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Friday, 5 January 2007
Talking through his hat
Topic: politics

In his first address to the state legislature, new Governor Eliot Spitzer showed how much less than advertised he really is. Never mind the “reform” mantra – Spitzer is talking about baby steps that seem geared to preserving the status quo indefinitely.

The centerpiece of the governor's program is supposedly health care reform. He grandly spoke to the Leg about “a comprehensive strategy to restructure our health care system.” But the details show no movement toward that goal.

Instead, Spitzer would do things like these: enroll more eligible people in  Medicaid, extend coverage to a half million now-uninsured children, close twenty or so hospitals statewide, emphasize home care rather than institutionalization when appropriate, and use the state’s bargaining power to reduce drug costs. All okay, considering how bad things are for people now shut out of the system – but certainly nothing like a “restructuring.”

Any program worthy of that term would begin with a state single-payer insurance system, which would cover everyone immediately and comprehensively (and much more cheaply). Single-payer is a classic “elephant in the room.” But now we should rewrite the cliché as “donkey in the room,” since the task of ignoring the obvious solution has now fallen to the ascendant Democrats, both in Albany and Washington.

Intriguing footnote: Today’s Democrat and Chronicle has a story about the City of Rochester’s mistakenly paying out close to $200 grand in health insurance premiums for dead people. It’s tough, say city officials, to keep track of retirees and dependents and remove them from the rolls as they expire. Anyway, now that the errors have been found, the Blues/Excellus will reimburse City Hall for the premiums.

A happy ending? Not exactly. This sort of bureaucratic mess, which would be impossible under single-payer, is what happens every day in the labyrinthine world of health insurance, and we all pay for the waste, most of which is never detected – and most of which winds up in the paychecks and dividends of the profiteers, among whom are the million-dollar Blues execs.

Someday we may even have a governor who goes after these Blues-suited pirates. But for now all we’ve got is Eliot Spitzer and his “reforms.”

 

P.S. and partial retraction: Just after I posted the above, a message came from Metro Justice organizer Jon Greenbaum pointing out a much more progressive feature of Spitzer's reform agenda. The message is below; call MJ at 325-2560 for more information.

"In his State of the State Address, Governor Spitzer told the people of New York that Clean Money Clean Elections is one of his main objectives this year.

To neutralize the army of special interests, we must disarm it.  In the coming weeks, we will submit a reform package to replace the weakest campaign finance laws in the nation with the strongest.

Our package will lower contribution limits dramatically, close the loopholes that allow special interests to circumvent these limits, and sharply reduce contributions from lobbyists and companies that do business with the state.

But reform will not be complete if we simply address the supply of contributions.  We must also address the demand.  Full public financing must be the ultimate goal of our reform effort.  By cutting off the demand for private money, we will cut off the special-interest influence that comes with it.

"Congratulations!!

"Everybody who showed up at one of his campaign stops, sent an email, wrote a letter to the editor, signed a postcard, spoke to a community group, helped with our video- it ALL helped nudge Spitzer closer to taking this courageous stand.

"Now we need to tell our legislators to do the same!" – Jon Greenbaum

 


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 10:43 EST
Updated: Friday, 5 January 2007 12:14 EST
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Tuesday, 2 January 2007
New Year winces and wishes
Topic: politics

Planet Earth being what it is, no New Year can begin without a supreme offense to basic morality and contempt toward the actual historical record. And so it is with the death of Gerald Ford.

Yes, we should be as generous as possible to the dead. And so we all extend our sympathy to Ford’s family and friends, who must be feeling a deep loss. We also should concede that Ford was better than his immediate predecessors, and probably most of the presidential pack up to this day – and sure, he was a “nice guy” in the usual strained sense of the term, much as with the Chief Frat Boy who still manages to hold off his political day of reckoning.

But Ford, who’s sometimes credited with steering US foreign policy temporarily away from mass murder and indiscriminate destruction, really did have a lot of blood on his hands. It’s fun to read Alexander Cockburn’s view that the man from Grand Rapids (actually East Grand Rapids, a separate municipality that still is an island of privilege within a sorely stressed Rust Belt city) was our “greatest president,” but of course that’s because the competition is gutter level.

For a quick recap of Ford’s foreign policy career, check out Stephen Zunes’ fine piece posted on commondreams.org. There you’ll read about Ford’s collusion with Pinochet, the Shah of Iran, Ferdinand Marcos, Mobutu, and other butchers and torturers - most grievously, Indonesia’s Suharto, who infamously got the “green light” from Ford and henchman Henry Kissinger to invade and occupy East Timor, an adventure that cost more than 200,000 innocent lives.

Henry the K is scheduled to eulogize Ford at the latter’s state funeral. Just goes to show you, old war criminals don’t die, or even fade away; they recline on the puffy clouds of high punditry and elder statesmanship.

