Home Front: Dispatches from the War on America

While your attention has been diverted by the proxy war in Lebanon, the civil war in Iraq, the still-hot shootin' war in Afghanistan and the coming war with Iran, the Bush Regime been busy waging -- and winning -- another take-no-prisoners, give-no-quarter conflict right in the sacred Homeland itself: class war.

I know, I know: we don't have "classes" in America. No, our society is flatter than a flitter; we're all born on the same level playing field, lined up together at the same starting gate, given the same amount of
seed corn to plant on identical plots of rich topsoil. We're all subject to the same laws, which are applied equally to everybody, all the time, regardless of race, creed, color, national origin or sexual orientation. Who would deny these self-evident truths -- except perhaps for those same churls who refuse to acknowledge the seasonal beneficence of Santa Claus or the wonder-working power of the Easter Bunny?

And in truth, the epic despoliation now being wrought by the Bush Regime upon t
he overwhelming majority of the American people does not fall neatly into classic (or classist) Marxist categories. For one thing, Marx's bête noir, the bourgeoisie, are getting it in the neck along with everybody else. In fact, now that the poor have essentially been erased from public consciousness, wiped out by decades of savage Right-wing rollback, and "tough love" from corporate-coddling, welfare-whacking "New" Democrats, the middle class and its "privileges" -- higher education, affordable health care, job security, pensions, government services and regulatory protections, civil liberties, etc. -- have become primary targets of the Bushists' bold attempt to return American society to the glory days of the Gilded Age, where rapacious robber barons held untrammeled sway.

Dispatches from the Bush Faction's war on America come in every day, piecemeal, the dots rarely if ever connected. Last week saw a bumper crop of precision strikes, hitting an array of some of the Regime's favorite targets: the cannon fodder they've used up in their wars of crony conquest then tossed aside like so much bad meat; the two million Americans that have been clapped behind bars by the Bush Regime -- more prisoners both in sheer numbers and percentage of the population than any nation on earth; and those ever-popular punching bags, the unwealthy sick.

First up, from USA Today: Center for war-related brain injuries faces budget cut. Excerpts:

Congress appears ready to slash funding for the research and treatment of brain injuries caused by bomb blasts, an injury that military scientists describe as a signature wound of the Iraq war. House and Senate versions of the 2007 Defense appropriation bill contain $7 million for the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center — half of what the center received last fiscal year.

Proponents of increased funding say they are shocked to see cuts in the treatment of bomb blast injuries in the midst of a war. "I find it basically unpardonable that Congress is not going to provide funds to take care of our soldiers and sailors who put their lives on the line for their country," says Martin Foil, a member of the center's board of directors...George Zitnay, co-founder of the center, testified before a Senate subcommittee in May that body armor saves troops caught in blasts but leaves many with brain damage. "Traumatic brain injury is the signature injury of the war on terrorism," he testified.

The Brain Injury Center, devoted to treating and understanding war-related brain injuries, has received more money each year of the war — from $6.5 million in fiscal 2001 to $14 million last year. Spokespersons for the appropriations committees in both chambers say cuts were due to a tight budget this year.

"Honestly, they would have loved to have funded it, but there were just so many priorities," says Jenny Manley, spokeswoman for the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Boy, they're not even trying very hard to put a plausible spin on these things, are they? No "budget flexibility" to fund treatment for the heads being battered, splattered and bashed in Bush's lie-greased, blood-sodden "war of choice" in Iraq.? The Republicans couldn't even find $7.5 million in chump change just to keep the current level of funding? Seven-and-a-half million dollars -- Dick Cheney could pay that much with a personal check with scarcely a flutter in his bank balance. Halliburton and Boeing charge the taxpayers that much in "overhead" before they sit down to breakfast every day. George Widowmaker Bush could chip in that much with just a chunk of the windfall he'll get from his elimination of inheritance taxes. And how much money have they given the Moonies to peddle "abstinence" in the public schools?

The Republicans are slashing war-related brain trauma treatment for one reason only: they don't give a good goddamn about the rabble they send off to kill and die in their crusade for loot and dominion. That's all there is to it. If they wanted to fund it, if it was important to them, they'd fund it. But they don't, and it isn't, so they won't.

