Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Letter to Obama: open public option to ALL & don't reward insurance companies

Someone pointed out to me a section of one of Obama's speeches that the public option would only be open to those without insurance, so I wrote this brief letter:

President Obama,

Please make any public option available to all Americans, not just those without health insurance. Otherwise, the rest of us could be stuck with the crappy insurance our employers chose, and that choice likely wasn't based on what was best but what was cheapest or even gave them kickbacks.

Likewise, there should be no mandate to buy or subsidies to pay for private insurance unless their overhead spending (advertising, executive salaries, profits, and those claim denial operators) is limited to 10% as Sen. Feinstein proposed.

We should not reward health insurance companies for their sociopathic behavior that has harmed and even killed so many Americans just to increase their profits by forcing people to become their customers.

Feel free to plagiarize this in communication with the White House or your Congresspeople.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

MODEST PROPOSAL: Pay CEO's with stock they CAN'T sell

Instead of short term bonuses, CEO's should be paid bonuses over ten or twenty years, or even over the rest of their lives with the amount varying according to the current performance of the company, and of course ending if the company goes bankrupt.

One way to do this is to give them stock with no-options: no option to sell, especially to pump and dump with insider trading.

This would encourage them to build the company for long term success and even to withstand incompetent management after they leave.

Whatever the problems are with this, it would be far superior to the current system where bonuses are given out regardless of performance, with execs acting more like parasites draining blood from their host until it's dead instead of nurturing it's real (not paper) growth and stability.

Someone will say that you can't force them to keep stock, but that is essentially what they do to employees with pensions. Then when they fuck up by giving too much money to their cronies or not hiding their bookkeeping sleight of hand well enough, their employees are left eating dog food when they retire.

The only real problem I see with this is there aren't enough MBA's who don't actually know how to make things and provide services.

These sociopathic trust fund babies didn't rake leaves and flip burgers as kids like the rest of us, but instead stole money from their mummy's purse to spend on coke and whores. Now they just steal from their shareholders and employees.

It could be that in the long run, this would restore something like a meritocracy to our financial elite that would replace the current clusterfuck of country club Caligulas.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Rolling Stones' Matt Taibbi's 9/11 truth smears

As I was rushing to get ready for work the other day, I caught a snippet of an interview of Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone on Pacifica Radio. He was slamming 9/11 truthers for their theories about controlled demolition, how they discount scores of witnesses for the official version of the story, but embraces the individuals, however few, who back them up, and said he trusted the debunking 9/11 truther websites by Popular Mechanics and 9/11 myths. That was irksome because as usual the debunkers focus on the few issues that sound wackiest and sidestep those too big to sweep under the carpet.

But what was more irritating was his analysis of WHY any 9/11 conspiracy was unlikely:

  • 9/11 truthers are racists who don't think Arabs or Muslims are smart enough to plan and carry out an attack like 9/11.

  • Such a conspiracy would require too many people to keep their mouths shut--someone would have spilled the beans by now.
  • Washington doesn't need a "New Pearl Harbor" to justify war. The American people are so sheepish, they would go along with any war, and even if they did protest, it would have no effect--like the Vietnam War protests had no effect.
  • The powerful people on Wall Street are lazy golfers who just think about bribing politicians to change the rules to make it easier to make money.

The last is most annoying since Taibbi just wrote a long piece on how Goldman Sachs has been behind every bubble since the Great Depression, but let's look at these in order:

  • 9/11 truthers are racists
That's ironic. I had a very un-racist reason wonder if the attacks were solely the work of crazed fundamentalists. Most human beings of any race or religion don't engage in behavior that doesn't have some hope of a positive outcome. What possible positive outcome could have resulted for al Qaeda or Muslims anywhere from 9/11? Anyone familiar with our foreign policy would have more or less predicted what we did: kill a lot of Muslims and/or Arabs who had nothing to do with the attacks. It seems that those who believe the official story think Muslims are too stupid to understand cause and effect.

Those who back the official explanation of 9/11 have often bought into profoundly racist excuses for continuing the war in Iraq: can the Iraqis defend and police themselves if we pullout or will there be chaos? Are they "ready" for democracy?

