<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Dispatches 11/1/14



The death of a Liberian national stricken by the Ebola virus a week after Dallas emergency room workers failed to notice that he might be suffering from hemorrhagic fever exposed the limitations of Texas health care, but both Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott — Perry’s heir apparent as the Republican nominee for governor — are proud of their roles in fighting the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which could help save the lives of 6,000 Texans a year by making it possible for them to seek medical care. One quarter of Texans — six million people — lack health insurance. That is the highest uninsured rate in the country. Among other things, the ACA, popularly known as “Obamacare,” offered to pay $65 bln over 10 years for the expansion of Medicare to cover 1 mln working poor Texans whose jobs don’t offer health insurance and whose income is up to 133% of the federal poverty level. Perry and Abbott not only rejected that offer, but they also worked to make it harder for Texans with income between 100 and 400 percent of the poverty level to sign up for subsidized coverage under the ACA’s federal marketplace.

Texas politicians aren’t the only ones who couldn’t care less about the health problems of working-class families. In neighboring Louisiana, Gov. “Bobby” Jindal (R) also declined $6 bln in federal money to expand Medicaid coverage in his state. Nearly 900,000 Louisianans currently lack health insurance and 242,150 could get it from Medicaid expansion, except that conflicts with GOP ideology. “Expansion would result in 41% of Louisiana’s population being enrolled in Medicaid,” Jindal explained in 2013. “We should measure success by reducing the number of people on public assistance.”

Because of mean-spirited Republican politics, more than 27,000 Americans may have lost their lives needlessly this year because they didn’t get medical attention, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health predicted last December. The study, done for Health Care for America Now, predicted that the refusal of federal Medicaid funds by 25 states that were rebuffing the program at that time would deny coverage to 4.8 mln low-income people and might result in the deaths of 27,452 Americans. Since then two of those states — New Hampshire and Pennsylvania — have agreed to expand Medicaid, and four states — Indiana, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin — reportedly are negotiating with the feds on expansion plans. That leaves 19 states — with the largest being Florida and Texas — still refusing the federal money and forcing their working poor residents to scramble for medical care on their own and die if they can’t find it.

FBI REPORT DEBUNKS ‘GOOD GUY WITH GUN’ MYTH. While Wayne LaPierre of the NRA claims the “only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” the FBI found that gun-wielding civilians had minuscule impact on stopping mass shootings.

The FBI analyzed 160 “active shootings” between 2000 and 2013 that resulted in injuries to 1,043 victims, including 486 deaths, Mike Weisser noted at HuffingtonPost.com (9/29). The number of incidents and victims has been going up, with the annual number of incidents averaging 7.5 between 2000 and 2006, and jumping to an annual average of 16.3 between 2007 and 2013. The increase in casualties each year is even more dramatic, with the totals (not including the shooters) going from 247 between 2000 and 2006 up to just under 800 over the following seven years. The FBI defines an “active shooting” as an incident during which “both law enforcement personnel and citizens have the potential to affect the outcome of the event based upon their responses.”

“Here’s how these incidents ended,” Weisser noted. “More than half (56%) were terminated by the shooter who either took his or her own life, simply stopped shooting or fled the scene. Another 26% ended in the traditional Hollywood-like fashion with the shooter and law enforcement personnel exchanging gunfire and in nearly all of those situations the shooter ended up either wounded or dead. In 13% of the shooting situations, the shooter was successfully disarmed and restrained by unarmed civilians, and in 3% of the incidents the shooter was confronted by armed civilians, of whom four were on-duty security guards and one person was just your average ‘good guy’ who happened to be carrying a gun.

“The fact that 21 of these shooting situations were terminated by unarmed civilians as opposed to a single incident that ended because a good guy had a gun might come as a big surprise to the NRA, but for those of us who try to engage in the gun debate by issuing statements based on facts, this finding is consistent with other evidence that the pro-gun community chooses to ignore. For example, in 2005 Gary Kleck published a study funded by the Department of Justice which showed that persons who resisted assaults by running away or calling the police had a better chance of escaping injury than if they resisted the assault with a gun. This is the same Gary Kleck whose 1994 paper claiming that millions of Americans thwart crimes each year with guns is still cited by the NRA as its gospel for justifying civilian armed defense.

