Nasty Letters To Crooked Politicians

As we enter a new era of politics, we hope to see that Obama has the courage to fight the policies that Progressives hate. Will he have the fortitude to turn the economic future of America to help the working man? Or will he turn out to be just a pawn of big money, as he seems to be right now.

Monday, August 17, 2009

What is behind the opposition to the Obama healthcare plan?

President Obama’s proposed restructuring of the US healthcare system has come under ferocious attack over the past week. Right-wing activists, in many cases organized by groups affiliated with the Republican Party or financed by sections of the healthcare industry, turned out at town hall meetings to shout down Democratic congressmen or Obama aides. There have been death threats and some actual violence.

The right-wing attack combines hysterical distortion of the provisions of the Obama plan (frequently, and falsely, branded as “socialized medicine”) with an appeal to the concerns of wide layers of the American population who sense, quite correctly, that the healthcare restructuring being promoted in Washington will come at their expense and will benefit only the big corporate interests.

Chief among the distortions has been the claim, fostered most notably by former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, that the Obama plan promotes euthanasia and that millions of elderly people will be hauled before a federal “death panel” to decide whether paying for their healthcare was warranted based on their “level of productivity in society.”

The actual provision, Section 1323 of one version of legislation that has passed one committee in the House of Representatives, merely states that Medicare will now reimburse doctors who hold end-of-life counseling sessions for beneficiaries who want to know their options on hospice care, living wills, and similar services.

Palin, who resigned as governor of Alaska July 26 in order to pursue a national career as spokeswoman for the fascistic wing of the Republican Party, is appealing to the same Christian fundamentalist elements who mobilized around the case of Terri Schiavo in 2005.

The popular disaffection with the Obama healthcare plan goes much further, however, than the fanatical right-to-life constituency. The Obama administration has based its program for healthcare restructuring entirely on the argument that healthcare costs are bankrupting the US economy and that controlling and reducing these costs is essential.

The logical conclusion of this policy—even if officially denied by the White House—is that somebody’s healthcare is too expensive and must be cut back or eliminated. Millions of people fear that that somebody is likely to be them and their families. One opinion poll published last week showed that 53 percent believed they would be worse off or no better than before under the Obama plan.

Obama and the congressional Democrats have sought to use the frenzied outpourings of his right-wing critics to discredit all opposition to the measures that the administration is pursuing to cut social benefit programs like Medicare and impose even greater burdens on American working people.

The crudest effort along these lines came in a column published in USAToday Monday by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, which branded the opposition to Obama’s healthcare plan “un-American attacks.” They criticized the right-wing disruptions as an effort to suppress discussion, then pledged that the healthcare “reform” would mean higher-quality care, an end to insurance company abuses and “stability and peace of mind for the middle class.”

In his radio speech Saturday and at a carefully controlled town hall meeting in New Hampshire Tuesday, Obama sought to soothe popular concerns over the implication of the healthcare cost-cutting and put a “progressive” gloss on what is a fundamentally reactionary and pro-corporate policy.

The president told his New Hampshire audience that charges that his program will cut Medicare benefits for the elderly were false. “It’s a myth that we’re going to be cutting your Medicare benefits,” he said. “We’re not.” He claimed that the only cut in Medicare would be $177 billion in subsidies to insurance companies that operate private Medicare Advantage plans. But all the plans moving through the House and Senate—with full backing by the White House—call for substantial reductions in Medicare reimbursement to hospitals and doctors, which will inevitably be translated into cutbacks in care for the elderly and disabled.

One of the first questions taken by Obama—no doubt prearranged by White House political operatives—was from a woman denied coverage by her insurance company because of a pre-existing condition. Expressing sympathy for her plight, Obama sought to use the exchange to present his program as a benefit for those whose healthcare benefits have been cut back or eliminated by profit-driven insurers.

The real relationship of Obama and the Democrats to the insurance industry was far more accurately described by BusinessWeek magazine in its current cover story on healthcare “reform,” headlined, “The Health Insurers Have Already Won.” The magazine details how UnitedHealthGroup, the largest US health insurer, has used its influence in Washington, particularly with conservative congressional Democrats in the “Blue Dog” caucus and Obama advisers like former senator Tom Daschle, to effectively dictate the parameters of the healthcare legislation moving through Congress.

“The industry has already accomplished its main goal of at least curbing, and maybe blocking altogether, any new publicly administered insurance program that could grab market share from the corporations that dominate the business,” BusinessWeek wrote approvingly. UnitedHealthCare, Aetna and Wellpoint have “also achieved a secondary aim of constraining the new benefits that will become available to tens of millions of people who are currently uninsured. That will make the new customers more lucrative to the industry.”

