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Saturday, 29 April 2006
General confusion
Topic: antiwar
Talk about an opportunity squandered.

One of today’s hottest national personalities has plopped himself down on Rochester’s lap, but nobody is asking the right questions.

Major General John Batiste came here recently to become head honcho at Klein Steel. The new Brighton resident left the military as a kind of, sort of protest against Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld’s prosecution of the Iraq war and conduct of the occupation. (I think the qualifiers are merited, considering what must be a cushy, non-sacrificial retirement for the general after 30-plus years in uniform.)

Batiste is just one of a half dozen top-brass retirees who've recently criticized Rummy and the war effort. I suppose it’s meaningful on some level that these guys are doing this. In my experience – and here I speak as an irrevocably and joyfully retired USMC Reserve corporal – most high-ranking officers are Yes Men of the first rank. Things have really got to be bad if they open their mouths. Even when they turn into civilians and, inevitably, CEOs.

Still, neither Batiste nor the others will displace another major general, Smedley Butler, USMC, in the hearts of peace activists and leftists. Butler’s declarations (“I was a gangster for capitalism,” etc.) set him comfortably apart from any loyal opposition.

But on to the important questions for Batiste and company:

The Uniform Code of Military Justice, the governing document for all people in uniform, keeps coming up in discussions of Abu Ghraib, attacks by US troops on Iraqi civilians, etc. But for all its emphasis on the duties of subordinates, the UCMJ makes it clear that military personnel have a duty to obey lawful orders only (cf. the Nuremberg principles).

And it follows that if US actions in Iraq were and are unlawful, any orders related to carrying out the US mission there are equally unlawful.

So, dear Generals, why are you beating around the bush with issues like leadership, troop strength and deployment strategies?

Give us the goods: Do you think the war is legal or not? The world wants to know.

And here's another angle. If you thought the war was illegal back when you were in charge, why didn’t you refuse to follow or give orders in connection with the war effort, or failing that, resign immediately and make the matter public when it would really have meant something?

Conversely, if you thought or think the war is legal and should be fought until there’s some kind of conclusion, does it acually make much difference if a boob like Rumsfeld is in charge? You were moving in the circles of power, and you presumably have some good stories to pass along in this regard.

Whatever your feelings about the war’s legality, you couldn’t be unaware that the US occupation of Iraq is a disaster, that it’s making things there worse, and that the Iraqi people want US forces to get out with all deliberate speed. So why not, like Representative Jack Murtha and others, call for a withdrawal of US troops? Are you prepared to show some political courage? Or will you stay with the straight and narrow, the high and tight?

That’s what it comes down to, Generals. You need to ask yourselves some questions the media, if not some tribunal, should be asking you.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 15:50 EDT
Updated: Monday, 1 May 2006 21:20 EDT
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Monday, 24 April 2006
Signs of the anti-Times
Topic: media criticism
Over the last few weeks, a local story with strong national implications has been playing out in the surprisingly small world of New York City media.

The once radical Village Voice, now an institution with the predictable baggage of one, dropped the axe on a pair of America’s best veteran journalists, Sydney Schanberg and James Ridgeway.

Schanberg, famed for his reportage from Cambodia during the genocide of the 1970s, was essentially pushed to the extreme; he resigned in protest over changes wrought by the VV’s new owner, the New Times corporation, a Phoenix-based “alternative” media chain that’s metastasizing throughout the country. Ridgeway lasted a bit longer at his post. But the dogged investigative journalist, who spent more than 30 years at the Voice and practically defined its news coverage, was fired by the new head honcho, the otherwise negligible Michael Lacey.

Recently Doug Ireland (check out this wonderful journalist at direland.typepad.com) commented: “That these two superb journalists -- Schanberg and Ridgeway -- have now vanished from the Voice is a symbol of what is happening to that paper, and of what will most likely happen to all the other alternative weekly papers in the Voice chain…” And Ireland ought to know. He did a superb job writing the Voice’s “Press Clips” column, one of the pillars of alternative journalism in its golden age.

