Kudos to the New York Times

The Grey Lady, America’s newspaper of record, reports on the recent accidental killing, by Navy SEALs, of eight year-old Nora al-Awlaki, daughter of the previously executed Anwar al-Awlaki.   Awlaki’s father, Nora’s grandfather, Nasser al-Awlaki, is quoted in the piece:

Nasser al-Awlaki, the girl’s grandfather, gave NBC News a different version of events of what took place. “My granddaughter was staying for a while with her mother, so when the attack came, they were sitting in the house, and a bullet struck her in her neck at 2:30 past midnight. Other children in the same house were killed,” he said. Nora died from her injuries two hours after suffering the gunshot wound, he said. The grandfather went on to say that the SEALs burned the home after raiding it, and that Nora’s mother escaped the raid with only a minor injury. The U.S. has also killed Anwar al-Awlaki’s father and son in previous drone strikes.    source

I know I’m a nitpicky, mean-spirited motherfucker, but the Times concludes the paragraph above by reporting that the man who spoke to NBC news about the recent killing of his granddaughter had been himself killed in the drone strikes of 2011.  

We presume the Times will print a correction, if a reader writes in to point it out.  Who has the time?  Who really cares about such a seemingly insignificant detail?  There are larger issues of accuracy and credibility to concern their editors.

In a larger sense, the Grey Lady may have had it right.  It might very well feel true for Nasser al-Awlaki, that he was already killed by American drones several times over.  His petition to save his son Anwar from Obama’s kill list was thrown out of court.  His son was soon thereafter killed by a drone strike. Two weeks later his 16 year-old grandson Abdulrahim was killed by another American missile strike, also remotely launched from a Predator drone.  

Those two killings may have, metaphorically, killed Nasser al-Awlaki.  One can only imagine how troubling to his dead body the gunshot mutilated little corpse of his eight-year old grand-daughter must be.

But in fairness, and truly, America, who really gives a fuck about some family’s tragedy in far away Yemen?  Anwar al-Awlaki (you will read everywhere but in Scahill’s Dirty Wars) wasn’t a dissenting American citizen forcefully exercising his First Amendment right to oppose government actions he found hateful.   He was a dangerous terrorist, pure and simple, a powerful recruiter for hateful, murdering fanatics, the President said so.   He was very highly placed in al Q’eada when he was put on the Presidential Kill List, you can confirm that with the New York Times and NPR as well as on Fox, CNN, MSNBC.  

Chances are they all hate our freedom over there anyway, isn’t that right?   As for the beautiful little girl bystander left to die slowly in that raid, an American bullet in her spine, without medical treatment, remember that every terrorist was once an adorable eight year-old.  

Move along now, America, nothing to see here.  USA!  USA!!!!

 

 

Letter to Whom It May Go Fuck Yourself

Office of the Attorney General
The Capitol
Albany, NY 12224-0341

Honorable Attorney General Schneiderman:

I am writing to enlist your efforts to remedy the lack of state oversight of health insurance companies under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“PPACA”).

I have admired the courageous and proactive steps your office has taken against the perpetrators of various frauds and urge you to consider this letter in the context of systemic healthcare-related fraud against a large class of vulnerable citizens of New York State.

Defrauded health insurance consumers in New York State have no forum where complaints can be resolved, outside of the NYS Department of Financial Services, which, it turns out, does not hear such complaints.

 The fraud department investigator there could not find a word other than fraud to describe what I detailed, but urged me to call the NY State Department of Financial Services Consumer Services Hotline. He assured me that they were the specialists in this area. The answering machine at the hotline, which I recognized from my first call, offers no option for resolving issues with health insurance companies regulated by the ACA, or otherwise.

 On my original call, a long wait to speak to a representative yielded the number of the proper federal agency to contact.   Calls to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services are robotically routed to a NY State number that is, sadly, the office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, where some helpful party connects you to a fraud hotline, which turns out to be at the office of the Medicaid Inspector General, where the office of legal affairs is also sympathetic, but unable to help, and so forth.

 I understand that the PPACA was drafted by Liz Fowler, a career health industry insider who went on to an executive position with Johnson & Johnson immediately after her work on the PPACA was done. I have witnessed the many attempts to repeal the law, rather than fix any of its original flaws, as most other complicated laws are tweaked and improved over time. Even so, the lack of any provision for oversight of ACA programs by New York State is grotesque. As a cardiac patient unable to see a cardiologist now for many months, the lack of oversight may also be deadly.

Although the situation I’m complaining of is personal and extremely aggravating, it is typical.  I’ve commiserated with others who suffer under similar insurance coverage. Erroneous bills are a common, if relatively innocuous, theme.