In other words, the corporate profiteers have a tight grip over the healthcare legislation. Their political servants in both the Republican and Democratic parties can be relied on to guarantee their financial interests are served by any healthcare restructuring, or to torpedo the bill outright if that proves necessary.

Over the past several weeks, there has been detailed press coverage of the enormous sums that the drug companies, the insurance companies, the for-profit hospital chains and other corporate interests have poured into “lobbying” and “campaign contributions”—the two Washington euphemisms for outright bribery. (See “US health care lobby pumps millions into Obama’s cost-cutting drive” and “The drug lobby demands, and gets, Obama pledge to protect health care profits”)

According to press reports Tuesday, the drug industry lobby PhRMA will launch a $150 million advertising blitz in support of Obama’s healthcare reform drive, after the White House reaffirmed its promise that it will limit the industry’s “contribution” to the cost of healthcare restructuring to the $80 billion agreed on in closed-door talks between Obama aides and PhRMA chief Billy Tauzin (a founding member of the “Blue Dogs” before he left Congress to become an open rather than concealed representative of the drug manufacturers).

Obama has repeatedly avowed his support for capitalist medicine, and the “right” of drug companies, the insurance companies, the medical equipment manufacturers, and a host of other parasites to profit from the sick. His differences with his Republican opponents are purely tactical, and largely concern which sections of corporate America will benefit the most from the current legislative undertaking.

Nothing that emerges from the machinations of big business politicians and corporate lobbyists in Washington can serve the needs of working people. Medical care must be made available to every American citizen and resident, provided for at state expense as a basic human right. This requires the nationalization of the insurance companies, the drug companies, and all the other healthcare profiteers, and the establishment of a system of socialized medicine provided free to all who need it.

Patrick Martin

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The class issues in the US health care debate

22 July 2009

The Obama administration’s push for health care “reform” has exposed the class realities that dominate American politics and the social interests which Obama defends.

Under Obama, the issue of health care reform has been shifted from providing decent medical care for all to slashing the cost of health care to businesses and the government, primarily by cutting costs for Medicare and fundamentally changing the nature of the Medicare program.

Depending on his audience, Obama at times seeks to conceal the reactionary essence of his proposal by presenting it as a plan to provide health insurance to the uninsured. But even if his plan were enacted in full, it would still leave an estimated 18 million Americans without any form of health coverage.

In a blitz of interviews Monday and Tuesday, Obama refused to endorse a provision of a House version of his health care plan that would impose a small tax surcharge on the rich. Under the House plan, individuals making more than $280,000 a year or families earning more than $350,000—about 1.2 percent of US households—would be required to pay the surtax. For a family making $500,000, the surtax would amount to about $1,500.

The tax surcharge provision was included in a bill passed by a House committee last week, and within days the head of the Congressional Budget Office issued a highly critical report declaring that Obama’s reforms would not slow the rise in health care costs and suggesting a tax on employee health benefits.

This sequence of events was not accidental. The media, speaking for the ruling class, has been overtly hostile to the tax surcharge, complaining that the provision would unduly penalize the rich.

For their part, the Republicans oppose any expansion of government-backed health insurance, and are calling for even more draconian cuts in existing programs.

There was a time when Social Security and Medicare were considered the “third rail” of American politics. “Third rail” refers to the electrified rail on subway train tracks, the implication being that if you proposed cuts in Social Security or Medicare, you were, politically speaking, a dead man.

Now you have a Democratic president and Democratic Congress that are proposing unprecedented cuts and a fundamental restructuring of Medicare, and a proposal to slightly increase taxes on the rich to help pay for the up-front costs of the plan is treated with horror and indignation by the media. Any increase in taxes on the rich is revealed to be the “third rail” of contemporary American politics.

The class priorities are clear in the contrast between Obama’s insistence on reducing health care costs and his policy toward the banks. In testimony Tuesday before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Neil Barofsky, special inspector general for the Trouble Asset Relief Program (TARP), said that the potential cost of the government bailout of the banks could reach $23.7 trillion.

Obama contends that slashing health care costs is the overriding requirement for reducing the budget deficit and restoring the economy. This is universally echoed in the media and the political establishment. No one asks: Why a fundamental social need such as health care? Why not military spending? Or interest payments to the banks on the national debt?

As a result of the administration’s policies—escalating the war in Afghanistan, enlarging the military, doubling the national debt to finance the bailout of the banks—the costs for these budget items are rising at record rates.

There has been an outcry within the political establishment and the media over the estimated $1 trillion price tag over 10 years for the health care plans being debated in Congress. This is approximately equal to the amount allocated annually by the US government in military-related expenditures, which account for about one-third of the entire 2009 fiscal year budget.

