A Profound and Jarring Disconnect

Democracy: de-moc-ra-cy, government by the people; the common people of a community, as distinguished from any privileged class

According to the latest poll conducted by CBS “60 Minutes” and the magazine Vanity Fair, 61 percent of Americans want to raise taxes on the wealthy as the primary way to cut the budget. The same poll finds that the second most popular first choice for cutting the nation’s budget deficit, at 20 percent, is cutting the military budget. That is, 81 percent of us–four out of five–would cut the deficit by taxing the rich and/or slashing military spending.

Only four percent of those polled favored cutting Medicare, the government-run program that provides health care for the elderly and disabled, and only three percent favored cutting Social Security.

President Obama meanwhile, appointed a so-called National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (quickly dubbed the “Catfood Commission” by critics) to come up with proposals to cut the budget deficit. He named as co-chairs former Republican Senator from Wyoming Alan Simpson, a troglodyte sworn enemy of Social Security who publicly declared it to be “a milk cow with 310 million tits,” and Erskine Bowles, a retired investment banker and former chief of staff to President Clinton who says he wants to cut spending, not raise taxes, which, when it comes to Social Security, means lower benefits for retirees.

Review of A Free Man of Color: A Historical Play with Modern Significance

Performed at the Vivian Beaumont Theater, Lincoln Center, New York

One of the biggest challenges for modern people trying to understand history is to conceive of the past beyond stereotypes. When we use Martin Luther King Jr. as an example of Civil Rights resistance, we must also consider the troops of housecleaners, preachers, construction workers, teachers and others earlier in the 20th century whose unyielding efforts made the movement work. In the 19th century, when we lionize Harriet Tubman and the brave people she brought to freedom, we must also cherish the imperfect people who did not escape. They are our Southern ancestors. And when we think of pre-Civil War America, we can’t simply conceive of black slavery and white masters – especially in New Orleans. We must consider the people of color who were both owners and, at various times and in various ways, enslaved.



That is the clear intention of the production, A Free Man of Color, by playwright John Guare and director George C. Wolfe Jr, which has just opened at New York’s Lincoln Center. It is a complex and intimate play, attempting to encompass the sweep of history from French colonial New Orleans to just after the Louisiana Purchase, including the influence of Spain, the United States and San Domingue (Haiti) on the sale

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Righting an Ugly Wrong: Compassion or Just Crass Political Calculation?

An outrageous assertion by a potential presidential candidate who praised a group which had notoriously and openly supported racial segregation played a role in finally righting one of the most grotesque wrongs anywhere in America’s justice system with the freeing of two sisters serving controversial double-life sentences for an $11 robbery they did not commit.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour recently announced suspending the troubling prison sentences of Gladys and Jamie Scott primarily on the humanitarian grounds that older sister Jamie needs a kidney transplant.

Back in 1994, a Mississippi jury convicted the Scott sisters for a Christmas Eve robbery the preceding year. The Scotts, according to police and prosecutors, had lured two men into an ambush where three teens robbed the victims of what records indicate was $11 in cash.

Despite their having no criminal record and no direct involvement in the actual robbery, according to testimony, the Scott sisters received a double-life sentence each for what the prosecutor said was their roles in organizing the robbery.

Though seldom used, Mississippi law permits life sentences for robbery.

DADT: A Repeal of Convenience

Am I the only queer person in the country that is sad about the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”? I know the long-delayed bill just signed into law has destroyed my plan to avoid any future military conscription.

Let me explain. Many of my male friends in college photodocumented their participation in pacifist activities.  They explained that this was their insurance policy against any eventual military draft: solid proof to support a history of conscientious objection.  As a queer person, I had another plan, though:  If anyone tried to compel me to serve in the military, before anyone could even “ask,” I planned to “tell” by yelling, “I’m gay, and not in the happy way!” loudly and repeatedly, until no branch of the military would want me. Just for extra measure I would threaten to convert any and all women that I ran across.

