The Zero Sum Game of Sociopaths

Sociopaths, once they have power, use it to run the table.   They live in a zero sum world of winning or losing, there is nothing in between.   You can see this with some of our great philanthropist billionaires, people who in most other countries are called oligarchs.  If you go to sleep with a billion dollars, why do you still dream of having two hundred billion dollars?  When a worldwide health crisis hits, use it as an opportunity to distribute $4,500,000,000,000.00 to yourself and your wealthiest cronies.

Of course, it’s easy for me, a pampered man beloved by so many, a guy whose feet never touch the ground (they carry me tenderly from place to place and set me down gently on pillows) to snipe at the world-changing drive of the movers and shakers, dynamic men of vision like Charles Koch, Rupert Murdoch, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg.   Still– what is their vision?   To have more money and power than anybody in the world.  To WIN.

Then we finally get one as president (though he had a small $400,000,000 head start from his evil father), a compulsive liar who claims to be a billionaire and has an army of lawyers aggressively  hiding all of his financial records.  A winner, a great winner, our greatest winner.  What happens when he is in charge during an emergency?   He is concerned with only one thing — winning.  As for the losers, well, many will die, which, in the end, is probably not such a bad thing, there are too many of us, uselessly eating and using up water and oxygen, ultimately making life harder for the winners.  Having to worry about losers losing is just the burden of being the world’s most powerful super-wealthy predator.   The Guardian beautifully sets out the massive increase of deaths caused by the president’s six weeks of denial before taking action here. 

Wow, this got pasted in here by accident (I’d emailed the link to a friend).  Good for a laugh, I say!

A few words in defense of our country

We would all do well now to take a few moments to listen to one of our great American songwriters reminding us about the greatness of America.   Randy Newman wrote this song (the lyrics were published as a New York Times op ed way back in 2007) when the leaders he sang about were unrepentant war criminals and bunglers who many of us now think of kindly, in light of this epically churlish two-year old we have up there now.   Here the inimitable Mr. Newman sings these excellent lyrics.

I’d like to say
A few words
In defense of our country
Whose people aren’t bad
Nor are they mean
Now, the leaders we have
While they’re the worst that we’ve had
Are hardly the worst
This poor world has seen

Let’s turn history’s pages, shall we?

Take the Caesars, for example
Why, with the first few of them
They were sleeping with their sister, stashing little boys in swimming pools, and burning down the city
And one of ’em, one of ’em appointed his own horse to be Counsel of the Empire
That’s like vice president or something
That’s not a very good example right now, is it?
But here’s one:
Spanish Inquisition
That’s a good one
Put people in a terrible position
I don’t even like to think about it
Well, sometimes I like to think about it

Just a few words
In defense of our country
Whose time at the top
Could be coming to an end
Now, we don’t want their love
And respect at this point’s pretty much out of the question
But in times like these
We sure could use a friend

Hitler
Stalin
Men who need no introduction

King Leopold of Belgium, that’s right
Everyone thinks he’s so great
Well, he owned the Congo
He tore it up too
Took the diamonds
Took the silver
Took the gold
You know what he left ’em with?

Malaria

You know, a president once said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”
Now it seems like we’re supposed to be afraid
It’s patriotic, in fact
Color-coded
What we supposed to be afraid of?
Why, of being afraid
That’s what terror means, doesn’t it?
That’s what it used to mean

You know, it pisses me off a little that this Supreme Court’s gonna outlive me
Couple young Italian fellas and a brother on the Court now too
But I defy you, anywhere in the world, to find me two Italians as tight ass as the two Italians we got
And as for the brother
Well, Pluto’s not a planet anymore either

The end of an empire
Is messy at best
And this empire’s ending
Like all the rest
Like the Spanish Armada
Adrift on the sea
We’re adrift in the land of the brave
And the home of the free

Goodbye
Goodbye
Goodbye
Goodbye

Good Analysis of Government Priorities during the Plague

Janine Jackson, criticized for her often snarky tone by the friend who recommended her excellent podcast to me, lays out an insightful analysis of the scope of America’s larger problem– conflating the financial health of the corporate “persons” who control the nation and the actual health of the actual human citizens of the nation–here.

