Sunday, September 25, 2005

It's Not Like I Relish Being Right All The Time

OK hello people. I've been awake for more than two hours already and nobody has called, written, sent a giant apologetic bouquet or come rushing over to say in viva voce 'Oh my god you were so right, the Gaza 'withdrawal' was precisely the prevarication, dog-and-pony show and pretext for reinvasion you said it would be! Someone shrive me for my sins of credulity in having had even the tiniest molecular quantum of hope in that cynical charade!'
The officials said the army planned to create a buffer zone in northern Gaza by ordering residents to leave their homes, and said a closure barring Palestinian laborers from entering Israel would remain in effect.
See? See how different? Everything in Gaza is changed. Small children got to paddle in the sea!

And from CNN we get bland exposition of the explicit intent to collective punishment:
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told security chiefs in a meeting that "the ground of Gaza should shake" and that he wanted to exact a high price from Palestinians everywhere, not just the militants, participants said.
I grow tedious, I know, but again I say this is how they do it. As WII has also observed. There is a well-thumbed play-book for this somewhere in the archives of Likud, and it reads something like this:

1) Wait for a lull and the impression of imminent progress toward peace
2) Carry out sudden targeted assassination
3) Provoke thereby pitifully impotent display of rage from Hamas/Islamic Jihad/Al-Aqsa/PFLP/Insert Chump Militant Group Here
4) Launch Armageddon on civilian refugees, women and children targeted at random
5) Contact everyone in worldwide media and package Armageddon as 'Reprisal'
6) Rinse
7) Repeat.

And again, again again again, the world will stand by and watch them do it. The PA will watch them do it. I can't stand it.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

But Who Will Speak For Poor Pharma?

It appears the British pharmaceutical industry has acquired its very own Lorax.

The British Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is launching an inquiry into the Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme (PPRS), a voluntary agreement between the government and the British pharmaceutical industry, which caps drug companies' annual profits from branded drug sales to the NHS.

According to the Beeb,
The OFT inquiry is meant to check whether safe and effective branded prescription medicines are being provided at reasonable prices.
Well, that seems like a commendable activity for an Office of Fair Trading to get up to, doesn't it? Nice to think that government regulatory agencies are actually trying to regulate the safety and affordability of citizens' life necessities?

Mm, not so much. In the event, the inquiry will investigate the PPRS's progress toward its 'core aims, including the promotion of a strong pharmaceutical industry capable of research and development that can lead to new and improved medicines.'

The Chairman of the OFT makes pretty clear where its priorities lie:
"We want to examine whether the PPRS works well to ensure that pharmaceuticals markets meet the needs of patients by offering adequate rewards to pharmaceutical companies for developing new and useful drugs, while providing the taxpayer with value for money."
OK, good. So British taxpayers are footing the bill for a government inquiry into whether a voluntary agreement negotiated by the pharmaceutical industry is perhaps over-harshly restricting that industry's ability to charge them top dollar for medicine.

Because if there's one thing you can say about drug companies, it's that they're altruistic to fault. Just constantly entering into unprofitable trade agreements on a voluntary basis, out of the goodness of their civic-spirited hearts. Somebody please stop Pfizer from giving me the shirt off its back, lest it catch cold on its way to the bank.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Oh The Gall

Email from MoveOn (2nd today; the first being the traditional 'Give us money to run an ad, and if we don't actually use it to run the ad rest assured we'll use it for our own undisclosed discretionary purposes' dun-note):
Next weekend on Saturday, September 24, there is a massive "End the War on Iraq" peace march and rally in Washington, DC organized by United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ). The weekend of activities will make it unmistakably clear to President Bush and Congress that the American people want an exit plan with a timeline to end the war in Iraq.
Fuck you. That is not what my presence at the rally will make clear at all, and don't you presume to ventriloquize my agenda. Which, like that of involuntary MoveOn poster-child Cindy Sheehan, is 'End the war now. Troops out now.' An entirely different thing.

Of Course, You Already Know This, But...

Juan Cole rocks.

Of course, it's all so many shovel blows to the zombie's head; The Late Christopher Hitchens will keep on twitching his necrotic tongue and forcing corpse breath over his rotting vocal chords while he lurches around trying to sink his teeth into anyone on the left slow enough for him to catch. But George Galloway is not so slow, and neither, gratifyingly, is Juan Cole.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Prez Promises Rez

Holy shit. I'm watching the Chimp address the nation from the only dry spot in New Orleans, as no doubt are many of you. He's making promises for how he gon' fix everything he and his filthy hellbound venal minions fucked up so unspeakably.

He's just announced three specific initiatives for rebuilding the area. Besides promising to 'take the side of entreprenooers' (a telling formulation, that) to rebuild industry and create jobs, he's promising the victims relief accounts containing up to five thousand whole dollars to get education or skills retraining to take advantage of all that new entreprenooerial job-creation. Oh, and that five large is meant to cover child care too, while they're gittin' ejucated. Words can't really express the overwhelming enoughness of that sum.

No, but that's not the worst. Proposal #3: the creation of a Gulf Coast Homesteading Act (or something like that) which will use a lottery to give poor people plots of land in government-owned territories, provided they commit to building homes on that land and living there.

Yes, that's right. They are going to create a reservation to contain the poor of former New Orleans. I have no fucking words.

And They Should Know

Henhouse population dropping, says Security Fox.