The New York Times has been leading the campaign to slash health care costs at the expense of the working class. In a July 20 editorial, it hails Obama’s latest proposal to set up an “independent expert body to propose fair payment rates and other cost-saving reforms for Medicare.” What this will mean in practice is indicated, although in deliberately vague terms, in the remainder of the editorial.

It states: “If the government simply extends subsidized insurance to millions of uninsured people but fails to force fundamental changes in the delivery or financing of health care, then federal health care costs will keep escalating at excessive rates.” The editorial continues: “Medicare ought to be empowered, for example, to reduce its payment rates to the highest-cost hospitals and most inefficient doctors.”

This means, in plain language, that hospitals which spend similar amounts to treat Medicare patients as they do to treat wealthy patients should be penalized and placed at a competitive disadvantage with hospitals that provide cut-rate care to Medicare patients. The “spendthrift” hospitals will be confronted with the alternative of reducing their care for those whose bills are paid by Medicare or going out of business.

And what, precisely, is meant by “inefficient” doctors? This is a code word for those doctors who provide roughly equivalent care—tests, procedures, medications—to Medicare patients as to those able to pay on their own. They too will be faced with the alternative of cutting back on the care for Medicare patients, or being financially penalized.

The Times spells this out when it writes: “That is probably the best way to get them to stop providing needless tests and treatments that don’t improve the health of the patient.”

One should consider the meaning of “needless.” How is this to be determined in advance? The only way to determine with certainty whether a procedure or test is “needed” is if, having been denied a more expensive method of treatment, the patient fails to recover or dies!

The editorial continues, reinforcing the same point: “Medicare should also be allowed to use the results of comparative effectiveness research to set reimbursement policies favoring the best treatments.”

This is nothing other than a demand that Medicare be restructured to become a cut-rate system for providing substandard care to the working class and the poor. In a fundamental sense, this represents the unwinding of Medicare as a system of universal health care for the elderly. When the program was launched in 1965, it was based on the social principle that all elderly people were entitled to the same level of medical care, regardless of their income or socioeconomic status. It is this principle that is under attack by the Times and the Obama administration.

In its place, Medicare is to become a class-based system of reduced care to workers and poor people, while the wealthy will have access to the best treatment.

The Times goes on to make clear its support for proposals to tax employee health benefits, saying, “A tax on employer-provided benefits would probably also encourage workers to choose lower-cost policies, and use health care more sparingly.”

That is, health care is to be rationed to the “rabble” of society, so that the corporations can increase their profits by reducing their health care outlays, while the wealthy continue to enjoy the benefits of a tax system skewed in their interests.

The Times expresses the outlook of contemporary American liberalism and the social layers upon which it is based, i.e., sections of the financial elite and the most privileged layers of the middle class. It articulates the contempt for the working class that the liberal establishment, which supports the Democratic Party and the Obama administration, shares with its Republican counterpart.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Mr Obama: Resign Now

With Democrats Like Him, Who Needs Dictators?

By Ted Rall

June 03, 2009 "
Information Clearing House" -- MIAMI--We expected broken promises. But the gap between the soaring expectations that accompanied Barack Obama's inauguration and his wretched performance is the broadest such chasm in recent historical memory. This guy makes Bill Clinton look like a paragon of integrity and follow-through.

From healthcare to torture to the economy to war, Obama has reneged on pledges real and implied. So timid and so owned is he that he trembles in fear of offending, of all things, the government of Turkey. Obama has officially reneged on his campaign promise to acknowledge the Armenian genocide. When a president doesn't have the 'nads to annoy the Turks, why does he bother to show up for work in the morning?

Obama is useless. Worse than that, he's dangerous. Which is why, if he has any patriotism left after the thousands of meetings he has sat through with corporate contributors, blood-sucking lobbyists and corrupt politicians, he ought to step down now--before he drags us further into the abyss.

I refer here to Obama's plan for "preventive detentions." If a cop or other government official thinks you might want to commit a crime someday, you could be held in "prolonged detention." Reports in U.S. state-controlled media imply that Obama's shocking new policy would only apply to Islamic terrorists (or, in this case, wannabe Islamic terrorists, and also kinda-sorta-maybe-thinking-about-terrorism dudes). As if that made it OK.

In practice, Obama wants to let government goons snatch you, me and anyone else they deem annoying off the street.

Preventive detention is the classic defining characteristic of a military dictatorship. Because dictatorial regimes rely on fear rather than consensus, their priority is self-preservation rather than improving their people's lives. They worry obsessively over the one thing they can't control, what Orwell called "thoughtcrime"--contempt for rulers that might someday translate to direct action.

Locking up people who haven't done anything wrong is worse than un-American and a violent attack on the most basic principles of Western jurisprudence. It is contrary to the most essential notion of human decency. That anyone has ever been subjected to "preventive detention" is an outrage. That the President of the United States, a man who won an election because he promised to elevate our moral and political discourse, would even entertain such a revolting idea offends the idea of civilization itself.