I receive bills that there is no way to resolve, most recently an invoice for $1,324 for a fully covered sonogram I had in August. It was resolved with the insurance company (Empire) and the provider to a zero balance in October. Two months later, the full bill for $1,342 was sent to me again in a Third Notice.   Nobody at Empire could give me the reason the provider had sent that bill, although the representative, who checked my account and called the provider again, informed me that, this time, it was my responsibility to pay it in full.  

Empire recently sent me an email warning of termination of my insurance for non-payment of December’s premium two weeks after their email confirmation of my payment for December and January.

More ominously, you can be denied medical service without explanation (provider NPI numbers and CPT codes notwithstanding), and there is nobody in New York State you can appeal to, except to the company itself.  Empire Blue Cross “Health Plus” recently sent me to two providers for needed medical services, a cardiologist and a physical therapy facility. Neither provided me with any service. 

I received the site-specific NPI number for the cardiologist, scanned and emailed the back and front of my insurance card, got pre-approval from his office. The consultation was halted ten minutes in and I was informed that my insurance would not cover the visit.   When I arrived at the nearby ‘physical therapy facility’ Empire had referred me to, it was a nursing home. They offer PT, but only to residents.

The circuit of government agencies I have contacted in vain came full circle with the “consumer help line” the NYS Department of Financial Services Fraud Unit investigator had me call, which I immediately recognized as the very first number I’d called.   Here is a summary of that cul du sac:

NYS Department of Financial Services referred me initially to the US Dept of Health and Human Services which connected me to NYS Health and Human Services, although an incorrect branch of that agency, the pertinent branch apparently having been merged into the NYS Department of Financial Services which took over all functions of the former NYS Insurance Department, as well as the NYS Banking Department.

The NYS Department of Financial services, it appears, conducts all oversight of health insurance, as well as all fraud investigations related to consumer fraud against insurance companies, and complaints about the practices of banks and brokers. Everything but, according to John Marconi, a fraud investigator there, apparent fraud committed by insurance companies against mandated health-care “consumers” in New York State.

My political and legal conclusions are beside the point. Whatever the reasons, the fact remains that in New York State in 2017, even under the PPACA, citizens whose health is menaced by private insurance company denials have no redress.  

Outside of a possible Article 78 (which government agency would you sue for relief?  The Department of Financial Services?) or a class action under a private attorney general or qui tam statute, what is a patient trying to get an appointment to see a cardiologist since August to do under the Patient Protection Act in New York State?   At minimum an ombudsperson, or a few hundred of them, would be a good start.

As I stated above, I’ve followed your career from the start and have admired your principled engagement in the fight against injustice.   To have a legal right that cannot be enforced is to have no legal right.   While certain injustice is accounted “the price of freedom”, the lack of legal recourse for denial of health care must not be allowed to stand in New York State.

I look forward to hearing from your office and stand ready to give any other details needed.

 Yours sincerely,

A. Schicklegruber

Opacity is all that is needed for evil to flourish

One of the stated reasons wealthy American colonists revolted against King George was that they were being subjected to ‘confiscatory’ taxation without representation.  Nor were they offered any meaningful process for redress of their grievances, no way to have their concerns heard and their honest grievances dealt with.  Government secrecy and lack of voice in governance are vexations members of a democracy are not supposed to endure.

A transparent democracy is the best cure for citizen misery, knowing who to contact to solve a problem.  Mr. Obama constantly and correctly reminds us of the importance of transparency in a healthy democracy (even as he does things like classifying the Senate Report on Torture for twelve additional years under the Presidential Records Act — see, and, and). * A transparent democracy is what the Founding Fathers set up, for members of their social class.   The rest of  you bitches?  Go talk to King George.

No requirement in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act for a grievance procedure?  Not a problem, bitch.  Just keep quiet, you’ll be dead soon enough, shhhh, shhhhh…. no reason to get excited.  If you had any power, we couldn’t treat you this way.  Be reasonable, little n-word.  

If you’re skillful enough, and manage to choke down your rage and describe the situation coolly enough, maybe you can write something the New York Times will run in the back of their paper of record.  There, there.

Here, here:

Obamacare subsidy income limits

Premium tax credits and cost-sharing reductions have different income limits based on the federal poverty level (i.e., poverty guidelines). They are as follows:

  • Premium tax credits: 100 – 400 percent of the federal poverty level
  • Cost-sharing reductions: 100 – 200 percent of the federal poverty level

Your health insurance subsidy for the current year is based on the previous year’s federal poverty guidelines. That means 2017 subsidies are based on the 2016 federal poverty guidelines, which are available through the Department of Health & Human Services.

The 2016 poverty guidelines show that $12,071 is the poverty threshold for a one-person household. Based on these numbers alone, 100 to 400 percent of the federal poverty level for a single person would be $12,071 to $48,284. However, this person may or may not be eligible for a premium tax credit.

