Sunday, January 27, 2008

Cognitive dissonance: It's not just for breakfast anymore.

This is a reply to a post on Democratic Underground that asked: "Do you realize that you are living in a Fascist Country?"

I responded:

New, improved: It's fascism with a smirk

BushCo and various compliant congresses, with both R and D majorities, have signed off on an ever-expanding list of repressive legislation, executive orders and presidential directives; massive federal invasions of privacy regarding medical and financial records; monitoring US citizens' electronic communications; re-targeting spy satellites for domestic surveillance; the TSA cavity search specialists (for attractive young women only; the rest are presumed to pose no threat to the state); no-fly and terrorist watch lists; Halliburton/KBR's detention camps; RFIDs in all new passports and the new national ID cards scheduled to be issued later this year; new TSA "behavior detection officers" to spot those who don't "look quite right;" all this wonderful new stuff from the DHS; private armies featuring mercenaries from companies like Blackwater and SAIC springing up like mushrooms after a light rain... All that and the Patriot Act, the Military Commissions Act, extraordinary rendition (whatever the hell that means) and torture, too. (Note: the torture link is graphic and disgusting, as it should be.)

But most people would call you insane if you tried to connect these dots in a way that pointed toward governmental malevolence. Can't happen here, they say.

And because another poster in the same thread vehemently denied any hint of fascism in the current version of America, I couldn't keep my mouth (or keyboard) shut:

Cognitive dissonance: It's not just for breakfast anymore

Odd that you'd cite media obsession with the upcoming elections as evidence that we're just rolling in personal freedom. I'd argue that watching the media's evolving role in campaign and election coverage, and transcending neutrality by actually influencing the outcome, provides ample evidence of just the opposite. In maybe 50 years, they've completed the transition from reporters of objective fact to gatekeepers and promoters of official orthodoxy.

But even that wasn't enough to justify the huge sums of money corporate America has spent since 1996 to buy its own alternative universe. So in 2000 and 2004, they assumed a new activist role in determining the eventual "winner" by proclaiming a Bush victory out front; containing, suppressing or ridiculing all contrary information; then forcing the Gore camp to make its case with its credibility already undermined by the "infallibility" the public ascribes to the mighty media Wurlitzer. Goebbels and Bernays couldn't have done it any better.

The role of the "free press" as a check on the excesses of the rich and powerful -- which is what the founders had in mind when they ratified the First Amendment -- no longer exists except in small, local, independent papers, radio stations and community access TV.

Now, in its new role as champion of the status quo, PR firm for the aristocracy and official ministry of propaganda for the unholy marriage of right wing politicians and their corporate love-children, the "free press" is there at the outset of all major election campaigns to weed out any hint of progressive ideology, keep progressives muzzled and off camera and actively promote only the most vanilla, corporate-approved, useless degenerates of the bunch.

As you note, "In fascism, there is no debate about who the next leader will be." In sharp contrast, I suppose, to our free and open system in which all candidates enjoy public funding and equal media access and where mass media respects and accurately reports on every candidate's views on the issues.

One way to pick leaders in a fascist society is to physically, psychologically and spiritually intimidate people into accepting anyone who's shoved down their throats. Another is to limit their options to the finalists who represent the two factions of the Business Party. Just as in the other method, this keeps the status quo safe for another four years, this time by making sure there's only a superficial difference between the choices mass media has shoved down their throats. The outcome is the same; the second method is just slicker, less obviously totalitarian and doesn't tend to make people crazy, unproductive and useless as drones and debt slaves.

And if you actually believe that there's a lick of difference between Ms. Clinton and Mr. McCain or Mr. Romney when it comes to their unwavering commitment to corporate values and steadfast opposition to anything that might benefit actual humans at the expense of corporate profits, then I've got to assume that history and cognition aren't your strong suits. You might care to have a look at and follow the dollars for a while. Better yet, have a look at Hillary's idea of health care reform.

Like it or not, we no longer live in a democratic republic based on Constitutional law, the will of the people and 220 years of legal precedent. There is no due process; there is no habeas; there is no right to counsel; there is no right to privacy; there is no right to speak your mind; there is no prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment; there is no right to a speedy trial by jury.

This is the reality of America v2.0. Just because the enforcers aren't wearing black uniforms decorated with swastikas and lightening bolts and goose-stepping down the Unter den Linden; just because Leni Reifenstahl's granddaughter isn't filming the sequel to "Triumph of the Will" and the boxcars are still carrying freight; just because oppression is still partly concealed under a peeling veneer of liberty while most people flatly refuse to pay any fucking attention at all... Just because the jackboot has yet to kick in my door, I'm not naive enough to believe that it can't happen here.

I look at the massive power the executive branch has accumulated since 2001 -- with the complete complicity of congress and an uncritical mass media -- and I can only draw one conclusion: all the pieces are in place to lock down this country like a time vault. They're just not fully operational yet.

Maybe they never will be, although the overlords have gone through a hell of a lot of trouble to build a legal and physical infrastructure that can really serve only one purpose. The Cheneys of the world don't strike me as the type to do stuff like this just for fun.

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Time to reinstate the corporate death penalty

This is a reply to a post on Democratic Underground about how do deal with renegade corporations, particularly those conglomerates like GE, Disney, Time-Warner and Murdoch's News Corp. who own media empires that control more than 90 percent of everything you see, hear and read in the US. My post follows:

I'm really starting to like the idea of corporate charter revocation. Basically, if they consistently act like felons and their business practices routinely include befouling local ecosystems, clear-cutting, releasing toxic chemicals into the water, air or ground, screwing the community out of legitimate taxes, laying off half the workforce and replacing them with H-1b visa holders, moving some or all of their operations overseas and so on... If they're going to claim the privileges of "personhood," then they should damn well be subject to the same legal sanctions and criminal penalties any other person would incur for such behavior.