Obama is cute. He is charming. But there is something rotten inside him. Unlike the Republicans who backed Bush, I won't follow a terrible leader just because I voted for him. Obama has revealed himself. He is a monster, and he should remove himself from power.

"Prolonged detention," reported The New York Times, would be inflicted upon "terrorism suspects who cannot be tried."

"Cannot be tried." Interesting choice of words.

Any "terrorism suspect" (can you be a suspect if you haven't been charged with a crime?) can be tried. Anyone can be tried for anything. At this writing, a Somali child is sitting in a prison in New York, charged with piracy in the Indian Ocean, where the U.S. has no jurisdiction. Anyone can be tried.
Why is it, exactly, that some prisoners "cannot be tried"?

The Old Grey Lady explains why Obama wants this "entirely new chapter in American law" in a boring little sentence buried a couple past the jump and a couple of hundred words down page A16: "Yet another question is what to do with the most problematic group of Guantánamo detainees: those who pose a national security threat but cannot be prosecuted, either for lack of evidence or because evidence is tainted."

In democracies with functioning legal systems, it is assumed that people against whom there is a "lack of evidence" are innocent. They walk free. In countries where the rule of law prevails, in places blessedly free of fearful leaders whose only concern is staying in power, "tainted evidence" is no evidence at all. If you can't prove that a defendant committed a crime--an actual crime, not a thoughtcrime--in a fair trial, you release him and apologize to the judge and jury for wasting their time.

It is amazing and incredible, after eight years of Bush's lawless behavior, to have to still have to explain these things. For that reason alone, Obama should resign.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Human Body Parts

by Dahr Jamail
April 18th, 2009 | T r u t h o u t

To read story with photo click here

In Iraq, time leaves bloody marks upon each day of the ongoing US occupation. The policies of the Obama administration, adopted from the Bush administration, continue to wreak their havoc on the Iraqi people.

The US-created al-Sahwa (Sons of Iraq), a Sunni militia comprised mostly of former resistance fighters and even some members of al-Qaeda, that grew to 100,000 in number, now threatens to fade back into the shadows in order to resume anti-occupation resistance operations against the US military and Iraqi government security forces. The Sahwa, which were to be incorporated into the government security apparatus, have instead been suffering attacks by that same apparatus for several months - attacks that are now occurring daily. And they are reacting in kind.

On April 14, ten Sahwa-controlled checkpoints were abandoned in Babel, south of Baghdad. The Sahwa forces left their posts after not receiving their salaries. This was exactly what I was told would begin to happen when I spoke with a Sahwa commander in Baghdad two months ago. At the time of our discussion, he had told me that many of his men had not received payment from the government since October, and he feared it was only a matter of time before they would leave their posts to likely resume resistance operations.

Also on April 14, Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdel Mahdi accused members of the Sahwa of biding their time to wait for a chance to resume attacks against the Shiite-led government. Obviously, an effort to justify ongoing Iraqi government attacks against the Sahwa, which are perceived by the government as a threat. Mahdi credited some members of the group with helping “restore order in the country,” but said that the government “can’t distinguish between the two,” referring to helpful members of the militia and the members waiting to strike. “That’s why there have been arrests when we have discovered their links with other terrorist groups,” he said.

Mahdi’s move came just after an announcement made by Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, president of the Sahwa of al-Anbar province, stating he was renouncing armed struggle and was prepared to work with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. “If we want a unified Iraq,” he said, “we must work in that direction, on uniting Sunnis and Shias, to build one country.” Obviously, Maliki’s vice president has other ideas for the Sahwa that don’t appear to include “a unified Iraq.”

Complicating matters in Anbar, April 16 saw a suicide bomber wearing an Iraqi army uniform detonate his vest packed with explosives at a military base there, killing 16 soldiers and wounding another 50. “We had a regular parade, and were about to go into the cafeteria when a huge noise made me fall to the ground … I saw fire, smoke and debris … I saw people without arms and legs,” soldier Mokhaled al-Dulaimi told reporters. This type of violence will not motivate the Sahwa in Anbar, led by Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, to “renounce armed struggle.”

Meanwhile, continuing empty promises to the Sahwa are being made by the Iraq government. Spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said that the government will integrate 20 percent of the groups members into the security forces, and the other 80 percent will be appointed to “other positions,” while giving no timeline for how long that might take. This sort of thing has been ongoing since October, the date the Sahwa were theoretically to be incorporated into the Iraqi government security forces.

Last week alone, at least 53 Sahwa fighters were killed in attacks across the country.

