Your Inquirer Profoundly

Your Inquirer Profoundly offers scathing commentary and raw insight about the social, political and cultural developments of our time.

Madrid Defends Neighborhood from Ultra Right-Wing Bigotry

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MADRID, Spain – Lavapies a labyrinth of narrow alleys and sloping streets that attract huge crowds of people every Sunday to the Rastro flea market is also home to a large immigrant community that has long resided in Central Madrid’s cultural melting pot.

On Saturday morning demonstrators gathered in Plaza de Lavapies in a demonstration of solidarity with the neighborhood’s immigrant community who have come under recent attack by anti-immigration groups.

Activists described the gathering as a “counterprotest” following a spate of xenophobic actions carried out by ultra right-wing groups. On February 21 members of the National Democracy party fired flairs at the headquarters of the antiracism organization SOS Racism, and hung a mannequin with a noose around its neck from a balcony above. They also raised a banner marked with their insignia that read, “You denounce those who protect our border. Stop the invasion. Spaniards are also drowning. SOS Racismo, Anti-Spanish Organization”, a reference to controversial actions taken by the Spain’s Guardia Civil in last month that resulted in the deaths of 15 immigrants who were trying to swim to the coast of Ceuta in southern Spain after crossing the Mediterranean.

Tensions continued to mount this past week as the National Alliance, an ultra right-wing party affiliated with National Democracy registered to stage an anti-immigration protest in Lavapies on March 8. Reviewing the party’s request for a protest permit on Thursday, the Superior Court of Madrid refused to grant it, ruling that the protests “were intended to disturb public order, and endanger persons and property”. Cristina Cifuentes, delegate to the Government of Madrid noted that the ruling “took into account the protection of equality and dignity of all persons, regardless of their place of birth, race, sex, religion, opinion, or any other personal or social condition or circumstance.”

In a manifesto, publicly available on the organization’s webpage, National Alliance espouses that only “jus sanguinis” or right of blood should be used to determine an individual’s national origin in addition to calling for the expulsion of all immigrant groups that threaten national unity.

This struck a chord with residents and activists who began organizing Saturday’s demonstration through popular assemblies and social media upon hearing National Alliance’s announcement to stage their anti-immigration rally.

“So a bunch of neonazis are going to march into the heart of Lavapies with their banners? I don’t think so. Our people are here to keep things peaceful”, said Esteban, a resident who only gave his first name.

Around 1 o’clock the gathering began to dwindle. A few clusters of participants remained standing in front of their own banners: “Not in Lavapies not in any place. We defend our neighborhoods from Racism.”

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Written by yourinquirerprofoundly

March 8, 2014 at 12:15 pm

NSA Review Committee: containing entropy

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Last September as the Snowden leaks continued to shed light on the shadowy operations of the NSA Obama pledged to charge a “high-level group of outside experts” to evaluate the NSA’s secret programs. Obama’s committee of outside experts includes Michael Morell (former deputy director of CIA), Richard Clarke (former National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counter-terrorism), and Cass Sunstein (Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs under Obama), three men who have worked in the highest levels of government and, only in the most double-speaky way, can be referred to as outside experts. Further more, the committee has been under the supervision of The Office of the National Director of Intelligence headed by James Clapper. Months before being charged with overseeing the NSA review committee Clapper got famous for his “unwittingly” remark when categorically denying the existence of the NSA’s mass surveillance programs before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Considering the make-up of the committee and the fact that it has been under the direct supervision of the king of all intelligence/spy agencies it should come as no surprise that this committee of Washington insiders concluded that dismantling the programs would be impossible and has recommended, rather, that changes are made to the way the NSA carries out its spy programs, “though under broad new restraints”. How do you put restraints on a program like XKeyscore, a program that the NSA boasts captures “nearly everything a typical user does on the internet”? Do we change “nearly” to “not nearly as much as we captured before Snowden”? Seriously. Does bulk collecting of phone records suddenly become not bulk collecting because the NSA, under new legal restraints imposed by James Clapper and company, limits phone call interceptions to 120 billion calls per month instead of 124.8 billion? The committee’s recommendations, which have still not been officially released to the public because the review itself has been shrouded in secrecy, can be seen as nothing more than an attempt to mollify concerns over surveillance state sprawl and white wash NSA abuses.