Or, more to the point here, corporate death for giant holding companies buying up all the country's information outlets, replacing news with infotainment and propaganda and claiming First Amendment protections apply to broadcasting this nonstop drivel.

Just think for a second about which media outlets have pissed you off in the past week. I'll start with NBC for the Kucinich lockout, then CNN, Fux, CBS, ABC, the History Channel, the NYT, the WaPo, my local rag, AM radio motor mouths (for the three seconds it took to hit the mute button) and even ESPN. All of them peddled lies, distortions, disinformation, government-approved spin, told breathless tales of D-class celebrity idiots and engaged in actions harmful to the continued survival of the republic -- i.e., promoting and perpetuating the brain-dead culture of Dumbfuckistan. And that's just a normal week. The big six media conglomerates are also in probable violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, but that's another subject.

Media companies are particularly sensitive to charges of malfeasance, since they have a special obligation to be of service to the public in return for being allowed to use our priceless airwaves on the cheap or for free. To the extent that they ignore that mandate, they're vulnerable to charter review at the very least, and revocation if warranted. The FCC actually used to care about such things until St. Raygun deregulated everything he could find, a practice continued by all his successors, no exceptions, and reaching epic proportions with the Codpiece in Chief.

Obviously, it would take a new and fairly progressive administration to take on the GEs and Viacoms of the world -- one whose figurehead hasn't accepted massive bribes from those very same companies in return for favorable legislation and minimal regulatory oversight, and which the corrupt liars characterize as merely "buying access." Of the possible finalists, only Edwards seems to have any desire to take on these cancerous monsters. The GOP will remain worse than useless, Clinton and Obama are too heavily invested in corporate values and stuffed with corporate money to fight for the peasants against the oligarchs and Kucinich has been judged "unelectable" by people so much smarter than us that we really should just accept their word for it. :sarcasm:

So as usual, it's up to us, and we can decide pool our talents and combine skill sets and work to revoke their corporate charters. The rewards are huge. If successful, the corporation ceases to exist as a legal entity. You can then seize their liquid assets and divide them among the corporation's creditors -- which, in the case of a relatively solvent company, means the workers and contractors -- and auction off anything not nailed down, with proceeds again going to the workers and small creditors. The shareholders just lose their investments, the execs may or may not be subject to civil or criminal liability and when a new business moves in to occupy the old facilities, they're compelled to hire the former occupant's workers first.

I think it's long past time for people to begin harassing these unaccountable fiefdoms and either dissolve them entirely or cripple their ability to operate in secret and outside the laws and ethical constraints the rest of us are subject to.

Here's some background material. Unfortunately, successful revocation hasn't happened for decades, so there are no contemporary "how-to" case studies. But several of these links outline circumstances that could result charter revocation, along with citing precedents and legal arguments. Others contain the processes and templates needed to create the proper paperwork and get it into the hands of the right (i.e., more sympathetic) government officials. Fortunately, it's not as boring as it sounds.

That's probably enough for starters. For more, search Google for any combination of "corporate charter revoke procedure case study"... and so on.

Happy hunting.

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The Internet must die

"I hear there's rumors on the Internets that we're going to have a draft." — Dry-no-more-drunk George W. Bush, contemplating his next tall, cold Lone Star, October 8, 2004, St. Louis, Mo

You know that you've reached desperate times when you find yourself fondly remembering Tass and Pravda as beacons of journalistic integrity.

But when considering US corporate media's seven-year love affair with the Bush administration and its willingness to deliver blatant propaganda and outright lies to manufacture Bush-approved political orthodoxy, those former USSR institutions compare favorably with the shameless house organs now masquerading as an American free press.

The Internet's corporate competition: co-opted beyond redemption

Thanks to a 30-year frenzy of mergers and acquisitions, wink-and-nod FCC "oversight" and congressional unwillingness to invoke existing anti-trust laws, the American marketplace of ideas is now ruled by six massive conglomerates that control the content of more than 80 percent of what most of us see, hear and read.

So what? Well, for one thing, a significant majority of news, entertainment and information US audiences see is vetted for its support of status quo corporate values and purged of "dangerous" unconventional narratives -- perhaps regarding the threat to independent thought posed by media consolidation.

And when discussing media consolidation, someone might tumble to the fact that NBC is owned by General Electric, one of the world's largest armaments manufacturers in 2006 and among the six largest media conglomerates. GE makes and maintains engines for the F-16 Fighter jet, Abrams tank, Apache helicopter, U2 bomber, Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV), A-10 aircraft and numerous other military equipment, including planes, helicopters, tanks and more.

Is it reasonable to expect NBC to report critically on the status and duration of the Iraq occupation? Or is it predictable that NBC's occupation coverage will tell us that the "surge" is working, that US troop deaths are down, that the Iraqi puppet regime is gaining traction and, if we can hang on for another decade, things should turn out hunky-dory.

Well, it's certain that extending the US presence in Iraq by a decade will have a very positive impact on GE's profit and loss statements. It's probably going to be somewhat less beneficial for the people who actually have to fight this insane proxy war on behalf of GE's bottom line.

But that's okay, since war is the optimum business condition for many industries -- banks, weapons makers, raw materials suppliers, machine tool makers and so on -- GE looks to sell many billions of dollars more of its killing machinery, all the while telling Americans via NBC how peace is just 10 or so years down the road.

And GE is just one of the main offenders. We'll leave for another day a discussion on how thoroughly Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. has polluted the national discourse. Or how the acquisitive tentacles of Viacom, CBS, TimeWarner and Disney have managed to take a relatively engaged population and, in 30 short years, turn it into a nation of compliant, ill-informed, politically illiterate chowder heads content to consume their quota of goods, services and ideologies with an equally uncritical eye.

