December 2009

U-S-A, U-S-A!!!

As Marie Pryor shuffles along a Mississippi roadside collecting discarded drink cans to sell for a few cents, her breath comes in short puffs caused by a congenital heart defect. The same condition caused her granddaughter’s death earlier this year.

The last place on earth she would look for help is Iran, a country widely regarded in America as the enemy. The US and Iran have not had diplomatic relations for 30 years and the two governments trade daily insults over Iran’s nuclear programme. Last week Tehran charged three American hikers with espionage after they apparently strayed across the border.

But with Congress acrimoniously debating the reform of healthcare, it is to Iran that one of America’s poorest communities is turning to try to resolve its own health crisis.

A US doctor and a development consultant visited Iran in May to study a primary healthcare system that has cut infant mortality by more than two-thirds since the Islamic revolution in 1979.

Then, in October, five top Iranian doctors, including a senior official at the health ministry in Tehran, were quietly brought to Mississippi to advise on how the system could be implemented there.

The Mississippi Delta has some of the worst health statistics in the country, including infant mortality rates for non-whites at Third World levels.

“It’s time to look for a new model,” said Dr Aaron Shirley, one of the state’s leading health campaigners.

Can’t wait until the GOP hears about this one.  They’ll likely scuttle it despite the merits.  Sarah Palin’s ghostwriter will like coin a clever phrase like, “Death to America Panels” and the people of Mississippi will continue to be fucked by the best health care system in the world.  Hell, many a Mississippi resident will probably protest with all their might for the privilege.

Ah, the bucolic marketplaces of the New Iraq (Now with 20% fewer Iraqis!). To wander from stall to stall remains an experience akin to a leisurely jaunt in a similar venue in the heartland of America:

Hundreds of soldiers from Fort Lewis’ 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division were already positioned around the sprawling market by the time Adm. Mike Mullen stepped out of his Mine Resistant Ambush Protected armored vehicle Saturday morning. Other service members were out of sight but still working detail, while aerial firepower remained ready if needed.

“There were a lot of moving pieces and a lot of contingencies,” said Capt. Gabby Niess, a California resident who helped plan the security mission, dubbed Operation Rock Sword. “It looked like there was a lot going on, and there was even more going on in the air and behind the scenes.”

A company from 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment and the battalion’s personal security detail element – a total of about 160 soldiers – created two security cordons around the market and stationed snipers throughout the area. Two F-16 fighter jets and attack AH-64 Apache helicopters flew overhead to provide firepower if needed, and Air Force joint tactical air controllers were on the ground to coordinate attacks. A Shadow drone aircraft circled in the air to provide a view of the ground.

Air Force working dogs swept the area for bombs before Mullen arrived and were close by as the admiral chatted with commanders and Iraqi merchants. The admiral arrived as part of an eight-vehicle convoy – five MRAPs and three Strykers – staffed by 4th Brigade’s military police platoon.

Sweet, sweet victory.  All hail The Surge.

Every time a terror suspect is not tortured and denied habeas corpus rights, a neocon dies a little on the inside.  With Michael Goldfarb, the testicles are the first to go:

If he (Abdulmutallab) were treated as an enemy combatant and transferred to military commission system, we could use Army Field Manual techniques without Miranda (not as effective as enhanced techniques, of course, but much better than standard police practice). We could use his non-Mirandized statements against him in military commissions, so long as the statements were not forcibly coerced and were otherwise reliable. Instead, it’s three squares a day, the best legal defense the ACLU can provide, and maybe the chance for parole before the kids he was trying to kill on that plane even make it out of college.

Right.  Because we’ll never have enough evidence against the underwear bomber to convict him in a civilian court and send him away for life.  Just like we let Moussaoui go.  And that shoe bomber guy.  And the first WTC bombers.  Etc.

Wank. Or.


One of the Kung Fu Monkeys dusts off a post from circa the last foiled terrorist plot and man is it pure evergreen gold (not an oxymoron, because I said so).  A taste:

“Wait, Arent You Scared?”

Errr, no. And if you are, you frankly should be a little goddam embarrassed.

No false bravado and it’s not that I don’t take terrorism seriously. I do, which I why I voted for the guy who believed in securing our ports and fighting terrorism with criminal investigation methods — which is, if we may remind everybody, how this particular plot was busted.

