Monday, October 20, 2014

The Irish Widow and the Liberian Fiancé:
Ebola, CEO Disease, and the Public Good


The Ebola crisis highlights the absurdity of pretending that a private, for-profit health system can do what a real public healthcare system must.

Remember the deadly-Ebola-like-virus movie where Dustin Hoffman and Renee Russo and Morgan Freeman and a whole state-of-the-art medical team, along with a small army (There’s always an army!) swoops in to quarantine the sick, catch the monkey, whip up a vaccine, and save the country?

Keep dreaming. That’s a fantasy. In reality, there is no public healthcare system. There is no serious publicly-funded and publicly-managed infrastructure, institution, or set of resources devoted to healthcare as a public good.

As the Washington Post said: “The hospital that treated Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan had to learn on the fly how to control the deadly virus.” The CDC? It runs a web site and holds press conferences. The medical professionals are all in private hospitals, now mostly folded into large private healthcare conglomerates, that do whatever the MBAs who manage them dictate—which is what the MBAs who manage the private for-profit health insurance companies are willing to pay for. As Rob Urie points out: “Missing from this ‘process’ that now finds Mr. Duncan dead, two nurses who attended him with Ebola themselves, the American health care system revealed as wholly unprepared to deal with what at present seems a moderately communicable disease, is any notion of a public interest.”

Here’s Juan González, talking to Karen Higgins, to co-president of National Nurses United:
The executive director of your union, RoseAnn DeMoro …, specifically raised the fact the CDC has no control over these individual hospitals, that in the privatized hospital system that we operate in here in the United States, the CDC can only offer guidelines, and it’s up to individual hospitals whether they’re going to enforce those guidelines, practice those guidelines. And, in fact, the CDC said yesterday…that they have no plans to investigate what happened at Texas Health Presbyterian, that that’s the responsibility of the local Department of Health in Texas. 
Karen Higgins: I think, you know—unfortunately, I think she’s right, as far as what powers the CDC has. … And what happens is then CDC makes recommendations, guidelines, and then it falls apart, because what you do with it as an individual hospital, because every hospital is pretty much individual, is where it starts to fall apart.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Gaza Calling: It’s the Colonialism, Stupid!

On how Gaza lays Zionism bare, in eight bites.

Subjugate, expel, exterminate

This summer’s Israeli assault on Gaza was a horror show. Whole families killed, whole neighborhoods levelled, schools and hospitals attacked, electricity, water, and waste treatment facilities destroyed, about 500 children killed, 3000 injured (1000 with lifelong disabilities), and 1500 orphaned – utter devastation.  We’ve all seen the pictures. I’ve written about it. I’m not going to go over the specifics again.1

I share with many the conviction that this deliberately disproportionate carnage constitutes a despicable crime. It has certainly forced everyone to confront the deep disparities and injustices embedded in what’s called the Israel-Palestine conflict. The incessant waves of death and destruction visited on Palestinians for decades have challenged even those Westerners predisposed to “liberal Zionism” to question more radically what they think the Jewish state, and the Zionist project, is, was, or could be all about.

Conversely, the aftermath of the Gaza carnage has seen the defenders of Israel become ever more frantic and adamant in asserting the absolute righteousness of the Zionist project—not just refuting, but wherever possible refusing to allow any fundamental questioning of its legitimacy. Ask Stephen Solaita.

Yet, casualty figures and atrocity photos are not really what the argument is about. We have to remember, as Miko Peled points out, that: “Israel began attacking Gaza when the Strip was populated with the first generation refugees in the early 1950s.”2 This summer’s Gaza carnage helps reveal the problem, but it is not itself the fundamental problem.

The fundamental problem is colonialism. You know, that thing where a group of people, who want the land somebody else is living on, take it. By subjugating, expelling, and/or exterminating the indigenous population.

The fundamental argument here between Zionists and non- or anti-Zionists is not about civilian casualties, but about colonialism. It is not about how many civilians the IDF (or Hamas) killed last month, but about the ongoing colonialism-in-progress that necessarily produces these casualties. It’s colonialism that provides the context which gives the facts and events their ethico-political meaning.

This needs to sink in. Israel is a colonial-settler state. Zionism is a colonialist project.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Bailout Created the Debt,
Not Vice-Versa

Take a look at this graph, from an interesting post (and follow-up) by documentary filmmaker David Malone on his blog Golem XIV. It shows that everything we've been told about the 2008 financial crisis and the resulting bailout is a complete crock of shit. It's the bailout that created the public debt crisis, not public debt that created the need for a bailout. The bailout, in every one of these countries, was a means for the financial elite to preserve its own enormous wealth by shifting its unsustainable private debt onto the shoulders of the public.