American mass media lost the thread of the story decades ago and are now only qualified to dish pop culture infotainment masquerading as news; report breathlessly on the latest D-class celebrity screw-up; and act as stenographers and cheerleaders for the latest batch of official Bush administration lies.

Among other insults, this explains why John Stossel is a network star while Bill Moyers is on PBS.

The parallel universe

The only serious competition threatening corporate media's monopoly on official "truths" -- those pieties designed to narrow acceptable choices and increase social control -- comes from the Internet.

"The news," as it's laughingly known, can tap into a seemingly endless supply of drunken or felonious fools like Jessica and Paris and OJ and Twitany to sedate its viewers. Then there's the occasional gruesome murder to balance the chirpy happy talk on miraculous medical procedures (which most of us will never live to experience because our for-profit insurers won't cover them), an always erroneous look at local weather, followed by 15 uplifting minutes on sports and a recap of the top celebrity screw-ups. The viewer yawns, feels a bit awed by all this technical wizardry and slick showmanship, and heads for bed thinking he's up to date on the stuff that really matters.

Corporate media has a bottomless pool of "on-air talent" -- perfectly coiffed, well-modulated, tastefully made up, arrayed in $5K worth of suits, ties and little flag lapel pins, strident and irritating as a hundred Ross Perots.

We have broadband, YouTube, blogs, forums, actual reporters, search engines, discussion groups, political organizing, access to newspapers published in actual free countries -- all taking place in plain sight.

Over the past decade Internet and Web technology have matured and surpassed nearly anything mass media can offer. It's instant news, usually with audio or video, often reported by eyewitnesses rather than filtered by some blow-dried idiot. It's preserving what's left of our national heritage by archiving "purged" documents. It's subjecting every significant political, social and economic development to the scrutiny and analysis of the world's collective brainpower. It's the unifying element linking diverse cultures into an evolving planetary society not subordinated to states or lines on a map. And it's the universe's greatest source of jokes, one-liners and satire.

Governments' worst nightmare: an informed and activist citizenry

I don't see how the power elites can afford to allow this nonsense to continue for much longer. People with unconventional (read: humanitarian or peaceful) ideas are the implacable enemy of those sustaining their wealth and power by aligning themselves with the status quo, and these dissenting Internet pipsqueaks cannot be tolerated forever.

To our corporate masters, libraries, independent publishers and bookstores are bad enough. But fortunately for "them," libraries are underfunded and ill-attended, it's getting harder to publish unorthodox material in the US and many independent book stores are getting killed by the Barnes & Nobles and Amazons of the world.

Not so the Internet. It's become the alternate universe for hundreds of millions of people worldwide who know and understand that the official story is always and inevitably suspect. That altruism has never been a function of governments. That governments are always at war with "the people" they pretend to watch out for. That, as The Commander Guy pointed out in a rare moment of clarity, dictatorships ARE easier to run than representative democracies. That power exists solely to perpetuate itself and, when threatened, will defend its position with anything and everything in the arsenal.

Now that's a hell of an alternate narrative. And the Internet is the "plumbing" that carries these contrarian messages -- and the seditious thoughts and attitudes and movements they inspire -- around the world in less time than it takes Murdoch to count his latest billion.

Death by harassment

In July of last year, Bush signed an executive order, entitled "Blocking Property of Certain Persons Who Threaten Stabilization Efforts in Iraq. This expanded the administration's flexible definition of a terrorist to include anyone disagreeing with its " . . . efforts to promote economic reconstruction and political reform in Iraq or to provide humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people." This apparently isn't intended as a joke, although I'm not sure what's going on over there qualifies as "economic reconstruction" or "humanitarian assistance."

Which brings us to "Endgame," as the Department of Homeland Security calls HR 1955/S 1959, known officially as The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007, and which contains -- among dozens of disgusting provisions -- these gems [italics mine]:

(2) The promotion of violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism and ideologically based violence exists in the United States and poses a threat to homeland security.

(3) The Internet has aided in facilitating violent radicalization, ideologically based violence, and the homegrown terrorism process in the United States by providing access to broad and constant streams of terrorist-related propaganda to United States citizens.

Striking at the heart of the international terrorist conspiracy, this bill targets the dangerous arch-fiends/grandmothers who participate on the hundreds of thousands of political forums, blogs or news and information sites that aren't exclusively devoted to singing the praises of Bush/Cheney and their merry band of imperialist oil pirates.

Note that this piece of repressive legislation -- rumored to be the brainchild of the Rand Corporation and introduced by Democrat Jane Harman -- passed the House last October by a 404-6 margin. Note that, introduced last August in the upper house as S 1959 and co-sponsored by GOP armchair warrior and domestic repression enthusiast Norm Coleman, it's coming up for a vote in the Senate early this year. If it passes, which seems likely, a Bush signature is a given -- probably with a signing statement that says he'll ignore the act's few feeble provisions to combat totalitarianism, like this one:

(a) In General - The Department of Homeland Security's efforts to prevent ideologically based violence and homegrown terrorism as described herein shall not violate the constitutional rights, civil rights, or civil liberties of United States citizens or lawful permanent residents.

Readers may want to take appropriate preemptive action before, say, downloading this article becomes a felony.

Another motive for digital murder

There's an interesting new site called "Wikileaks" that has garnered some recent attention from corporate mass media, notably Time Magazine, which notes that Wikileaks " . . . could become as important a journalistic tool as the Freedom of Information Act." The site is intended as a secure repository where whistleblowers can, at minimal personal risk, post confidential, potentially embarrassing government and corporate documents for the entire online world to see, study and analyze.