I am just not going to wet my pants every time some guys get arrested in a terror plot. I will do my best to stay informed. I will support the necessary law enforcement agencies. I will take whatever reasonable precautions seem, um, reasonable. But I will not be terrorized. I assume that the terror-ists would like me to be terror-ized, as that is what is says on their nametag, rather than, say, wanting me to surrender to ennui or negative body image, and they’re just coming the long way around.

Osama Bin Laden got everything on his Christmas list after 9/11 — US out of Saudi Arabia; the greatest military in the world over-extended, pinned down and distracted; the greatest proponent of democracy suddenly alienated from its allies; a US culture verily eager to destroy freedoms that little scumfuck could never even dream to touch himself — I would like to deny him the last little check on the clipboard, i.e. constant terror. I panic, they win. To coin a phrase, Osama Bin Laden can suck my insouciance.

I am absolutely buffaloed by the people who insist I man up and take it in the teeth for the great Clash of Civilizations — “Come ON, people, this is the EPIC LAST WAR!! You just don’t have the stones to face that fact head-on!” — who at the whiff of an actual terror plot will, with no apparent sense of irony, transform and run around shrieking, eyes rolling and Hello Kitty panties flashing like Japanese schoolgirls who have just realized that the call is coming from inside the house!

Read the rest.  It will restore a shred of the sanity that’s been sapped away by the relentless suck of teh stupid humming along like an assembly line widget for the past 8 years or so.

Pakistan has suffered a costly setback in the My-Taliban-Is-More-Retrograde-Than-Your-Taliban Olympics:

Late on Wednesday, the Supreme Court in Pakistan ordered that the government officially recognize a separate gender for Pakistan’s hijra community, which includes transgendered people, transvestites, and eunuchs. The court told the federal government to begin allowing people to identify as hijras when registering for a national identity card.

Such cards are necessary for everything from voting to more informal situations; patrons must present the card at cybercafes before surfing the Internet, for example. Not having an identity card, or having one with incorrect information, leaves a person vulnerable and easily excluded from society.

In one of those rare instances of an arms race that actually serves the interests of society, it’s possible that Pakistan’s turn to openness was motivated by India’s like measure:

In India, voters are required to identify their sex both on their voter ID cards and at the polls. The insistence that they identify as male or female effectively barred many transgendered and transvestite people from the polls until late this year, when the government declared that for the purposes of voting it would recognize a third option.

The ruling in Pakistan, though, potentially reaches much further.

In addition to the order for government recognition, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry also issued a warning that the hijras’ rights of inheritance, which are often informally ignored, would be enforced, and that police harassment would not be permitted, a sign, perhaps, of rulings to come.

Our Taliban could totally kick their Taliban’s ass.

Shorter Joe Lieberman:

If we don’t invade Yemen today, then at some point in the future we might have to invade Yemen.  So we better invade now just in case.

That, my friends, is a war monger’s war monger.  One wonders whether the conscience of America will ask the CBO to score the invasion costs.  Actually, one doesn’t wonder that at all.

Now be sure to be good little boys and girls, and Santa will bring you all some shiny new Wingers for 2009.  And if you’re extra special good, I might even be able to talk The Eds into stuffing a Keyboard Kommando in your stocking. 

But I ain’t makin any promises.  Fatherhood has made him as surly as it has lazy. 

Also violent.

So the UK raises taxes on certain portions of insanely enormous banker bonuses, and the poor little bankers threaten to go Galt Geneva.  Funny thing happened on the way…:

Geneva, touted as a haven for London bankers facing heavier U.K. taxes, may lure fewer than predicted thanks to a housing shortage, crowded schools and a 44 percent income-tax rate.

But, but, I thought taxes sapped entrepreunerial spirit, drained creativity and drove away the best and the brightest? 

“Some of the German-speaking cantons around Zurich are able to offer tax rates that never exceed 20 percent, but people don’t want to move there, they prefer the lifestyle around Geneva,” said Thierry Boitelle, a partner specializing in tax at law firm Altenburger.

Yes, but have they considered sunny Somalia, with its miles and miles of beachfront property available at a bargain basement rate.  And get this: Zero percent tax rates!  Zero federal regulations!  Zero government oversight!

At last, a chance for the giants among us to cast off the yoke of government imposed by the parasitic working class.  I’ll even chip in for the airfare.