“The FBI report not only debunks the ‘good guy stops the bad guy’ nonsense, but also gives us some important data to judge the validity of another NRA mantra, namely, whether ‘bad guys’ are drawn to commit shootings in gun-free zones. This bromide was all over the media after the Aurora theater shooting when it was pointed out by John Lott that the Cinemark was chosen by James Homes because it was the only theater showing the movie Batman that had a policy against allowing patrons to carry guns.

“According to the FBI, of the 160 active shootings, 39 or roughly 25% took place in educational facilities and the shooters were overwhelmingly students who either attended or had attended the particular school. In most of these cases the connection of the shooter to the school was the motivating issue, not the fact that the schools were gun-free zones. More than two-thirds of all the active shooting incidents between 2000 and 2013 took place in locations which were not readily understood to be gun-free zones. But why let facts stand in the way of an opinion or, better yet, a good marketing scheme?”

BETTER WAYS TO SPEND $1T THAN ON NUKES. President Obama campaigned on an anti-war platform and has talked convincingly about moving gradually towards a world that is free of nuclear weapons, yet a new report shows that nearly half (45%) of the 16,300 nuclear weapons on earth belong to the United States. That includes a stockpile of nearly 4,800 right in our own backyards, in the United States itself.

Jasmine Tucker noted at OurFuture.org (9/30) that in addition to the security threats posed by nuclear proliferation, all these weapons come at a real cost. Over the next 10 years, the US is set up to spend about $355 bln on modernizing and operating the “nuclear triad” of ballistic submarines, land-based intercontinental missiles, and long-range bomber, according to a recent Congressional Budget Office report. Other experts project that over the next 30 years, spending on things like modernizing facilities, buying replacement systems and upgrading existing weapons could top $1 t;n.

“Not only does this increased spending undermine President Obama’s own global non-proliferation efforts that began in 2009, it’s also a significant long-term financial investment in weapons that don’t even respond to today’s threats,” Tucker noted. “Meanwhile, pinched federal spending and deficit hawking continues to stall progress on domestic initiatives like education, the economy and jobs programs that Americans consistently say should be the nation’s top priority.”

If, instead of building our nuclear arsenal, we invested those dollars on domestic initiatives like clean energy, infrastructure improvements, education, or health care, for $1 tln, here are a few alternative things we could do for future generations:

• Invest in the education sector, which could create 26.7 mln jobs;

• Double our nation’s nutrition assistance budget over the next five years;

• Power every household in the nation with wind energy for the next nine years;

• Double current Head Start enrollment for the next 55 years; or

• Provide every American currently living below the poverty line with free health care for the next seven years.

“Back in 2009, President Obama was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his support of nuclear disarmament,” Tucker noted. “... Let’s ask him to earn his right to keep it by not spending hundreds of billions of dollars into more nuclear weapons we don’t need, and instead investing here at home.”

$22B TO FIGHT ISIL THE SAME YEAR FOOD STAMPS WERE CUT $8.7B. Juan Cole also noted at JuanCole.com (10/1) that while the war on the “Islamic State” forces in Iraq and Syria is expected to cost from $18 bln to $22 bln a year, Congress cut food stamps by $8.7 bln last February, causing 850,000 households to lose an average of $90 per month in food assistance, with the pretext that the federal government has no money (being in debt and all).

“The point is that the same people who have trouble justifying a safety net for the working poor and find it urgent to cut billions from the programs that keep us a civilized society rather than a predatory jungle– the same people have no difficulty authorizing billions for vague bombing campaigns that are unlikely to be successful on any genuine metric,” Cole wrote.

“The failure of an air campaign in Syria where there is no effective fighting force on the ground allied with the US, which could take advantage of the bombings, is becoming evident at Kobane. Despite US and other aerial bombings, ISIL fighters have moved to only a couple of miles from the besieged Kurdish city.

“In contrast, in Iraq the Kurdish Peshmerga have taken a few villages and a border crossing with Syria back from ISIL in the past couple of days, and may have benefited in this push from close air support from the US and other governments. Even there, while intervention to stop the Kurdish capital of Erbil from falling to ISIL might be justifiable, helping the Kurdish Peshmerga capture Sunni Arab towns is a more delicate proposition.