For Obama, the important thing is “you know, to initiate some reforms that can give people more confidence”. So, like, as your constitutional lawyer President “I’ll be proposing some self-restraint on the N.S.A.”

Telling the public that the NSA can restrain itself is like telling a quantum theorist that entropy is containable.

Written by yourinquirerprofoundly

December 13, 2013 at 2:47 pm

Fast-Food Strikes: The latest iteration of class war

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Last week fast-food workers walked off the job in over a hundred cities across the country to demonstrate against exploitation and wage slavery in fast-food corporations. Thousands of participants organised to demand a $15 an hour living wage. The tide of indignation is rising. From Walmart to Caterpillar, from Macy’s to the top six fast-food chains public outrage over naked worker exploitation is mounting. Inequality in the United States has reached fever pitch.

I’ve collated data from a series of articles and public policy reports published over the last several months to paint a picture of a nation haunted by the spectre of a growing class divide.

According to the Social Security Administration nearly 40 percent of all workers in the country made less than $20,000 last year. This doesn’t include figures on benefits such as health insurance or pensions. That’s below the federal poverty threshold for a family of four and close to the line for a family of three. On average, these workers earned just $17,459.55.

The New York Times reported on The Economic Policy Institutes findings that the bottom 20 percent of American workers by income — 28 million workers — earn less than $9.89 an hour; “That translates to $20,570 a year for a full-time employee”. Between 2006 and 2012 these workers saw their income fall by 5 percent. The report also found that wages for workers at the 50th percentile — their median pay is $16.30 an hour — have also dipped, falling 3.4 percent, while pay for the top 10 percent rose 3 percent.

A glaring disconnect between the nation’s top corporate executives and their wage earning employees couldn’t be starker. While workers wages have flatlined, executive pay jumped 16 percent last year alone. Citing Equilar, an executive compensation analysis firm, The Times reported that top executives were raking in, on average, $15.1 Million.

The pay gap between CEOs and their employees working in Fast-Food is particularly staggering. Speaking on Democracy Now, Sarah Anderson, author of the new report “Fast Food CEOs Rake in Taxpayer-Subsidised Pay“, gives an inside peak into how the top six fast-food corporations are taking advantage of a perverse tax loophole, one that rewards fast-food CEOs for underpaying employees. The way this “loophole” works is that it allows companies to deduct unlimited amounts from their corporate income taxes to pay their executives. The stipulation that makes this a loophole rather than broad day light robbery is that the deductions only apply to performance pay – things like stock-options, and related bonuses that come out of the cauldron of financial wizardry. Through this corporate handout fast-food executives are able to obfuscate the real costs of production.

Anderson’s study reveals that over the past two years, the CEOs of the top six publicly held fast food chains – YUM Brands (KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut), McDonalds, Wendy’s, Burger King, Dunkin Brands and Dominos – “pocketed more than $183 million in fully deductible ‘performance pay,’ lowering their companies’ IRS bills by an estimated $64 million.”

In syllogistic form it looks something like this: If companies pay their executives more, then they pay less in federal taxes. Companies pay their executives butt-loads more. Therefore tax-payers get reamed. Mind your P’s and Q’s!

Not only is this low-ball business model denying fast-food employees a living wage and affronting their dignity by setting their human value so low that affording basics like food, water, clothing and shelter is impossible without government support, a second-job or illicit income, this business model is externalising its labor expenses. One study conducted by University of California Berkeley found that more than half of frontline fast-food workers depend on at least one public assistance program costing tax-payers a whopping $7 billion annually. What it comes down to is that fast-food company profits are being mystified. The real costs of labor, distorted by government handouts fatter than fast-food itself, is hiding the hidden reality of tax-payer-subsidized profits. Regular costs of doing business are being transformed into plain profits that ascend directly to the top. While Wendy, Colonel Sanders, the Burger King and Ronald McDonald stiff their employees and pocket the spoils millions of Americans are paying them to do it.