You have the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, urging his workers to altruistically give up accrued sick days for their ailing low-paid colleagues in his operations.   Massive no-strings bailouts to the very corporations that are destroying the planet (fossil fuel, fracking, airlines) to ensure their economic health while ordinary citizens must content themselves with incoherent platitudes and partisan drivel.   There are no plans to safeguard the millions who are incarcerated, including the thousands in privatized immigration cages, of course.

You have the incoherent, angry president having his Secretary of State announce the tightening of sanctions on Iran, even as Iran is an epicenter of Coronavirus.   

Jackson correctly describes the situation as a crime scene.   Which is, of course, only true if you consider the rights of ordinary humans as important as the rights of the legal fictions that actually run our country and the world.   Here she is, and here is the transcript of this informative episode, with a side order of appropriate snarkiness:

The coronavirus is highlighting existing faults and fissures in US society.  Stark evidence of government priorities and their impact is coming fast and furious: $1.5 trillion is available instantly for loans to banks, but there’s no plan to protect incarcerated people, in jails, prisons or migrant detention centers. Congress can’t seem to act on assistance that reaches all the people who need it, and Jeff Bezos—the one with $111 billion—wants Whole Foods workers to share their sick leave.  Immediate tests for celebrities without symptoms—yes; reconsideration of devastating sanctions on Iran and Venezuela—absolutely not.  It’s a crime scene that’s setting up social economic justice work for the next many years, and calling for dogged, humanistic reporting that doesn’t “ask what questions this all raises,” but instead demands better answers.

the rest of the episode

Transparency — Life and Death Edition

I tend to brood about our need for basic truth — and how often we are deliberately denied it.   We truly can’t make intelligent decisions about anything without having the basic facts to weigh.  Basic facts themselves are under attack in our “alternative fact” world.   In a time of global plague, when thousands are contracting a novel disease that, as Obama said of torture, kills some folks, transparency actually translates directly into lives saved.    

This we know:  try to stay at least six feet from people if you go out in public, wash your hands often, if you cough or sneeze do it into a tissue or into your elbow.  We also know that because of a shortage of tests for this new virus, we really don’t have much meaningful data on infection or death rates relative to infection in the US yet.  Without data it’s impossible to predict the rate of spread or the death rate if you catch this serious and infectious bug.

Trevor Noah made a great point the other day.  If you have the facts beforehand you are better prepared not to freak out when the scary thing is happening.   He describes a pilot addressing a plane about to go into turbulence.   The pilot explains that the plane is about to fly through a pressure system that should last up to thirty minutes, seat belt lights will go on, he will climb to a higher altitude to try to find a smoother path and so forth.   When the plane begins to buck, everyone is ready and somewhat reassured to know what’s going on and how long its likely to last.   He contrasts this with the insane pilot who says nothing beforehand, then, as people are thrown around and the vomiting starts,  gets on the speakers and tells the passengers that everything is fine and that the ride couldn’t be smoother.

Clearly, a belligerent and defensive leader who can’t help snarling and lying is not the ideal leader in a time of pandemic.   Many excellent pieces are being written daily about a president who snaps with open hostility at reasonable questions from the “fake media” instead of answering questions the nervous public needs to have answered.  I won’t waste a word on that compulsively lying fuck, beyond linking you to a very well-done opinion piece on the subject that might make you feel a little bit better.  

I am thinking of the frequent difficulty in getting ANY information in a corporate culture.  It is as if the citizen has no right to know even the laws that protect her.   The provisions of the New York State law that protects patients from illegal termination of their health insurance, for example, are carefully guarded secrets.   How can this be?   It simply is.   Need to know, motherfucker.