Buried deep in the story is yet another twist of the knife. It seems the Center has also offended the Lord High Warlord, Don Rumsfeld. How so? Here's how:

… The center has clashed with the Pentagon in recent months over a program to identify troops who have suffered mild to moderate brain injuries in Iraq from mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and roadside bombs — the most common weapons used by insurgents. Preliminary research by the center shows that about 10% of all troops in Iraq, and up to 20% of front line infantry troops, suffer concussions during combat tours….The center urged the Pentagon to screen all troops returning from Iraq in order to treat symptoms and create a database of brain injury victims. Scientists say multiple concussions can cause permanent brain damage.

The Pentagon so far has declined to do the screening and argues that more research is needed.

In other words, the Pentagon doesn't want to acknowledge all the brain injuries being borne by returning troops -- because then they'd have to pay to treat them. And they don't want to pay. Bush and Rumsfeld need that money for the black-hole warpits they've already dug, and the one they're planning for Iran. (As Sy Hersh notes this week: "A former intelligence officer said, "We told Israel, 'Look, if you guys have to go, we're behind you all the way. But we think it should be sooner rather than later - the longer you wait, the less time we have to evaluate and plan for Iran before Bush gets out of office.'") They don't care if the soldiers they've ordered into battle come back damaged, crippled, irradiated or diseased. They don't want to know about it. All they really care about is that these soldiers have the good grace to kick off quietly and cheaply somewhere after their service, so their deaths won't add to the politically-charged body count of the Bush wars.

Next up, from the New York Times: Panel Suggests Using Inmates in Drug Trials. Excerpts:

An influential federal panel of medical advisers has recommended that the government loosen regulations that severely limit the testing of pharmaceuticals on prison inmates, a practice that was all but stopped three decades ago after revelations of abuse.

The proposed change includes provisions intended to prevent problems that plagued earlier programs. Nevertheless, it has dredged up a painful history of medical mistreatment and incited debate among prison rights advocates and researchers about whether prisoners can truly make uncoerced decisions, given the environment they live in.

Supporters of such programs cite the possibility of benefit to prison populations, and the potential for contributing to the greater good.

Until the early 1970’s, about 90 percent of all pharmaceutical products were tested on prison inmates, federal officials say. But such research diminished sharply in 1974 after revelations of abuse at prisons like Holmesburg here, where inmates were paid hundreds of dollars a month to test items as varied as dandruff treatments and dioxin, and where they were exposed to radioactive, hallucinogenic and carcinogenic chemicals.

In addition to addressing the abuses at Holmesburg, the regulations were a reaction to revelations in 1972 surrounding what the government called the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male, which was begun in the 1930’s and lasted 40 years. In it, several hundred mostly illiterate men with syphilis in rural Alabama were left untreated, even after a cure was discovered, so that researchers could study the disease.

“What happened at Holmesburg was just as gruesome as Tuskegee, but at Holmesburg it happened smack dab in the middle of a major city, not in some backwoods in Alabama,” said Allen M. Hornblum, an urban studies professor at Temple University and the author of “Acres of Skin,” a 1998 book about the Holmesburg research. “It just goes to show how prisons are truly distinct institutions where the walls don’t just serve to keep inmates in, they also serve to keep public eyes out.”

...“It strikes me as pretty ridiculous to start talking about prisoners getting access to cutting-edge research and medications when they can’t even get penicillin and high-blood-pressure pills,” said Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News, an independent monthly review. “I have to imagine there are larger financial motivations here.”

This story speaks -- screams -- for itself. It's part of that grand rollback mentioned earlier. The Hard Right and its present avatars in the Bush Faction really do want to repeal and destroy all of the advances in civil rights and civic rights and human rights won -- at such tremendous sacrifice -- over the past century. It's not just about dismantling the Great Society or undoing the New Deal; it's about going all the way back to the post-Civil War era, when the powerful few could prey without let or hindrance upon the wretched many, and government was a brutal tool in the robber baron's arsenal. These guys don't just have Franklin Roosevelt in their sights; they're going after Teddy Roosevelt too, with all the trust-busting and major social reforms of his era (many of which he gets unearned credit for, but that's another story). -- And of course, a goodly number of these Hard-Righters don't want to stop at the post-Civil War era; they'd like to restore the "honor" and "morality" of the antebellum South as well.