As Malone points out:
The green bars are debt as percentage of GDP before the bank bail outs and the blue bars are after. .... Notice Ireland. Its debt to GDP was down at 27%.  The ONLY thing that altered between 2007 and 2010 was the bank bails outs. Ireland’s ENTIRE debt problem is due to bailing out private banks and their bond holders. ... the fact is that all European nations apart from Portugal were either reducing their debt-to-GDP level or at least not allowing it to grow. Most of Europe was reducing government debt to quite manageable and historically low levels. ...Almost  every European country was keeping debt to GDP even or going down – before the banks were bailed out that is. The exceptions, of course, were Greece and Italy ..
The sudden explosion of European sovereign debt is the direct and indisputable result of all our political parties deciding they would safeguard their mates’ and their own personal wealth (it is the top 10% who hold the bulk of their wealth in the financial products which would be destroyed in a bank collapse. NOT the rest of us!) by bailing out the private banks and piling their unpaid debts on to the public purse.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Israel’s “Human Shield” Hypocrisy: The Early Days

Down those meme streets

In 2001, Edward Said called Leon Uris's 1958 novel Exodus: “The main narrative model that [still] dominates American thinking” about Israel.1 As a Haaretz columnist Bradley Burston put it more recently (2012), in an article entitled “The ‘Exodus’ effect: The monumentally fictional Israel that remade American Jewry,” Uris’s narrative “Tailor[ed], alter[ed] and radically sanitize[ed] the history of the founding of the State of Israel to flatter the fantasies and prejudices of American Jews.” Burston quotes American Zionist Jeffrey Goldberg, who served in the IDF as a prison guard, to the effect that "Exodus … made American Jews proud of Israel's achievements. On the other hand, it created the impression that all Arabs are savages.” And he quotes none other than David Ben-Gurion: "As a literary work it isn't much…But as a piece of propaganda, it's the best thing ever written about Israel."2       

Of course, even more Americans owe their education in Zionism to Otto Preminger’s 1960 movie version of the book, which has been “Widely characterized as a ‘Zionist epic’ [that was] enormously influential in stimulating Zionism and support for Israel in the United States.” It was Exodus, the movie, that really viralized (as we say now) the “Exodus-effect.”3

The film stars Paul Newman as Haganah militant Ari Ben Canaan.4 Newman provides the perfect image of what Burnson calls “the wiry, wily, can-pass-for-Christian New Israeli Jew - exactly [what Uris’s] literary engineering had intended.”  Gleaming blonde Eva Marie Saint plays the love interest, Kitty Fremont, a volunteer American and Presbyterian nurse who starts out all pacifistic and ends up riding off into battle as Ari’s shiksa comrade.  It was an iconic package that was, as Jerome A. Chanes, writing in New York Jewish Week in 2010, said: "just what we needed at the time - the Americanization of Zionism and Israel.”5

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Dogs of Hell: An Original Jihadi Trashes ISIS

In my last post, I treated ISIS as a phenomenon that serves imperial interests—the latest character in an ongoing tragedy of the opportunist use of jihadi players by hegemonic powers, which went into production in Afghanistan in 1979, and which has been on the road throughout the Middle East since, with the script frequently re-written as some members of the original cast and crew drop out, and new faces take on the challenge. One of the keys to its long run is the improvisational skill with which the producers adapt to the new talent that jumps on the well-financed and outfitted stage they have provided.

Thus, I have argued that ISIS, like other jihadi groups, has been effectively armed and nourished by American interventions in the region, and that its dramatic appearance and antics are of the If-they-didn’t-exist-we’d-have-had-to-invent-them genre—particularly, at this particular conjuncture, in regard to the grand plan for Syria. I am not, however, arguing that it was deliberately created by any particular country to do so. That’s not impossible, but I’ve seen no dispositive evidence of that. ISIS is just as likely, and no less perniciously, the product of the benign inadvertence of those who set and supplied the stage.

I do find it understandable, however, that many in the region, who doubt the possibility of coincidence—especially serial coincidences, especially serial coincidences that always end up promoting the urgent necessity for imperial powers to intervene in a particular group of Arab and Muslim countries for ostensibly non-imperialist reasons—will tend to favor notions that ISIS in Syria (and Iraq) is a deliberate creation of the foreign powers meddling in the region.

To get a glimpse of the kind of thinking that is prevalent in the region, and prevalent even among fellow jihadis, about ISIS, I strongly suggest that you look at the remarkable interview with Nabeel Naiem on Syria News below. (Bear with the rocky translation from Syria News.) I don’t endorse his theories about ISIS, or anything else he says, but if you’re interested in the dynamics of jihadism and jihadi thinking in the region, and of how even the most militant Islamists detest ISIS, you’re unlikely to find anything like it.