Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Black Hole of Health Care Fakery Sucks All Debate Into A Giant Anguished Cry

Separating fact from fiction when it comes to political debate is far more of a massive dredging operation than, say, merely sifting one from the other.

Enormous planet-sized heaps of information and dis-information blend so seamlessly together - and all is repeated and repeated via hard-core entertainer/rodeo clowns on radio and television and poster-carrying gatherings of the ill-informed and angry (it does not matter what they might be angry or ill-informed about, now that inertia's laws lend momentum to any scrap or bit circling around) and now, of course, in the "new media", aka the Internet - these planet-sized heaps form their own galactic expanse of factoids and gossip, mostly bereft of usefulness to any save those whose income requires a constant squeal for attention.

As someone who has worked in the news biz as both hard news and soft news correspondent, I knew long, long ago that all the scraps and bits of information soon merge together. Solemn stories become a pinnacle of the ridiculous and the ridiculous becomes solemn.

It is pretty easy to fool most of the people most of the time, after all.

The current so-called "debate" in America over health care and/or health insurance is a fine example of yet another giant, waffling, wheezing beast of unimaginable size, layered with confusion upon confusion upon confusion in a near-Book-of-Revelation vision of apocalyptic doom, complete with modern-day seers and prophets surrounding the thing and hurling their warnings and charms.

As I have observed both political and social "debates" for some decades, vast and immense emotions can be evoked by minor facts and fictions -- such as, for instance, a local government ordinance seeking to address something like "barking dogs" and "domestic tranquility". If months (or sometimes even years) of anguished public and governmental proclamations grow and grow around this kind of issue -- then just imagine (oh, wait, we don't have to, we can see it now all around us) what has been stitched together from parts far and wide when it comes to the issues of Health Care and Insurance.

Pretty much every president since the middle of the last century has tried to fashion new rules and regulations about Health Care and Government. The benefits and plans which all federal employees receive is by far one of the better plans available to Americans - no exclusions for pre-existing conditions, no reduction of services when ill, low co-pays, etc etc. Of course the tens of billions all that costs is subsidized by taxpayers.

They have all agreed, you see, and encourage "debate" among the rest of us.

When Congress returns to Washington and actually begins drafting and re-writing the rules and regulations which might (let me say that again) MIGHT actually become law, some will be helped and most will not.

I suppose (or perhaps hope) that the best that might happen is many Americans will be once again forced to do what they have always done - scour the marketplace and look for deals, look for ways they can survive and look out for Number One first, second and last. That's what millionaires like entertainer Rush Limbaugh call "American Exceptionalism", i.e. "I got mine, so you go get yours."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

What's The Real Cost of a 'Shadow Army'?

While it might seem odd to some to follow-up this weekend's movie post about revisionist history with a story about our real political world -- they share a startling amount of fantasy and danger, but which is which and just what do these policies really cost our country?

For several years now, writer Jeremy Scahill has been tracking the Bush and now Obama administrative decisions to rely on private contractors to conduct warfare and operate spy missions, dodging the law and most every other normal convention of accountability. His most recent stories are even more grim.

I've written before about what Scahill has had to say -- here is a post about his testimony before Congress in May of 2007. Sad that very little has changed since then.

Scahill was on Bill Maher's HBO show this weekend talking about the continued madness and how the nation's media has ignored this story. WhitesCreek Journal has the video. I'd only watch it if you are ready to be stunned.

Meanwhile, Scahill has been writing about the current status of the usage of private contractors like Blackwater, Triple Canopy and others - soldiers paid more in a month than our own soldiers are paid in a year, soldiers who conduct interrogations, provide security to Cabinet officials, conduct secret renditions and aid secret prisons, who may or may not be part of the CIA and who are above the law or outside the law.

His reports are also being published via The Nation (an index is here). Most recently, he reported on J Cofer Black, who left the CIA's counter-terror operations to work for Blackwater and his instructions to a special squad sounds almost identical to the commands issued by one fictious Lt. Aldo Raine in the Tarantino movie "Inglourious Basterds". Raine was after "Nazi scalps" while Black was after Al Qaeda operatives:

"Before the CIA Jawbreaker team deployed on September 27, 2001, Black gave his men direct and macabre directions: "I don't want bin Laden and his thugs captured, I want them dead.... They must be killed. I want to see photos of their heads on pikes. I want bin Laden's head shipped back in a box filled with dry ice. I want to be able to show bin Laden's head to the president. I promised him I would do that." According to CIA operative Gary Schroen, a member of the Jawbreaker team, it was the first time in his thirty-year career he had been ordered to assassinate an adversary rather than attempt a capture.

In September 2002, five months after Blackwater's first known contract with the CIA in Afghanistan, Black testified to Congress about the new "operational flexibility" employed in the "war on terror." "There was a before 9/11, and there was an after 9/11," Black said. "After 9/11 the gloves come off." Black outlined a "no-limits, aggressive, relentless, worldwide pursuit of any terrorist who threatens us," saying it "is the only way to go and is the bottom line." Black would later brag, in 2004, that "over 70 percent" of Al Qaeda's leadership had been arrested, detained or killed, and that "more than 3,400 of their operatives and supporters have also been detained and put out of an action." The Times reports that the Blackwater-CIA assassination program "did not successfully capture or kill any terrorist suspects."

It is simple to see comparisons between Nazi horrors and Al Qaeda - but what does it say about our own leadership, which seems to be content from the White House to Congress, to allow for a special type of private soldier in a shadow army to conduct our warfare?

And hundreds of millions continue to flow to Blackwater and other agencies even though no one is willing to confirm any success of their plans.

Just as all these reports are making the news, the Obama administration is sort of trying to approach the issue from another angle - a Justice Dept. investigation continues to examine the conduct of our own military and the private contractors to see if a criminal investigation is warranted.

This ugly story is just getting uglier, few changes are being demanded by Congress, and the real costs of these types of programs and polices remain unknown.

Scahill notes:

n another development, [Blackwater founder Eric] Prince's lawyers have responded to explosive allegations made against Prince by two former employees. In sworn affidavits submitted by lawyers representing the Iraqis suing Blackwater, the two alleged that Prince may have murdered or facilitated the murder of individuals who were cooperating with federal authorities investigating the company. One of the former employees alleges that Prince "views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe," and that Prince's companies "encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life." They also charge that Prince was profiting from illegal weapons smuggling. In a motion filed August 10, Prince's lawyers asked Judge Ellis to strike from the record the sworn statements of the two former employees, saying that "the conclusory allegations they contain are inadmissible on multiple grounds, including lack of foundation, hearsay, irrelevance, and unfair prejudice." They charge that the lawyers suing Blackwater are attempting to "use this litigation as a 'megaphone' to increase their ability to influence the public's perceptions regarding the use of contractors in military battlefield situations, the Iraq War, and most particularly about Erik Prince and the other defendants. Unsubstantiated statements made in filings in this Court become 'newsworthy' simply because they appear in those filings." The lawyers characterize the allegations as "scandalous, baseless, inadmissible, and highly prejudicial." Interestingly, nowhere do Prince's lawyers say flatly that the allegations are untrue.

As the cases against Prince move forward, the company continues to do a robust business with the federal government, particularly in Afghanistan. [Congresswoman Jan] Schakowsky has called for a review of all of the companies' current contracts, and she has called on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates to stop awarding the company contracts."