Once More, With Almost Imperceptibly More Feeling

Oh look. Hurricane coming. And this time we've learned our lesson. This time, instead of equivocally, belatedly implying that local residents should perhaps evacuate (or more accurately, should retroactively already-have-evacuated) on their own recognizance, they're unequivocally, belatedly 'asking and begging' same:
'These floods are going to be worse than anticipated yesterday," the governor said. "We're asking and begging [people to get out] because it's going to be hard to get them out later. Once the high winds come, we cannot get in and get you out - cannot get you by boat, cannot get you by helicopters, cannot get there by plane.'
Pressed by the urgency of the emergent crisis, Governor Mike 'The Big' Easley obviously had no time to add, 'We cannot get you in a box, we cannot get you with a fox.'

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

From 'Rescue' to 'Looting' In One Short Day

BBC yesterday on what Palestinians have been up to amidst the rubble of the settlements the Israelis took such care to smash and strip before leaving:
Many Palestinians have been picking through the rubble of settler homes. They rescued and carried whatever they could - from electricity cables and doors to pipes and scrap metal.
BBC today on that same activity:
[Abu Mazen's] comments come amid mass looting in Gaza's abandoned Jewish settlements, and are seen as a warning to militants seeking to challenge his authority.

But Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he was not surprised by the lawlessness in Gaza.
[...]
"This rioting - even they understand they have to control this."
Wow. That's some pretty fucking swift Katrinafication. Can you say 'seeding the pretext for IDF reinvasion?' And can somebody please tell me under what definition the salvage of near-useless scrap from a smashed, abandoned property counts as 'looting'? As opposed to, well, 'salvage'?

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Oh, Those Fighting Democrats

The Guardian assures us that, as the 'battle' over John Roberts's Supreme Court nomination approaches,
Democrats on the senate judiciary committee made clear that they did not intend to give him an easy ride, and would put him on the spot over his beliefs on abortion and other polarising issues over which a Roberts court could have a decisive say in years to come.
How not easy of a ride would that be? Apparently, this not easy:
"If you're confirmed, you serve not just for the remaining three years of the Bush administration, you could serve through the administrations of the next seven or eight presidents," Senator Patrick Leahy said.
I dunno. To me that sounds less like 'You're in for it now, mister' and more like 'Bob, tell him what he's won!'

Saddam Hussein Stole My Homework To Make WMD

When, oh when will they fucking let this lie go?

British Defence (see how I spell it the British way for verisimilitude? these are the little complimentary services we at Bionic Octopus like to provide for your enhanced comfort) Secretary John Reid on why Britain needs to bone up the old nuclear deterrent system:
"It is the case that others been trying to develop and in some cases have developed their nuclear weapons". He cited North Korea, Pakistan and India, adding evidence existed Saddam had been heading in same direction.
Forty years from now, Labour are all going to be doddering around nursing homes bleating, 'But Matron, I had to steal Jenkins's biscuits at tea! There was evidence Saddam Hussein was planning to use them to make weapons of mass destruction!'

Monday, September 12, 2005

I Love When They Make It Easy

Ah, priorities. The newly up-spruced, fancified Guardian Digital, normally a subscription service for which I pay, is now generously open to all comers until sometime later in the month, to celebrate its facelift. The main page today provides the following caveat:
We have had to make some changes to how the digital editions operate, so regular users will notice some loss of functionality for a limited period. We are working hard to restore the full service as soon as possible.
'Loss of functionality' appears to mean that many of the articles which are visible in the little thumbnail of the print paper are not actually clickable for the reading. In a few places an entire page's worth of articles is inaccessible, though you can see them taunting you maddeningly with their headlines.

Know what's working like a charm on all those pages, though? Every damn click-through ad.

A Little Fitting Shamefacedness Please

OK Britfriends, look. We may have a chimp, but you have a prince. Not merely a prince, but one given to rumination:
"It [life in far northern Britain] is a gentler, calmer approach to life in a world which has become frenetic, really, and the aim seems to be to go ever faster, but I often wonder 'how much faster can we all go?'"
How much faster indeed. I suspect, Your Highness, that one's terminal velocity has everything to do with one's inherent swiftness. So in Your Majesty's case, not so very much faster at all.

One thing I'll say for the Chimp: some not-too-far-off day, he won't be President anymore.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Docket Of Aesthetic Crimes Against Humanity

The latest installment in the cavalcade of Israeli valedictory fuck-yous to Palestinians in Gaza: they've decided to just up and leave the settlement synagogues standing when they take off. All 20+ of them.

Now, besides the monstrous symbolic bird-flippage this represents; besides the fact that the PA is now in the impossible position of either tearing down synagogues, and drawing massive fire from world Jewry, or letting stand the looming citadels of the religion in whose name the Palestinians have been treated like animals for forty years in their own land; besides the fact that if they choose Option A the costs of demolition and cleanup will be borne by the not-exactly-wildly-solvent (no thanks to a federal court in Rhode Island) Palestinian government; besides all these injuries, there is in addition the gross and gratuitous aesthetic insult.

Twentieth-century synagogue architecture is widely acknowledged to be the most heinous artistic perpetration ever devised by the fevered mind of man. I mean, look at that shit. It's like someone leaving a gigantic statue of Liberace carved out of guano planted in your front lawn, with a bomb in the middle that will go off and cover you and your house with a rain of petrified-shit shards if you try to move it. In fact, almost exactly like that.

Update: According to an email update from the Beeb, the PA's going with Option B, raze the motherfucking eyesores. Booyah.
Update update: Er, make that 'Option A'. I guess I was overexcited.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Just Ignore The Coughing, Listen For The Cha-Ching

Here's an interesting little case study in whose interests the media serve when they report on pharmaceutical developments.

