Photo credit: Reuters

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Shiny Teeth Politicians

Dear Mr. President,
A friend sent me this yesterday from The Anderson Valley Advertiser, a small irreverent left coast weekly, one of the few remaining  voices of dissent: “Obama, looked at from the AVA’s outback rook about as far from the power levers as it's possible to get, remains a mystery. We can't decide if he's simply weak, or the victim of ongoing betrayals by the people around, or a victim of the prevailing incompetence, or he's just another hollow man along the lines of Bill Clinton, Gavin Newsom, or any number of the shiny-teeth ciphers presently occupying public office…who wants to be President simply so he can ride around in limos and Air Force One and call up drone murders of Arab grandmothers. With Obama, its one catastrophe after another, and he smiles on through all of it like a guy walking into a Christmas party.” (Nov. 20) I have to admit I still have an occasional doubt myself, wondering who you are. Call it residual denial at falling for your con, but those moments don’t last long and they’re getting less frequent. After five years the evidence is overwhelming that you fall in the category of hollow men who lust for the trappings of power and privilege, who can murder a grandmother picking okra in her garden in the mountains of Waziristan and not even acknowledge that somebody fucked up when her son and grandchildren tell their tale of injustice to representatives of Congress. No acknowledgment either, for the murder of an imam in a small village in Yemen arguing with three men who wanted him to stop preaching against violence. No apologies, no regrets to the imam’s brother who came to Washington asking why his brother was murdered. Or to the family of 16-year-old Abdulrahman Awlaki, an American boy whose only crime seemed to be that he was the son of an anti-American cleric. That’s the ultimate power trip isn’t it? To murder with impunity. It must be a rush to have the power of life and death. Like a god. I think the AVA editorial missed that dimension of evil in you, Mr. President. You’re not just a shiny-toothed empty suit who likes to ride around in limos and Air Force One; there’s an element of cold-blooded evil, the kind it takes to remain silent in the face of gross injustice, to show no regret and offer no apology for the murders of a 67-year-old grandmother in Pakistan or a 16-year-old boy searching for his father in Yemen or an imam refusing to stop preaching against violence. That’s a special kind of evil, Presidential evil.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Obamacare: Web Site Disaster or Health Care Disaster?

Dear Mr. President,
Even presidents get blindsided. You got blindsided on the website rollout and the press and pundits are all over that story, but We the People get blindsided all the time and they seldom talk about that. Take the election of 2008. Based on the platforms and promises of the candidates, we elected the one who promised to end war, close Guantanamo, repeal the Bush tax cuts, push through universal healthcare and financial regulation, restore the rule of law, protect whistleblowers, address global warming… and we got blindsided on every one of those promises. You must be pretty pissed at the tech team who let you down but imagine, Mr. President, how those of us who fell for all your rosy campaign promises feel after five years of constant betrayal. As for the disastrous rollout of the web site, that’s not the real story. The real story happened more than three years ago when you did the old bait-n-switch routine where you suddenly dropped real healthcare reform—universal healthcare—for a massive subsidy of the insurance and health care industry. The lead editorial in today’s NYT (“The State of American Health Care” p. A26), talks about the latest study of American health care, this one by the Commonwealth Fund, which looked at 20,000 adults in 10 “advanced” or industrialized countries (U.S., Canada, UK, France, Germany, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand) and measured cost, access and ease of dealing with the system and found what all previous studies have found—the U.S. is in last place by almost every measure. It found that 37% of Americans in the past year either did not see a doctor, didn’t fill a prescription or went without recommended care because of cost (4% in Britain, 6% in Sweden). 25% of Americans couldn’t pay their medical bills last year (13% in France and less than 7% in 5 other countries). We wait longer to see a doctor than in any of the other countries except Canada and in only one area—getting in to see a specialist—did we fare better than most of the others. Previous studies have also shown we’re near or at the bottom in every statistic: quality of care, outcomes, satisfaction, infant mortality…you name it. And there’s a simple explanation—all the other countries have some form of universal health care, what you took off the table back in 2010. So your website doesn’t work. Big deal! Our health care system doesn’t work and Obamacare won’t fix it and that is a big deal.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Ph.Ds Now Come With Food Stamps

