B,C,D,E,F,G. We want to move to Dm, where the notes are D, E, F,G,A,Bb,C. Except for that Bb these are the same notes. Now the question is, Why aren't we playing Bb to signal the ear we're moving from Am to the tonal center of Dm?

8. To understand why, we need to go back in history. Decades before Bach, musicians began to have doubts about the natural minor scale. Recall that in Dm, that's D, E, F,G,A,Bb,C,D. They all agreed it sounded fine but it had one major shortcoming. It's got no leading tone. You see, when you play a tune in Dm, you always end it in Dm. Everyone felt that when you played that last chord, your audience should have been expecting it. But how do you make someone expect something musically. Easy, before you play that final Dm, play another chord that strongly suggests the next one to come is Dm. Trouble is, whatever chords you can try near Dm on the cycle of 5ths, it all sucks. The resolution to Dm is not inaudible but it's weak. The reason is that to signal your motion to Dm, you should play the closest note before that D. That would Db. Play Db.

9. Excuse me, Herr Bach, but Db is not in the key of Dm!, so sie haben ein gross problem! Well, promote Db as a full-fledged member of the key. Get rid of that C and instead stick Db. Now you get D, E, F,G,A,Bb,Db,D. It sounds so nice we'll call it the harmonic scale of Dm. So now instead of going from Am to Dm, we'll play a Db over the A. But that's the major 3rd of A, so we get A major. For those of you who can't get enough of that stuff, the reason we love to play A7 and not just A, is because that flatted 7th (G) leads us down nicely to F, which is the minor 3rd of Dm. In other words, A7 has two notes that sandwich your ear from below (Db) and above (G) and force it into a necessary resolution in Dm. So you end up with the fundamental cadence V7-i. To modulate from Am to Dm, ie to change the tonal center, you must go through A7. The amazing thing is that there are still other reasons I haven't mentioned why that's the right thing to do. It's like an Agatha Christie novel where the suspect had so many motives for killing his victim the only mystery is why the murder didn't happen earlier.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 07:06 PM | Comments (20)

August 02, 2009

To Pay or Not to Pay

By: Bernard Chazelle

People fail to appreciate how tough it is to run the government. Here are two questions Treasury officials and politicians will soon have to answer:

  • Should a Connecticut trader receive $100 million in executive pay from a bank that would be dead had it not received $45 billion in taxpayer money? Apparently, the guy's genius was to drive up the price of gas to $4 a gallon. Does he deserve 100 million bucks from you for that?
  • Should unemployment benefits be extended for 1.5 million jobless Americans who will otherwise run out of money by the end of the year and fall into destitution and, sometimes, homelessness?

The New York Times features both stories on its front-page but never connects the two. It does a decent job explaining the complexity of the issue, however. If the trader fails to be paid, it'll get truly ugly: the guy will go trade somewhere else! On the other hand, if mom and dad don't get their unemployment benefits, things are not quite nearly as bad: only their kids will die. Thank god I am not in government having to make tough choices like that!


Tent city outside Los Angeles. Nice touch: residents are required to wear color-coded wristbands.

UPDATE: Wristbands are color-coded: blue to indicate "residents" from the area; orange to show they need more documentation; white to say they have one week to leave.

This ain't the Warsaw ghetto, I know, but the stink of the police state is unmistakable nonetheless. Step 1, strip away human dignity...

"When my husband gets out of jail he can bring my marriage certificate; will that count?" asked one tearful woman.

Another resident, clearly confused, seemed relieved to get a white band -- not understanding it meant she had to leave.

Pattie Barnes, 47, who had her motor home towed away last week, shook with anger.

"They are tagging us because we are homeless," she said, staring at her orange wristband. "It feels like a concentration camp."

— Bernard Chazelle
Posted at 11:18 AM | Comments (36)

August 01, 2009

"Red House"

By: Bernard Chazelle

There is a direct line from Muddy Waters to Buddy Guy to Jimi Hendrix. Speaking of Buddy, if any of you have a chance to go to his club Legends in Chicago, I highly recommend it. I went there once and I loved it. Buddy Guy is just one of the nicest, greatest blues guitarists alive today. Hendrix learned much from him, including, I hate to say it, an annoying habit of not tuning up after each song. It's almost a blessing when Jimi breaks his high E string toward the end and he's got only 5 strings out of tune. Fortunately, there's so much bending and Hendrix's pitch is so good you almost forget.

I fear I am boring everyone to death with my musical comments, so I'll keep this short. "Red House" is Hendrix's signature blues and there are a gazillion versions. As blues go, it's completely standard Chicago style, beginning with the classic lick: dominant 7th, then shifted half a step down to a diminished (to hint at the IV), and then back -- a lick that goes back at least to Muddy Waters. Chicago blues grew as an urban, electrified form of the Delta blues and it highlights all the original tensions. All blues have the b7 and b5, so that's not the issue. The issue is really the 3rd. Do you do it major or minor: over the IV it has to be minor, but over the I what do you do? The original blues scale is not Western, so it does not fit the guitar fret pattern. So do you bend (for microtonal effect) or hammer on (for the Western resolution)? That is the question.

At (0:47), you have a perfect illustration of this. The ultimate BB King vibrato: that forefinger shaking on the 3rd to hint at the major. Later, he will hammer on the major 3rd but only as quick grace notes: Jimi is more Muddy than BB. Since we spoke of modes earlier on, the clash is really between the Dorian and Mixolydian modes. Every blues guitarist has an implicit preference. But Jimi mixes both of them. Over the IV he goes all Dorian on us by adding the 6th and the 9th. Over the V he throws in the 7#9 (a Stevie Ray Vaughan fave). There's no better place to learn blues guitar. If you try, however, remember that Jimi is left-handed so his guitar points the wrong way and that he tunes down (if you can call that tuning), so his B is your Bb.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 08:22 PM | Comments (12)

Animal Rights

By: Bernard Chazelle

What's with Bolivia? What's with Latin America? Are they doing this just to make us look bad? I can't see any other explanation for their petty, spiteful urge to leap ahead of us on the ramp of moral progress.

Bolivia has enacted what animal rights activists are calling the world's first ban on all animals in circuses.

Next thing you know, they'll be banning pigs from police academies, and then we'll look like what, huh?!

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 03:23 PM | Comments (12)