Further complicating matters, the Maliki government recently started re-examining the records of thousands of detainees who US forces recently released. The spokesman of the so-called Baghdad operation, Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta, said: “Rearrests of a number of persons released by the American forces were completed because they were once again returned to practice of armed action. The orders issued by Prime Minister Maliki, the Ministry of the Interior and the Supreme Judicial Council aim to examine the records of those released people as a result of the recent violence.”

Ironically, the current of nationalism during the January elections in Iraq that kept Maliki in power is the same current of Iraqi identity and nationalism that could now threaten his government.

The film “Meeting Resistance,” one of the only films made of the Iraqi Resistance, provides clarity here. Filmmakers Molly Bingham and Steve Connors spent months in Baghdad interviewing resistance fighters. I asked Connors his thoughts about Iraqi nationalism and how large a factor he feels it is in the current situation in Iraq.

“In recent months we have seen the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, don the mantle of nationalism and, riding on a wave of popular sentiment that in recent provincial elections has rejected the divisive US-backed ethno-sectarian politics of the last few years, consolidated his hold on power in the country. There are many who doubt the sincerity of Maliki’s position and prefer to see it as cynical political opportunism, but what can no longer be denied is that the sense of Iraqi-ness that permeates the society remains a potent force in Iraq.

“Throughout the reporting for Meeting Resistance, a common thread among the people we spoke to was a powerful sense of national identity - of being Iraqi - that sometimes was underpinned by a religious belief that defense of the nation was a divine duty,” Connors explained, “This held true for those who were involved in violence and their supporters in the broader community.

“As early as November of 2003 the US National Intelligence Council produced a National Intelligence Estimate that reported the resistance to occupation in Iraq as being nationalist in motivation with deep roots in the society. Department of Defense reports to Congress have shown that for the duration of the war 73 percent of significant attacks (those requiring planning and organization) have been directed at the US-led coalition forces, 15 percent targeted Iraqi troops and police, with the remaining 12 percent being aimed at civilians and producing massive casualties that have done severe damage to those groups that oppose the occupation.”

Thus, this same nationalism may well be in the process of being increasingly vented against the Maliki government that is strong-arming the Sahwa and any other former resistance fighters it can get its hands on.

Then, we have more broken promises from the US military, again backed by Maliki since his government’s survival depends on it, which continue to erode general Iraqi support for the government in Baghdad. April 14 turned out to be an interesting day, indeed, as not-so-coincidentally Army Col. Gary Volesky, commander of US forces in the northern city of Mosul, which is largely completely out of the control of either US or Iraqi forces, announced that US troops could remain in that city after a June deadline for withdrawal, which, of course, violates a pact reached last year that called for all US forces to withdrawal from all Iraqi cities by June 30. “If the Iraqi government wants us to stay we will stay,” Volesky told reporters, as though the Iraqi government has any jurisdiction whatsoever over the US military. Laying some groundwork for the ongoing US presence in Mosul, Volesky added, “There could be bad days ahead.”

Between Mosul and Baghdad lies the oil rich city of Kirkuk. Along with the growing storm of the Sahwa-Iraqi government impasse, the other current major flashpoint in Iraq is the growing tension between Iraqi Kurds and Arabs regarding the fate of Kirkuk. Also on April 14, a Kurdish political coalition announced it will boycott provincial council meetings until the main Arab party there cedes council leadership positions.

In the northern province of Nineveh, the Kurdish political coalition the Nineveh Fraternal List walked out of the council’s inaugural meeting and vowed not to return until the Arab’s handed over two of the council’s top three leadership positions - seats the Arab’s had legitimately won in the January provincial elections. Hashim al Tael, a Sunni Arab national lawmaker from Nineveh, said of the disagreements: “This is just the beginning. We may witness much more.”

Not surprisingly, as a result of the aforementioned, the next day, April 15, at least 14 people were killed and more than 25 injured in a car bomb attack in Kirkuk targeting police guards outside a building of the state-owned North Oil Company. The guards were traveling home on a bus when they were struck by the bomber. Lt. Col. Ghazi Mohammad Rashid, a police spokesman, told reporters, “All that was left of the bus were its seats, the officers’ Kalashnikovs and human body parts.”

Bombings not dissimilar to this occur on a near-daily basis in Iraq. Sadly, these are generally what catches the headlines - as most corporate media outlets choose to report these, or nothing at all, or how much better things have become in Iraq as of late.

What continues to be missed is the deep suffering within the country that is cutting through the Iraqi people like a vicious incurable cancer, which is how most Iraqis continue to perceive the occupation.

Nowadays, at least 150 Iraqi children per year are being sold into child trafficking rings, a growing crisis that is gripping Iraq. Iraqi children are being abducted by the scores on an annual basis, and are being sold both internally and abroad. Some of the bartered youngsters become sex abuse victims.