Please be aware that your subsidy eligibility may be impacted by the state you live in due to Medicaid expansion decisions and other savings programs available there.[1] Furthermore, state benchmark plans (i.e., the second lowest cost silver plan) can also impact subsidy amounts and eligibility.[2] You can estimate your premium tax credit using online calculator tools such as the one available through healthedeals.com.

* The New York Times editorial board weighs in  on declassifying the now secret 6,700 Senate Torture Report and Senators Levin and Rockefeller ask Obama, who they quote as saying:  “one of the strengths that makes America exceptional is our willingness to openly confront our past, face our imperfections, make changes and do better” to do the right thing.

 

In praise of a dead dictator

A Castro supporter on the radio just now spoke of free medical care and higher education for all Cubans.  Typical.

Any free market American Exceptionalist will plainly see these things for what they are: shameless Communist apologist propaganda.   In a free market things like health insurance and  higher education are best left to free enterprise.  

Literacy, another of the dead dictator’s alleged legacies to the people of Cuba, also, highly overrated in the age of smart phones.

Worst from an American Exceptionalist perspective: in Castro’s Cuba, nobody born entitled to makes a dime on health care or education.   SAD.

One reason Trump is President-elect, why most Americans hate their government, and why they hate others, as well

I voted for Barack Obama twice, holding my nose the second time. “All presidents disappoint”, Bill Moyers reminded his viewers during the euphoria (for many) when Obama was elected the first time.  Moyers’ reminder was one of the most sobering, and prophetic, I can recall.  Obama, smooth, thoughtful, droll, sensitive, has disappointed more than any other president in my lifetime.  

For but one example of my disappointment, let’s have a peek at his signature achievement, The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, the program the president-elect has vowed to repeal as soon as he’s inaugurated.  

I am the only person I know who is directly affected by the outgoing president’s masterful compromise with the massive health care corporations who need to remain as lucrative as ever.    I speak of the workings of the PPACA with bitter personal familiarity unmixed with statistical satisfaction of any kind about things like the possible long-term altering of medical care cost vectors.  

The law was a hasty compromise with what was sorely needed to prevent tens of thousands of preventable American deaths every year.  It was written, by industry insiders, to ensure, above all else, that the private insurance and drug industries would remain as healthily profitable as possible.  

Written by wealthy health industry lifer Elizabeth Fowler (check out the great five minute Bill Moyers clip at the bottom of the link) who worked, during a brief sabbatical in ‘public service’, for the most handsomely paid (by the Health Insurance and Pharmaceutical industries) man in government, Montana Senator Max Fucking Baucus.  

Baucus apparently admitted never having read the bill, stating that it would have been a “waste of time” to do so, because only an expert could understand its 2,700 pages (NOTE: the author of the linked Washington Post article, no friend of Mr. Obama’s, is a professor at the ‘Antonin Scalia Law School’ whatever the devil that infernal place is).   A somewhat less biased account of Baucus, with a passing note on his ambivalent role in the crafting and passage of the PPACA, is here.

One learns from the Grey Lady article that Baucus is the scion of a “prominent and mostly Republican” Montana ranching dynasty who always “marched to his own drummer” as he did, one assumes, when accepting Obama’s appointment as ambassador to China rather than face sure defeat in a re-election bid as Montana Senator after three and half decades on the job.  

Baucus took over the lead role shepherding through the PPACA when Ted Kennedy died.  Baucus is known (albeit not well) for these right-wing, business-pleasing votes, as well as for taking millions in campaign contributions from concerned health industry lobbyists:

In 2001 Mr. Baucus defied Tom Daschle, then the Senate Democratic leader, by co-writing President George W. Bush’s tax cuts, setting off screaming matches between the two Democrats. In 2003, Mr. Baucus broke ranks to support a Medicare prescription drug benefit that Democrats viewed as a giveaway to drug companies.  (source)

You can google either of these characters, Baucus or Fowler, to read their sordid bios.  One can admire the way Ms. Fowler danced through the revolving doors, and made millions while serving her fellow health industry executives, without applauding, or even cracking a smile about, the sickening health care law she lovingly crafted for Mr. Obama’s signature.

Anyway, I’m just worked up because I got “an important notice” from the New York State of Health in the wee hours of the morning. It arrived at 3 a.m., certainly the most effective hour to send such crucial health insurance-related news that likely impacts a patient’s immediate health insurance coverage.  It read: 

A notice has been sent to your inbox in your account. This notice tells you important information you need to know about your health coverage for you and/or your family.

You must log into your account on the NY State of Health website to read the notice.

The careless motherfuckers at New York’s Obamacare “marketplace”, The New York State of Health, contacted me last year, with an almost Josef Goebbels-like sense of mischief, on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to inform me I would be ineligible for health insurance until March 1, 2016, at the earliest, and gave me seven (7) days to provide all tax forms and a full, written explanation of why I should be given health insurance at all.