Here's part of Wikileaks' mission statement:

We propose that authoritarian governments, oppressive institutions and corrupt corporations should be subject to the pressure, not merely of international diplomacy, freedom of information laws or even periodic elections, but of something far stronger — the consciences of the people within them.

We believe that transparency in government activities leads to reduced corruption, better government and stronger democracies . . . We believe this scrutiny requires information. Historically that information has been costly - in terms of human life and human rights. But with technological advances to the Internet and cryptography, the risks of conveying important information can be lowered.

Wikileaks opens leaked documents up to stronger scrutiny than any media organization or intelligence agency can provide. Wikileaks provides a forum for the entire global community to relentlessly examine any document for its credibility, plausibility, veracity and validity. Communities can interpret leaked documents and explain their relevance to the public. If a document comes from the Chinese government, the entire Chinese dissident community and diaspora can freely scrutinize and discuss it; if a document arrives from Iran, the entire Farsi community can analyze it and put it in context.

In an important sense, Wikileaks is the first intelligence agency of the people . . . its only interest is the revelation of the truth. Unlike the covert activities of state intelligence agencies, Wikileaks relies upon the power of overt fact to enable and empower citizens to bring feared and corrupt governments and corporations to justice.

Wikileaks is still months from going fully operational, but they've already put up quite a few leaked documents from all over the world. Here's one entitled "Fallujah, the information war and U.S. propaganda."

I suppose the whole thing could be a slick disinfo psy-op designed to leak phony documents to "non-embedded" reporters, then embarrass them publicly for printing anti-US propaganda attributed to some obscure left-radical loon or "terrorist."

But only a pure pessimist would think the Bush administration capable of such chicanery. On the contrary, they've amassed an impressive record of unstinting support for the organizing principles of this country . . . at least for those with the right pedigree who kick in a million bucks or so to the Republican National Committee each election cycle.

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This article first appeared in Online Journal on January 14, 2008

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9/11 and the incompetence excuse: Could a bunch of sociopathic screw-ups really pull off the crime of the century?

Many who deny government complicity in 9/11/01 maintain that some of the best evidence against official involvement in the crime of the century lies in the Bush administration's unbroken record of sheer incompetence, an argument bolstered by the perception that key members of the administration, notably The Commander Guy, spent that entire day running around like headless chickens.

On the contrary, they did no such thing. Rather, the administration was highly competent and enormously successful that day -- they just had different criteria for success than would sane people. And they've been highly competent ever since. You just have to adjust your standards for evaluating success, then view the past six years through the PNAC/neocon lens. Let's review some of their primary accomplishments -- on 9/11 and in the six eternal years since:

  • They got the entire world to believe that a ragtag organization called Al Qaeda, fronted by a seriously ill guy in a cave armed with only a laptop and a phone, managed to orchestrate an unbelievably complex plan that had involved years of planning and training, much money, split-second timing and ridiculously good luck.

  • They got the entire world to believe that four hijackers who couldn't fly single-engine Cessnas well enough to graduate from flight school suddenly became the Blue Angels when at the controls of large, twin-engine Boeing jetliners, and this during the most stressful moments of their short lives.

  • They got the entire world to believe that the crime of the century was pulled off by 19 guys with box-cutters whose names (or any other Arabic names) don't appear on any passenger manifests and at least four of whom have been seen alive and well in the Middle East since 9/11/01, (this one even interviewed by the BBC).

  • Better yet, they got the entire world to believe their evidence linking these 19 guys to the hijackings, using for proof a few cell phone calls that couldn't have happened with 2001 technology. Then there's the famous carry-on bag supposedly left behind by alleged ringleader Mohammed Atta containing, among other things, a copy of the Koran, a Boeing flight manual and his will (and that's surely something you'd take with you on a flight you knew was going to be vaporized). And then the kicker, a passport allegedly belonging to Atta that miraculously survived a massive explosion and temperatures we're told were high enough to soften steel and fluttered unsullied to the ground, where it was eventually found among the debris a couple of blocks away from what used to be the World Trade Center.

  • They got the entire world to believe that the seriously ill guy in the cave had such vast control over US armed forces that he ordered four exercise scenarios -- Vigilant Warrior, Vigilant Guardian, Northern Guardian and Northern Vigilance -- which diverted to northern Canada or Alaska many of the NORAD fighter jets that would have been scrambled per standard operating procedure in the event of a suspected hijacking in the northeast corridor.

  • They got the entire world to believe that this same guy in the cave was able to insert at least 11 and as many as 21 false radar blips (according to FAA administrator Jane Garvey) onto air traffic controller screens throughout the northeast corridor. As a result, controllers had no idea which blips represented planes that had been hijacked, which ones represented non-hijacked flights still in the air and which blips were phantoms. They were thus incapable of following the actual moves of the four hijacked jets and/or coordinating with the FAA to relay warnings to NORAD interceptors (most of which, again, were screwing around over the arctic wastes).

  • They got the entire world to believe that the remaining NORAD forces -- which had been a perfect 67 for 67 in 2001 prior to 9/11 -- managed to fail completely in their missions four separate times that morning.

  • They got the entire world to believe that it was only a coincidence that a fifth exercise was taking place at the same time, this one designed to test emergency response capabilities at the National Reconnaissance Office in the event that an off-course plane from nearby Dulles airport crashed into one of the NRO's four office towers.

  • They got the entire world to believe that two planes took down three skyscrapers, WTC buildings 1, 2 and 7, and that for the first and only time in history, fire brought down reinforced steel and concrete structures and caused them to collapse vertically rather than keel over sideways and take out a few blocks of the New York City financial district.