Say you read CNN for news of a morning. Here's what CNN Health has to say about the endorsement by an FDA advisory panel of an inhalable form of insulin called Exubera, manufactured by Pfizer, Sanofi-Aventis and Nektar Therapeutics:
Federal health advisers on Thursday recommended government approval of the first inhaled form of insulin, offering some diabetics an alternative to many of their daily injections.

The recommendation by a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel came despite questions about use of the drug in people who have lung disease or were exposed to secondhand smoke.
[...]
During drug trials, researchers found that inhaled insulin was generally as effective as injections in controlling blood sugar levels. However, some patients who took inhaled insulin complained of coughing and a small decrease in breathing capacity.
OK, new drug, 'questions about [its] use' in people with compromised pulmonary health. 'Some patients' had a 'small decrease in breathing capacity'. Doesn't sound too bad. All drugs have limitations, right?

Now read MedPage Today, a news service targeted at health professionals, and you get a somewhat different story (free reg. required):
Exubera, an inhaled insulin, won endorsement today from an FDA advisory panel despite concerns about the agent's pulmonary toxicity.
[...]
Inhaled insulins have been in the works for more than a decade. In clinical trials they have been demonstrated to have efficacy similar to that of short-acting insulins, but without the needle stick required for subcutaneous injection. This for some patients is a barrier to better glucose control.

But a host of concerns regarding Exubera have cropped up, including worries about pulmonary toxicities, and questions about its ability to get glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c) levels -- a measure of glucose control over time -- down below 7%, the gold standard set by the landmark Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT).

At the 2005 meeting of the American Diabetes Association in San Diego last June, researchers from Quebec reported that in a 226-patient safety study, Exubera was associated with an early decline in pulmonary function that appears to peak by week two and then declines but doesn't completely disappear.

Additionally, use of the inhaled insulin was associated with a decline in carbon monoxide diffusing capacity, a measure of the ability of the lungs to deliver oxygen to the blood.
[...]
Also at the ADA, William Cefalu, M.D., of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge presented results from three two-year studies of Exubera for treatment of type 2 diabetes. The investigators found that in the more than 500 Exubera-treated patients, there was a slight decrease in pulmonary function as measured by a drop in FEV1 of about 0.07%, and a similar decrease in oxygen exchange.
'A host of concerns'. 'Pulmonary toxicity'. That's hardly comparable to CNN Health's 'questions' about its use in a limited, compromised subpopulation. Even allowing for the scare-value of medical jargon, there's more cause for concern here than CNN allows when it obligingly translates for the lay reader.

On the other hand, say you get your morning news from CNN Money. You learn that '[a] panel of experts advising the FDA voted Thursday in favor of Exubera, the first form of inhalable insulin, a step that could lead to approval by the regulatory agency.' You get an enthusiastic quote from the Pfizer executive in charge of the drug development team, and a handy little primer on diabetes and how it's
seen as a promising area for the drug industry because it is so common in the United States and Europe. There are 18.2 million diabetics in America, including an estimated 5.2 million who have not been diagnosed yet, according to the American Diabetes Association.

An additional 1.3 million diabetics are diagnosed every year. And another 41 million Americans have "pre-diabetes," or high blood-sugar levels, and are at risk for developing adult onset type 2 diabetes. Type 2, sometimes coined "diabesity," is expected to become more prevalent among the aging baby boomer population.
Well, talk about turning misfortune into fortune. Nation getting fatter and sicker? Now that's what I call Opportunity!

Some excited hyping of the drug's profit potential:
Many analysts see Exubera as a potential blockbuster. Andrew Forman, analyst for WR Hambrecht, and David Steinberg of Deutsche Bank both project that Exubera sales will total $1 billion by 2008. Bernstein analysts project $1 billion by 2011. David Moskowitz of Friedman, Billings, Ramsey & Co. projects $1.3 billion by 2008.
But then, at last, a note of caution intrudes: 'But not everybody is bullish on Exubera.' Ah, here we go. Now we'll get the pulmonary toxicity results, right? Yeah, right.
Albert Rauch, analyst for A.G. Edwards, believes that Exubera won't be as convenient as some people believe and sales will be paltry, not even reaching $1 million.
Oh, heartbreaking. Less convenient than people believe! Paltry sales! Caveat investor, it would appear.

Just in case you had perhaps been lulled into thinking that the media exists to give you information that safeguards or benefits you. Caveat lector.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Bisy

Most precious blogfriends, I want to let you know that for a little while the blogging around these parts will be quite light. Medical school has started up with unrestrained ferocity, much on-the-ground political work needs doing in the Land Of Threatened Choice, and I find there are significantly fewer minutes in the day than I previously assumed.

Also, to be honest, the past week, all the stuff about Katrina here and at the Tomb, has really kind of taken it out of me. Not to whinge or anything (jesus, like I have anything to whinge about), but it's been, you know, a Thing, and it's a bit hard to get straight back to snarking about newsbits while the police are manhandling survivors out of NO. I need a bit of a break first, and some time to organize the furniture of my off-blog actual life.

I'll be back in it soon; frankly I don't know how I could stop myself doing it for long. In the meantime I thank you for coming around, and for your many lovely comments and occasional lovely emails (and fuck it, for your occasional insane and incomprehensible emails too), and I hope you won't stray too far. Backson.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Hoo Boy, Heads Sure Gonna Roll Now


Breaking News: 'US President George W Bush says he will lead an investigation into how the Hurricane Katrina disaster was handled.'

Do the words 'fox' and 'henhouse' jump to mind?

Don't be holding your breath though; he's 'going to find out over time what went right and what went wrong.'

Ah, time. You know what it heals all.