 

Almost lost in my inbox, I took a moment just now to log into the accursed site and read this:

Screen shot 2016-12-04 at 3.04.34 PM.png

IMPORTANT NOTICE:   Today is December 4th, please come back AFTER December 15th to keep your insurance up-to-date and in place for 2017.  On, or just after, December 15th you will then have up to 24 hours — provided our servers, often overloaded just before our short, arbitrary registration deadlines, do not crash– to provide all required updates within that short window in those leisurely days before Christmas, or lose your insurance coverage until, the earliest, March 1, 2017.  

Or maybe not.  Nobody you speak to at New York State of Health, after a wait of no more than 25 minutes, will have the definitive word on what’s what.  The only thing you can rely on regarding the New York State of Health is not getting reliable information.  Take heed, though, and take that to the bank, bitch.

I’ll be eagerly following Barack Obama’s career as a private sector public speaker.  I am confident that my man will break all existing earning records for corporate speaking.  He’s that good.

Two notes on the “C”, “N” and “G” words

Few words in English retain their potency as expressions of rage, and their violent power to offend, as much as the words “nigger” and “cunt”.  

“Nigger”, unless pronounced by a black person using it in a colloquial sense, is as offensive to at least 40% of Americans as “motherfucker” a word with its roots in American slavery, the same hateful and largely undrained swamp the “n-word” derives from.  In polite society everyone is expected to defer to the new convention not to utter the hateful word “nigger.”  I get it, though the fucking “n-word” is just plain wrong.  

Pretending to be publicly polite about this word that is in constant private circulation in our great, still largely racist nation, gets nobody one millimeter closer to discussing the underlying poison of our racist past, present and future.   The young are our hope on this issue, they seem, as a group, to be less concerned about race– but they deserve our help addressing this troubling issue with its deep, ugly historic roots.  Swapping in the fucking “n-word”, and pretending it’s progress of any kind, is, if you will excuse my Yiddish, bullshit.

Same deal for “cunt”, or the “c-word”, if you’re not nasty.   A stand in for hundreds of years of brutal, senseless male domination of the, arguably, superior half of the species, “cunt” is the word a man might utter right before a modern woman kicks him in the “cunt.”   I understand how hateful and hurtful a word “cunt” is these days.  

That said, the female opera singer and the male supporter of the arts across the air-shaft who defends her right to caterwaul loudly and at length in the name of her art?  A pair of cunts I could, with equal conviction, say are a pair of dicks. 

ii

While I’m on the subject of cunts, I should mention the late, great American genius Steve Jobs, who not only redefined our notions about technological elegance and its seamless integration into our aesthetic lifestyle, but clarified the modern American meaning of “genius” (the g-word) itself.

Dig– a genius is only a genius if he exerts his vision on the world.  It’s a simple definition, as elegant as an iPod.   The genius prevails, gets to modestly opine before vast crowds, and die with billions earned and trillions to come in his wake.  A grateful world, beneficiaries of his visionary gifts, remembers him with love and respect.

I should be thankful to Steve Jobs and his ilk, for finally clarifying this always difficult issue of who is and who is not a visionary genius.  

That said, this American icon was always, as the genius culture and company he founded continues to be, as the Brits say, a right cunt.  Also, it is said, a dick.

 

Prohibition was a great success

Though, of course, it depends on what your definition of success is.

Prohibition, the Volstead Act, the Eighteenth Amendment, was passed to curtail the plague of drinking with its host of terrible social repercussions.  During its thirteen years (the “roaring twenties” into the beginning of the Great Depression) it did nothing to stop the consumption of alcohol, as it was intended to, but it did create mass contempt for a misguided law, many criminal millionaires, a wave of violence and a very lucrative, highly structured black-market industry which came to be known as Organized Crime.

Well-meaning citizens, and a certain proportion of religious fanatics, racists, xenophobes, enraged teetotalers, militantly organized to get the Eighteenth Amendment ratified in 1920.  It then became unconstitutional to manufacture, transport or sell intoxicating spirits for the purposes of relaxation or enjoyment. 

There was massive enforcement of the Eighteenth Amendment, on a scale unimaginable for the Fourteenth Amendment, which merely sought to protect the new freedom of millions of recently freed slaves.  During Prohibition there was a surge in general lawlessness, thousands died getting high on bootlegged ‘bathtub gin’ and  the murder rate spiked as bold, suddenly wealthy criminals who had no hesitation to use machine guns on competitors, cops and bystanders used such weapons.

Prohibition was repealed in 1933 when the Twenty-first Amendment was ratified.  Americans had far worse problems by then than enforcing a useless, failed war on illegal booze.  Hitler had already come to power in Germany.  1933 was a low point of the Great Depression, millions stood on line for bread and watery soup.  And so forth.  The Volstead Act had done its work, and good riddance.