Dear Representative Pelosi,
I received your letter of the 12th in response to my views on the $5 billion cut to food stamps that went into effect on November 1. A typical political fluff letter that goes on for a page and a half and says nothing. It’s filled with platitudes and false promises; in each paragraph a carefully placed phrase that sounds good but is meaningless: “must protect,” “we must ensure,” “we must sustain,” “it must be protected,” “we must recognize,” and, finally, “I am committed to reigniting the American dream and building ladders of opportunity… ” I searched your web site for a statement on food stamps but found nothing; only in your Oct. 23 press conference was it mentioned and that in an attempt to deflect a reporters’ question about the Obamcare website disaster. What I’d like to know is what the hell you folks inside The Bubble do for us out here beyond the beltway. I don’t see impassioned speeches about the immorality of kicking millions of women, children, aged and disabled off the food stamp program. I don’t see any attempt to restore the $5 billion cut that went into effect on November 1 or any proposal to increase the food stamp budget. Yesterday’s NYT, carried a letter to the editor about tenured vs. non-tenured adjunct professors in America’s colleges and universities and how that creates a caste system: tenured professors with security, good salaries and good benefits while non-tenured adjuncts have poor salaries, no benefits and no security. The writer, Keith Hoeller, points to a long-term study showing adjuncts are better teachers than most tenured professors. Of course, the tenured community denounced this study as “flawed.” But the interesting part of his letter was a link to a May 14, 2012 article in The Chronicle For Higher Education: “The Ph.D. Now Comes With Food Stamps” ( which profiles an adjunct teaching at a small. community college in Arizona. She has a Ph.D. in Medieval History, this was the only job she could find, she has no benefits, no guarantee she’ll be re-hired next semester and her pay does not cover rent, gas, food and utilities. She needs Medicaid and food stamps just to survive. So while you secure, comfortable, coddled legislators sit in your comfortable seats of power and ignore inequality, injustice, and the maldistribution of wealth, while you use talking points to disparage the opposition and focus only on the next election cycle, the real problems of America fester. A pox on both your houses.
cc: Senator Feinstein
    Senator Barbara Boxer
    President Barack Obama

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Alexander Cockburn and Free Trade

Dear Mr. President,
Alexander Cockburn died last year. I miss his wild, articulate and dead-on observations, but a collection of his essays and columns has just been published: “A Colossal Wreck: A Road Trip Through Political Scandal, Corruption and American Culture.” He was a sharp-eyed, sharp-tongued observer of both politics and culture and had the ability to see America with the eye of a transplanted foreigner and write with the wit, acerbic tongue and love of language that characterizes the Irish. There’s a review of the book in today’s NYT (p. C1) and, by sheer coincidence, also an article on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (T.P.P.): “House Stalls Trade Pact” p. B1. T.P.P. is another one of those free trade deals that’s being negotiated in almost total secrecy behind closed doors. You’ve been pushing hard to “fast track” it, meaning no amendments and no Senate filibuster. There’s been a lot of opposition to T.P.P. at the grass roots level, not only here but in other countries as well (there’s a photo in the Times article of protesters in Malaysia), but little mention of that in the corporate media and ignored by your administration nabobs. Congressional opposition too, has been simmering and all of a sudden, 151 House Democratic and 22 Republicans have signed letters opposing it. Others have signaled individual opposition. Your chief negotiator, Michael Froman, claims the administration has been working “hand-in-glove” with Congress but many House members counter that they’ve been kept in the dark “by not allowing congressional aides to observe the negotiations and declining to make certain full texts available.” It’s business as usual in The Bubble. There’s concern about jobs being lost, about lack of oversight and regulation, about food safety, health and privacy issues, intellectual property issues, etc. So who benefits? The usual suspects. Alexander Cockburn nailed it back in 1996 in an article on NAFTA: “Free trade is a class issue. The better-off like it. Their stocks go up as the outsourcing company heading south lays off its work force. The worse-off see the jobs disappear.” It’s as true of T.P.P. today as it was of NAFTA then. Here’s another quote from another column that seems appropriate to T.P.P., this one written in 2001: “Since the 1996 Telecommunications ‘Reform’ Act, conceived in darkness and signed in stealth, the situation has got even worse.” If T.P.P. goes through, for most of us, you can bet that things will get much worse, indeed.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Veterans Day, Armistice Day, What's the Difference?