Monday, September 05, 2005

HHS Hypes Fictitious Public-Health Fears

Last week Mike Leavitt, Secretary of Health and Human Services, gave a press conference and announced:
'We are gravely concerned about the potential for cholera, typhoid, and dehydrating diseases that could come as a result of the stagnant water and the conditions.'
[....]
In addition to cholera and typhoid, officials are concerned about other bacterial and parasitic infections, such as salmonella, E. coli, cryptosporidiosis, or strongyloidiasis, to name a few, said Roger Lewis, Ph.D., an associate professor and director of the Environmental Health Laboratory at Saint Louis University School of Public Health in Missouri.
[....]
Even fecal matter from the dead can pose a health risk. Typically, a decomposing body does not pose a health risk. However, Dr. Lewis said, there could be a potential threat if the dead cannot be located and collected quickly and if the decomposing body had a virulent infection at the time of death. Rescue workers who come into contact with the dead, Dr. Lewis said, and are unaware of any infection, could be susceptible.

Even if the death toll "remains in the low hundreds, the waterborne illnesses are significant," Dr. Lewis said.

[source; free registration required]
Now it appears, however, that they were full of shit (NPI):
Aside from the emotional distress caused by dead bodies in the streets, they should be the least of the public health worries for the survivors here of Hurricane Katrina.

What people need to understand is that "for almost all infectious agents, when the body dies, so does the agent," said Michael T. Osterholm, Ph.D., director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

Harmful bacteria and viruses cannot survive without a living host, a point that health officials need to make clear to a confused public, said Dr. Osterholm, a nationally known epidemiologist.

The comments by Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt on Wednesday regarding government fears of typhoid and cholera "were unfortunate," Dr. Osterholm said. "The hurricane doesn't invent infectious agents. They have to be there. Cholera and typhoid are not problems in the United States."

Irwin Redlener, M.D., a pediatrician who is director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University in New York, agreed that decomposing remains do not pose a significant threat to the general public.

"There's a lot of mythology of so-called dangers of dead bodies that have been left, but really there is not much to worry about," Dr. Redlener said. "The psychological issues are the prevailing concern and are much greater than any possible infection risk from the dead."
That is to say, there's still plenty to worry about from a public-health point of view, just none of the things HHS actually told us to worry about. Can you feel the magnitude of my not-surprise?

Elsewhere, Police Brutality Carries On As Usual

In Chicago, police Taser a teenage boy into cardiac fibrillation.

And with all the glorious convenience of capitalism at work in our lives, having found that story on the NYT web site you may also avail yourself of no fewer than eight opportunities to buy a Taser of your own to test its veracity.

I Wanna Be Just Like You

Is there any action Tony Blair undertakes that isn't a slavish, pitifully rinky-dink imitation of some Chimpian act of malevolence?

He's even incredibly crap in precisely the same way, only smaller and lamer. In response to 'criticism from some of those [British Katrina survivors] returning to the UK that the response had been slow and information scarce,' Blair rallied with a magisterial 'I'm really sorry if there has been difficulties...but I can assure you some of these staff have been working round the clock.'

He's not just sorry, he's really sorry. If he could have failed you in a more spectacular way befitting the long-fled glories of empire past, he undoubtedly would. Post-lapsarian realities being what they are, 'some' of his staff working overtime was as imperial as he could muster.

Duck & Cover, The National Guard Is In The House

cross-posted at Lenin's Tomb

This business of the New Orleans police killing 5 (or 4) civilians, either contractors or, an hour later, not contractors. (Hmm, yeah, I'm definitely putting my confidence in the revised report. After all, why would the Army Corps of Engineers lie about innocent civilians being randomly shot to death? And what with the tremendous verifiability of the whole thing...)

It's a straw in the wind, this. The city is filling up with National Guardsmen straight out of Iraq. This is what those troops do over there; it's literally SOP, what they've been trained for all this time, over there where nobody important is going to notice one or two or a dozen more dead civilian towelheads. When in doubt, when suspicious, jumpy or even just bored, kill civilians indiscriminately. Shoot first, don't even bother asking questions.

And now they're in New Orleans, in a situation their commanders are already calling a combat operation, helpfully identifying the point elements in question as 'insurgents'. That must make the Guardies feel so at home! And they certainly know what the United States Armed Forces do with 'insurgents'.

We will be seeing more of this. Civilian 'accidental' shootings are about to skyrocket, and I for one am agog to see how that goes down on American turf. The government has been notably slow to catch on to the fact that the whole world can see them (a touch of Ravenous Bugblatter Beast syndrome); when they do things like pull that insane fake-aid-station-photo-op stunt, or for that matter leave 20,000 monumentally fucked-off people sitting outside the Convention Center to tell reporters exactly what's being done to them, the pols just don't appear to get the fact that we're watching.

So I'm betting it's going to take them a while to cotton to the fact that, appearances to the contrary, this ain't actually Fallujah, and people here actually are counting bodies (or trying to). And I can't help feeling that, assuming news continues to get out (despite FEMA's efforts), people just aren't going to stand for it they way they do (unjustly of course), when it's happening in someone else's country.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

And Another Thing

Let's for a minute look straight on at the fact of the people in New Orleans who actually are committing acts of dreadful violence, against each other, their fellow citizens and/or the rescue personnel trying to save them. (NB: New Orleans police are in a separate category from these, constituting as they do an unofficial death squad and having been widely witnessed participating in the looting themselves; combat between armed citizens and Nawlins Filth might almost come under the Rules of War, Urban Guerilla Edition.)