Now we fast forward to 1970 and the reign of President Richard Nixon.  It was the height of the rising “Culture War” and Nixon, although reputedly brilliant, was widely hated by millions of liberals and young people, whose pinko hatred he returned with grim, paranoid resolve.   He was known to drink a lot of alcohol when under stress, and he was under continually escalating stress.  Millions of his enemies were out on the street, loudly protesting the Vietnam War, the Draft, the continued de facto and de jure racism of our great freedom-loving democracy.

Nixon signed The Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”) into law in 1970, with the avowed purpose of regulating dangerous drugs that people increasingly used to get intoxicated, to run wild, to turn on, tune in, drop out.  This federal law criminalized the distribution and possession of certain dangerous controlled substances and mandated harsh punishments of up to years in prison for the possession and use of such substances.  

By a felicitous coincidence, under this law’s federal criminalization of drugs like marijuana, it was possible to arrest and imprison as many of Mr. Nixon’s hated enemies, including but not limited to Hippies and Yippies, as was deemed necessary, anywhere in the United States.  These degenerate dope smokers, like jazz musicians, certain Negroes and many itinerant Mexican migrant workers before them, were now felons who could be put away under a federal law.

But how do you justify these arrests and long imprisonments for something it was possible to see as an infraction essentially no more evil than drinking a beer?

Schedules of dangerous, unlawful drugs were created as part of the CSA.  Drugs were organized into legal categories, with Schedule One containing all the most dangerous drugs.  These were drugs like heroin, with a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use in the United States.  These drugs were deemed extremely destructive, even under controlled medical supervision, drugs so harmful that even research on these terrible substances was generally banned.

Naturally, marijuana is a Schedule One drug, classified with the most pernicious drugs known to man.  Oddly, cocaine, produced pharmaceutically and used by dentists and millions of others, was not included on Schedule One (heroin was much more prevalent in 1970, cocaine didn’t come into its own until later).  Marijuana and cocaine, two of America’s most popular illegal drugs, are at the heart of the ruthless, highly lucrative, decades-old international production and smuggling cartels that kill thousands every year in places like Mexico.

Forty-six years later — leaving aside the many actually murdered during this almost half century of surprisingly unsuccessful new Prohibition —  millions of dope smokers have been arrested, imprisoned, lives ruined by criminal records, professional licenses revoked, because the CSA has never been adjusted to reflect current research on the many now amply demonstrated medical uses of marijuana.  

States that have legalized medicinal and even recreational marijuana have to be careful to narrowly tailor their laws to dance around the detailed prohibitions of the CSA, which can be brought down upon the states at any time, at the pleasure of whoever is running the federal agency at that moment.

Our current president, Mr. Obama, widely seen as a very cool guy (and, of course, also widely hated as such), can breezily joke about how high he got as an undergraduate.  He’s cool, you know, and in 2016, as he departs into the free market for millionaire speakers, he doesn’t have to pretend he never inhaled.  Sure, he outgrew it, obviously, hasn’t smoked that shit in decades, but, you know, back in the day, yo…

Nixon drank himself sick in the White House every night during the months leading up to his resignation as a paranoiac who abused presidential power and sanctioned illegal activity to bolster his chances to win a presidential election he would have won by a landslide in any case.  He got sweatier and shakier, and aged visibly, during those days and the booze he was sucking down was certainly no help.  

But nobody ever accused Dick Nixon of being the sort of heinous criminal who would ever smoke a joint, by God.  Ironically, a little weed might have actually helped him out.  I hear, under medical supervision, it can have a therapeutic effect on things like PTSD, panic, shattered nerves.

As for those who think marijuana should be taken off Schedule One of the CSA as a dangerous drug with no redeeming use — well, Mr. Obama as a private citizen will likely one day make a very cool, funny speech about it.  And we’ll all laugh, because most people by then will know he’s right, though, of course, millions will spit the fucking “n-word” at their TV screens and bitterly suck down their shots as they curse our permissive culture of drug addicts obscenely dancing their gay, miscegenating way to hell, and taking our great nation with it.  

There’s no pleasing some people, I’ve noticed.

 

Solving the World’s Problems

While I am just sitting around on this pleasant Saturday afternoon, and as I have not mounted my soapbox in a while, let me solve the problems of, if not the world, these United States of America.

In passing let me also note something that occurred to me last night.  Only writers are interested in reading a manuscript.  Readers are interested in reading a finished, well-edited book that they can read an interesting review of, in a publication they respect, before taking the long plunge into its hundreds of pages.   I love to write as much as I love to read, so I am not the one to ask about these things.  However, it was a realization that struck me with great force last night.  

Now, on to saving the world.

