Posts from March 2008

And now they bring up you.

Here’s the opening of a MoveOn fundraising letter that I got just before going out of town last week. I’ve cut it off at the point where I stopped reading:

From: Nita Chaudhary, MoveOn.org Political Action <moveon-help@list.moveon.org>
Subject: 60 votes to win
Date: 3/19/2008 6:46 AM

Dear MoveOn member,

It’s happened again and again this year, on every issue we care about. Iraq. Health care. The climate crisis. Strong bills have sailed through the US House, only to stall in the face of Republican obstruction in the Senate. Republicans are on pace to double the Congressional record for the most filibusters.

Here’s the good news: Republicans are defending 23 Senate seats next year, compared to just 12 for the Democrats. Democrats could gain as many as 60 seats in the Senate, enough to break Republican filibusters and usher in a new era of progressive reform.

We’ve got a plan to take advantage of every seat that’s in play, make even more races competitive, and create a progressive majority that will last for a generation. But it’s going to take sustained support from you to pull it off and there’s no time to waste. Can you contribute $15 per month (you can cancel at any time) from now through Election Day?

Last year, the Senate Republicans obstructed numerous bills including stalling health insurance for the children who need it most and blocking a time-line to bring the troops home from Iraq.

Now look at some of the proposals from the Democratic presidential candidates that will almost certainly take 60 votes in the Senate to pass:

  • No more blank checks in Iraq

. . .

I stopped reading here because this is a lie.

It does not take 60 votes in the Senate to pass No more blank checks in Iraq. It does not take a filibuster-proof supermajority in the Senate — any more than it takes a veto-proof majority in the House — to halt blank-check funding for the Iraq War.

It doesn’t take positive legislation of any kind at all to halt funding for the Iraq War; all that it takes is a lack of any more laws to keep on funding it, whether in the form of regular budget line items or in the form of the repeated off-the-ledger infusions of cash which go to fund the Occupation’s perpetual state of emergency. Republican Senators can’t filibuster a non-bill and neither can President George W. Bush — or any President who might succeed him — veto it. It doesn’t take 60 Senators or 290 Representatives to stop bills from passing. All you need is a simple majority, which the Democrats already have, and have had for the last year and a half, and with which they have done worse than nothing over and over again.

The reason that those blank checks keep getting written, with Democrat Harry Reid and Democrat Nacy Pelosi’s signatures right by the X, is because the Democratic leadership, so-called, doesn’t give enough of a damn about ending the war to take on the political costs of blocking funding for it. The only reason that they could possibly think that doing what they want depends on having a larger majority than they already have is if what they want to do is something other than halting war funding.

The Democratic leadership clearly wants a larger majority in Congress, and they are going to keep on giving George Bush every dollar he asks for unless and until they get that larger majority. They don’t need the larger majority to stop sending him the money, so one of two things must be true. Either the Democratic leadership is waiting until they consolidate more political power so that they can pass a plan which will prolong the war rather than ending it, or else they are waiting until they consolidate more political power because they don’t want to end the war until after they’ve fully exploited it as a campaign issue in the upcoming Congressional and Presidential elections. In either case, the strategy is despicable. And in either case, it’s shameful to see a putatively antiwar group repeating their opportunistic lies.

No union with war-mongers, spiritually or politically.

Further reading:

Damn the facts–full speed ahead!

As far as I can tell, Jamie Kirchick, assistant editor for The New Republic,[*] has devoted most of his young professional life to becoming exactly the sort of bright boy at the The New Republic whom Randolph Bourne had in mind when he wrote The War and the Intellectuals, and who, decades later, would make the best and the brightest into a bitter national joke. In any case, here’s something from his latest, a TNR blog post on Barack Obama’s relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and his recent speech on race:

Finally, what concerns me most about the Wright controversy isn’t the Pastor’s racist statements or even his unhinged views of Israel. I don’t think Obama agrees with any of that nonsense. What concerns me is the sort of comment that Wright made about Harry Truman’s ending World War II, that We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye. This smacks of the Howard Zinn/Noam Chomsky/Nation magazine wing of the American left that Democrats serious about this country’s security (and winning in November) should not want within 100 miles of the next administration.