  • They got the entire world to absolve them of any complicity in "the events of 9/11," even though the above list of "coincidences" is inexplicable without the knowledge, involvement, approval and direction of people high up in the federal food chain.

And that was only the beginning . . .

  • Literally overnight, they and their mass media cheerleaders turned a quasi-literate simpleton who was already tanking in the polls into an heroic "war president" who enjoyed the approval of more than 90 percent of the American public and the support of just about the entire world community.

  • Suggesting the presence of a script, the administration immediately used this new-found popularity to get the public to buy insane increases in Pentagon spending; invented a war on terror to further justify enriching cronies at banks, arms merchants and fossil fuels companies; and attacked Afghanistan, murdering tens of thousands of civilians but failing to find that omnipotent guy in the cave.

  • They got the entire world to believe Condi Rice when she perjured herself at the 9/11 Commission hearings by saying, "I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon; that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile."

  • They got the entire world to forget that at least 11 countries had issued warnings of an imminent attack against the US: Afghanistan, Argentina, Egypt, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Morocco, Russia and the UK.

  • They got the entire world to forget that Bush slept on a US Navy ship in Genoa Harbor during the July 2001 G8 meeting because Italian intelligence services had intercepted communications indicating terrorists might try to use a hijacked plane to assassinate him by ramming it into his hotel.

  • They got the whole world to forget about Operation Bojinka, a plot to hijack and blow up 11 flights from Asia to North America, which the CIA had rolled up back in the mid-'90s and which should have provided some hints of future activities.

And ever since, it's been the express train to hell for the US and the rest of the world. Anything's fair in the phony war on terror that 9/11 launched and sanctified.

It justifies preemptive civilian slaughter branded as "shock and awe;" blatantly looting the national historical treasures of a sovereign nation; commandeering its oil reserves for the exclusive profit of US and UK petrochemical companies; building forward bases from which to rule the Middle East militarily; privatizing everything that isn't nailed down; threatening or ridiculing any national leader who dares to differ with US hegemony; threatening Iran with nuclear weapons; the use of illegal torture to compel confessions (which are, of course, useless since they're obtained under duress) . . . all this and more cementing the US's richly deserved place as the world's most feared and despised rogue state. And that's just the foreign policy side.

Meanwhile, back at home . . .

Domestically, the official 9/11 story has justified an ever-expanding list of repressive legislation, executive orders and presidential directives; massive federal invasions of privacy regarding medical and financial records; obsessive monitoring of US citizens' electronic communications; re-targeting spy satellites for domestic surveillance; the TSA cavity search specialists (for attractive young women only; the rest are presumed to pose no threat to the state); no-fly and terrorist watch lists; Halliburton/KBR's detention camps; RFIDs in all new passports and the new national ID cards scheduled to be issued later this year; new TSA "behavior detection officers" to spot those who don't "look quite right;" all this wonderful new stuff from the DHS; private armies featuring mercenaries from companies like Blackwater and SAIC springing up like mushrooms after a light rain... All that and the Patriot Act, the Military Commissions Act, extraordinary rendition (whatever that actually means) and torture, too. (Note: the torture link is graphic and disgusting.)

Thanks to "the events of 9/11," we no longer live in a democratic republic based on constitutional law and 220 years of legal precedent. There is no due process; there is no habeas corpus; there is no right to counsel; there is no right to privacy; there is no right to speak one's mind; there is no prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment; there is no right to a speedy trial by jury.

This is the reality of America v2.0 post-9/11. Just because they're not wearing black uniforms decorated with swastikas and lightening bolts and goose-stepping down the Unter den Linden; just because Leni Reifenstahl isn't filming the sequel to "Triumph of the Will" and the boxcars are still carrying freight; just because oppression is still partly concealed under an eroding veneer of liberty while most people flatly refuse to pay any attention . . . Just because the jackboot has yet to kick in the door, we're not naive enough to believe that it can't happen here.

We look at stuff like this and can only draw one conclusion: All the pieces are in place to lock down this country like a time vault. They simply haven't gone fully operational yet.

There are dozens -- probably hundreds -- of additional outrages that have been justified by "the events of 9/11." The official 9/11 story is the lynchpin, the keystone, the catalyst for every single act of international aggression and domestic repression this administration has been able to get away with. Absent 9/11, or at least the official Bush administration version, they don't have a leg to stand on. Demolish the official coincidence theory and their entire rationale crumbles.

A united front

That's why attacking, discrediting and ultimately disproving the 9/11 myth is so critical to the continued survival of the republic. Even Ms. Nancy might find grounds to allow impeachment back on that infamous table once the 9/11 armor rusts away.

Ironically, instead of presenting a unified front to expose this preposterous lie and condemn the complicit US mass media echo chamber that has hard-wired it into the American psyche, the left/liberal end of the political spectrum is predictably fragmented on this issue and includes some of the more steadfast and adamant defenders of the official coincidence theory.

So when we see otherwise intelligent and perceptive people doing the administration's PR work for them, defending the official story with the tenacity of the religious zealot, we have to wonder at the level of internal conflict these people must experience in accepting this ridiculous official story at face value.

But fear is a powerful thing and shilling for the official 9/11 cover story -- while staunchly ignoring the most basic unanswered questions and obvious inconsistencies -- provides insulation against the cognitive dissonance and bottomless cynicism that would result from admitting that this administration is so utterly malevolent that it would plan and execute mass murder against its own citizens for purely political reasons.

There's always Operation Northwoods to provide a bit of historical perspective on governmental malevolence. Even US mass media managed to pick up on that one. Read it before it gets scrubbed.

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This article first appeared in Online Journal on January 9, 2008

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So . . . what's this here single-payer health care thing all about anyway?