Now, why doesn’t the nation hold a solemn funeral for the 3,000 American servicemembers killed in Iraq (the 3,000th was felled by an IED while Ford’s official mourning period began and Bush’s Iraq policy renovation crew was meeting in what must have been sober cluelessness) and then use this tip-of-the-iceberg statistical milestone as prelude to a commemoration of the half million Iraqi dead?

I don’t mean a commemoration with vain prayers, slow marches, and lying sacks of garbage at the lectern. I mean one that starts with getting the US the fuck out of Iraq.


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 17:24 EST
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Saturday, 23 December 2006
Apartheid redux - and action plan
Topic: politics

Usually I’m not drawn to designer olive oil in small fancy bottles - and with large fancy prices. And I don’t much like the concept of a “Holy Land” (though the idea that all land/earth is sacred sounds pretty good).

 

But I’m making exceptions on both counts to push Holy Land Olive Oil, a high-end fair-trade product from farmer cooperatives in the still-occupied West Bank. Some proceeds from sales of this extra virgin, first cold press oil - made from hand-picked olives grown without pesticides and other such chemicals - are directly re-invested in Palestinian communities that have long struggled to maintain their orchards; and this re-investment is vital now, as the Palestinian economy suffers even greater stress than “normal.”

 

I’ve got an armful of 500 ml bottles of this fine oil in front of me right now; they make great stocking stuffers. You can buy Holy Land at Abundance Cooperative Market, 62 Marshall St., right off Monroe Ave. near the Inner Loop. (Disclosure, if one is necessary: I serve on the Abundance board of directors.)  And you can learn more about the product at www.palestineoliveoil.org.

 

You can also get a taste of the conditions under which such oil is produced by following the work of the Christian Peacemaker Team in the West Bank city of Hebron (www.cpt.org), where a small group of extremist “settlers” seek to dominate and dispossess a large Palestinian population - often with tacit or overt support from Israeli troops on hand. (Check out relevant reports from Israeli human rights groups like B’tselem, www.btselem.org.) Below is a recent CPT report from the trenches:

 

CPT monitors olive harvesting

6 November 2006
By Abigail Ozanne

The olive harvest in Al Khalil (Hebron) began 26 October, following the end of Ramadan. During the harvest, Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) members have observed trends in the reactions of Israeli forces and settlers to Palestinians harvesting olives. In several cases, Israeli authorities have allowed Palestinians to pick olives if they have a permit and have protected them from Israeli settlers. Sometimes, at the land close to the settlement enclave of Tel Rumeida, Israeli forces have not allowed internationals to pick with the Palestinians and have required the Palestinians to get permission from the Israeli District Command Officer (DCO).

On 26 October, a Palestinian who lives directly below the settlement enclave of Tel Rumeida, received a permit to harvest his olives. At the family's request, about a dozen internationals and Israeli human rights workers arrived to help with the picking, while local press observed. The group had to cut razor wire in order to clear the path to the olive trees. Soon after the group began picking olives, Israeli settlers entered the grove and others watched from settler mobile homes.

One settler woman holding a baby began yelling at the Palestinian owner, "You are all terrorists! You want to kill the Jews! You killed my father!" He replied, "No, I'm not a terrorist. I haven't killed any Jews, and my family protected Jews during the massacre of 1929." Then the woman claimed the olive trees belonged to her and shouted at him, "If you want to pick olives, go to Tel Aviv to pick olives!" She kicked one of the olive pickers, causing him to lose his balance and fall. Another settler hit a Palestinian nonviolent activist in the face, injuring him slightly. The young man did not retaliate.

Later, the Israeli police came. They said that the Palestinians could pick olives but the internationals could not help and only journalists and Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) members could observe. When picking resumed, Israeli soldiers and police stood nearby and the settlers watched from a distance.

On Friday 27 October, CPTers and internationals joined another Palestinian family picking olives on their land. After the group had been picking for several hours, a settler boy came down from the settlement caravans and threw a stone at the olive pickers. Israeli military units-after determining that the family had a permit-monitored for the rest of the day. Every time settlers threw stones or tried to approach too close, the officers chased them away.

On 26 June 2006, the High Court of Justice in Israel ruled that Palestinians have the right to enter and work their land, and the military commander is obligated to protect this right. In five cases where CPTers witnessed families harvesting their olives, Israeli authorities prevented setters from interfering with the harvest. In four of those cases, the family had to show their permit to pick the olives on their own land.


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 08:59 EST
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Sunday, 17 December 2006
Carter's apartheid
Topic: politics

With its recent (and belated) review of Jimmy Carter’s new book, the downstate daily that veteran journalist John Hess used to call “The Nouveau York Times” plumbed new depths of rag-dom.

Carter’s Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid has generally brought out the worst in American journalism, which is pretty lame under the best circumstances. You’d think this book – by a former president who’s won the Nobel Peace Prize, garnered praise worldwide as an election observer and stateside as a benefactor of low-income housing, and on the flip side, jettisoned a strongly pro-military and interventionist record as president in favor of a touchy-feely-preachy image as born-again conscience of the nation – would inspire deep respect, if not genuflection. But no. Carter has really stepped in it this time, mostly because he dared to use the “A” word in his subtitle. References to apartheid, and extended analogies with the South African racist regime, appear frequently in Israeli media, but such daring is not allowed in the US.