I have been trying to find out, for two months now today, what law Healthfirst clearly violated in terminating my insurance, which was then restored two business days later amid apologies for its “mistake”.   The corporation would not have changed its “unappealable” decision without being confronted with the exact provision of the law that it had violated.  The citizen’s right to know this law?   That is left up to a bitter troll assigned to the “case” at the New York State Department of Financial Services.    Here we go, the month I’ve been dealing with this particular asshole (the only person in NYS with access to this law, according to NYS government)  in our emails:

2-20-20   All inquiries are assigned promptly and responses are issued in a timely manner to the very best of our ability given the nature of the inquiry, the research involved and the volume of correspondence received.

then:

I surmise that you are eligible under the Affordable Care Act for Medicaid coverage; had purchased an individual health insurance poli9cy through New York State of Health;  that the insurer had cancelled the policy for non-payment of premiums, after you had missed the contractual grace period; and that the policy was reinstated through the intervention of the New York State Department of Financial Services.  Correct?   You inquire about appli8cable statutes and regulations.

me:  
Pretty much correct.   I had the one-in-a-lifetime luck of having my NYSOH-purchased insurance (“Essential Plan”) restored within a couple of business days after the DFS complaint.   It’s still hard to believe health insurance can be cancelled without notice of the once-a-year  ten-day “contractual grace period.”   That the “contract” requires no notification of the harsh consequences of not paying by a certain date.  I’d like to see the applicable statutes and regulations.

reply:
 What is not correct?.  If it is in the contract, how can you assert no notice?Please furnish DFS CAU file #. 

me:

file number. OGC-2020-252309 
Only correction, Essential, rather than straight Medicaid, plan.

 

To my mind, the provision being likely contained in a contract (nobody has asserted this to me) I received a year or two ago is not the same as actual, effective notice to a consumer of the dire consequence for missing a short “grace period”. Thousands of consumers are subjected to this termination for failing to meet a “contractual  obligation”  an obligation that can easily be noted on an invoice.  It does not seem unduly  burdensome to require companies to print a warning on their first annual invoice. I’m looking for the black letter law on this.

reply:

In preparation for researching your question, I have to understand the past.  Review of the CAU file seems the most efficient method.

me (after two weeks):

Any progress locating the provision of NYS law pertaining to ACA health plans that allowed Healthfirst to terminate my insurance, then reconsider, pursuant to a DFS complaint, and call to tell me my insurance had never been terminated?

reply:

Raft being reviewed

me (after four weeks, still thinking “raft?”):

Any progress?   I am still trying to find the section of the law that Healthfirst reconsidered when reversing its unappealable decision to terminate my health insurance.   I’m also trying to confirm that the DFS complaint triggered Healthfirst’s reversal of its cancellation.  

reply:

Patience.  You are reinstated.  State offices are closed.

me:
Pardon my impatience.   It comes from the extreme difficulty of accessing (even by State government experts) the provision of the patient protection law that protected me from the apparently illegal “mistake” that resulted in the loss of my health insurance.    The illegal practice no doubt affects many other low-income New Yorkers every year, perhaps thousands, and I’d like to do what I can to publicize the unknown patient protection law that health insurance companies freely violate.

True, I had the luck to find the DFS on-line complaint, which immediately fixed the problem, in my case. Countless other low income New Yorkers did not have the luck I did.  The obstacle to that luck is great when the law itself is secret: nobody at any city, state or federal agency is  able to point those affected to the provision of the law that caused Healthfirst to reconsider its “unappealable” decision to terminate my health insurance.   A law that nobody can find is not really a law, even if, in the rare case, it can cause a corporation to immediately reverse itself.

I want to alert every state and city office I contacted to the exact legal provision that caused Healthfirst to reverse their determination.   If the law requires notice before terminating a health plan, as appears to be the case, that should be known by every department and nonprofit in the state that deals with ACA healthcare.

I know it has only been eight weeks or so (and barely a month in the case of DFS) that I am seeking this black and white legal provision, and it may seem churlish of me to ask for an update during a pandemic, but I’d like to update the various enforcement offices and advocacy groups I spoke to and complete my letter to the editor with a correct citation to the law so that others can hopefully be spared the ordeal I went through.  

Nobody should be subjected to that kind of sudden, unnecessary stress; everybody should be informed of their rights under the law.   You’d feel the same way if it happened to you, or someone close to you.   I’m attempting to do a public service and I’d greatly appreciate your eventual assistance.

reply:

First, State offices are closed.