(via the Blue Meanie)

A couple of months back I went to the pharmacy to pick up the asthma medication that I’ve been taking for years – the cost of which is $50 a month, and that’s with a Cadillacesque, employer-provided health insurance plan.  Oddly, though, on this visit the price was $75.  After my inquiry as to the price increase, the pharmacist told me to contact the insurance provider.  So I did.  Actual conversation:

curv:  So I noticed the cost of X drug went up by 50% and I wanted to know why.

customer service rep: Sir, when a generic is released on the market, we increase the price of the brand name drug in order to encourage use of the generic.

curv: OK, fair enough.  What’s the generic so I can tell my doctor to write a scrip.

rep: Hold on, let me check…[two minutes later].  There is no generic.

But they kept the raised rate of $75 anyway.

In the annals of the great crimes of the health insurance industry, this is very, very, very small potatoes.  I’ll live after all.  But it just gives a little flavor of the type of hubris and disregard for their customers that have become the stock and trade of an industry that knows it has the government by Ben Nelson’s balls.  There’s a certain je ne sais quoi in their gratuitous “fuck yous.”

A more serious recent example (though there is hope this move will be thwarted by lawmakers/existing law – UPDATE: score one for the little guy):

Amid a national debate on how to make the healthcare system friendlier and more accessible, and as millions of people grapple with the loss of jobs and homes, what does insurance heavyweight Blue Shield of California do?

It decides to take a key benefit away.

The company has notified individual policyholders that their coverage could be immediately dropped if they miss a single payment — or so it seems. Blue Shield says in a letter to customers that they can reapply for insurance, but with potentially higher premiums and stricter conditions. This represents a significant change from Blue Shield’s former practice of giving customers two special grace periods annually to make up for missed payments without any change to coverage or premiums.

And, again, that travesty would only apply to the people lucky enough to have health insurance in the first place (and the ability to overpay for it, one late payment notwithstanding).  And for the rest?  You’re screwed.  Sorry.  By a quirk of our best system of government ever™, a super majority is required in the significantly undemocratic body in our bicameral Congress in order to pass legislation.  This gives corporate America too many veto points.  It’s easy. 

The uninsured will get some weakly subsidized mandate to buy private insurance from companies whose profit-maximizing mission it is to screw you over when you need it most.  And it’s not like the public is going to make the corporate whores in the Senate pay for their prostitution.  As Brad recently posted from a comment somewhere:

Where i come from, The Netherlands, which is far from perfect, i pay 125 Euro’s for full coverage. Dentists and pre-existing conditions included. I can have a television at my bed and a minibar if i want to, but that’ll cost me extra. We have 6 or 7 big insurance companies here who facilitate this and who are bound by government rules on maximum charges and minimum coverage. It works fine, there’s no deficit created and everybody is fully covered. Besides that there’s a government subsidy for everyone who doesn’t earn enough to pay for the premiums.

We’re a democracy, with politicians, which are to some degree polarized into left and right, but everybody agrees we need good healthcare. If our people are denied that, we go out onto the streets and make known that we disagree.

It’s that simple.

Yeah, they would raise hell and demand that the government respond to the citizens rather than the wealthy at the expense of the citizens (with the expense being death of course).  Because they’re not completely batshit insane as a polity.

And in America?  We have tea party protesters driven into a frothing rage, taking to the streets in order to…protest against the government stepping in and fixing the health insurance debacle for their benefit.  That’s it in a nutshell.  Americans protest with all their might in order to preserve the right to get fucked over by the insurance industry.  Because, socialism.

Hell, even the uninsured are evenly divided on the question of whether or not they would be better off with insurance if the icky government is involved.

What a weird place this is.

Rampant corruption is probably the most significant problem undermining the efficacy of the Afghan police force and the public’s confidence therein (though widespread drug use, lack of training and high rates of attrition haven’t been helping much either). 

The police are so corrupt that the locals in certain regions prefer checkpoints manned by the Taliban to police-run outposts.  Apparently, the Taliban-run checkpoints are bargains in terms of the going rate of extortion.  You gotta shop around ya know.

Interestingly, one of the pillars of the “new” strategy concocted by the Obama team is to roughly double the size of the police force over the next couple of years (a relatively short period of time considering the 8 years that preceded).   Pressure to add to the rolls – and fast – will inevitably provide incentive to turn a blind eye to problems regarding the suitability of applicants and current police officers. 

I hate to be a downer, but there seems to be a serious flaw (or two) in the logic underlying this policy.

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