On April 6, The Guardian reported, “Criminal gangs are profiting from the cheap cost of buying infants and the bureaucratic muddle that makes it relatively easy to move them overseas. Accurate figures are difficult to obtain because there is no centralized counting procedure, but aid agencies and police say they believe numbers have increased by a third since 2005 to at least 150 children a year.”

One senior police officer reported that at least 15 Iraqi children were sold every month, some overseas, some internally, some for adoption, some for sexual abuse.

The paper continued, “Officials believe at least 12 gangs are operating in Iraq, offering between £200 and £4,000 per child, depending on its background and health. The main countries in which they are sold are Jordan, Turkey, Syria and some European countries including Switzerland, Ireland, the UK, Portugal and Sweden - One dealer, who asked to be called Abu Hamizi, said child trafficking from Iraq was cheaper and easier than elsewhere, given the readiness of underpaid government employees to help with the falsification of documents We prefer babies but sometimes families request children from one to four years old but they are rare cases.”

A 2007 report by the NGO Heartland Alliance showed that traffickers regularly employed the threat or use of coercion, abduction, force, fraud, deception, abuse of vulnerability or giving payments or benefits to a person in control of the victim.

One of the child traffickers told The Guardian that he heard one of the babies sold last year was used for organ transplants.

Why such desperation among the people of Iraq? It requires little imagination to understand their dilemma. The country was heavily bombed in 1991 by the United States, then bombed throughout the strangling twelve and a half years of economic sanctions-also led by the US, then invaded and beset with a torturous occupation now into its seventh year. The bright and shining promises of “reconstruction” and “rehabilitation” were, of course, simply part of the worst kind of propaganda used to justify an illegal act of aggression against a sovereign country.

The United States, like all empires through history, is raping and pillaging Iraq. What funds were available for reconstruction were often plundered by US soldiers themselves. Recently, The Los Angeles Times reported, “Some US troops tempted by reconstruction cash,” and that the Department of Justice is pursuing some “three dozen prosecutions” of soldiers and others involving bribery for “reconstruction” projects in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For example, 28-year-old Army Capt. Michael Dung Nguyen, who was also a graduate from West Point, “managed to skim more than $690,000 in cash as the civil affairs officer overseeing millions of dollars intended for reconstruction projects and payments to private Iraqi security forces northeast of Baghdad.” According to The Los Angeles Times, “at least 25 theft probes are underway.” And those are only the instances where someone was caught.

Liliana Segura wrote for AlterNet recently, “The money comes from the Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP), which has so far spent at least $2.8 billion in US funds. It is not tied to international standards of redevelopment or normal government purchasing rules. Instead, it is governed by broad guidelines packaged into a field manual called ‘Money as a Weapon System.’”

Segura points out that, according to The Los Angeles Times, “$3.5 billion in taxpayer money has been spent on the Commander’s Emergency Response Program, ostensibly on ‘humanitarian aid and community reconstruction projects’ as well as the practice of hiring Sunni gunmen, ‘often former insurgents, as security officers with the US-allied forces known as the Sons of Iraq.’”

Aside from funding ongoing Wall Street corruption in the form of so-called bailouts, this is another great use of US taxpayer money. While direct payments to the Sahwa by the US military theoretically ceased last October when the Sahwa were to be incorporated into the Iraqi military and police forces, payments morphed into another form - that of funding “reconstruction projects.” Thus, most of the Sahwa who are still being paid, albeit indirectly with US tax dollars, are the same Sahwa who are slowly melting back into the Iraqi resistance in order to resume attacks against US and Iraqi soldiers.

A quick review of recent US military fatalities in Iraq finds:

* April 12: One US coalition soldier died of wounds sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated in Salah-ad Din Province.
* April 13: Sgt. Raul Moncada, 29, of Madera, California, died April 13 near Baghdad, Iraq, of wounds sustained when an explosive device detonated near his vehicle.
* April 13: A coalition forces soldier died of injuries sustained during an explosively formed projectile attack on a convoy five kilometers south of Karbalah, Iraq, at approximately 7:40 AM. The soldier’s name is being withheld pending notification of next of kin and release by the Department of Defense.

Everything becomes twisted, grotesque and inhuman amidst the bilateral psychosis that is war and occupation. This is how West Point graduates loot funds meant for providing aid to Iraqis. This is how your tax dollars are paying the men who are killing US soldiers in Iraq. This is how nothing touched by the vile, immoral, US occupation of Iraq is left unscathed.


** Dahr Jamail's MidEast Dispatches **
** Visit the Dahr Jamail website **

Dahr Jamail's new book, /Beyond the Green Zone/ is NOW AVAILABLE!

"International journalism at its best." --Stephen Kinzer, former bureau chief, New York Times; author /All the Shah's Men/

"Essential reading for anybody who wants to know what is really happening in Iraq." --Patrick Cockburn, Middle East correspondent for The Independent; author of /The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq/

Order /Beyond the Green Zone/ today!