"I�m going to tell you something -- we have fabulous health care in America, just so you know. I think it�s very important -- before people start griping about the health care system here -- and of course there�s always grounds for complaint -- just to compare it with other systems around the world." --George W. Bush, December 17, 2007, eruditely discussing his own single-payer coverage, courtesy of the US taxpayer.

Note: please pardon all the weird characters -- like question marks where there should be quotation marks. I'm a writer; not a coder. However, if you know how to fix this crap, please shoot me an email and tell me how. ALso looking to truncate posts to show the first 500 words, then show a link to the rest at the bottom of the opening section. Again, if you know how to make that work, please tell me how. And now, on with the show...

But first, a moment of silence

A teenaged girl died some time ago because Cigna HealthCare, a for-profit medical insurance provider, did exactly what it's compelled to do by law: it chose to maximize its profits by refusing to pay for a liver transplant for 17-year-old Nataline Sarkisyan, whose doctors warned that she would certainly die without the organ replacement.

And they were correct. She did in fact die, just hours after Cigna relented and agreed to cover the costs of the procedure after all. This, too, was a move intended to maximize profits, since the terrible PR that news of its denial of coverage generated could have affected Cigna's bottom line as well, as could damages awarded as the result of a wrongful death suit. So it wasn't a rekindling of the human spirit on Cigna's part that caused the company to reverse its position; that was the result of a serious internal disaster management campaign, run by corporate lawyers and high-level spinmeisters, designed to reduce the impact on Cigna's image and minimize the company's financial exposure.

By law, the only obligation of a publicly owned, for-profit US corporation is maximizing return for its shareholders. That's it. Nothing about good corporate citizenship, the public good, saving lives or anything else that isn't related to jacking up the price per share and maintaining a reasonable price-earnings (P/E) ratio.

If Cigna had been operating outside the rules, perhaps we could simply discipline that one company, levy stiff fines, jail a couple of high-ranking execs and serve notice to the rest of the industry that such behavior won't be tolerated. But that's not the case. Cigna was following the rules. The problem is that the rules are insane. That's why this profit-driven disaster of a medical system must be replaced.

We need to dump this murderous system entirely. It's too far gone to tinker around the edges. We simply have to get rid of the profit motive as the driving factor in determining who lives and who dies. We need to decouple the idea of health care from the idea of health insurance, since the two have absolutely nothing in common. For example, listen to Cigna president David Cordani defending the decision in an internal memo that was also made available to mass media.

Nataline Sarkisyan's request was evaluated on an expedited basis using "evidence-based guidelines published by independent physician and medical organizations, as well as expert scientific journals," Cordani said. Translation: We made a life or death decision based on a quick scan of "Liver Transplantation for Dummies" and we backed that up with a little reading on WebMD. Oh, and JAMA, too, and Lancet maybe . . . And don't forget Dr. Rudinski's best-seller, "The Home Guide to Major Abdominal Surgery."

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming . . .

The pinko commie plot to ruin the American way of debt and dying

Now that "Sicko" is available on DVD, millions of people will see it for the first time. If the film's run in theaters is any indicator, most of them will be infuriated as Michael Moore exposes a greedy US medical insurance system run amok, drunk on profits, willing to abandon any last traces of human decency to fatten the bottom line and adept at filtering out patients with acute illnesses that might cost the insurers real money.

The solution Moore advocates is a national health care program, funded by a modest and progressive tax, and generically called "single-payer," meaning that the insurance industry's multiple payers are replaced by a single entity, usually a state or the federal government.

This system would provide universal access to health care for all Americans without the need for private, for-profit medical insurance and the huge financial burden that currently imposes in insurance premiums, deductibles, co-pays, pharmaceuticals, non-covered procedures and "negotiated rates" which somehow never seem to cover the entire bill.

And those people are the lucky ones; they have medical insurance of some sort and, therefore, aren't usually sentenced to die (Nataline Sarkisyan excepted) or be forced to use the local ER as their primary care facility. That happy fate falls to an estimated 47 million of their fellow Americans, who have no medical insurance at all and must therefore game the system to survive.

And we're not talking solely about the chronically unemployed (although why employment is a condition for receiving medical care remains unexplained and undiscussed). We're talking about Wal-Mart greeters and checkers, burger flippers, cab drivers, the self-employed, retail clerks, waiters, bartenders, most non-union workers in most trades and an endless list of service economy employees.

These people all have jobs; many have two or three. But they work for employers who can't afford today's obscene medical insurance premiums. Or they work for world-class cheapskates like Wal-Mart, which rakes in many billions each year, whose billionaire Walton family owners occupy a special pedestal among Forbes magazine's list of richest Americans, but who just can't seem to spare a few bucks to help keep their workers healthy and free from medical debt.

The very words "single-payer" give many of our more delicate citizens the vapors and drive many more into an apoplectic rage. These magic words also cause the last of the cold warriors to dissolve into a frothy lather of anti-pinko invective about subverting the invisible hand of the free market.

Considering the massive propaganda campaign waged non-stop by for-profit medicine and seconded by stern warnings of the "evils of socialized medicine" intoned by well-insured right-wing politicians and TV pundit hucksters, those kinds of adverse reactions aren't all that surprising. The buzzwords and visual cues and code phrases are hard-wired by the time kids hit the sixth grade. Go here for a scholarly treatment of the single-payer/for-profit debate.

In the case of the US medical system, we've been taught by our leading opinion-shaping institutions -- public relations, marketing and advertising -- that health care is a privilege to be auctioned off to the highest bidder and not a universal right to be shared by and for the general welfare of society.