Anyone who wants to understand the roots -- and future goals -- of the Hard Right's penal philosophy should check out David Oshinsky's searing 1996 book, Worse Than Slavery: Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice. You might have trouble finding it (I ran across my copy in the remainder bin in a Nashville bookstore): hard truths don't hang around on the shelves as long as the latest Harry Potter. But if you want to see where the Hard Right is coming from -- and what they "admire" when, like John Ashcroft and Trent Lott, they hark back to the good old days -- the book is well worth the effort of looking up.

Like America's soldiers, America's two million prisoners are worthless trash in the eyes of the elite. The former are to be denied medical treatment; the latter are to be subjected to medical experiments. Either way, they're just things, just ciphers to be moved around in the great game of grabbing loot. You ditch the soldiers so you can take the money that should have been used to heal them and either stuff it in your trousers or ladle it out as pork or payoff in some backroom deal. And you use the prisoners as guinea pigs to pump profits for Big Pharma. As for the usual porous "protections" outlined in the measure, one expert noted: “They’re also the parts of the report that faced the strongest resistance from federal officials, and I fear they’re most likely the parts that will end up getting cut as these recommendations become new regulations.”

Finally, a week wouldn't be complete with yet another Bush bashing of the sick and old and poor. Once more into the breach with the NYT: Planned Medicaid Cuts Cause Rift With States. Excerpts:

The White House is clashing with governors of both parties over a plan to cut Medicaid payments to hospitals and nursing homes that care for millions of low-income people. The White House says the changes are needed to ensure the “fiscal integrity” of Medicaid and to curb “excessive payments” to health care providers....

More than 330 members of Congress, including 103 Republicans, have objected to the plan. A letter signed by 82 House Republicans says it “would seriously disrupt financing of Medicaid programs around the country.” A bipartisan group of 50 senators recently urged President Bush to scrap the proposed rules, which were set forth in his 2007 budget and could be issued before the end of this year.

Medicaid finances health care for more than 50 million low-income people, with money provided by the federal government and the states. Under the White House plan, the federal government would reduce Medicaid payments to many public hospitals and nursing homes by redefining allowable costs. It would also limit the states’ ability to finance their share of Medicaid by imposing taxes on health care providers. About two-thirds of the states have such taxes.

Ah, there's the rub, you see. There's the heart of the matter: limiting "the states' ability to finance their share of Medicaid by imposing taxes on health care providers." How dare these commie bastard states try to help the poor and sick by begging a nickel from the billionaires of Big Medicine like Bill Frist.

State and local officials, members of Congress, hospitals, nursing homes and advocates for poor people make several arguments. First, they say, Mr. Bush is doing by regulation what he unsuccessfully asked Congress to do by legislation in the last two years. Second, they say, prior administrations and the Bush administration itself approved many of the state taxes that would be deemed improper under the new rules.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, a Republican, said, “The administration is attempting to reverse decades of federal Medicaid policy through the regulatory process,” less than a year after “Congress rejected these misguided cuts.”

In Missouri, Gov. Matt Blunt, a Republican, said the change “could mean a loss of more than $84.9 million” for his state. That, he said, would “jeopardize the continuity of care for Medicaid recipients” and set back efforts to improve care in nursing homes....

The cuts contemplated by the White House would not reduce the cost of care. But state officials said the changes would put pressure on states to reduce Medicaid benefits, restrict eligibility or lower payments to health care providers...

Dr. Bruce A. Chernof, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, said the cuts would “reduce access to services in a county where 33 percent of residents are uninsured.” The county’s five public hospitals operate trauma centers and burn treatment units for all patients, not just Medicaid recipients, he said.

The effects are magnified by the way Medicaid is financed. For each dollar that a state loses in provider tax revenue, the federal government will reduce its contributions — by $1 in California and Connecticut, and by $3 in a poor state like Mississippi.

In other words, the point is to kick people off the Medicaid rolls, make it much harder to get treatment (just as it's now harder for students to go to college), and re-define whole sections of the population out of eligibility. And in classic Bush style, the poorest of the poor, as in Mississippi, will lose the most.

Every day, the Regime makes it abundantly, overwhelmingly, undeniably clear that there is only one thing that sick poor people -- and used-up soldiers and chained-up prisoners -- can do to play their part in Bush's noble vision for American society: they should all slink off into the dark somewhere and die.

That is the very quintessence of Bushism. That is now the actual, actionable platform of the modern Republican Party. This is the reality they want to create behind the words "the United States of America."