Winner of the prestigious 2008 Martha Gellhorn Award for Jounalism!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

New York Times columnist who demanded concessions from auto workers, “makes case” for AIG bonuses

By David Walsh
18 March 2009

New York Times columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin "made the case" Tuesday for paying American International Group (AIG) executives some $165 million in bonuses. In the face of a public outrage that he acknowledges, Sorkin suggests: "Maybe we have to swallow hard and pay up, partly for our own good."

It should be recalled that Sorkin, the Times chief mergers and acquisitions reporter and editor of the newspaper's daily financial report, called for the "government-sponsored" bankruptcy of General Motors in November 2008 and the slashing of auto workers' living standards. At the time, he described their benefits as "off the charts" and falsely claimed that at GM, as of 2007, "the average auto worker was paid about $70 an hour, including health care and pension costs."

Now, in regard to the AIG bonuses, the columnist suggests the fundamental question "is the sanctity of contracts." Imagine the mess "if the business community started to worry that the government would start abrogating contracts left and right."

Sorkin cites the comments of veteran compensation consultant Pearl Meyer, who suggests that failing to honor the contracts at AIG "would put American business on a worse slippery slope than it already is." In other words, the Times columnist asks someone in the business of seeing that executives extract every penny possible whether or not the AIG employees should receive their millions.

"If government officials were to break the contracts, they would be ‘breaking a bond,' Ms. Meyer says." Sorkin reproduces this with what one takes to be a "straight face."

What sort of "bonds" are presently respected by corporate America? This is a country where workers are treated like dogs, routinely tossed out the door with barely a moment's notice and have essentially no rights in relation to their corporate masters. Companies lie to and cheat their employees as a matter of course.

The "bond" between a firm and its workforce in the US lasts no longer than a fluctuation in its share price. At every possible opportunity, senior and more highly paid workers are replaced by cheaper labor. Factories and offices are closed down, operations moved to more "business-friendly" environs, without a thought for the destruction of lives and entire communities. There is no God in corporate America but the accumulation of personal wealth.

Only a week ago, a bankruptcy judge in New York upheld his earlier decision that Delphi, the auto parts maker, has the right to end health and insurance benefits to 15,000 retirees and their spouses as of April 1. The Detroit News noted, "Attorneys representing a group of the white collar retirees argued in the Southern District of New York court that Delphi's former owner, General Motors Corp., promised them lifetime coverage." So much for "bonds."

Numerous commentators have pointed to the glaring double standard. The bonus agreements with AIG are sacred, but autoworkers' contracts (and others) can be opened and altered at will. Sorkin has an answer for this, however: "The big difference is that there is a negotiation [in auto]; no one is unilaterally tearing up contracts."

The journalist is a sophist of the first order. There is no "negotiation" between the autoworkers and the companies in any meaningful sense. The corporations, the media, the government and the UAW line up on one side, threatening the most dire consequences: the destruction of massive numbers of jobs, bankruptcy, the closing down of the entire industry—for workers and their families, the loss of virtually everything—if the latter don't accept concessions. They face extortion of the most highly organized and vicious variety. And if the workers dared to reject the concessions, the political establishment, including the New York Times, would scream bloody murder and demand their firing.

On the other hand, the government owns 79.9 percent of AIG. It could do what it likes, replace management, invalidate contracts, launch criminal investigations and more. But, in this case, supported by the likes of Sorkin, a handful of corporate scoundrels hold society hostage and demand their blood money.

AIG is engaged in blackmail. Sorkin admits as much. Of the firm's complex role in world financial markets, he writes, "A.I.G. built this bomb, and it may be the only outfit that really knows how to defuse it.

"A.I.G. employees concocted complex derivatives that then wormed their way through the global financial system. If they leave...they might simply turn around and trade against A.I.G.'s book. Why not?... So as unpalatable as it seems, taxpayers need to keep some of these brainiacs in their seats, if only to prevent them from turning against the company."

The white paper AIG dispatched to the government making its case for paying the 400 executives includes other kinds of threats.

The document reports that AIG's derivative portfolio stands at some $1.6 trillion "and remains a significant risk." It suggests that if, for some reason, AIG were to default on a major contract, this could trigger "other cross-defaults over the entire portfolio of AIGFP [AIG Financial Products]."

The AIG white paper gives the example of a possible default set off by the resignation of an unhappy senior manager at a French subsidiary and the appointment of a replacement by the French banking regulator. "Such an appointment would constitute an event of default...and potentially cost tens of billions of dollars in unwind costs."

In other words, AIG officials might detonate a financial time bomb if their bonuses are not paid.