Some of you will recall other summary executions at the Voice. The great Alexander Cockburn, now co-editor of CounterPunch (go to www.counterpunch.org) vanished from the Voice’s pages before Ireland came on board. And in 2004, Voice management, as if sharpening the blade for future atrocities, fired iconic gay journalist Richard Goldstein along with Sylvia Plachy and four others. (Longtimer Cynthia Cotts, another “Press Clips” writer, resigned in protest, as well.)

The Voice has steadily gone downhill in the past few years – which is what happens inexorably to those who take the low road.

But what’s going on in New York, Phoenix, and other big “markets” should concern us all. As the troglodytes press on with the devolution, the alternative weekly newspapers as we’ve known them have been selling out. Consequently, the energy that once powered the alt weeklies now belongs to various online independent media – everything from indymedia and lefty blogs to alt hybrids like the Columbus Free Press, which offers a true alternative to the demi-alt Columbus Alive. It’s in such venues, online and in print, that you’ll find the really interesting writers and activists – the likes of Cockburn, Harvey Wasserman, Norman Finkelstein, Ali Abunimah, Michael Albert, Lydia Sargent, Vandana Shiva… the list goes on.

If you’re looking for the main reasons the “alternatives” are cutting off their nose to spite their increasingly featureless face, consider these: (1) they’re essentially cash cows for their owners, whatever the page-one posturings; (2) they’ve bought into a new readership-building philosophy and format that emphasize lifestyle (read: selling lots of crap), trendiness (ditto) and misdirected rebelliousness and de-emphasize or expunge critical analysis and commentary, particularly that of the genuine left. This is not to say that the alt weeklies are devoid of good writers; I know a few of them myself, with the accent on “few.”

But all things considered – excuse the Freudian slip, but today’s alt weeklies demand comparison with NPR news shows and similar fluff - is it any wonder more and more serious people are recycling these rags unread?

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 21:16 EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 25 April 2006 07:49 EDT
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Monday, 17 April 2006
Canada, they hardly know ye
Topic: economy
As soon as I saw Dr. Peter Mott's April 12 D&C op-ed on single-payer health insurance, I knew some MD out there would lob a grenade, live or otherwise.

And sure enough, just five days later, a dud from a Brighton MD landed on the D&C letters page. The doc warned against a Canadian-style single-payer plan, which he claimed "lacks the capacity to provide needed care in a timely manner." He played a slight variation on the orthodox tune: Canadians flock to US hospitals to get care they're denied at home because of long queues and sparse equipment - a situation Americans would never tolerate.

But then the doc tipped his hand.

Shockingly, he suggested that "the solutions to our problems lie in reaching agreement [about] whether we value committing scarce resources to extending the lives of our extreme elderly and those with chronic diseases."

Whoa. And ouch. I thought we had a durable agreement to give care as needed to prolong life and ease suffering. Or at least we held up something like this as an ideal. But was this doctor actually arguing for a form of human sacrifice? Did he mean to endorse a regime of cost-driven triage that would throw the oldest people (age cutoff presumably to be determined by accountants) in the dumpster, and push the chronically ill to the margins?

I hope the argument was nothing more than a D&C editing error, or someone letting his words get away from him. But let's get real: The sort of triage the letter implicitly supported is already common practice. And this might explain in part why the US has such dismal health stats - much worse than Canada's, no matter what the orthodox professionals here would have you believe.

Compare some figures drawn from World Health Organization data bases:

Infant mortality ratio: Canada, 5.1 per 1,000 live births; US, 7.2

Maternal mortality ratio: Canada, 5 per 100,000 live births; US, 14

HIV prevalence, 15-to-49 year olds: Canada, 0.3 percent; US, 0.6 percent

Life expectancy at birth, total pop.: Canada, 80 years; US, 77 years
--- males: Canada, 78 years; US, 75 years
--- females: Canada, 82 years; US, 80 years

Healthy life expectancy at birth. total pop.: Canada, 72 years; US, 69.3 years

Per capita Gross National Income (US dollars): Canada, $23,930; US, $37,600

Per capita health spending (US dollars): Canada, $2,222; US, $5,274

Looking at any or all of these figures, you can't help but conclude the Canadians, who on average aren't as rich as Americans, are doing it better and smarter.