So yes. There are, if widespread reports are true, a number of people committing rape, beatings and murder in New Orleans. Rumor has it that many of these are convicted criminals, who were haphazardly released from the jails because no more provision had been made for their evacuation than for any of the other souls deemed drownable in the emergency preparedness plan. This appears not to be the case; though depending on who you believe, a massive riot at Orleans Parish Prison either did or did not take place during the prison evacuation, which interestingly was apparently well underway by Wednesday night. (Is there anyone who wasn't escorted out of there before the poor grandmothers outside the Convention Center?)

So absent escaped prisoners, we seem to have the unavoidable fact of a bunch of civilians, numbers unknown, on the loose in the ruined city committing horrible crimes. Now, I'm not for a minute going to excuse those crimes. They are inexcusable. But I'm damned if I'm going to shy away from trying to understand them.

And you know, it's really not that hard. You take, for example, a bunch of young, impoverished black men who've spent their lives receiving the message from all sides that society values them approximately as much as dirt. Who've grown up learning the intricacies of brutality direct from the most corrupt, vicious police force you could hope to run for your life from down a back alley in the Ninth Ward. Then you put them in a situation where society finally just comes right out and says, 'Hey yo, dirt! FUCK YOU! Stay there and die!' Where the official instructions are 'Go to this central location and wait days for nonexistent buses without food, water or support of any kind, in conditions of unimaginable, inhuman hellishness, while your grandmother and your baby son die together in a wheelchair next to you.' Where food and water manifestly exist, within arm's and a baseball bat's reach, and they've been told--by those same instructive cops--they'll be jailed or worse, zero-tolerance, if they try to get some for their families and friends.

And you're surprised when they go mental? You're surprised when they feel the rules of society weren't exactly constructed with their comfort in mind, so maybe they'll just give the rules a big old miss? You are surprised when they don't greet the advent of armed National Guardsmen, troops sent in with the loud and clear mandate of maintaining order, not rescuing victims, with open arms and tears of grateful welcome?

Newsflash: when you fuck people up, the people duly become fucked up. No one is looking to justify crimes of violence, but it's incumbent on us to understand their roots if we hope to eliminate them. These criminals didn't just happen. They were made. And they were made, over the course of years and in the last few days, by the same corrupt, corrupting social conditions and actors that made this whole edifying spectacle the fathomless hell-visitation it's turned out to be. So please would the endless shocked liberal wittering about people 'not rising to the occasion' of the crisis just fucking stop? Get. A. Fucking. Analysis.

* * * * *

Now it's time to take a restorative mental-health break and attempt to focus on something other than New Orleans. Perhaps some light televisual entertainment? Ooh look, I'm in luck: TNT has returned to its longstanding policy of showing 'The Shawshank Redemption' to the exclusion of all other programming ever. I mean, who can ever get enough of that kind of spiritual uplift? However, bloggy friends, I'm in a Feel-Good Inspiration quandary--TBS is showing 'Pay It Forward' at the same time! How on earth to decide which load of Turner-sponsored unbearable mawktastic horseshite to shovel into my forebrain tonight?

I know, I'll watch episodes of 'The Shield' on DVD. That seems a bit more a propos.

Update: Silly, silly me. 'Resident Evil' is on SciFi. We have a winner.

'The Only Reason They Haven't Looted The Wal-Mart Is Because That's Where The Police Sleep'

I would like to be able to stop talking about this, but I just fucking can't. I spend all my time hunting online, watching CNN and crying and shouting at the television. It's not that this is the worst disaster that's ever happened, nor that the victims are any more 'important' than the victims of the Bhopal disaster, the Boxing Day tsunami, or any of the uncounted number of other catastrophes either directly caused or exacerbated by the forces who brought us the sodden corpse-strewn wreckage that was New Orleans.

But it is nonetheless tremendously and immediately important, for all kinds of reasons, not least for its having cracked open, unmistakably and irrevocably, the delusional discourse around race and class injustice in this country. I don't think we'll be able to go back from here, from the open and widespread acknowledgement that in America poor black people are institutionally considered beneath society's attention.

So that, after a somewhat ghoulish fashion, is a positive outcome. Watching even the hardened-sycophant media break down, often literally, in the face of such naked, depraved indifference provides some crumb of hope that this newborn consciousness will not simply be swept under the Oh What A Senseless Tragedy rug. This was a sensefull tragedy, and for once it's not only the left who think so.

What I just can't get past, though, is the continuous creeping hold of this campaign of criminalization. Even while the MSM find themselves in the novel position of shouting at politicians and even their own anchors to acknowledge the inhumanity of conditions in NO, they still dutifully retail the nebulous, hysterical vision of 'a city in chaos', ruled by 'lawless gangs' who 'attack those who come to rescue them'. Troops are conducting what are openly called 'combat operations' to put down, god help them, 'the insurgency in the city' (via WII).

And the poisonhearted right, of course, are doing their best to whip this up into a wholesale demonization of not just the victims themselves, but the kind of people the victims are. I.e., to reiterate, poor black people. Someone (someone, mind, who plans to be a doctor) sent around my healthpolicy listserv yesterday this piece of contaminated fascist filth, which is so corrupt that I can barely bring myself to link to it, let alone quote it.

At tweezer-grasped arm's length I vouchsafe you the summary that it blames this disaster on 'the welfare state', and explains the victims' failure to 'rise to the occasion' (i.e., be noble, humble, above-all-quiet sufferers who wait patiently for succour and receive it with becoming gratitude) by reference to the high proportion of 'criminals and welfare parasites...people selected, over decades, for their lack of initiative and self-induced helplessness.'

See? Now I've gone and quoted it. I feel dirty.