Which brings us back to the Times, whose review of the book (12/14) was dominated by concern over the admittedly provocative term. The reviewer used five named sources who trashed Carter – including the centrist Michael Kinsley, the faintly liberal Dennis Ross (who specializes in distorting the record of Clinton-era talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders), and the far-right contortionist Abraham Foxman of the justly discredited Anti-Defamation League (whose latest caper was a covert attack on esteemed historian Tony Judt). And for balance? Well, the reviewer quoted Carter himself.

The review also quoted The Jerusalem Post, surely one of the worst of Israeli papers – certainly overrated among US readers, though in this regard it can be seen as a worthy companion to the NY Times. For a better grasp of informed Israeli opinion, one can turn to Ha’aretz of 12/15 and historian Tom Segev’s largely positive review of the book.

After a few quibbles, Segev, one of the pioneering “new historians” whose reality-based recasting of Middle East history is now unexceptionable, addresses “the uproar… over the word apartheid”:

“That's another thing I would have recommended that Carter forgo, if he'd asked me,” says Segev. “It's  not necessary; the situation is terrible as it is.” But Segev’s take on terminology is much different than that of Kinsley, Foxman, et al. “Now everyone's busy arguing about the use of the term `apartheid` instead of focusing on the horrors of the occupation in the territories… But [Carter’s] principal argument is well-founded, and backed up by the reports from B'Tselem, Peace Now, Israeli newspapers and even many articles that appear in The New York Times (as opposed to the theory, which Carter cites, that says Israel's critics are being silenced). Like many others, Carter points out the ongoing and systematic violation of the Palestinians` human rights; the injustices of the oppression perpetuate the conflict. It's bad for everyone, the United States included.”

I believe the apartheid analogy is right on – and that the American people need precisely this kind of wake-up call. Analogies are intrinsically and notoriously inexact, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have great value. For many years the Israeli left has drawn comparisons between Israel/Palestine and the old South Africa – not just with the “A” word, but by using the word “bantustans” to describe the archipelago of West Bank cantons that Israeli and US negotiators want the Palestinians to accept in lieu of a viable, governable state.

I’ve long been critical of Jimmy Carter, from way to his left. And frankly, his thesis about Israel/Palestine, as opposed to his book’s bracing title, doesn’t move us leftward enough from the “moderate” consensus. But I’m glad to see the “A” word entering the American lexicon in this context, where it surely belongs.


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 12:54 EST
Updated: Sunday, 17 December 2006 12:58 EST
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Sunday, 10 December 2006
Slipping and sliding
Topic: urban issues

As tests of our transportation system go, this week’s snowfall wasn’t even a pop quiz. Yet for pedestrians, the forgotten ones who are assumed to have no place to go, the system still flunked.

I took a stroll up Mt. Hope Ave. the day after the snow, and here’s what I found. The long stretch of sidewalk at the edge of Highland Park was unshoveled – thanks to inattention from the Monroe County parks department, whose administrative offices are in the park a quarter mile east, near South Avenue. By contrast, the sidewalk on the west side of Mt. Hope, under the control of the city-owned cemetery, was nicely cleared, as were some short stretches near The Distillery sports bar and some other businesses. (The Distillery maintains an additional parking lot a few doors down Mt. Hope, so its management has an obvious interest in helping patrons get from their vehicles to the front door.)

Things got chancier south of Elmwood Ave. The University of Rochester presumably is responsible for the sidewalks by the former Towne House, which it has long owned. But the walks there were innocent of shovel or plow. Up by the parking lot where the old Wegmans used to stand (property the UR acquired when Wegmans ditched the neighborhood) I found a couple parallel tracks through the snow that must have been made by a power wheelchair. Maybe this is a sign that the UR - which I cited a few years ago for the wretched job its subdivision, the Memorial Art Gallery, did with sidewalks on University Avenue, Prince St. and Goodman St. – plans to mount blades on wheelchairs from Strong Hospital around the corner and deploy a volunteer plowing service. (N.B.: MAG did clean up its act eventually; I hope they’re still doing the walks in a timely manner.)

People often figure I have a tough time getting around in winter on my bike. Not at all. Especially since studded bike tires came on the market, winter riding has been a breeze, a pleasure, and generally easier on the body than riding in summer heat and blazing sun. (Cf. a favorite website of mine, www.icebike.org.) No, it’s the pedestrians who have a tough time in winter. But that’s not because of the weather. It’s because of the privileged classes' persistent failure to treat pedestrian routes and facilities as important links in the transportation system - a failure which puts an annual freeze on the most vulnerable population’s mobility rights.


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 21:33 EST
Updated: Sunday, 10 December 2006 21:39 EST
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