Second, Insurer admitted a mistake.  Why do think  that insurer is “screwing” others?

me: 

It cited an ironclad right to terminate my insurance, claiming it was done lawfully, according to the “guidelines” that entitled it to terminate without warning for failure to pay during a once a year 10-day January grace period.    It told me there was no appeal, beyond an internal one that I lost.  It immediately changed its “mistaken” determination only after receiving my DFS complaint.   I am certain many others were similarly, illegally, denied health insurance.  I’m looking for the elusive law they violated.   

We can lose the quotation marks around screwing, though it’s the politest way to describe it for those who don’t get lucky and find the DFS form/remedy. Insurance companies have every incentive, and no disincentive, to cull low-cost customers during this one time a year period.   Violate the unknowable law, get caught, admit mistake, no harm, no foul.  America?   Democracy?   Not what they used to teach in Civics.

Silence was the last reply from this particular troll, gatekeeper of secret NYS laws pertaining to health insurance companies.  I suppose I’ll contact the little dickhead again in a couple of weeks, but, seriously, folks, what the fuck?  Does anybody really need to know the law that will cause a corporation to reverse an illegal decision?   You got yours, man, what are you whining about?  

Stay healthy, stay safe.

 

 

The Law is what powerful men say it is

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This cool looking, melancholy character, begging to be drawn by Robert Crumb, is Chief Justice Roger B. Taney (pronounced Tawny, for some reason)  one of our longest serving Supreme Court justices (March 28, 1836 – October 12, 1864, the day he died at 87).    He had a long and distinguished legal career, issuing many nuanced decisions as Chief Justice, serving at one time as Andrew Jackson’s Attorney General, Secretary of the Treasury and Secretary of War.    His nomination to the Supreme Court by Jackson was apparently stalled in Congress, a la Merrick Garland,  until Congress expired, but he was nominated again by Jackson when Old Hickory was reelected and Taney was voted onto the nation’s highest court, replacing Chief Justice John Marshall.   He is remembered today chiefly for his greatest mistake, his brilliantly argued but deeply flawed, racist 1857 decision in the Dred Scott v. Sandford. 

I say brilliantly argued because I read the decision in its entirety on a kind of dare from the great civil rights lawyer Arthur Kinoy who characterized it as a magnificent piece of legal legerdemain, the kind that Scalia was a master of.  Kinoy was around 80 then, still teaching at Rutgers Law School, and he challenged the class to find a single weak link in Taney’s chain of legal reasoning, outside of his flawed premise.   The chain is pretty sound, once you accept this idea, expressed succinctly by Taney in his close to 100 page (as I recall it) opinion.  Not a weak link in its legal reasoning from one point to another, though many of the links were arguably made of shaky material.  The Encyclopedia Brittanica, for example, rips the reviled decision several new assholes. [1]

Taney was one of the original Originalists, looking at the “intent of the framers” in his ruling.   He argued that (I write, directly plagiarizing Wikipedia), since the time of the ratification of the Constitution, blacks had been “regarded as beings of an inferior order, altogether unfit to associate with the white race … and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” [2]

When the Supreme Court rules, there is nobody to appeal to.  When you have the last word, as long you can get five of the nine votes, you have the last word.   In Taney’s case it was “blacks had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

Born to a wealthy, slaveholding family in 1777, the year after the born-wealthy, slaveholding Author of Liberty declared the self-evident truth that all men are… ah, you know the thing!    Created equal, yeah, all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of… you know the thing, come on, man!  PROPERTY, the pursuit of property, like the human chattels you can buy that will work for free and have no rights the white man is bound to respect, as the man said.

Ironically, Roger Taney (first Catholic on the Supreme Court) had a nuanced attitude toward slavery, though he was, as many of his time (and any time, for that matter) staunch in his racist belief about “white supremacy”.   Unlike the Author of Liberty, America’s eloquent and revered defender of human freedom, Taney emancipated his own slaves and supposedly gave pensions to the ones too old to work [3].