— James Kirchick, The Plank (2008-03-21): Thoughts on a Speech

Let’s set aside, for the moment, Rev. Wright’s confusion about personal pronouns. I didn’t bomb Hiroshima or Nagasaki, and I don’t think that he did, either. But that’s apparently not what Kirchick has a problem with. What he has a problem with is what such statements about the U.S. government smack of.

But, Mr. Kirchick, no matter what it may smack of to mention it, isn’t it true that the United States Army bombed Hiroshima?

No matter what it may smack of to mention it, isn’t it true that the United States Army bombed Nagasaki?

No matter what it may smack of to mention it, isn’t it true that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed somewhere around 210,000 civilian men, women and children — about 70 times the number of civilians killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon?

As far as I can tell, nothing that has provoked Jamie Kirchick’s outrage here is actually, you know, false. Perhaps he thinks that these are facts which it is rude to mention in public. But if being taken for serious about this country’s security (which is TNR-speak for this government’s wars) requires not mentioning them–that is, if being taken for serious requires silence or dissembling about the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people for the sake of a shared vision of American power, then it is well worth asking just who the hell these assholes are who we’re supposed to prove our seriousness to. And what their notion of seriousness really amounts to. And why anyone should think she has to prove a damned thing to them.

(Via David Gordon, via Lew Rockwell 2008-03-23.)

* You may remember Kirchick from an earlier piece he published in TNR during the late unpleasantness.

Further reading:

Isolated incidents

Here is a map of the United States with 299 colored pins on it, with each one representing a botched paramilitary police raid.

Death of an innocent. Death or injury of a police officer. Death of a nonviolent offender.
Raid on an innocent suspect. Other examples of paramilitary police excess. Unnecessary raids on doctors and sick people.

Small enough to fail

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke announced Sunday night Wall Street’s largest investment banks could borrow directly from the Fed just as commercial banks do now — and use questionable collateral, such as mortgage-backed securities, to boot.

Many critics say the central bank is pledging to rescue Wall Street without demanding an end to excesses that contributed to Monday’s jittery markets, creating a moral hazard that could lead to more excesses.

The Federal Reserve continues to give aid to the irresponsible, said one critic, Peter Morici, business professor at the University of Maryland. Others said the U.S. government seemed much quicker to bail out Wall Street bankers than people who cannot afford their mortgages.

As it moved swiftly Sunday to bring about the sale of Bear Stearns, Wall Street’s fifth-largest investment house, the Fed allowed JPMorgan to use Bear Stearns’ mortgage-backed securities as collateral for some $30 billion in financing.

The central bank also reduced the interest rate on these loans to 3.25 percent and lengthened the payback term from 30 to 90 days.

When reporters asked Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson whether the Fed and the administration seemed more inclined to bail out big banks than Americans facing a home foreclosure, he noted Bear Stearns stockholders are going to lose on their investments.

Bernanke and his colleagues have concluded these Wall Street firms have become too big to fail and so need backup assistance from the Fed when needed, said Naroff.

— William Neikirk, Washington Tribune (2008-03-18): Fed likely to stay on offensive: Rate cut expected amid controversy

You, on the other hand… well, sorry, honey, but you’re small enough to fail.

In fact, you’re small enough to get stuck with the bill for government efforts to prop up teetering financial titans.

Barry Bosworth, economist at the Brookings Institution, raised another question: Suppose another Wall Street firm gets into trouble over mortgage-backed securities and no one wants to buy them? Fed intervention might not be enough to save such a firm, he said.

This is a big break with the past, Bosworth said. Their job is to protect the overall economy on the financial side, and they can’t make distinction [between commercial and Wall Street banks] anymore.