Now, in the wake of another victory for queer rights in this country, it seems silly to not have taken pictures of myself at anti-war protests anyway.

But I have mixed feelings about the repeal of DADT for other reasons, too.  With queer folks now allowed to serve openly, it seems that yet another oppressed minority group has been pulled into being exploited by the American military-industrial complex.
 Jess GuhThe Author: Jess Guh

Serfing USA: Corporate America is Robbing American Workers

Along with the staggering theft in broad daylight of Americans’ assets that has occurred in the course of the ongoing financial crisis, as taxpayers funded multi-trillion bank bailouts and banks stole homes through foreclosures with the help of fraudulent paperwork, American companies have also been picking the pockets of workers more directly.

This second round of paycheck theft has come in the form of stolen productivity gains.

Historically, the relatively high and rising standard of living of American workers–both blue and white-collar–which once gave the US one of the highest standards of living in the world, has come courtesy of rising productivity, which has allowed US companies to produce more goods with less labor, and to then pass some of the enhanced profits on to workers in the form of higher wages, without having to raise prices. That has been important because, when higher wages are financed by higher prices, it tends to be a kind of zero-sum game: higher wages cancelled out by inflation.

But beginning in 2000, the old system already creaky, broke down. (It must be noted that this system was never the result of the capitalists’ largesse, but rather was because of a tighter labor market and, critically, a powerful labor movement.)

The corporate onslaught against trade unions and against the minimum wage, which began with the Nixon administration in 1968, combined with so-called “free-trade” deals that allowed US companies to shift production overseas and then to freely import the products of their overseas production facilities back for sale to Americans at home, by weakening the power of workers to demand higher wages, has led to a situation where companies can just pocket all the profits from productivity gains, leaving wages stagnant, or even driving them down.

The recession that began in late 2007 has only made matters worse, giving owners and managers to opportunity to really hammer employees. With real unemployment and underemployment now running at close to 20%, employees are in no position to press for higher wages, even as those who are still working are putting in extra effort to keep their jobs, thus pushing productivity gains even higher.

Serfing USASerfing USA

A Holiday Thought: Santa Was a Con and Jesus Got the Death Penalty

As Christmas is celebrated in Incarceration Nation, it’s worth remembering certain things about the two figures who dominate this holiday.

As more than 3,000 American sit on death row, we revere the birth of a godly man who was arrested, “tried,” sentenced, and put to death by the state. The Passion is the story of an execution, and the Stations of the Cross trace the path of a Dead Man Walking.

Less well know is the fact that Saint Nicholas, the early Christian saint who inspired Santa Claus, was once a prisoner, like one in every 100 Americans today. Though he was beloved for his kindness and generosity, Nicholas acquired sainthood not only by giving alms, but in part by performing a miracle that more or less amounted to a prison break.

Saint Nick was a con, and scammed his way to a jail-breakSaint Nick was a con, and scammed his way to a jail-break

Prison Populism? Tea Party Populists Keep the Races Divided for the Benefit of the Rich

The prospect of broadcast agitator Glen Beck recommending that his audience read a book with ‘Black Power’ in the title might seem less likely than President Obama standing up to the right-wing onslaught he faces daily.

Yet, just as America needs a President Obama who doesn’t castigate critics in his base while constantly caving into his GOP bashers, Beck’s audience needs insights from the historic facts contained in one passage of the 1967 book “Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America.”

That single passage could show many among Beck’s audience that they’ve been ‘played.’ That’s urban parlance for deceived…or what, in the Wild West, would have been called hornswoggled.

That passage in question refers to the early 1890s, when severe recession and racial animus roiled America – a nation then as now steeped in extraordinary disparities in income between the financial elites and regular folks of all races.

Some of those in the early 1890s who were wading through the waters of economic deprivation did the unthinkable for that era: they looked beyond skin color to see a class interest among those of all races being similarly exploited by big-money interests.