Dear Mr. President,
Veterans Day, a federal holiday although most businesses are open and the stock market’s humming. War takes no holiday, either—drones continue circling, Special Forces conduct night raids and daily patrols engage “enemy combatants.” When I was a kid, this day was called Armistice Day, commemorating the signing of the Armistice agreement that ended the Great War, “the war to end all wars,” WW I. It was a day “dedicated to the cause of world peace” according to the official proclamation. But in 1954, Congress changed “Armistice” to “Veterans” to honor veterans of all wars, not just veterans of WW I. It seemed reasonable enough; we had gone through an even greater, more devastating war than the Great War and a lesser but no less brutal and pointless war in Korea, and there were millions of veterans to honor for their service. P.L. 83-380 didn’t change the wording of the 1938 law, just that single word, Armistice, but with that change the focus shifted from peace to war, for to honor the warrior is to honor the war. Since then, the national consciousness has shifted further and hardened into present-day acceptance of violence and destruction as standard policy. Tomorrow is Kill List Tuesday, the day you choose whose names rise to the top of the list this week for assassination. This process is declared legal although the justification for it is secret, a matter of “national security.” Summary executions, indefinite detention, covert wars, borderless commando raids and killing by remotely controlled drones are the new normal, accepted foreign policy. Under both Bushes and you, Mr. President, the original concept of Armistice Day—to outlaw war and strive for world peace—has been turned on its head. You have normalized war without end, targeted assassinations, indefinite detention and CIA drone strikes, and all-inclusive surveillance of everyone everywhere is the new reality. We train our young warriors to kill with brutal efficiency and send them off to war with false promises of honor and glory to do the dirty work of politicians and war profiteers, then thank them for their service one day a year. But there is neither glory nor honor in war. Our warriors have slaughtered close to a million people in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more than 6,700 of our own came back in coffins, 106,000 were wounded, 247,000 diagnosed by the VA with PTSD, and more than 745,000 have filed disability claims. This is a day not of celebration but of national mourning.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Food Stamps and Welfare for the Rich

Dear Mr. President,
How is it that “the richest nation on earth” has 47 million people on food stamps—and 45% of them are children? (today’s NYT, “ Cuts in Food Stamps Forces Hard Choices on Poor” p. A1). How is it that “the richest nation on earth” had to cut $9 this month from Leon Simmons’ $42 worth of food stamps but continues to pay Paul Allen—worth $16 billion—his federal farm subsidy of about $124/month for the barley he grows on his farm (the average he received between 1996 and 2006) plus an unreported amount for “crop insurance”? Mr. Simmons says there’ll be no meat on his table this month with that $9 cut but I bet Mr. Allen won’t be changing his diet. In 2011 the richest 5% of the population—which includes Paul Allen, Charles Schwab, S. Truett Cathy and George Kaiser, all billionaire “farmers”—sucked up an additional 5% of the nation’s total wealth and by last year the richest 1% owned 40% of all our country’s wealth, a steady increase over the past 30 years. But Ingrid Mock who is disabled and relies on food stamps to feed her 12-year-old daughter, has seen her food stamps steadily decrease from $309 six years ago to $250 this month. There are about 800,000 homeless in the U.S. on any given night and more than 46 million of us live in poverty. The 40 Walmart heirs have more wealth than the poorest 150 million Americans. Walmart pays their employees so little and gives them so few benefits that most are on food stamps and Medicaid. (Walmart actually encourages people to sign up for Medicaid.) This is clearly a government subsidy for the rich Walmart heirs but I don’t hear anyone ranting about that. Is welfare for the rich an American value, Mr. President? Could you say a few words on this? And also why you didn’t protest the cuts in food stamps for the poor? You made Bush’s temporary tax cuts for the rich permanent and your big deal tax increase last year on the richest Americans was a whopping 4% while Mr. Simmons’ food stamps got cut by roughly 19%. Democrat or Republican, the name of the game is soak the poor to give to the rich. This is not democracy, Mr. President, this is plutocracy with fat cats getting fatter and the Leon Simmonses and Ingrid Mocks going hungry. Why is it the richest country on earth can’t afford to feed its poor, but can find billions to hand out to military dictatorships, tens of billions to spy on its own citizens and hundreds of billions to pay for illegal and immoral wars? We got our priorities all screwed up here.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Taking From the Poor to Give to the Rich