And the trouble is, it creeps down. 'Decent' liberals all over the place are, in the same breath, lamenting the fate of New Orleanians and cursing the lawless, ungrateful looters for their criminality. The narrative of a post-apocalyptic cityscape so surrendered to violence that it's impossible for rescuers to aid the innocent is swallowed without question, even when that narrative is constructed on endless repetition of the same tiny handful of concrete anecdotes--the hospital sniper, the shots reportedly fired at the Superdome helicopter (a claim disputed here by an FAA official), the rapes and beatings in the Superdome (which surely represent vastly more danger to those trapped inside than to any incoming rescue mission, and, one would think, more incentive than otherwise to get the victims out instanter)--embedded in a vast haze of evocative insinuation.

People don't ask who might benefit from the construction of such a narrative. They aren't bemused by the fact that talk of sending troops in to 'maintain security' began a full day before the media reports of widespread 'lawlessness' started to appear, media who were conspicuously closer to all the action than any government representatives, and who surely would have known a lot sooner what was going on in the city.

Cui bono the isolation and criminalization of the people remaining unrescued in New Orleans? Here's a clue. This one should give you chills: on Meet The Press this morning, the president of Jefferson Parish, LA, broke down in tears after telling Tim Russert how FEMA cut all their emergency communication lines yesterday, and the local sheriff had to reconnect them and post armed guards to keep them safe. Why, I wonder, would FEMA want to keep information from getting out of the disaster area? For that matter, why would FEMA refuse to allow the delivery of three trailer-trucks of water and 1,000 gallons of fuel to the same parish?

Why would FEMA keep 60 people imprisoned in a middle school in Marrero, LA? (Audio file of interview with one of the detained.) Why are the Red Cross banned from entering the city, but mercenaries given free passage?

You'll have seen where this is going. This isn't a rescue mission at all; it's a salvage mission. The primary, explicit aim of the government all along has been the safeguarding and restoration of property. Insofar as people could be rescued--or even fed--without detracting from that critical mission they have been, grudgingly, sporadically, incompletely. There are still an unknown number of people trapped in houses and on roofs all over the city, and no one seems much exercised to go after them.

Insofar as the people dared to raise a ruckus and demand aid, or god forbid interfere with property when aid was not forthcoming, they've had to be neutralized, whether by punishment, demonization, isolation or outright extermination. Contrary to the general impression, FEMA has been pretty damn efficient in the execution of its primary mission.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Just A Thought

I'm just saying. You'll have noticed that Chimpy's first reaction to the obliteration of 90,000 square miles of Gulf Coast was to bang on about oil. As were most of his subsequent reactions, at least until he finally ambled down there to put in a couple desultory photo ops hugging people in the rubble of their homes. Up till then, it's been oil oil oil: running out of it, not price-gouging it, conserving it, and most prominently, releasing it from the emergency petroleum reserves.

Now, those reserves are going to have to be refilled at some point, from somewhere. And I think we know someone who's been getting all up in the Administration's face lately, flaunting all that extra oil he's got and making lairy remarks about 'cowboys'.

I'm just saying, from this blogger's armchair the putative 'oil shortage' (and for this remember we've pretty much only got his and the oil industry's say-so, corroborated predictably by piracy at the pump) visited by Katrina starts to look like a mighty opportune pretext for a little Venezuelan Regime Change action down the road.

You heard it here first.

And slightly off-topic, may I just add: Halliburton. Do you think if they came around our house and personally pissed in each of our faces it could possibly better express their contempt?

UPDATE 9/4: Well now, it seems a Certain Someone has also had this same thought. Hmmm. (via CM)

Friday, September 02, 2005

Lying Piece Of Shit

Apparently, CNN would have us believe there's a 'debate' over whether the response to the New Orleans disaster was 'magnificent' or 'an embarrassment'.

It appears the sole proponent of the 'magnificent' school of thought is Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who
...told CNN Thursday that he believes he thinks FEMA and other federal agencies have done a "magnificent job" under difficult circumstances to deal with the unprecedented disaster, citing their "courage" and "ingenuity."

Insisting that aid is coming as fast as possible, Chertoff said, "You can't fly helicopters in a hurricane. You can't drive trucks in a hurricane."
Ah. OK. It appears Mr. Chertoff could use a brief recent-historical refresher. When was it again that the hurricane didn't actually hit New Orleans? That would be Monday. And when did the always-already-going-to-fail levees actually succumb to inevitability and begin to flood the city? That, Mr. I-Should-Just-Commit-Seppuku-Now Chertoff, would have been Tuesday, 'a full day after Hurricane Katrina hit'.

There was no hurricane preventing helicopters dropping food outside the convention center for the last three days. Yesterday the severest meteorological event was some fucking rain in the afternoon. Which was, I promise you, a hell of a lot worse for the 20,000 people stranded outside in it amongst the corpses, which by now are surely starting to stink in the 90-degree dripping heat, than for the helicopter pilots who might have had to turn on the windshield wipers to complete their apparently-optional mission of mercy.

La Compassion de l'√Čtat

Housing PR blues getting you down? Too many poor black people dying in unsafe-housing fires and tarnishing your image? Well my friend, I think your course is clear.

Boot 'em out. That way, when they die of exposure, starvation and communicable diseases, they'll do it in small, manageable increments, and can be tidied away with those kicky little green plastic brooms.

Dept. of Truly Shameful Corporate Weaselry

Tomb raiders, er, readers among you may recall China's recent post drawing well-deserved attention to the interesting fact of New Orleans's having shopped out its disaster planning function to a private firm called, apparently straight-facedly, Innovative Emergency Management, or IEM, Inc. If so, it might have occurred to you to wonder today, as you sat with your face superglued to CNN, where exactly was any mention of IEM's role, or glaring lack thereof, in this epic upfuck.