That was a discussion that could be heard ad nauseum on network and cable news talk shows, and makes them sound less like people and more like cavemen who have only recently descended from the trees, developed the power of speech, and shed their vestigial tail.
  • Too many people to keep a secret
Taibbi probably heard of the Manhattan Project to develop the atom bomb. Thousands of people worked on the project, but only a few knew what the whole project was about, and the general public didn't hear about it until we dropped the bomb. It's easy to see this being the case if 9/11 was more a matter of prodding some crazies here, and impeding some investigations there. And we did have whistleblowers come forward to say their significant warnings were ignored from FBI field officers like Colleen Rowley to White House terrorism czar Richard Clarke.

More significantly, what happened to those who did come forward either with information or to ask sharp questions were often reviled in the press or hounded out of their jobs. Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney asked the right questions about our how any war games going on that day might have interfered with our air defenses that day and Don Rumsfeld refused to answer or provide the documentation she asked for. She was ridiculed in the press, not supported by the Democratic Party, and ultimately hounded from office and her party. The right wing media was less successful but just as vicious in attacking Richard Clarke and the Jersey Girls, a group of 9/11 widows who pressed for a 9/11 Commission. The right was successful in purging anchor Dan Rather from CBS, not for questioning 9/11 but for the lesser matter of Bush's own questionable record of military service. When Joe Wilson blew the whistle on one of the lies that led to the Iraq War, his wife was outed as a CIA covert operative, and both were attacked in the press. This would send a clear message to anyone with information that contradicted the official explanation of 9/11: keep your mouth shut or suffer severe consequences.

The clock on when we should expect to see 9/11 whistleblowers come forward should really start when Bush left office and Obama was inaugurated, and if I had that kind of information, I would be watching very carefully to see how Obama dealt with other misdeeds of Bush to see whether the chances of action being taken would outweigh possible retaliation. So far, if I was one of those people, I wouldn't have seen enough to make it worth the risk.
  • Washington doesn't need a "New Pearl Harbor" to justify war.
This was true throughout the Cold War, but a funny thing happened after the collapse of the Soviet Union--for a while, Washington was embarrassed to claim that dirt-poor Third World countries were a security threat to the United States. So other excuses were trotted out.

Papa Bush suddenly noticed that his pal Manuel Noriega in Panama was dealing drugs. That military action was so quick, public reaction didn't have time to have an effect.

The first Gulf War was sold more honestly (at least at first) as being about control of the world's oil supply; we didn't want Saddam to have it (not said out loud was that was our job). When that proved too abstract for most Americans to grasp, they shifted away from geopolitics to comic book demonization--Saddam Hussein was the new Hitler. This worked so well that when Bush decided at the end of the war to leave Saddam Hussein in power, the public still believed the propaganda instead of the realpolitik explanation. It cost Papa Bush in the polls and ultimately cost his presidency. That's a lesson politicians would remember--if you start with a big lie stick with it.

Papa Bush tried another approach with Somalia and Clinton inherited and stuck with it--it was a humanitarian intervention. The problem was, when our troops were killed there, the public soured on the mission and Clinton pulled our troops out.

That actually happened as far back as Reagan with "peacekeepers" in Lebanon. Once the Marine barracks was hit by a suicide bomber, Reagan had to pull out because the public didn't think a "humanitarian intervention" was worth so many deaths.

When the humanitarian excuse was used again for our intervention in the Balkans, Clinton bent over backwards to avoid the possibility of American casualties, which insured public apathy about the project.

The lesson for the DC establishment the last couple of decades has not been to ignore public opinion about going to war. They can only afford to do that if the war is quick like Grenada, Panama, or there were relatively few to no casualties as in the Balkans.

If they were going to start a prolonged war that will incur casualties along the way, they know they need a big excuse that has some staying power. Saddam's imaginary weapons of mass destruction and even more imaginary will to commit suicide by using them against the United States, who could retaliate hundreds of times over and burn Iraq off the map with our thousands of nukes, would have been a harder sell without the smoldering rubble of the World Trade Center in the back of the public's mind.
  • The lazy elite
This is true, but not in a way that excuses exonerates them from advocating and profiting from extreme acts of violence against innocent civilians.