“In any case, all of a sudden I guess cost is no object for the Tea Party and its fellow travelers,” Cole concluded.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), noted that House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has renewed his proposal to cut Social Security and disabled veterans’ benefits to pay for more defense spending. Ryan has resurrected his plan to change the formula that the federal government uses for calculating annual cost-of-living adjustments. According to published reports, Sanders noted, Ryan said he wants to boost the Pentagon budget by taking what he called “savings” in Social Security and other programs pegged to those annual adjustments.

“Let’s be clear,” said Sanders, a senior member of the Senate Budget Committee, “the chained CPI that Congressman Ryan supports is nothing less than a massive cut in benefits for Social Security recipients and disabled veterans.” The Ryan chained-CPI plan would cut Social Security benefits by more than $120 bln over 10 years. The average Social Security recipient who retires at age 65 would get $658 less a year at age 75 and would receive over $1,100 less a year at age 85 than under current law.

IN FIGHT AGAINST ISIS, ISLAM IS PART OF SOLUTION. Mainstream Muslim leaders have joined Western leaders such as President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron in an effort to delegitimize the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” by using Koranic references to back up their claims, Dean Obeidallah noted at TheDailyBeast.com (9/28). At the National Press Club (9/25), Muslim leaders produced a 17-page open letter to al-Baghdadi (the ISIS leader), written in both English and Arabic, signed by 125 Muslim clerics and scholars from around the world, including the US, and explaining in detail why, from an Islamic point of view, ISIS’s actions are “wrong” and an “offense to Islam, to Muslims and to the entire world.”

The letter (available online at lettertobaghdadi.com) explains why horrific acts taken by ISIS violate specific Koranic verses and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, Obeidallah noted. Ahmed Bedier, one of the Muslim leaders involved in the effort, explained that the detailed religious references were meant to give the letter “street cred,” especially among “very conservative Muslims and others who may sympathize or buy into the ISIS narrative.”

The letter highlights in short sentences 24 actions ISIS has taken that violate the principles of Islam. A few examples:

• “It is forbidden in Islam to harm or mistreat—in any way—Christians or any ‘People of the Scripture.’”

• “It is forbidden to kill journalists and aid workers.”

• “It is forbidden in Islam to force people to convert.”

The letter then explains in detail why each of these actions is un-Islamic. For example, in response to ISIS forcing people to convert to Islam or die, the drafters note that this conduct violates one of the most fundamental principles of Islam: “There is no compulsion in religion.” (Al-Baqarah, 2: 256) 

Regarding the recent killing of the two American journalists, the clerics explain to the leaders of ISIS: “You have mercilessly killed the journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, even after Sotloff’s mother pleaded with you and begged for mercy.” They note that this contradicts the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, who stated, ‘Have mercy and you will be shown mercy.’”

“I’m sure some are asking: Why didn’t we see Muslim scholars do this before?” Obaidallah wrote. “Bedier responded that the Muslim community has become better organized in recent years and can now respond in a more united way. Plus there’s an understanding by Muslim leaders that many people of other faiths see only negative images of Muslims in the media, thus, making it important to not allow the extremists to define the faith.

“I also believe there’s another reason why we are seeing this and why some Muslim nations have joined the military campaign versus ISIS. While ISIS potentially poses a threat to the United States, to many Muslims living in the Middle East, ISIS is a clear, present, and immediate threat. ISIS’s philosophy is in reality not ‘submit to Islam or die’; after all the group is slaughtering Muslims daily. It’s ‘submit to ISIS or die.’ Nothing is a greater motivator than self-preservation.”

Obaidallah concluded that “to really cut off ISIS’s pipeline of recruits and financial support from Muslims, it requires that we not view Islam as the problem, but actually as a big part of the solution.”

IT’S NOT A SKILLS SHORTAGE KEEPING WAGES DOWN. It’s not a shortage of technology graduates that is keeping wages down, Jared Bernstein, former economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden and now a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, wrote at Prospect.org (10/7), “But a number of important new studies show that it’s not technology-driven skill deficits that are depressing wage and job growth. It’s the weak economy, not yet recovered from the Great Recession, it’s persistently high unemployment robbing workers at almost every skill level of the bargaining power they need to claim their fair share of the growth, it’s terrible fiscal policy, it’s large and persistent trade deficits, it’s imbalanced sectoral growth as finance booms while manufacturing lags.

“The policy implications that flow from these findings are profound. Improving workers’ skills is obviously insufficient. Supply doesn’t create demand. In fact, there’s evidence that as demand for college-educated workers has tailed off, they’ve been moving down the occupation scale, displacing workers with lower education levels.