The coals of antagonism are smoldering. The wages of working people have levelled down below the costs of their subsistence. At the same time executive pay has soared. Last weeks organised protests against mass exploitation didn’t pit industrial workers against a class of industrial elites. The economy of mass consumption swallowed that of mass production. What last weeks’ calls for dignity and fair living wages express, however, is a new iteration of class struggle. America stands divided and unequal. The spectre of class war is present. “We’ll be back”, protesters chanted as they exited a McDonalds in Times Square.

Written by yourinquirerprofoundly

December 9, 2013 at 2:05 pm

HealthCare.gov botched: The real farce is the Affordable Care Act

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Let’s get something clear, regardless of whether or not the Obama Administration get’s HealthCare.gov -the website that’s supposed to serve as the hub for the Affordable Care Act’s online insurance market – to “function smoothly” the insurance portal now associated with Obama’s tarnished creditability is nothing more than a new means of distributing sub-par health insurance plans, that for many newly coerced consumers will cost a lot of money for scanty coverage. Why is it that Aetna’s Chief Executive Mark Bertolini, frustrated that the delayed rollout was impeding customers from purchasing new plans groused on CNBC that “There’s so much wrong, you just don’t know what’s broken until you get a lot more of it fixed.” Bertolini like many other health industry leaders who invested tens of millions in gearing up for the so-called market overhaul stood to reap windfall profits from HealthCare.gov’s launch. That’s largely because they paid billions to underwrite ObamaCare through an armada of industry lobbyists.

Mired in the latest ObamaCare debacle we’d be wiser than amnesiac to remember the real reasons why the Affordable Health Care Act is a complete farce.

Recall who wrote the Affordable Care Act: Advanced Medical Technology Association, American Hospital Association, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the president-elect of the American Medical Association, the Chair of SEIU Healthcare of the Service Employees International Union, and America’s Health Insurance Plans – the lobby for insurers like Aetna, Humana, UnitedHealth and WellPoint. Although this list of health care industry associations and lobby groups is not exhaustive it illustrates the major interests that shaped Obama’s “landmark achievement”. Yet these special interests groups don’t represent those who bare the costs of a dysfunctional health care system, that is the patients. On the contrary they represent the financial aspirations of mega health insurance companies, pharmaceutical corporations, and hospitals that have been gouging patients and public health programs for decades helping to make the United States the most expensive, inefficient, dysfunctional and ass-backwards stupid health care system in the developed world. We are talking about a health care system based on a fee for service model that charges patients into bankruptcy and when they can no longer pay for services that cost a fraction in significantly less wealthy nations, discharges them and leaves them to die. We are talking about a system that forces hospitals to waste billions filling out brain-racking paperwork; $350 billion annually by some estimates. We are talking about a system that hovers over the chests of doctors like a foul smelling succubus inducing nightmares of career-blowing malpractice lawsuits. We are talking about a system that rewards drug leviathans by allowing them to systematically fuck public health care programs like Medicare and Medicaid out of billions of dollars by granting them oligopoly status and the leverage to dictate the terms of purchase. Furthermore, in full accordance with the laissez-faire principles that govern the US economy, the state heeds to Big Pharma’s demands to outlaw the importation of competitively priced drugs. It’s as if the entire health care industry has used the legislative process to shove a catheter up the public pee hole to filch profits from the social body.

It seems we’ve forgotten about the heady days when the “Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America announced that the industry would contribute an estimated $150 million to campaign for Obamacare.” It’s also been erased from collective consciousness that the health care industry put the golden star on Montana Senator Max Baucus’s forehead and donated $2 million plus to his campaign in return for being the industry’s favorite little whore. One man, swiftly guided by his obsequious chief health policy counsel Elizabeth Fowler, who as Glenn Greenwald pointed out three years ago, “was hired by the health insurance giant WellPoint to serve as its Vice President for Public Policy and External Affairs,” would play an extraordinary role in giving the health care industry the gift of a lifetime. Embodying the congealed schemes of his corporate clients Baucus led the Senate Finance Committee in designing the health care overhaul dreamed up by industry leaders. That meant then, as it does today, that the privileges allotted to the parasitic industry that in semantics only is in charge of caring for the sick and injured was granted a stay on the status quo. In it’s “reformed” form the Affordable Care Act would continue to invite the system to suck its green life blood.