The central problem that leads to every sort of violence and abuse is a lack of meaningful, life-affirming connection.  To others, to ourselves.  Follow me here, if you will.   If you have work that satisfies you, or at least pays you well, people who empathize with you, listen to you, trust you, if you have regular joy in your life, you are unlikely to go on the internet and join a hate group.   You are less likely to join a gang, become addicted to dangerous drugs, engage in violence or other destructive behavior.   You will have healthier options and outlets.  When you have a problem, if you have someone to listen to you and give you good advice, people who remind you of the essential goodness of life, you are much less likely to do something desperate.

 Yeah, yeah, you will say– and you will know what I am driving at: helping the fucking losers.

Our societal problems are kept at a boiling point by a competitive worldview that puts only one value on everything in the world: how much is it worth in money?  Human lives are reckoned according to this irrefutable calculation:  lifetime earning potential times earning/pension years likely to be lived.  There are actuarial tables that allow experts to calculate the value of the life of a murdered 30 year-old hedge fund guy on the 98th floor vs. the dead 30 year-old busboy formerly at Windows on the World.  Hedge fund guy: several million dollars, and his widow will be angry at whatever the low-ball number is.  Bus boy: $20,000.   Guess what?   If we did the actual calculations the lump sum payment for the bus boy’s life would be much more, but what is this jerk-off’s mother going to do about it anyway?

 Actual case.  She lived in NYC public housing and, because she got this lump sum payment after her son was among thousands killed by enraged assholes on 9/11/01, she lost her Medicaid.  She was ineligible for this free health care for the poor until she spent down the $20,000.  Couldn’t afford her psych meds, or could, but they were brutally expensive and she resented having to pay the settlement money to Big Pharma.  She got angry instead, and, when Gupta the NYCHA functionary arrived at her apartment and may or may not have suggested sex in exchange for the repairs she was demanding, or may or may not have made a grab at her, threatened to castrate Gupta.   I met Gupta in court during NYCHA’s attempt to evict this woman.  Mr. Gupta was indignant about the whole thing and laughed off the attempted “rape”.  

“She’s crazy,” he told me with a big, winning smile, and he may well have been right.  But crazy women get hands put on their asses all the time, have people with even a drop of power use it to try to get some of that crazy woman sex.  I will never know the truth of what actually happened, nor, to be wearily brutal about it, do I really care all these years later.  Fact is only this: if this woman had had the money to hire a good lawyer and contest the $20,000 payment for her dead son’s life– a clear undervaluation on any scale– she would have come away with many times that amount, minus the 33% for the lawyer.  

Our society measures everything in money, everything in terms of return on investment.  When a business is profitable it succeeds.  Take agriculture, the source of our food, and also a major source of our health or lack of it.  You cut out the expenses that maximize nutrition, safety, sustainability.  Fuck it, it’s all about maximizing profit, right now.  You plant monocultures, no real profit in diversity.  You get the government to subsidize these crops, look the other way regarding your hiring practices.  You use whatever chemicals are needed to make the crop as cheap to grow and as plentiful as possible.  You feed the excess to animals you raise for maximum yield and efficiency.  There is no reason to be humane here either, that costs money, eats into profit and, let’s be honest, nobody cares about cows, chickens, pigs, turkeys, only how much beef, chicken, pork and other meat actually costs.  

Why put only one chicken per pen when you can fit ten in there?  They will go insane, begin pecking at each other, you will say.  Not a problem– cut their fucking beaks off when they’re babies.  What about disease? you will say.  Antibiotics, we shoot ’em full of it the same day we’re cutting their little beaks off.  Hormones in the food, steroids, whatever– yo, it’s meat.  This is not your pet bird we’re talking about, this is produce, product, the stuff you buy packaged raw in the meat section or deep fried at the fast food joint.  

Here comes my point, or what is left of it:

Make maximum production/profit the only motive, place about half of the population (and this percentage is growing by the day as the richest get richer) out of reach of a materially comfortable life, meaningful work, at the mercy of the cheapest and most lovingly advertised sources of food– highest calories for lowest cost– the American way, and you have the recipe for what we have now.  Millions of obese poor people with extremely expensive preventable diseases like diabetes, at a cost that the lives of 1,000 dead hedge fund guys a week couldn’t cover.   American health care is insanely expensive due, in large part, to the costs of procedures to prolong the sickened lives of the world’s unhealthiest population.

Here’s my immediate solution: create meaningful, decently paid work for poor people. At minimum, it will provide them the income to afford healthier food choices.   Instead of an army of off-the-books slaves making less than minimum wage to care, often shabbily, for old and infirm people, create a profession of skilled caretakers.    

There is a vast need for this life-saving service as Baby Boomers bloom into a huge generation of old people.  Train people for this important work.  Give the otherwise underemployed meaningful work that brings the instant rewards of connection to others, being of service, being appreciated, in addition to a decent income.  You will need to educate them, of course, but let Bill Gates and fucking Michael “Philanthropist” Milken and their filthy fucking ilk take care of that, if you prefer.  Let the billionaires reap the profit for this training if you like.  I am talking about the end-game.  