Professor William K. Black, a leading figure in the investigation of the savings and loan scandal in the 1980s, points to another side of the AIG extortion. "A.I.G. is holding a gun to their own heads, saying ‘unless you help us continue to have this incredible life in terms of bonuses, we're going to die and the taxpayers will be faced with a catastrophe'... It's too bad Marxists don't believe in god. Otherwise they'd be thanking him for having sent A.I.G. down to earth to destroy capitalism."

The various types of blackmail pointed to by Sorkin and others are not reasons for paying the AIG executives, but indicting them. The comments paint a picture, for all intents and purposes, of financial terrorists.

Sorkin has another argument in his pocket, one of the most popular with the American public at the moment: that AIG needs to pay the $165 million in bonuses, and millions more next year, to retain the services of the "the best and the brightest." Yes, a crowd of real geniuses, whose unscrupulous activities have helped bankrupt the country and world economy.

The Times columnist cites the comment of another executive compensation specialist, Robert M. Sedgwick, who tells him that the AIG jobs "are terrible.... You have to read about yourself in the paper every day. These people are leaving as soon as they can." One can barely restrain one's sympathy.

Sorkin assures us, through Ms. Meyer again, that the AIG employees "are being heavily recruited."

Does Sorkin think anyone gives a damn? In what world do such people live? Safely distant from popular sentiment, and from the concerns and anxieties of broad layers of the people. Sorkin's defense of the bonuses provoked a flood of largely hostile and caustic responses from Times readers.

A few typical comments:

From a reader in Minnesota: "The truth is, the government ought to be going after many of these employees with criminal fraud charges. Its pretty obvious they sold more credit default swaps than their company could afford to pay off. Those were contracts too."

From Boston: "How can Mr. Sorkin argue that the forced breach of labor contracts (or the payment of bondholders) to GM and Chrysler is any different than AIG's? This boggles the mind!

"Because at GM this is a matter of negotiation? Please!!! Under the menace of bankruptcy if the negotiated terms are not acceptable to the new bankers, i.e. the US government? Is this truly a negotiation? With a gun to the forehead? At GM and Chrysler there is no negotiation, but the imposition of terms by the government...just what the government has lacked the fortitude to do at AIG."

From California: "Mr. Sorkin, what is it that you don't understand? This is not about the government telling business how much their executives can earn. This is about what happens when a business fails on the basis of its own faults, and then, when graced with a taxpayers' windfall to help restructure the business, the executives' first thought is to line their pockets."

A business and commercial transactions attorney from Ann Arbor, Michigan: "It is particularly ironic that the government calls for the auto companies to cram down the pay of those overpaid autoworkers on Main Street in order to allow GM to qualify for a few paltry billions of bailout money—but when it comes to derivatives traders on Wall Street being rewarded with millions of dollars for playing dice with the global financial system—here, nothing can be done."

All thinking is social thinking, justice is class justice. Sorkin is a representative of the American upper middle class: insulated, selfish, arrogant. He lives and breathes in a world of wealth and privilege, rubbing shoulders daily with the "movers and shakers" of the financial world. This shapes his impoverished outlook and interests. Each of his pieces, in one way or another, returns to a central problem: how can this or that situation be turned to financial gain for the social layers he speaks for and embodies?

Under the present conditions of financial disaster and growing social tension, this is what fuels his animosity toward the autoworkers and the working class as a whole.

Last November 18, at the time of the bailout crisis, Sorkin lashed out at labor costs in the auto industry, which were "already coming down slightly because of a renegotiated deal with U.A.W. last year, but not nearly enough."

The Times columnist suggested that "part of the problem is summed up by comments" made by GM worker Kandy O'Neill, who had told the Detroit News, "I think we've given enough," about the cuts to her salary and pension plan. Sorkin then observed, "When you read a line like that you might sympathize with her, but then you realize that nothing can be accomplished without bankruptcy."

These comments came in the midst of the trillion-dollar bailout of the American corporate elite. For Sorkin, and others like him, the problem lay not in the insatiable greed of a handful or the evident irrationality of the existing economic system, but in the "unsustainable" living standards of autoworkers. On the WSWS, Ms. O'Neill, a fifth-generation autoworker from Goodrich, Michigan, answered Sorkin quite forthrightly. (See "Michigan GM worker answers attack by New York Times columnist")

On the Charlie Rose program in November, Sorkin sneered that a "bloated" GM was in "the welfare business," and "the health business"—in other words, that it was bound by contract to provide elementary benefits for its employees. All of this, he made clear, had to go. His solution, a month earlier, for a proposed GM-Chrysler merger, "everything that is impolitic...cut salaries and benefits, and lay off a lot of people, fast."

Here, in the liberal newspaper of record, is the brutality of the American elite. The working class will have to develop its own independent socialist program for the crisis every bit as ruthlessly.