Today’s seven page feature story in the New York Times discusses the anxiety of health insurance executives and industry chiefs the HealthCare.gov quagmire has produced. “With the website practically unusable, insurers were panicking; their customers could not log onto HealthCare.gov to buy new plans.” Health insurance executives who had invested heavily in preparing for the implementation of ObamaCare had high expectations of lucrative profits. Following their logic, a logic they were able to have codified into law, insurers would agree to sell insurance to everyone. Here Obama gets to look great for the one material benefit his health care bill would provide, prohibiting the denial of coverage for people with preexisting conditions. The onanistic sentiments that disseminated across the beltway media pretty much veiled the rest of the bull shit that stank behind the closed doors where the legislative architects had their interests carved in stone. The logic continues. So the insurers will agree to insure everyone… as long as the government requires every American to buy that insurance, and uses tax dollars to subsidize those who could not afford to do so. Enter the “individual mandate”, the decree that regardless of what kind of policy you can access whether it be a good and affordable policy, one that actually covers hospital visits, mental health, outpatient services and shit, doctors visits, or a crap ass bare bones policy offered by your stingy employer with the high deductible and minimal service coverages, you have to buy a policy or face (they delayed this part too) a penalty. Essentially the individual mandate stipulates that people will have to buy insurance that has already proven in innumerable cases inadequate to cover patients needs while draining public health resources with outlandish charges. In conclusion the insurers would agree to “sell their undifferentiated commodity to all people, no matter how sick, if the government agreed to require all people, no matter how healthy, to buy their undifferentiated commodity.” So the anxiety triggered by the rollout fumble seems a rational response to insurers concerned that those they paid to rig the system are fucking up.

Another rational response would be to see the botched healthcare rollout for what it is, the rollout of a still defunct healthcare system. Materially reforming health care in the United States, that is actually treating ill and injured patients and charging them for the quality rather than quantity of care received hinged on three things; establishing a single-payer system, providing a public option and reigning in the power and profits of Big Pharma. In a scathing article Matt Taibbi recalls how Obama himself agreed that a single-payer system would be the best means to reform health care.

Everyone knows this, including the president. Last spring, when he met with Rep. Lynn Woolsey, the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Obama openly said so. “He said if he were starting from scratch, he would have a single-payer system,” says Woolsey. “But he thought it wasn’t possible, because it would disrupt the health care industry.Huh? This isn’t a small point: The president and the Democrats decided not to press for the only plan that makes sense for everyone, in order to preserve an industry that is not only cruel and stupid and dysfunctional, but through its rank inefficiency has necessitated the very reforms now being debated. Even though the Democrats enjoy a political monopoly and could have started from a very strong bargaining position, they chose instead to concede at least half the battle before it even began.

So the best plan of reform was fed to the beasts before the games began. Fine. At least a public option might have kept kept insurers just less than pathologically dishonest when setting their premiums. No. That was jettisoned too. Absent the public option the Affordable Care Act was as meaningful a reform as reroofing a house scheduled for demolition. Without it there can be no price floor to anchor the premiums set by plundering health insurance companies. There is simply no way to keep artificial price setters competitive without the presence of a lowest cost operator in the market. (This is economics 101. Any free market espousing McGraw Hill high school ECON book talks about this somewhere in Chapter 1). Having failed to curb the cancerous growth of pharmaceutical companies by allowing bulk purchase bargaining, capping Medicare/Medicaid reimbursements or by permitting the importation of competitively priced drugs, the Obama Administration instead handed major drug corporations the same golden party favor dished out by his predecessor when he passed the 2003 Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act (MMA). Only this time the gift basket also included a potential 47 million new clients to the health insurance industry.