The many jobs, undone or done badly, because society, our “free market” culture, deems them of no value, that, if done well and fairly paid for would add real value to every life they touch.  Any room full of smart people could come up with a list of such jobs, jobs that would benefit millions, society, reduce poverty, crime, hopelessness, vastly improve our health and our way of life.  

Of course, I know what you’re saying: where’s the profit in any of that?   We’ll leave that up to President Trump, or President Clinton II to decide, eh?

Guns, Genetically Modified Organisms and Federalism

Should states or the federal government decide whether Americans have the right to own assault weapons and high capacity clips of ammunition?   Should the states or the feds have the final say over whether genetically engineered herbicide resistant crops may be planted anywhere, without limitation?  These are questions of federalism.

Our federal republic is an electoral democracy that balances national and local interests.   There has always been political friction over issues of federalism; does the federal or state and local government get the final say over the laws we live by? Some things are in our clear national interest, others are best decided by the local community.  Everything else we argue about.

The Civil War was fought over questions of national and regional sovereignty compelling enough to fight a war over.  States’ rights and federal government advocates clashed over every compromise in our intricately drawn U.S. Constitution.   In the end, certain fundamental issues must be resolved on a national level.

The newly granted legal rights of slaves freed after the Civil War, for example, were protected by constitutional amendments and federal laws to enforce them.   The Supreme Court soon limited the scope of these federal protections and states were allowed to pass their own laws governing the treatment of former slaves.  It was not until a hundred years later, after a lot of activism, that new federal laws against certain forms of discrimination were promulgated and protection of civil rights became a national priority.  The states are sovereign in many things, but they may not violate a federal law over that same subject matter. 

Federal preemption is the legal term for when federal law trumps state law.  The power of states and localities to act in such cases is preempted by federal law.  Our federal system is based on a case by case balancing of federal and local interests.

After a particularly horrible mass gun slaughter of kindergarten children, a large majority of Americans across the country called for federal gun restrictions. Most Americans wanted, at the very least, restoration of the ban on assault-style weapons, the guns of choice for mass shooters, a ban that was allowed to expire in 2004. This call for national action resounded again recently when a gay nightclub was strafed by a maniac wielding a legally-obtained assault rifle designed to spray dozens of bullets in seconds.

Defenders of the right to bear arms insist that gun control is a States’ Rights issue.  The NRA is a stickler on this point.  State sovereignty supporters decry federal “over-reach” every time federal gun legislation is proposed.

Monsanto corporation, makers of powerful herbicides (they were the makers of Agent Orange) herbicide-resistant genetically modified organisms, and other powerful environmental agents, is currently in federal court arguing that federal preemption should allow Monsanto’s customers to disseminate GMOs without limitation, everywhere in the United States.  

Giant international corporations like Monsanto increasingly argue that their U.S. business interests should be protected by federal immunity from state regulation and are deserving of a federal shield against liability for injuries resulting from use of their products.   Regarding their desire to be shielded from liability, they are like the gun makers, except that where the gun lobby wants states to decide, these chemical makers argue for federal preemption of all other laws.

In most things taking place within their borders, states have broad decision-making powers.   States make their own criminal, business and family laws, levy taxes, regulate most health, safety and environmental matters.  The right of the states to retain all powers not reserved to the federal government is a well-established principle in our Bill of Rights.  The Ninth Amendment reads:  The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.  

Last week three judges for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard a case involving federal statutes Monsanto argues preempt the laws and wishes of every local community in every one of the fifty states. Monsanto argues that state and local government is powerless to protect small farmers and delicate and unique ecosystems from the harms that  genetically engineered crops can cause.

The facts of this case are pretty stark.  Farmers and environmentalists in Hawaii argue that GMO cultivation contaminates their environment.  Many GMOs are engineered to be immune to herbicides, they are cultivated in conjunction with powerful herbicides and pesticides.   Chemicals used with these GMOs contaminate the habitat, soil and water of Hawaii and threaten neighboring farmers’ livelihoods.  The cultivation of these genetically engineered plants introduces toxic chemicals into schools, homes and gardens that, in Hawaii, are often close to farm land.  

 The crops the counties in Hawaii attempted to regulate, with laws Monsanto sued for relief from, are created to be herbicide-resistant, designed to allow growers to spray (Monsanto’s) Roundup and other weed killers (like 2,4-D, a component of Monsanto’s Agent Orange) on the whole field without killing the crop.  Other Monsanto crops are engineered to exude their own pesticides.  The Hawaii laws were also intended to limit transgenic contamination, the spread of the DNA of the genetically engineered plants themselves.