Susie Madrak wrote at CrooksAndLiars.com (10/7), “Whenever you see the president making his speech about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) training for good jobs, what he really means is that corporations demand a glut on the market that will drive down wages. Because we already have plenty of unemployed people in those fields, people employers don’t want to hire at the rate their skills demand. And new graduates are also having trouble getting hired. So when employers talk about a STEM skills shortage, they almost always mean ‘trained people who will work for peanuts.’ See how that works?”

BOEHNER’S WELCOME CANDOR: NO GOP JOBS PLAN. When House Speaker John Boehner tweeted his five-point jobs plan (10/7), Steve Benen noted at MaddowBlog, it showed a welcome candor. The plan, numbered one through five, was left entirely blank — making it appear as if the Republican plan to create jobs simply doesn’t exist.

The tweet did include a link to the actual five-point plan, but Benen said that only reinforced the fact that the Republican jobs agenda is little more than a mirage.

“The ‘five key things’ policymakers should do, Boehner said, is ‘reform our tax code,’ ‘solve our spending problem,’ ‘reform our legal system,’ ‘reform our regulatory system,’ and ‘improve our education system.’

“Vague platitudes, however, do not a policy agenda make. For that matter, none of these five slogans are backed up by real, substantive proposals – except maybe tax reform, which Boehner and House Republican leaders killed earlier this year – and none of them addresses the parts of the domestic economy most in need of policymakers’ attention.

“Making matters slightly worse, Boehner’s mistaken tweet comes against the backdrop of the Speaker’s claims that House Republicans have passed more than 40 jobs bills – a claim that’s demonstrably untrue.

“Technical flops can be funny, but what matters here is Boehner’s accidental honesty. House Republicans have no meaningful legislative accomplishments to show for their four years in the majority; they have no real platform for 2014; and they have no credible plans for governing in the near future.”

PLUTOCRATS’ CHOICE LOSES IN BRAZIL. World financial markets were disappointed (10/6) when their favorite candidate in Brazil’s presidential election, Marina Silva, placed third. The runoff (10/26) will be between incumbent President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers Party (PT) and neoliberal technocrat Aécio Neves, Greg Grandin wrote at TheNation.com (10/6). Rousseff is favored to win.

“Over the last two months, financial markets made it clear they wanted Silva to be the next president of Brazil,” Grandin wrote. “They really, really wanted her. A month ago, when Silva was unexpectedly rising in the polls, predicted to win, Brazil’s stock market soared, rising nearly 7%. Investors goosed Brazil’s real [currency], for a short time making it ‘the world’s best performing major currency in the three weeks after Silva announced her candidacy on Aug. 16 and polls showed her in the lead.’

“But then Rousseff rebounded in the polls and the love disappeared. Last week, the wolves of Wall Street exercised their ‘veto,’ punishing both Brazil’s currency and stock market. The real tumbled to the lowest it’s been in six years and stocks suffered their worst one-day plunge in three years. Brazilians are used to this sort of thing. It happened every time Dilma’s predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, ran for the presidency (1989, 1994, and 1998) until, in the 2002 contest he finally won, he signed a pledge to the International Monetary Fund that he’d maintain a budget surplus and not renege on foreign debt. This time, though, it wasn’t enough to save Silva.”

Silva has an impressive background, coming from a dirt-poor family of rubber tappers of African descent in an Amazonian backwater. As Lula’s minister of the environment, she had a good record slowing Amazon deforestation and environmentalism. But in this election, she distanced herself from her activist past and aligned with Brazil’s agricultural and financial industries. She promised tight budgets, high interest rates (to keep bond markets happy) and aligning Brazil more closely with US trade, Grandin noted.

A second term for Rousseff will be especially important in the realm of international affairs, Grandin noted. “Since coming to power in 2003 with Lula, the PT has steered a foreign policy fairly independent of Washington”. While not as radical as Havana in the 1960s seeding insurgent movements throughout Latin America or Hugo Chávez of Venezuela standing up in the UN and waving away George W. Bush’s lingering smell of sulfur, Brazil has been absolutely indispensable in countering Washington on trade, war and surveillance as the region’s economic center of gravity and an important member of the so-called BRIC countries.

From The Progressive Populist, November 1, 2014


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