Steven Kinzer of the New York Times wrote about how this plays out in foreign policy in his book Overthrow about the various coups and military interventions the US has sponsored to overthrow governments that weren't sufficiently compliant to American business interests. The most obvious example was Iran's secular, democratically elected president was ousted in a US backed coup because he wanted to keep more of the oil profits in Iran instead of giving them away to foreign big oil companies. He was replaced with a dictator, the Shah of Iran.

The same happened with the elected president of Guatamala, Jacobo Arbenz when he tried to enact land reform that enraged the United Fruit Company that considers Central America their private plantation. He was ousted in a US backed military coup.

It happened again when Chile elected a president a bit too socialist for the tastes (and profits of the American elite). Salvador Allende was replaced with the bloody dictator Augusto Pinochet.

In the current Iraq War, apart from the no bid contracts Bush gave to GOP cronies like Halliburton, KBR, and Blackwater (now Xe), the business-first motive is most obvious in the decrees of Bush-appointed governor of Iraq Paul Bremer that privatized and allowed foreign ownership of Iraq government assets, and in the first draft of the Iraq Hydrocarbon Law, written by an American company hired by George W. Bush, which gave 88% of Iraq's oil income to foreign oil companies, a deal none of Iraq's oil rich neighbors would accept without a gun to their heads. Remarkably, though the Iraqi cabinet approved the law, the parliament continues to refuse to pass it, and American oil companies keep lowballing bids on Iraqi contracts, thinking the presence of our troops is going to force the Iraqis to take otherwise unacceptable terms.

And this is why Taibbi is right about the financial elite being lazy, country club lounging golfers, but wrong about the consequences. It would be far more work to negotiate creatively to make a profit from governments protecting their own people's interest than it is to simply pick up the phone and ask those politicians, that Taibbi acknowledges are bought, to incite a coup or even go to war.

The work of diplomats and CIA agents to undermine and even oust foreign governments, or the military to invade countries cost the sociopathic trust fund babies of Wall Street nothing in time or money (apart from the required campaign contributions and later jobs for bought pols when they leave office). It is the ultimate in socializing cost and privatizing profits.

And it is like an addictive drug. Why bother to negotiate creatively, when you can step away from the table, let someone kill the leader or country you were negotiating with, and you can simply come back later and pick up what you want without opposition?

The Wall Street types would not necessarily even have to ask for a 9/11 to get it.

It is not hard to imagine the oil execs who met with Cheney for his energy task force, telling Cheney to do what it takes to get Iraq's tens of trillions of dollars worth of oil reserves under their control, pipeline routes through Afghanistan, and possibly even control of Iran's oil, since that's about all it took in the past. They leave the details and the works to the public servants, and they come back later to pick up the pieces of the countries that were broken for them.

The kind of scheming that Taibbi described in his article on Goldman Sachs would require more work and planning on the part of Wall Street suits than ordering up a war or coup.

Government and the Wall Street interests have likewise shown no hesitation to harm Americans when it served some larger goal, as happened with above ground nuclear testing, MK-ULTRA drug and mind control experiments conducted on our troops and college students, allowing cocaine into the US as part of the Iran Contra deal, and setting up a health insurance system that makes more money when it denies care to its customers and lets them die.
What is most disturbing about Taibbi's dismissal of 9/11 truthers is that he sidestepped some legitimate issues like the failure to protect what should have been our most secure airspace for two hours and the Joint Congressional Inquiry into 9/11's finding evidence of Saudi government involvement in the attacks, which the Bush administration immediately swept under the rug and most in the press never mentioned again. An FBI document later shed light on the Saudi agent who picked up two of the hijackers at LAX when they arrived in the US, set them up in an apartment, and funneled money to them from the Saudi ambassador's wife until 9/11. The agent also made multiple calls to the Saudi embassy before and during their stay in the US.

Does it make me a nut if I wonder what the meaning of that finding is? We were attacked by an ally, did nothing to that ally in return, but used the attack as an excuse to launch two wars and curb civil liberties at home. That is not a theory but a matter of public record, but Taibbi and others in the press won't put those indisputable dots together because they don't want to be called crazy by the rich and powerful, stop being invited to the best parties, or most importantly, fired.