Under traditional American federalism the local community would, barring some overriding national interest, usually have the final say on local health, safety, and environmental matters.  The flora and fauna of the Hawaiian islands are part of a unique and delicate ecosystem and the state of Hawaii is thousands of miles from the shores of the mainland United States. It is hard to think of a better case for States’ Rights than Hawaii seeking autonomy over matters directly affecting its own ecology.

Monsanto argues that the federal Plant Protection Act and other federal statutes prevent the State of Hawaii, or any county or local government, from restricting the use of Monsanto’s genetically modified organisms anywhere in the Hawaiian islands, or anywhere else in the country.

The Ninth Circuit has previously ruled that once USDA allows a GMO plant to be sold commercially, the federal government has no authority to restrict it in any manner, so if the court accepts Monsanto’s latest argument, this would put those crops beyond the reach of any government regulation.

How do we reconcile the case of using federal law to force herbicide-resistant plants and toxic chemicals into every American community, on the one hand, and using a states’ rights argument to block federal action to control America’s unique plague of frequent mass murders by gun, on the other?  A moment then, for the compelling arguments for federal preemption of state and local law in each case.

In the case of guns, the factual argument is immediately easy to grasp.  Guns easily travel from states with permissive laws into states with restrictive ones, and regularly kill people in states with the most stringent controls.  Without federal laws, the regular mass shootings that are a unique and gruesome feature of present-day America will never stop, no matter what heroic steps individual states may try to take to prevent them. 

There is a strong case for why federal regulations are needed to stop these massacres. Only a nationwide law can have any effect on controlling access to highly portable weapons like “America’s gun”, the AR-15, the mass killers’ gun of choice.  These semi-automatic weapons shoot dozens of rounds in seconds, they were designed to allow special forces to shoot their way out of military confrontations with multiple deadly enemies.

What is the compelling national interest that justifies Monsanto seeking federal preemption of the reasonable wishes of citizens of every state, even of an island state with a unique and delicate ecosystem over 2,000 miles from the mainland U.S.?  That is now up to three federal judges, appointed for life, to decide.

150 years since slavery was abolished

Slavery, at one time enshrined, in coded language, in our Constitution, was abolished by the 13th Amendment, apparently passed 150 years ago today.  The justice and mercy of Law, what can one say?   I am about to go on a bike ride before tackling other things, but thought I’d tackle this old chestnut briefly first.

l always love the racist complaint that when it comes to slavery American Blacks should “just get over it”.  It was 150 years ago! they will heatedly remind you today.  A brief survey of those 150 years may be in order.  American states seceded from the Union, took up arms to defend their rights, including the Constitutional right to hold humans as property, to do with such property as they saw fit.  Although today most people consider slavery inexcusably evil, it was Constitutionally protected, more vigorously protected than many rights enjoyed by American citizens.

Treatment of American citizens was, and remains, largely a States Rights matter.  Advocates of States Rights seem brazen about the fact that the states most loudly demanding their rights are the same ones who took up arms against the government they felt, with mixed justice, was interfering with their Constitutional rights.  Demanding unthinkable things like the end of our genteel way of life, sir!  Damn you, sir, I say, damn you!

After a monstrously bloody war slavery was abolished by a Constitutional Amendment, the thirteenth.  The defeated rebel states had to endorse this amendment or forfeit the right to Federal funds to rebuild their war torn infrastructure (most of the fighting was in the Confederacy).  “Reconstruction” was a short-lived project, it lasted about as long as Prohibition and, though it began with great promise, did about the same amount of lasting good before it was abandoned.  When federal troops were removed from the South, and the Supreme Court severely limited the scope of the other Amendments designed to insure rights to the freed slaves, it was time for States Rights again.

We had states ruled in many cases by outfits like the Ku Klux Klan.  Can’t be sheriff, son, nor mayor, nor governor, neither, unless you move up in the Klan.  Black Codes in these states made it a crime for a black man to be unemployed and walking the streets without a certain amount of money in his pocket  Wealthy white men with fields to plow could bail out imprisoned Negroes and have them work to pay off their bail money.  The repayment was structured to last a lifetime.  The arrangement lasted less than a century, but surely seemed longer to those freed slaves who, on paper, had the same rights as anyone else.

A war was waged steadily throughout the 1930s, 40s, 50s and 60s and the Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s finally restored much of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, passed a century earlier.  Then it was only a matter of 50 years or so after that until the question of widespread poverty among the descendants of American slaves, and hopelessness, violence, racial profiling, killing by police and so forth would be back in the news.  

Malcolm X questioned why such barbarous conditions were considered a matter of Civil Rights when, more properly, they should be regarded as violations of Human Rights.  Let the U.N. decide whether America is still denying basic Human Rights to millions of its citizens, he demanded.   The ballot or the bullet, you know.  They chose, as they so often do, the bullet.  February 21, 1965.  Another big anniversary, less than a year ago, sir.