Single-payer butts heads with the American archetype

We're so steeped in the rugged individualist, go-it-alone archetype that the idea of making common cause with "those other people" -- working toward a shared objective of improving quality of life for all members of society, not just those who can afford it -- is anathema and, increasingly, un-American. I fully expect some gasbag GOP presidential candidate, before primary season mercifully ends, to come up with something like, "If we go to a non-profit health care model, the terrorists win." Any bets?

class="MsoNormal">In fact, our apathy or antipathy toward those who don't share our looks, background, ideals, language, income, education or culture is driving the US toward an endgame that bears an uncanny resemblance to the Friedman/GOP-style unregulated free market model, with peace for none and antagonism toward all.

We're becoming a society of 300 million disconnected, semi-autonomous city-states, constantly at war with one another for the same dwindling supply of goods and jobs, and services and money, and square feet of pavement. A society too distracted and exhausted by the process of battling each other to notice the class war being waged -- and won -- against us all by the very people who designed and sanctified this system in the first place.

They've divided and conquered very well. No surprise, given the massive resources of the entire insurance industry, along with an approving pat-on-the-back from our "representatives" in Washington; it would be odd if they hadn't done a good job of keeping us at each others' throats and away from theirs.

The insurer as friend and savior

Distraction also helps produce the suspension of critical thinking required to believe in the most illogical premise of all: that America has the best medical care system in the world and has achieved that lofty position because the most voracious, profit-hungry, inhuman corporate institutions routinely ignore their very reason for existence, as well as a file cabinet full of SEC regulations and case law precedents that demand a publicly held corporation pursue profitability with single-minded, sociopathic disregard for basic human values. This is nothing less than a case study in the impossible, but it's the core tenet of the great American health care fairy tale nonetheless.

So are these corporations portrayed in media and pop culture as the enemy, as one would expect? Of course not; they're the solution. The US, unique in the world in its child-like belief good citizenship from corporations, expects these rapacious profit machines to completely abandon their chartered mandates requiring them to churn out ever more money for their stake-holders and, instead, act in the best interests of their customers.

Never mind that those two objectives are locked in inexorable conflict. Never mind that medical insurance is a zero-sum game and, when the insurer pays a claim, that's money grudgingly subtracted from the bottom line. Never mind that the insurance industry employs an army of obstructionists -- known ridiculously as claims adjusters -- whose main job it is to find some quasi-legal way to avoid paying out any money at all. Never mind the inevitable outcome of those conflicts: that the US isn't even in the top 30 according to the landmark 2000 World Health Organization study. Nope, never mind all that. The industry is our friend and savior, and where would we be without it? Other than healthier and happier, with more disposable income, that is.

As one California psychologist who serves on several managed care rate negotiating teams in the Santa Cruz area told me a while ago, �They have become adept at providing the illusion of health care, while avoiding the messy and expensive reality of having to actually deliver it -- to the extent legally possible. And you�d be amazed at what�s legally possible. Most of the time you can�t even sue them so, at some point, the consumer literally has no recourse but to beg for his or her life. Increasingly, those pleas fall on deaf ears as the race to maximize profits obliterates what�s left of basic human kindness.�

So much for the bad news. We now need to examine the nature of single-payer, universal-access health care: what it is, what it isn't, how it compares and contrasts with the US for-profit model.

So what exactly is single-payer and why is it better than what we have now?

Well, surprise, surprise, it's not socialized medicine. The federal government won't set up shop in every doctor's office and medical facility. Unlike the current system, in which privatized pests occupy a permanent position overlooking every doc's shoulder, governmental bureaucrats won't be making harassing calls to doctors offices every five minutes to second-guess whether a patient actually needs that procedure, or that test, or that prescription.

Let's say your doc has his own small family practice, which he runs as an LLC. He probably accepts payment from a couple dozen different insurance carriers. Does that mean he works for, say, Blue Cross or Cigna or Aetna? Of course not.

Under single-payer, he would no more work for the government than he now works for an insurance company. He gets paid by the feds, but runs his own business exactly as he has for many years.

So docs and hospitals continue to operate as they always have, although for-profit facilities must convert to non-profits. The truly revolutionary change is that now the feds foot the bill via a progressive tax that hits the rich hardest and the poor not at all.

In fact, if a patient just looks at the outward signs, things are very much as they've always been. You see the same doctors and support staff. You have blood drawn at the same labs. If you're seriously injured or suddenly become ill, you end up at the same ER. You see the same specialists. If surgery is required, the same group of medical professionals handles the entire process -- from pre-op to rehab. You find that service is about as fast, or as slow, as ever. And if you want a tummy tuck or nose job, you're still going to have to pay for it out of your own pocket.

The payer changes -- from any of hundreds of private insurance companies to a single entity -- but the process of providing and receiving medical care remains the same. Actually, it improves because single-payer eliminates the armies of bureaucrats the insurance industry employs in an effort to squeeze the last mil out of every penny by denying coverage or illegally reducing benefits.

Single-payer: the basics

The following is the nature of any single-payer health care system. Simple, direct, universal, free. And having tried the alternative and found it wanting in that it's currently killing around 18,000 people a year because making gobs of money is incompatible with covering subscribers' medical costs, it seems about time to admit our errors, dismantle the current tragicomedy and move all the way into the 21st Century.

Single-payer means:

  • One nation, one payer

  • Everybody in, nobody out

  • No exclusions for pre-existing conditions

  • No doctor bills

  • No hospital bills

  • No deductibles

  • No co-pays

  • No in network

  • No out of network

  • No corporate profits

  • No more medical bankruptcies

How to get there from here

The relationship of health care to health insurance is manufactured out of thin air by the US obsession with applying market-based, privatized solutions to nationalized, systemic problems. Therefore, it seems that to get to single-payer, we first need to abandon the propaganda and separate the idea of health care from the idea of health insurance.