Our neighbors across the lake aren't blind to their
system's shortcomings, either. Recently, the Council of Canadians published an update on health care that acknowledges some problems with their national single-payer system but also - contrary to the practice of stateside critics - shows where the true remedies are to be found. On the matter of queues (wait-times), the Council laid major blame on "a serious shortage of health care providers," and in turn, on health-care funding shortfalls that will require tens of billions in new spending.

In short, the Canadian single-payer system is flawed only to the extent it has been starved of money. As you can see from the WHO figures above, Canada spends half of what the US spends on health per person. If its annual expenditure per capita went up significantly, Canada could easily fix the problems dogging its health system - problems which in any case don't prevent superior national health outcomes.

The bottom line for the US is this: If we went single-payer, we could spend much less per capita and get a lot more health for our buck. And we wouldn't have to set the old folks out on the ice floe.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 15:58 EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 18 April 2006 02:19 EDT
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Thursday, 6 April 2006
Paris in the spring (2)
Late-breaking footnote to my previous post: Read what the wonderful Barbara Ehrenreich has to say on the French demos and the "Anglo-Saxon Model" (go to http://progressive.org/mag_ehrenreich0506)... And now (April 7), an afterthought to the footnote: Read a lively piece by labor writer Dave Lindorff at http://www.counterpunch.org/lindorff04062006.html - he urges us all to get into the streets; to think about important things in life, like decent work, pay, and leisure; and to ask where the US labor movement is when it's needed.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 13:45 EDT
Updated: Friday, 7 April 2006 10:47 EDT
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Tuesday, 4 April 2006
We're all Parisians now
Topic: economy
During the run-up to the Iraq invasion, the French took a beating from chickenhawk conservatives and big-business liberals alike.

The rants took this basic form: How dare those foreigners contradict our great and wise leaders (here I refer not to George Bush or Dick Cheney – that would be stretching the joke past the breaking point – but to Colin Powell and others who supposedly had “credibility” and basic moral instincts)? Why can’t they be team players? They’re so mysterious; it must be some cultural quirk, an ingrained stubbornness, a pious exceptionalism. Surely there can’t be actual reasons for such contrary behavior.

Now the chick-cons and bb-libs are at it again. But this time the object of their cluelessness is the inspiringly unending series of French rank-and-file protests against the “CPE,” the odious measure that would take away basic job protections from younger workers.

Again, our clueless classes blame it all on French idiosyncrasy. But as even some of the domestic business press is saying, it’s clear the French are struggling against something all too real and threatening – the imposition of American-style labor rules, like the “work at will” regime that condemns working people of all ages to the kind of social insecurity that many Europeans rejected decades ago.

The protesters deserve our support. They understand that their government, carrying water for capital, has its eyes on a further prize: the incremental “casualization” of labor, to be sold over the coming years as one after another adjustment to achieve “competitiveness.” Which, of course, is better known as “the race to the bottom.”

It’s no exaggeration to say the protesters in Paris and elsewhere across France are acting on American workers’ behalf. If Chirac and de Villepin carry the day – at the moment they’re flogging a softer version of the CPE, but the people in the streets aren’t taking the bait – the American labor movement will suffer a real setback. We’ve got enough on our hands already, not only with the massive loss of jobs (cf. GM/Delphi and many others) but with the relentless attacks on labor organizing, again even by those posing as “liberals.”

Maybe justice will prevail and the CPE and the government that floated it will fall. Then we can hope – and work actively – for a westward domino effect.


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 21:06 EDT
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