Dear Mr. President,
An article in today’s NYT (“Billionaires Received U.S. Farm Subsidies, Report Finds” p. A19) is a perfect example of what’s wrong with America today, how the system is rigged, rewards the rich and punishes the poor. Republicans and Democrats play a shell game, trade places periodically but both serve the rich while at best ignoring and at worst plundering the poor. “The federal government paid $11.3 million in taxpayer-funded farm subsidies from 1995 to 2012 to 50 billionaires or businesses in which they have some form of ownership, according to a report released Thursday by the Environmental Working Group.” Among the recipients are Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft (net worth $16 billion); Charles Schwab ($5 billion); S. Truett Cathy, owner of Chick-fil-A ($4 billion); and the oil and banking tycoon, George Kaiser ($10 billion). In aggregate, the 50 billionaires are worth about $316 billion so it’s not like they really needed the government subsidies (welfare for the rich!) but the 47 million people who depend on food stamps sure do and that program got cut by $5 billion on November 1, and more cuts coming. Senate legislation is proposing $4.5 billion in future cuts; the House, $40 billion. And the billionaire farmers not only got direct subsidies but “crop insurance” in addition, another government handout. Crop insurance, unlike direct subsidies, has no upper limit on payouts and, by law, individuals receiving it cannot be identified as can the recipients of direct subsidies, a feature clearly dreamed up by politicians in the (very deep) pockets of gentlemen farmers. So while Senators and Representatives are busy cutting from the food stamp program, they’re raising farm subsidies and proposing that direct subsidy money be shifted to the “crop insurance” program so it’s limitless and unreportable. And that’s not all. They’re also proposing drug tests, work requirements and income means-testing for food stamp recipients. (Wouldn’t it be fair to impose the same requirements on farm subsidies for billionaires?) I realize you’re not in control of this legislation but I don’t hear you objecting either. I know you’re busy—covering for the NSA, figuring out how to grab Snowden and silence him forever, and defending the Obamacare fiasco—but you could show a little concern for this injustice. You wonder why people are pissed off at government? Right here’s the answer, Mr. President. The farm bill that takes from the poor to give to the rich.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Snowden, Feinstein, Rogers, Obama: Separating Patriots from Traitors

Dear Mr. President,
Apparently it was news enough to post online but not “fit to print” in today’s NYT. I’m referring to the plea for clemency by Edward Snowden last week in a letter handed to German legislator Hans-Christian Ströbele who flew to Moscow to meet with him and explore the possibility of his testifying to the Bundestag. In the online article, your adviser, Dan Pfeiffer, said “there had been no consideration of clemency and that Mr. Snowden should return to the United States to face charges.” Rep. Mike Rogers, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said “He needs to come back and own up.” Senator Feinstein: “He’s done this enormous disservice to our country…and I think the answer is no clemency.” ([HdtHdt]) Everybody on the same page singing the same tune. Feinstein and Rogers (and you) keep saying he should come back and “face justice” but any fool knows the kind of “justice” he’d get—a kangaroo court, a show trial and life in prison. For telling the truth! For telling the public what they need to know to curb the abuse of power that threatens democracy. Feinstein and Rogers have labeled Snowden, “traitor,” but my dictionary defines traitor as “1. a person who betrays another, a cause, or any trust; 2. a person who commits treason by betraying his or her country.” In the article, Feinstein says he broke the trust placed in him, that he should have picked up the phone and called one of the Intelligence Committees if he had something to reveal. Right. We know where that would have led. Directly to jail. She and Rogers work hard to keep secrets and enable the real criminals to break laws and violate the Constitution with impunity. So who’s the real traitor here, Mr. President, Snowden or the Clappers and Alexanders who lie to Congress and the public? Snowden or the Feisteins and Rogers who turn a blind eye to criminal behavior and abuse of power? Are those who believe that for democracy to exist, truth and transparency are essential, traitors? Then call me a traitor too, for I believe Snowden is a patriot and the defenders of NSA abuses are the traitors, I was taught that traitors gave government secrets to those who would do us harm. Snowden has not. But the NSA is doing our country grave harm and Feinstein, Rogers, Clapper, Alexander and you are complicit. You have all betrayed the national trust, betrayed democracy. You are all traitors.