But in crunch time, at a moment in our history when a more embracing idea of human rights was either to be enforced or ignored, Taney wrote the famous decision that played a large part in deciding that the country would have to go to war to figure out if blacks had rights the white man was bound to respect, among other things.  Taney’s Dred Scott decision was explicitly nullified by the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, for what it’s worth.   The fact that more than a century and a half later this matter of what rights a white man is bound to respect is still being debated… though it is arguably part of the original intent of the slaveholding framers, I suppose.

As a result of our recent reexamination of our nation’s racist jurisprudence, the statue of Taney in Baltimore was removed from its pedestal in 2017.  So there.

 

[1]  Brittanica:

Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney’s opinion for the court was arguably the worst he ever wrote. He ignored precedent, distorted history, imposed a rigid rather than a flexible construction on the Constitution, ignored specific grants of power in the Constitution, and tortured meanings out of other, more-obscure clauses. His logic on the citizenship issue was perhaps the most convoluted. He admitted that African Americans could be citizens of a particular state and that they might even be able to vote, as they in fact did in some states. But he argued that state citizenship had nothing to do with national citizenship and that African Americans could not sue in federal court because they could not be citizens of the United States. Scott’s suit, therefore, should have been dismissed for lack of jurisdiction by the district court. On this point, however, Taney stood on shaky constitutional ground: if even one state considered an African American a citizen, then the Constitution required that all states, and by inference also the federal government, had to accord that person “all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States” (Article IV, Section 2), which includes the right to sue in federal court. Furthermore, Article III, which establishes the jurisdiction of the federal courts, does not mention national citizenship but rather declares that “the judicial Power” shall extend, among other things, “to Controversies…between Citizens of different States” (the so-called “diversity jurisdiction”).

Even with this weak argument, Taney could have been accused of nothing worse than faulty reasoning, if he had stopped there. If Scott was not a U.S. citizen, he could not sue in federal court, and the case would therefore have been improvidently granted. But Taney was determined to impose a judicial solution on the slavery controversy. Although later courts would adopt the policy of deciding constitutional questions on the narrowest possible grounds, the pre-Civil War courts often decided all issues that could support their rulings. Thus Taney continued, holding that Scott had never been free and that Congress had in fact exceeded its authority in the Missouri Compromise because it had no power to forbid or abolish slavery in the territories. The Missouri Compromise, which had served as the accepted constitutional settlement for nearly four decades, thus fell. Even the doctrine of popular sovereignty as articulated in the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854)—whereby the people of each federal territory would have the power to decide whether the territory would enter the Union as a free or a slave state—lacked constitutional legitimacy, according to Taney. He thus voided the principles of free soil (opposition to slavery in the territories and in newly admitted states), territorial sovereignty, and indeed every aspect of antislavery constitutional thought.

source

 [2] Wikipedia snarkily adds:  To bolster the argument that blacks were widely regarded as legally inferior when the Constitution was adopted, Taney pointed to various state laws, but ignored the fact that five states had allowed blacks to vote in 1788.[39]

[3] Wikipedia:   Taney’s attitudes toward slavery were complex. He emancipated his own slaves[8] and gave pensions to those who were too old to work.[citation needed] In 1819, he defended an abolitionist Methodist minister who had been indicted for inciting slave insurrections by denouncing slavery in a camp meeting.[citation needed] In his opening argument in that case, Taney condemned slavery as “a blot on our national character.”[9]

The Best You Chumps Can Hope For in our Corporate Democracy

Can former Vice-President O’Biden defeat Donald Trump in November 2020?  We will see, it appears.   He recently urged voters to go out, wait on long lines and cast votes for him in primaries held during nationwide public closures to slow the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic.   Biden and the DNC want to sew the Biden nomination up and end the debate and disunity among Democrats, plague be damned!   If you’re healthy, Biden idiotically tweeted, you have nothing to fear.   Go out and vote!

We are four months from the Democratic National Convention in July, twice as far from the actual presidential election.   What is the rush to anoint the chosen opponent to Trump without hearing the details of his actual policy positions?   No matter.  Would you rather have Biden or that Hitler-wannabe Trump?   No brainer! Shut this puppy down, say Biden’s surrogates, in the name of uniting to defeat Trump, the People have spoken!  