Some fear the Federal Reserve might be forced into bailing out troubled firms directly, by buying mortgage-backed securities or assets, rather than offering easy-term loans. But that’s seen only as a last resort.

— William Neikirk, Washington Tribune (2008-03-18): Fed likely to stay on offensive: Rate cut expected amid controversy

The lesson to learn here is not, ultimately, that the federal government ought to be bailing out homeowners facing foreclosure instead of (or in addition to) Bear Stearns. It shouldn’t be doing anything of the sort. Government economic intervention is precisely what has caused this crisis, by using its money monopoly to systematically favoring large-scale, consolidated, irresponsible financial firms, and to forcibly smooth out the normal churning and higgling of capital markets for those firms’ benefit, at the expense of working people’s income and cash savings. They do it through the extortion racket that keeps a steady flow of cash to holders of government securities; they also do it through the counterfeiting racket that passes for money in these days, the supply of which a handful of politicians and banking bureaucrats can manipulate at will, so as to suck every last drop of purchasing power out of working people’s wages and cash savings, in order to disgorge it into the dollar-denominated accounts of the kind of people who get big loans of finance capital. Government economic intervention and the money monopoly in particular have been deliberately calibrated to redirect resources and control upwards into the responsible hands of politically-connected investment banks and speculators, and then to send you the bill (either visibly in your taxes or invisibly through inflation) for the massive screwjob that they’ve perpetrated on you. These interventions, which amount to the black ops of the class war, go on because in the explicit ideology of the ruling class, political economy should be rigged to safeguard the interests of the biggest, richest, most entrenched incumbents, no matter how royally they screw up and how recklessly they play with other people’s money, while the rest of us, little folk that we are, are expected to eat the costs of not only our own mistakes, but the bankers’ and politicians’ too, because we are somehow better off being extorted or defrauded in order to ensure that all of us keep on living with our economic fortunes perpetually dependent on the engorgement of these corporate behemoths. Shifting that dependency, in the particular case of home foreclosures, from businessmen to the very politicians who have spent all these years robbing us for the businessmen’s benefit will not help the problem. It will only mean that the businessmen are able to pawn off one more liability on the government, while the rest of us are forced to pay through the nose for a government-structured solution that changes nothing fundamental, and leaves us dependent on the good will of government bureaucrats instead of banking bureaucrats.

And that is the real lesson of this story: the class structure of the State and its economic regimentation. In Anarchy, with freed labor and freed markets, there is another way. A way for working people to be free to take control of their own lives, and to live by their own work, in their own homes, by voluntary mutual aid, and by gifts freely given. In which none of us, no matter how small, will be forcibly corralled into depending, for our security, healthcare, homes, retirements, and livelihoods, on the interests of entrenched big players–neither the economic fortunes of self-aggrandizing robber barons, nor the tender mercies of the political appropriations process. In which we will not be shaken down for extorted charity to cover the gambling debts of predators, parasites, and fools. That way is dumping the bosses off your back–both economically and politically–and the way to move forward on it is to move toward building a vibrant counter-economy, which can feed us while we starve out the monopolists, manipulators, and the rest of those who want to take our money, by force or fraud, so that they can go on living in the style to which they have become accustomed.

Further reading:

Death by Homeland Security (#2)

(Via La Chola 2008-03-17.)

Francisco Castaneda, a refugee from the civil war in El Salvador, died on February 16, 2008, from metastatic penile cancer.

He died because he went without getting a biopsy or receiving any medical treatment for about a year after obvious and excruciatingly painful symptoms began to show up. He went without the biopsy and the treatment because the United States government’s immigration Securitate had him locked in a cage at the time, and they repeatedly refused to let him get any treatment.

I came to the United States from El Salvador with my mother and siblings when I was ten years old to escape from the civil war. my family moved to Los Angeles where I went to school and began working at the age of 17. My mother died of cancer when I was pretty young, before she was able to get us all legal immigration status. After my mom died, I looked to my community for support, and found myself wrapped up in drugs instead, which, today, I deeply regret. I worked, doing construction, up until I went to prison on a drug charge, where I spent just four months before I was transferred into ICE detention.