Well might you have wondered. Apparently the kind of Emergency they're best qualified to Manage Innovatively is, you guessed it, a PR Emergency. IEM, Inc: We Make It Like Your Disaster Never Happened. At Least Not On Your Watch.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Meanwhile, Back At Eville Inc. HQ, Business As Usual

A handy little reminder of RNC priorities, courtesy of WIIIAI. Peruse if you will this email, circulated to the GOP mailing list:
From: "Chairman Ken Mehlman"
To: <--->
Subject: Support Elimination of the Death Tax
Date: Thu, 1 Sep 2005 15:54:03 -0400 (EDT)

Dear ----,

For the last four years, President Bush and Republicans in Congress have championed a pro-growth agenda that has brought tax relief to millions of Americans. Historic legislation in 2001 and 2003 put America on the track to economic growth, and today our economic outlook is bright. There is more work to do, however, to ensure that tax-paying Americans can keep more of their own hard-earned income.

When they return from their August recess, Senators will consider a key issue: elimination of the death tax. The death tax is an unfair double taxation of income, which hurts America's small businesses and farms and threatens job growth. Unfortunately, Senate Democrats are working hard to oppose our efforts to eliminate this unfair tax.

Will you help bring tax relief to more hard-working Americans? Call Senator Dianne Feinstein at 202-224-3841 today and ask them to eliminate the death tax.

Our party's opportunity agenda means allowing families to keep more of the money they earn. The historic tax relief in the President's first term was only the beginning. Americans deserve a tax code that is simple and fair. The Senate needs to do its part by making tax relief permanent and burying the death tax forever.

Call Call Senator Dianne Feinstein at 202-224-3841 today and ask them to vote to eliminate the death tax!

Make your voice heard on this important issue. Call Senator Dianne Feinstein. Express your support for tax relief and economic opportunity.

Elimination of the death tax would be a victory for fairness and job creation. Working together, we can help eliminate the burden of the death tax once and for all.

Thank you,

Ken Mehlman,
RNC Chairman
Yes, you read that right. No, I did not doctor the date. This email went out this afternoon.

Do they deliberately seek out the most gruesome possible juxtapositional ironies? Do they think we're not clever enough to decipher their completely open program of hatred and scorn for poor and working-class Americans, so they need to send us these special clues till we get the message?

They really. should. die. And then get taxed. A lot.

Look What They're Doing

So this is how they're going to play it. The new theme of all the heads-talking is 'New Orleans in criminal chaos'. They've been preparing the ground for hours; every public figure who's held a press conference this afternoon has talked endlessly about the scores of thousands of police, National Guard and deputy sheriffs being rushed to the scene 'to restore security'. The Governor of Louisiana held a press conference in which she assured us that all these troops had taken law-enforcement oaths and been issued power of arrest to enable them to 'quell the civil unrest'. The zero-tolerance looting policy is much touted, and continually reiterated in its universal application. It's now all about 'taking back control of the city'.

FEMA Director Michael Brown informed us that we're dealing with a 'criminal element' who seek to gain control of the city. He also distinguished between the 'bad person' who talks to the news cameras and 'wants to shout and complain', and the nice mother 'sitting quietly in the corner with her kids--she understands, she's being patient'.

Oh and my fucking god, he's just come back to share that 'he doesn't want to second-guess why' all those people didn't heed the evacuation orders. He just wishes they could 'convince them that when an evacuation order goes out, it's for their own good.' Oh, oh, oh. Here is a very good response to that.

And now the news coverage is duly falling in: we're being repeatedly told how the 'lawlessness' and violence are hampering and even preventing rescue efforts. Police, we're told, are afraid to go out on the streets. A sniper, or possibly two, paralyzed the evacuation of a hospital for several hours.

This is how they're going to play it. They're going to try to blanket-criminalize the victims they can't even be fucked to rescue. The tens of thousands of people they fucking abandoned to die or, in the words of CNN's reporter, 'live like animals' in a devastated apocalyptic landscape, and some tiny few of whom have, in the world's least surprising development, acted like animals in response. Some have visited punishment on their fellow victims, and some on rescuers. Some have looted property. Vastly, vastly more have quietly waited to be rescued, in vain, or have taken provisions from stores to feed and clothe themselves, their neighbors and their children after waiting days to be given food, water, medical care. Tarring these victims as 'a criminal element' and using 'looting' as an excuse for the monumental, unforgivable cockup that is this shambolic rescue effort is beyond outrageous. That is what's criminal.

On the bright side, though, I'm not sure it'll actually work. I don't think even the lapdog press are buying the 'security' line with their usual credulity. We're still hearing a lot of unaccustomedly sharp questions about preparedness and response time, a steady questioning of the zero-tolerance policy for people looting for survival, a real and strong outpouring of genuine sympathy from not only the reporters on the scene (who are practically babbling hysterically with horror) but the visibly-shaken anchors in the studio. I think the people who did this may actually take an amply-deserved beating for once.

Catastrophe

I'm watching CNN, cycling footage of thousands and thousands of people stranded at the New Orleans Convention Center, without food or water for two days, ankle-deep in shit, dead bodies lying in the street and propped in wheelchairs around them, screaming at the camera for somebody to help them.