My fear is that this deeply flawed candidate with a compromising and anti-progressive policy record on many things [1] and a tendency to smoothly peddle untruths [2] will lose to an even more shamelessly proficient lying sack of shit.

This tweet summed up a lot in a few words:

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On the other hand, like the oppressive and one-sided contracts we are all required to agree to when using any product or service (thank you, John Roberts), this substandard crap is the best we are fucking entitled to.   Get used to it, because well-paid people who know much better will always decide what is best for us in a corporately controlled democracy.  

That’d said, when the time comes, obviously, we all have to hold our noses and vote to support whichever corporately sponsored candidate runs against Trump.

If Trump winds up beating Biden like a drum next November, or even ekes out a surgical 10,000 vote, Facebook-algorithm-assisted Electoral College mandate, you may begin to think of history differently.   A brutal loop, that, with small variations, plays forever in favor of the most ruthless among us.    

The beauty part?   There is nothing you can do about it, we are told over and over again, except be very afraid and vote for another, less toxic, idiot in hopes of safely returning to politics as usual.

 

[1]  Biden’s consistent pro-corporate work on bankruptcy, predatory credit card practices, support for the Saudi war in Yemen (world’s current number one humanitarian crisis– but good for American munitions makers and their shareholders), mass incarceration, The Crime Bill, Welfare Reform, taking repeated positions for freezing or cutting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid.  

In addition, as a friend put it nicely, Biden is “dumb as a bag of rocks”.

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[2] a short list of recent Biden lies:  his claim to have graduated in the top of his class in law school, 76th out of 85 — pretty close;  his repeated untrue story about being arrested in South Africa while visiting Mandela; his claim during the recent debate with Sanders that he can name all nine of Sanders’s Super PACs– when challenged by Sanders to do so he snorted “come on!” — he tends to laugh off direct, uncomfortable questions with that winning, affable bullshit artist smile of his.

 

Dr. Bandy Lee on the American Psychiatric Association’s 2017 gag order on shrinks commenting about Trump’s fitness for office

As for the fitness of this particular ignorant, opinionated, lying, braying jackass to be the president, I think this short video lays out an excellent case, with some bracing details about the recent “tightening” of the old Goldwater Rule [1] that psychiatrists can’t venture a diagnosis of a public figure unless they’ve examined him and he agrees to the disclosure of his psychiatric diagnosis.  Right after Trump took office the American Psychiatric Association made the rule much more restrictive, in effect a gag order.  Take a look.

There is also a transcription of the entire presentation below the video (click the “more” tab).  It’s a quick read, here’s a pertinent section:

The rule was changed to cover not just diagnosis, but any aspect that anyone can observe from the outside, such as speech, affect and behavior. None of that could be commented on as a professional. That was a change that was made in March 2017.

It reinterpreted the rule into something that an ethical rule never has been before.

The timing of this change by the American Psychiatric Association shortly after Donald Trump’s inauguration, as well as the APA’s dependance on federal funding and pharmaceutical industry support, require consideration.

Now, news programs regularly give the Goldwater rule as a reason for not covering both mental health experts and non experts. This way, professional opinion is made the same as any opinion, the way facts are made the same as alternative facts.

Many psychiatrists call the new rule a gag order, and many distinguished APA members, including officers, resigned as result, according to an informal poll. A large majority of psychiatrists disagree with the rule and believe it should be changed.

Why is this important with a new silencing of professionals? The public may have been deprived of critical information at a critical time to be able to protect itself, since knowledge is power. Suppressing knowledge is a form of control and an essential ingredient to tyranny.

We can see this from the general silencing of whistleblowers and journalists.

Given that Mr. Trump’s probable mental incapacity and dangerousness were a near consensus among mental health professionals, it might have been important for the public to know about.

This behavior is not random and dangerous behavior is often recurrent.

Above all, the public seemed to need to hear that mental impairment is real and not just a fabrication or an insult for those who already saw the signs.

 

[1] “… A psychiatrist may share with the public his or her expertise about psychiatric issues in general. However, it is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement.”