When I entered ICE custody at the San Diego Correctional Facility in March 2006, I immediately told them I had a very painful lesion on my penis. After a day or two, Dr. Walker examined me and recognized that the lesion was a problem. He said he would request that I see a specialist right away.

But instead of sending me directly to a specialist, I was forced to wait, and wait, and wait, and wait. All the while, my pain got worse. It started to bleed even more and smell really bad. I also had discharge coming out of it. Aparrently the Division of Immigration Health Services was deciding whether to grant the request. Dr. Walker submitted the request more than once and, after more than a month, it was finally granted. When I saw an oncologist he told me it might be cancer and I needed a biopsy. He offered to admit me to a hospital immediately for the biopsy, but ICE refused to permit a biopsy and told the oncologist that they wanted to try a more cost-effective treatment.

I was then referred to a urologist, Dr. Masters, but I only got to see that urologist two-and-a-half months later, after I filed sick call requests and grievances with ICE. The urologist said I needed a circumcision to remove the lesion and sop the pain and bleeding, and also said I needed a biopsy to figure out if I had cancer. ICE and the Division of Immigration Health Services never did either of those things. They said that it was elective surgery.

My pain was getting worse by the day. When you are in detention, you can’t help yourself. I knew I had a problem, but with everything you have to ask for help. I tried to get medical help everyday. Sometimes I would show the guards my underwear with blood in it to get them to take me to medical, but then they would say they couldn’t do anything for me. All they gave me was Motrin and other pain pills. At one point, the doctor gave me special permission to have more clean underwear and bedsheets, because I was getting blood on everything. A guard from my unit once told me he would pray for me because he could see how much I was suffering.

Several more requests for a biopsy were denied. They told me in writing that I could get the surgery after I left the facility–when I was deported.

In late November 2006, I was transferred from San Diego to San Pedro Service Processing Center. When I got there I immediately filed sick call slips about my problem. after a few days I saw the doctors. I told them about my pain and showed them the blood in my boxer shorts and asked them to examine my penis. They didn’t even look at it–one of them said I couldn’t be helped because I needed elective surgery. They just gave me more pain pills.

In the middle of December, I noticed a lump in my groin. It hurt a lot and was a little bit smaller than a fist, so I filed a sick call slip about it. Another detainee told me it could be a hernia. I never got any treatment for it, and I later found out that was a tumor, because the cancer had already spread.

In the beginning of January, one of the guards told me I was going to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. They put me in handcuffs and leg shackles and drove me in a van to the emergency room. When I got there the officer walked all around trying to find someone to see me, but he was told I would have to wait in line like everyone else. After about an hour of following him all chained up, he took me back to San Pedro and I didn’t get to see anyone.

Back when I was in San Diego, another detainee gave me the phone number for the ACLU and said they might be able to help me. I called them, and spoke with Mr. Tom Jawetz, here, and told him my story about how much pain I was in. When I got to San Pedro he sent letters and called the people at the facility to try to help me get medical care. Finally, around the end of January, immigration agreed to let me get a biopsy. They made an appointment with the doctor, but just before the surgery they released me from custody. A doctor actually walked me out of San Pedro and told me I was released because of my serious medical condition and he encouraged me to get medical attention.

The first thing I did was call the doctor to see whether I could still get my biopsy. The secretary told me ICE had cancelled it. I then went back to the emergency room at Harbor-UCLA–the same place they had left me in the waiting room in shackles–and I waited to see a doctor and finally get my biopsy. A few days later, the doctor told me that I ahd cancer and would have to have surgery right away to remove my penis. He said if I didn’t have the surgery I would be dead within one year. On February 14–Valentine’s Day–nine days after ICE released me from custody, I had the surgery to remove my penis. Since then, I have been through five aggressive week-long rounds of chemotherapy. Doctors said my cancer spreads very fast–it had already spread to my lymph nodes and maybe my stomach.