Lamenting the bungled HealthCare.gov rollout is like decrying Walmart for putting out food drive baskets for their underpaid employees while accepting their business model as the usual cost of doing business that makes the goods you consume wicked cheap. To not see ObamaCare in all of its aspects whether expediently implemented or botched as anything less than a corporate hijacking of public health is to miss the point entirely. Reform was in theory spearheaded because of inherent inefficiencies in the health care system. This system being comprised of health care providers, drug manufacturers and health insurance companies were, as they are today, rife with malfeasance and largesse. Having not treated the underlying causes of the health care system’s colossal failure corporate domination will continue to put profits before people and live off the blood they rip off patients. Amazingly we’ve been beguiled to think that the success of failure of public health comes down to a smoothly functioning webpage.

Written by yourinquirerprofoundly

December 1, 2013 at 4:15 pm

US while defending embargo on Cuba cites concerns over political rights of Cuban citizens

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For the 22nd consecutive year the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly voted to condemn the US embargo against Cuba. Such condemnations are hardly new. The EU has repeatedly called upon the World Trade Organisation to condemn the embargo. The American Association for World Health’s study of the embargo found that it has “dramatically harmed the health and nutrition of large numbers of ordinary citizens…has caused a significant rise in suffering-and even deaths-in Cuba.” Even the Judicial Commission of the notoriously subservient Organization of American States declared the embargo illegal.

In usual fashion the US defended its actions, justifying an embargo that has imposed harsh punishments on false pretexts since 1962. Speaking before the General Assembly Ronald Godard recited the official line:

The international community cannot be — cannot in good conscience ignore the ease and frequency with which the Cuban regime silences critics, disrupts peaceful assembly, impedes independent journalism and, despite positive reforms, continues to prevent some Cubans from leaving or returning to the island. The Cuban government continues its tactics of politically motivated detentions, harassment and police violence against Cuban citizens.

At a time when the US government is waging an all out war on journalism, prosecuting whistle blowers under archaic espionage laws, detaining political activists without charges, and using under-covers to infiltrate and disrupt groups of political dissidents (apparently this includes Superstorm Sandy first responders who, before any state or federal agency, began supplying relief to victims) claims like Godard’s are high comedy. Where politically motivated detentions are concerned perhaps we can recall the mass arrests of 1800 protesters at the 2004 Republican National Convention, the Pier 57 Guantanamo on the Hudson incident. As for police violence against American citizens? Stop and Frisk. Institutionalised racial profling. What about Jonathan Ferrell, gunned down three weeks ago by a white police officer after a woman called the police on him for knocking on her door at night? Ferrell had just been in a car accident up the street and according to reports was seeking help. How about Andy Lopez, the 13 year old boy shot in California last week when police officers mistook an air soft rifle for an assault rifle? Ferrell and Lopez are just two of the hundreds of unarmed black men shot to death by police every year. This of course does not constitute “harassment and police violence against…citizens.” At least not in the United States.

The United State’s interest in continued aggression against Cuba is best explained by US internal records. Many of these documents, available at the National Security Archive reveal that the United States could not have been less interested in the rights of cuban citizens. Noam Chomsky in Hegemony or Survival discusses the secret plans hatched as early as the Eisenhower Administration and carried out under Kennedy that sought to drag Cuba into a conflict that would justify American “retalitation”. While plotting the “covert means . . . to lure or provoke Castro, or an uncontrollable subordinate, into an overt hostile reaction against the United States; a reaction which would in turn create the justification for the US to not only retaliate but destroy Castro with speed, force and determination”, Robert Kennedy warned that a full-scale invasion of Cuba would “kill an awful lot of people, and we’re going to take an awful lot of heat on it.” The real crisis that ensued, the so called Cuban Missile Crisis was part of a carefully constructed scheme to undermine any challenge to US dominance; in the words of then CIA Director Allen Dulles in “America’s backyard”. Like Guatemala where a prolonged democratic struggle against the Old Order of Guatemalan dictatorships was crushed by the US installed authoritarian regime of Col. Carlos Castillo Armas, Cuba represented a threat to American hegemony.