Health care is what happens when patients and health care professionals interact to successfully diagnose and treat a medical condition or injury.

Health insurance is the protection money you have to pay the middleman to enable this transaction and keep you out of bankruptcy court.

Why would anyone want to give a single penny to some parasite intermediary that skims billions while doing absolutely nothing to provide health care?

Unfortunately, it takes a lot more than pennies to keep the beast fed. While Medicare, our unofficial single-payer system, runs at an annual overhead of about 3 percent, for-profit insurers typically squander between 25 and 40 percent of an estimated $2.2 TRILLION annual market. And that 25 to 40 percent -- which translates into between $550 billion and $880 billion each year -- does absolutely nothing to enable these companies to perform their alleged jobs, which is supposed to be covering medical expenses for their ratepayers.

The unbearable lightness of Democratic politicians

Equally unfortunate is the unwillingness of our elected representatives to even consider single-payer among the options for US health care reform. Among the Democratic presidential candidates, only Dennis Kucinich has advocated single-payer from the start. The rest are all talking about something called "expanded coverage," which is just code for "let's invite the single most destructive element in the old system to play a key role in the new one."

That's a bit like expecting a shark to develop qualms of conscience, renounce killing and turn vegan, despite millions of years of evolution that dictate its natural role as a rapacious, heartless, omnivorous predator. Kind of like an average American for-profit corporation.

Any new system that subordinates health care to the for-profit model carries the seeds of its own destruction. If insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different outcomes, then allowing these soulless gatekeepers to continue preying on the people of this country is truly insane. Such a system is virtually guaranteed to evolve into a new version of the same old deadly scam once the insurers stop glad-handing and get down to the serious business of making money. They may play nice at first, promising to mend their rapacious ways and act like humanitarians, but once they're inside the tent, they'll revert to form as certainly as that shark will continue to eat seals.

But that hasn't kept our alleged representatives in Congress and on the campaign trail -- Kucinich the lone exception -- from avoiding any mention whatsoever of the single-payer option. In 2003, Rep. John Conyers of Michigan introduced H. R. 676, dubbed the United States National Health Insurance Act, in an effort to remove private insurers from the US health care maze and install a national single-payer system in their place. The new system is essentially a well-funded version of Medicare, minus the age restriction.

It languished in committee for two years; Conyers then re-introduced H. R. 676 in 2005 and, according to information gleaned from, it has resumed its slow fall to the bottom of the House agenda. Like impeachment, single-payer remains "off the table," despite the poll numbers that say more than 70 percent of Americans want an end to for-profit medicine and want to replace it with single-payer.

And why is it off the table? For one outstanding example, let's take a look at Hillary Clinton's campaign contributors. The probable Democratic nominee and odds-on favorite to become the next president is an insurance industry money magnet. According to campaign finance figures submitted to the Federal Elections Commission and reported by, through the first nine months of 2007 she leads all presidential candidates, Democrats and Republicans, in money accepted from the insurance industry ($2.675M). She also leads the pack in money accepted from hospitals and nursing homes ($375K); from HMOs ($247K); from pharmaceutical companies ($274K); and from medical industry lobbyists ($570K).

As Bob Dole said way back in 1983, before he became the Senate's leading recipient of special interest money, "When these political action committees give money, they expect something in return other than good government." So that just about takes care of any possibility of true health care reform in a Clinton presidency, and virtually guarantees that any Clinton-sponsored health care "reform" plan will bend over backwards to accommodate the needs of the for-profit medical insurance industry.

What about quality of care?

Corporate mass media is ever busy safeguarding the interests of their masters and advertisers, so it's hardly surprising that there's serious opposition to single-payer spewing forth from the television sets and radios of America. People who watch network and cable TV, and actually believe they're well informed, internalize and then repeat industry claims that a single-payer system would lower quality of care, create shortages of medical staff and facilities and result in long waiting lists for even the most mundane procedures. Worst of all, it would be run by demon spawn employed by the federal government.

But, as usual, corporate mass media is lying through its bleached teeth. If that vision of health care hell were true, all other Western democracies would exhibit shorter average life spans, higher rates of cancer and heart disease, higher infant mortality rates, lower birth weights, fewer average healthy years, failing mental health programs and far more serious epidemiological incidents than does the US. Since the opposite is true in all cases, it seems fair to conclude that single-payer, universal-access works, this cobbled together disaster we call a health care system is not getting the job done and that we're being ill served by US media yet again. (Go here for 2004 data on how US per capita medical spending and health care outcomes rank against three of the major single-payer countries.)

The big con: we've already got national health care but the peasants don't get to use it

Perhaps the most galling stat of all: A Harvard Medical School study showed that, back in 1999, the US taxpayer shouldered the burden for just under 60 percent of all medical costs nationwide by being forced to fund health care for federal, state and local government employees. That included programs such as the federal employees health plan and those for state and local employees as well (through state, local and property taxes); the Cadillac coverage our fine representatives and Senators enjoy (which they say we can't have); the costs of covering ER expenses for those without insurance; the costs of running the Medicare program; and the state and local costs of various Medicaid programs.

That 60 percent represented $2,604 per capita at the time, which means government spending per-person on health care in the US was higher than total per capita health care expenditures in any other country in the world -- including those with single-payer, universal-access national health care systems. So we're paying for national health care; we're just not getting it.

This must end; single-payer is the answer, a well-funded Medicare system is the model, greed is the obstacle. Eliminate profits as a factor in life and death decisions, run the entire system based on serving human needs rather than those of shareholders and CEOs, and the profiteers will go elsewhere for their money.

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This article first appeared in Online Journal on January 4, 2008

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