The government is pulling out rescue teams because of the 'security situation'. Evacuation efforts were halted because someone fired shots at a helicopter. The President has announced a zero-tolerance policy for looting. White House Spokesscumbag Scott McClellan, asked at the latest press briefing whether that policy applied to people who were desperate to get food and water to survive, and said, 'You heard the President. It's a zero-tolerance policy. The National Guard is distributing food and water, these people have ways to get food and there is no excuse for acting unlawfully.' They are saying out loud that property is more important than people's lives. And they are lying. The people outside the convention center, where they've been sent to wait for evacuation buses that never arrive, have been in one place for two days waiting for food, and no food has been given. WHAT ARE THEY SUPPOSED TO DO?

They're holding a press briefing with Michael Chertoff, Homeland Security Director and Attorney General Gonzales, and all they can talk about is 'security'. They keep citing the number of police and National Guard they're bringing in, not to rescue or feed the stranded thousands but to maintain order. We're being told how lucky it is that the National Guard is exempt from the Posse Comitatus restriction on military forces being involved in law enforcement. Security, not saving lives, is the explicit order of the day.

This didn't happen. This was done. There is no 'natural' about this disaster. The hurricane passed New Orleans by. This happened because the levees were fucked, and that was publicly declared and remedy funding requested and denied two years ago. And when they broke, as it was known they would, the fucking government waited two days to act. How much more clear could they make it that they just don't fucking care?

This has to change things. CNN is showing dead bodies on television for (to my knowledge) the first time ever. People are being shown on camera, sitting outside the convention center dying. The press are actually bringing themselves to ask, over and over, how this can have happened like this, and what the government is doing to make it better. At some point, despite all the attempts to proscribe 'talking about politics' and 'pointing fingers', despite the fact that these are only poor black people taking the brunt, people in general will have to have seen enough needless, senseless, abandoned suffering in their back yards that they'll start to ask hard questions, and demand answers.

And maybe, if we're really lucky, to ask why billions of dollars are being spent every month to occupy Iraq, while we can't even afford to feed and rescue thousands of our own citizens from their drowned city, drowned in a catastrophe that could have been prevented if anyone cared.

Update: The mayor of New Orleans has just released a statement announcing 'This is a desperate SOS. We're out of resources at the Convention Center, and don't anticipate getting help for 15-20,000 people.' The promised buses are not in fact coming to the rescue. So they're 'allowing those people to march' out of New Orleans 'to find relief'. How the fuck all those old people and wheelchair-bound people and teenage mothers with babies are supposed to march out of New Orleans is beyond my ken, as is what kind of 'relief' they're expected to 'find' (without looting, of course) when they get there. And the government's holding press conferences saying 'Be patient. We have resources and we'll get them to you.' A thousand, million, infinite times fuck you.

What's The Opposite Of A Hydra?

By what mechanism are politicians created? I've always assumed they were spontaneously generated from rotting meat, like pre-Enlightenment flies, but I'm open to other theories.

Whatever the process is, it appears never to have been introduced to Israel. Israel has had the same four (more recently three) major politicians since the Dawn of Time, and they don't go away, and they don't get lastingly discredited by any of their shocking scandals, and they just keep going off in disgrace and then returning in glory, and they do periodic elaborate mutual dances of opposition, coalition, betrayal and rapprochement, and they only ever fucking die if someone assassinates them. What is up with that?

Now 'Bibi' (how I loathe these cutesy domesticating diminutives--Aren't you an adorable widdle homicidal megalomaniac! Oh yes you are! Oh yes you are!) is launching his bid to take over Likud, while 'Arik' is rumored to be scheming to create a whole new slice-n-graft party out of the left tranche of Likud and the right of Labour. Pretty soon there will be more Israeli parties than politicians to lead them. And that, one can't help feeling, could very well lead to some small reduction in efficiency of the pursuit of everyone's goal. Now wouldn't that be a shame.

Human Rights Revolution At Gitmo!

Big, exciting changes in the military 'trial' process for detainees at Guantanamo Bay. The Pentagon, wishing in its benevolence 'to model the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay more closely on the judge and jury structure', has implemented reforms that are bound to ensure that a Gitmo kangaroo hearing walks, talks and looks just like a Real Trial!

1. 'Each hearing will have a presiding officer who will effectively act as the judge and decide most questions of law.'

Well, sure! I mean, the next-best thing to an actual judge is obviously an officer acting as a judge. Right? Heck, everyone knows officers are eminently qualified to decide most questions of law. And what with the well-known dire shortage of real-life judges these days, we should just be grateful that these civic-minded 'presiding officer' people are willing and ready to step into the judicial breach and offer their no-doubt-enthusiastic lay opinions.

2. 'There will also be a number of panel members who will support the presiding officer but also work like a jury. They will determine findings and set sentences.'

OK, so some petty malcontents might point out that this setup bears precious little resemblance to anything enshrined elsewhere in our legal system as a 'jury', what with the 'support the presiding officer' part, the 'determine findings and set sentences' part, and of course the whole not-being-a-disinterested-body-of-your-peers technicality. But to them I say, Hey. Come on now. These people have a lot on their plates, they're working really hard and wearing many different, albeit directly conflict-of-interest-producing, judiciary hats. If it makes them feel better appreciated for their efforts to be called 'a jury', who are we to deny them that small satisfaction? Walk a mile in their combat boots, then maybe you won't be so quick to judge.

3. This is the best one! 'The accused will be present at the hearing, except when classified information is discussed.'

Now what's not to be excited about there? The accused gets a front-row seat at the majestic drama of his own extrajudicial tribunal! At least, during those parts of the hearing when 'classified information' is not being discussed. Last I checked, 'Good morning, ladies and gentleman' was still public-access intel, so that should guarantee the accused at the very least a good peek at the inside of the court room before he's escorted back to his stress position.

And people called these Courts of Star Chamber. That'll show 'em!

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