They’re 'Slow-Torturing' Bradley Manning Right Under Our Noses

On December 18, David House, an MIT researcher, visited Bradley Manning at the Quantico, Virginia, military prison where he is being held in solitary confinement. Other than Manning’s attorney, House is the rare person allowed to visit him.

House’s report is quite thorough in pointing out instances where the military authorities are lying — or to use philosopher Harry Frankfurt’s formulation, “bullshitting” — about how the 23-year-old Army intelligence worker is being treated.

Here’s some of psychologist Dr. Jeffrey Kaye’s comment on House’s report:

“The human nervous system needs a certain amount of sensory and social stimulation to retain normal brain functioning. … From what can be ascertained, the effects of solitary confinement are having some effects already on Bradley Manning. His concentration and thinking processes appear somewhat slowed. He avoids certain topics. He has little access to humor. His color is pale, and his musculature is starting to look soft and flabby.”

There is, unfortunately, a long and sordid history behind this kind of “slow torture,” and the use of it should be a battleground for all Americans still interested in compassion, fairness and justice.

Medical Education and the 'Atypical' Presentation

One and a half years of medical school has at least taught me one thing: medicine is all about getting the right diagnosis.  Sure, there are important things like treatment, but honestly, evidence based treatment guidelines and experiential wisdom can all be looked up.  And as people realize that the way we teach is just as important as what we teach, most clinically savvy professors have done away with the old-school method of disease definitions.  These days they give us the symptoms, we generate a differential diagnosis (the list of likely issues based on the case history), and then we learn the diseases.

And so basically, as medical students we’re taught pattern recognition and probabilities.  Have a person in the hospital that has sudden kidney failure a few days after an aggressive bacterial infection?  That’s the classic pattern for aminoglycoside toxicity.

Or maybe you’re told your patient who has a terrible cough that won’t go away.  She’s worried because she watched a movie with someone who had lung cancer that coughed in similar way.  Without any other information, sure, some sort of lung or throat cancer is on your differential.  Find out she’s never smoked and hasn’t had unexplained weight loss? Suddenly the chances of her having cancer are much lower.  And then it turns out she has high blood pressure and is on an ACE Inhibitor.  The odds are completely different now.  Cancer is way down and side effect of her medication is really high on the list.

Taking a Moral Stand Outside the Obama White House

Washington–Defense Secretary Robert Gates may be the consummate insider bureaucrat and a nice man, but his calling our war in the Pashtun homeland “the meat in the sandwich” begins to get at the real problem of the Afghanistan/Pakistan War.

Besides being a preposterously flippant and insensitive metaphor presumably uttered for the consumption of the more clueless elements of middle America, his sandwich image is as misleading as all the war-selling PR coming out of the Pentagon and the Obama White House.

Robert GatesRobert Gates

Here’s how he described his sandwich: “The Pakistanis come in behind the insurgents from the Pakistani side and, coordinating with us and the Afghans, we’re on the other side.” Of course, he’s referring to what is informally dubbed Pashtunistan, down the middle of which Sir Mortimer Durand drew the Afghanistan/Pakistan border in 1893 to divide and conquer the Pashtun people. The border is a Western illusion. And, of course, the Taliban are largely Pashtun.

What’s misleading is the assumption any part of this war is anything but a US manufactured disaster. WikiLeaks and other revelations have made it clear the Pakistanis are highly reluctant to make military assaults into the Pashtun tribal areas. Last week the Pakistanis even outed the CIA chief running the US drone war there; the man was forced to flee due to threats on his life.

So the Obama administration is increasing its lethal drone attacks and deadly night special operations raids into Pakistan, both of which are highly controversial and contribute to the hatred Pakistanis have for the US.

This increase of US military intervention into Pakistan was announced at a White House press conference last Thursday that focused on the release of a much-anticipated assessment from General David Petraeus on the Afghanistan/Pakistan War.

President Obama spoke about the “significant progress” achieved in “disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan and preventing its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future.”