I’m sure you can at least image some of how this feels. I am a 35-year-old man without a penis with my life on the line. I have a young daughter, Vanessa, who is only 14. She is here with me today because she wanted to support me–and because I wanted her to see her father do something for the greater good, so that she will have that memory of me. The thought that her pain–and mine–could have been avoided almost makes this too much to bear.

I had to be here today because I am not the only one who didn’t get the medical care I needed. It was routine for detainees to have to wait weeks or months to get even basic care. Who knows how many tragic endings can be avoided if ICE will only remember that, regardless of why a person is in detention and regardless of where they will end up, they are still human and deserve basic, humane medical care.

In many ways, it’s too late for me. Short of a miracle, the most I can hope for are some good days with Vanessa and justice. My doctors are working on the good days and, thankfully, my attorneys at Public Justice here in Washington, Mr. Conal Doyle in California, and the ACLU are working on the justice–not just for me, but for the many others who are suffering and will never get help unless ICE is forced to make major changes in the medical care provided to immigrant detainees.

I am here to ask each of you, members of Congress, to bring an end to the unnecessary suffering that I, and too many others, have been forced to endure in ICE detention.

— Francisco Castaneda (2007-10-04), testifying before the House Immigration Subcommittee Hearing on Detention and Removal: Immigration Detainee Medical Care

This man’s life could have been saved. He wanted to get medical treatment in March 2006. His doctor recommended a biopsy. If he were a free man, he could have gotten this treatment, but as a prisoner of the U.S. government’s Homeland Securitate, he was forced to stay where they wanted him to stay, go where they wanted him to go, and get what they wanted him to get. So he lived with excruciating pain for two years while the cancer grew, spread, and ate him away from the inside. It didn’t matter when he developed a painful lesion; it didn’t matter when he bled everywhere for months; it didn’t even matter when he developed a tumor the size of his fist. What matters to the ICE bordercrats, and their hired thugs, is that this man once possessed a stimulant that the U.S. government didn’t approve of him having, and, to their minds, that’s a good enough reason to grab him at gunpoint, lock him in a cage for months on end, and then exile him from the home he has lived in since he was 10 years old. Or, in this case, to just lock him in the cage and deliberately deny him medical treatment until the imprisonment turns into a slow-motion death sentence for a nonviolent petty drug charge. What, after all, is the life of Francisco Castaneda — who is, after all, only a man, a son, the father of a teenaged girl — compared with the duty to zealously protect the prohibitionist domestic policies of the U.S. federal government, the awful importance of rigorously preserving the sanctity of imaginary lines in the southwestern desert, and the honor of the politico-cultural system of international apartheid, which those lines are drawn to implement?

Federal judge Dean Pregerson just issued a ruling in which he denounced ICE’s actions, or inaction, as conduct that transcends negligence by miles. It bespeaks of conduct that, if true, should be taught to every law student as conduct for which the moniker cruel is inadequate. The primary practical effect of this ruling is that Francisco Casteneda’s family will be able to sue ICE in federal court for his death. They certainly deserve whatever compensation they can get for this horrible crime. But even if they succeed, it must be remembered that the sanctimonious, unaccountable thugs who effectively tortured a peaceful man to death — the immigration cops, the prison guards, and the comfortable bureaucrats, government lawyers, and politicians who direct them in their actions — will never pay a damned cent for what they did. What they will do, if a judgment is entered against them, is to help themselves to tax money in order to make the pay-out, sticking the rest of us–who never had anything to do with their asinine border laws, immigration prisons, or callous indifference to human life–with the bill. Then they will go on doing exactly the same vicious and inhuman things to peaceful people who never did anything to deserve such appalling treatment. And why wouldn’t they? As far as they can see, they have every reason to believe that none of them will ever be held personally accountable for their choices.

Further reading: