March 2014
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Rags and Bones

by Jonathan Wallace

Rick Scott

One of the symptoms of a polity sliding towards despotism is that the power structure can now include criminals who are immune from any kind of public scrutiny of their pasts and misadventures. People who were street brawlers, con men, pimps and assassins can have a completely fresh start, and even use the skills they developed as lawbreakers, in a new role as enforcers of authority.

We are not quite there yet, but it still seems remarkable that Florida governor Rick Scott has a free pass for being CEO of a company, Columbia/HCA, owners of a hospital chain, which pled guilty to Medicaid fraud, including performing unnecessary procedures and then overbilling for them, and which paid 1.6 billion dollars in fines as recently as 2000-2002. Scott himself, in a civil deposition on an unrelated matter in which he apparently feared being asked about matters pertaining to the criminal investigation, invoked the Fifth Amendment 75 times.

That's OK if you are a rightist Republican apparently, but God forbid if you ever got a jaywalking ticket as a Democrat. It sheds a whole new light on Scott's rejection of the Obamacare Medicaid expansion for Florida....I can just imagine him intoning, "Lead us not into temptation..."

Soil Safe

I make myself notes of things to write about, and sometimes by the end of the month can barely remember what I had in mind, there's been so much news since. Why don't you Google this one yourself, for a case study of politics as usual in the great state of Chris Christie, I mean New Jersey. There is a February 24 New York Times piece by Michael Powell. Soil Safe is a company which won a contract to dump petroleum-contaminated soil in wetlands west of Staten Island. In past years, New Jersey's own Department of Environmental Protection reported that the sludge could collapse right into the Rahway River in a rainstorm. But Chris Christie's reconstituted DEP issued its approval before even receiving latest environmental studies. The local political boss is at once a State Senator and Soil Safe's lawyer. One of the owners of the land is a law partner of another powerful State Senator, and Soil Safe itself has made about $30,000 in contributions to the State Senate president. All three of these Senators are, sadly, Democrats, but are the kind of DEmocrats who work in close concert with Christie, running interference for him in the legislature and getting rewarded in return. Powell concludes (as he can because this is a column, not reportage): "Its easiest to conceive of politucs in New Jersey as a grand old pie. If politicians behave, there are enough slices to go around."


The Stuxnet thing showed that hackers working for the U.S. intelligence services can be as clumsy and stupid as private hackers, unleashing viruses which do more damage than intended. But this also takes the old question into another generation of history and technology: why does the government need to have its own criminals, its own murderers, thieves, con men, violent extortionists ("Nice country you have here") and now, hackers?


Putin obviously has that Hitler-Stalin-Napoleon thing going: he doesn't listen to advisors any more and has megalomaniac ambitions. After Ukraine, he probably would start invading European countries if he thought he could get away with it. It is heartbreaking that the hopes of a democratic Russia which Gorbachev raised have been brutally extinguished by this vain, crazy ex-KGB agent. The main hope for the future is if he hasn't constructed a secure despotic hierarchy and hasn't appointed a maybe things wll ameliorate after him.


William Ackman's pursuit of a huge profit in shorted Herbalife stock, by inspiring government investigations at state and federal levels, is a new low in billionaire antics and government complacency. Regardless of what the target may or may not have done, why would government permit itself to be used as a club by a billionaire desirous, for personal profit, of beating another company into submission? Its a new low in late American capitalism, as we slide into complete oligarchy and dysfunction.