The CIA’s 1961 warning that “the extensive influence of ‘Castroism’ is not a function of Cuban power. . . . Castro’s shadow looms large because social and economic conditions throughout Latin America invite opposition to ruling authority and encourage agitation for radical change,” is illustrative then, as it is today, of the American foreign policy establishment’s obsession with maintaining the privileges of ruling elites by securing the economic conditions required for plundering and profit.

When mouthpieces like Godard wax poetical about the United State’s concern for the political rights of cuban citizens a sober review of actual events make such words ring hollow.

Written by yourinquirerprofoundly

October 30, 2013 at 9:30 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Jay Carney: White House (Double Think) Secretary

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Last Thursday White House Press Secretary Jay Carney denied that the United States had or would monitor German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s communications. He was pressed again the following day by journalist Nedra Pickler: “Has the United States monitored the chancellor’s phone calls in the past?’

Despite a spate of ongoing revelations that the NSA has been not only monitoring Merkel’s phone calls, but as Der Spiegal reported, has also been spying on diplomatic communications through its “Secret Collections Service”, Carney again denied the allegations:

Nedra, we are not going to comment publicly on every specified alleged intelligence activity. And as a matter of policy, we have made clear that the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations. As I mentioned yesterday, the president spoke with Chancellor Merkel, reassured her that the United States is not and will not monitor the chancellor’s communications.

According to documents released by Snowden the NSA describes the Secret Collections Service as “a small windowless room full of cables with a work station of “signal processing racks” containing dozens of plug-in units for “signal analysis.” When contacted by SPIEGAL the NSA declined to comment on the matter.

It’s important to remember that these reports are coming directly from internal NSA documents. It’s not as if the White House can continue to successfully discredit whistleblowers like Snowden in order to deflect attention away the secret inner-workings of power. What’s being reported on are the NSA’s very own words as recorded in secret documents, memos and presentations the world’s largest spy agency formerly had exclusive access to. With an estimated 50,000 plus documents related to NSA operations now in circulation the servile defenders of mass surveillance, The Party loyalists across the aisle, the starched fatigue wearing generals, the obsequious spokespersons of The Administration and the commander himself can do nothing more than recite Double Think. In other words Surveillance State officials are “to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies”. How else can they deny what they have themselves documented?

Written by yourinquirerprofoundly

October 28, 2013 at 7:18 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

“Jaque el Rey” protests meet 1,400 anti-riot police in Madrid

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Under intense rain hundreds marched through the streets of Madrid demanding the abdication of King Juan Carlos. The event, dubbed “Jaque el Rey” was organized by 25S, the coordination committee of diverse political associations and activist organizations to mark the one year anniversary since the group surrounded Spain’s Congress of Deputies in protest of massive privatizations, public expenditure cuts, corruption and the general “plundering of finance capitalism.” Although the protesters planned to conclude their march in front of the Royal Palace police cordons set up along access streets prohibited protesters from reaching their destination. 1,400 anti-riot police formed barricades across the city using metal fences, vans and their armored bodies to confine the protesters to designated areas and limit their movement across the city. Above the roar of helicopters flying overhead people shouted “policia fascista” before turning back towards the Opera House to convene a general assembly.

Speaking through a megaphone a protester acknowledged the overwhelming police presence: We would like to break the siege and enter Plaza de Oriente, but today is not the day. The police forces impede us.” Plaza de Oriente is the public garden in front of the Royal Palace. Another protester who declined to give his name stated, “the new law recently approved in congress makes crossing the police cordon a crime punishable by up to four years in jail.” He was referring to the controversial new laws making their way through parliament that clamp down on rights of assembly. “Once implemented,” he continued, “they will be able to imprison you for up to a year if you have posted information related to unlawful protests on your twitter account.”

As the rain continued the protesters dispersed, some shouting “we’ll be back”. Waiting at Puerta del Sol, the major public square the protesters had to pass through before going their separate ways, were phalanxes of police guarding every street leading to the heart of Madrid.

Written by yourinquirerprofoundly

September 28, 2013 at 4:42 pm

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