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Obama's fatwa

I just read Salman Rushdie's memoir describing his nine years in hiding from Ayatollah Khomenei's death sentence (fatwa), imposed for his "heretical" novel "Satanic Verses." The entire world deplored this murderous threat on the writer's life.

I could not help but compare Rushdie's dire plight with that suffered by the many civilians targeted by President Obama's "kill list" for their alleged "terrorist" activities. There are few differences between these two forms of murderous decree, the fatwa and the kill list. Yet the world stands largely silent about the latter.

One difference is that those people whose names are added to the Obama kill list, unlike Rushdie, rarely know their fate beforehand, since names and criteria for inclusion are top secret. But the relentless buzzing of drones overhead in places like Waziristan, threatening death at any moment, terrorizes those potential victims as surely as the fatwa terrorized Rushdie.

In one rare instance, suspected terrorist Anwar Al-Awlaqi knew his fate beforehand. Because he was a US citizen, his inclusion on the kill list was approved by the National Security Council, which The New York Times then reported. Although he went into hiding and the ACLU filed a lawsuit, nothing could protect him from his fate.

A second, major difference between a rare fatwa death sentence and the administration's kill list was revealed in an October 23 Washington Post article by Greg Miller. He wrote that "targeted killing is now so routine that the Obama administration has spent much of the past year codifying and streamlining" an approach it considers "so bureaucratically, legally and morally sound that future administrations will follow suit."

Miller describes the institutionalization of a new "dispositional matrix," a database of terrorism suspects "designed to go beyond existing kill lists, mapping plans for the 'disposition' of suspects," i.e, ways to dispose of them. This killing program is not a single, rare decree, but instead a repeated systematic, sanctioned program of murder.

Many officials claim, of course, that drone assassinations and the kill list are justified by targeting militants and terrorists who pose imminent danger to the US. But most of the hundreds of victims are low-level operatives, denied any semblance of due process, or else innocent bystanders, posing no threat at all.

A third difference between the fatwa against Rushdie and the kill list against suspected militants is this: Rushdie was afforded maximum protection by UK police throughout his ordeal, while targeted individuals on the Obama kill list have little or no protection from sudden death by drone attack.

Meanwhile, the perpetrators of drone attacks themselves get undue protection. In a recent instance of astonishing irony, a commander of the Hancock Air National Guard Base near Syracuse, which remotely pilots killer drones over Afghanistan, won a court order of protection against the nonviolent peace activists demonstrating outside.

Apparently the largest military in the world warrants greater protection from the threat of nonviolence than the victims of its killing machine deserve from the horror it rains down from the sky.

Such irony would be a worthy subject for a Rushdie novel, now that he's free from the terror of the fatwa. It's up to the rest of us to determine when, and how, those unfortunates targeted by Obama's kill list will ever be set free from their own horror.

DOUG NOBLE, ROCHESTER

Noble is a member of the Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars

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These aren't

'entitlements'

I started paying into Social Security in 1955 and paid into it for 50 years. I started paying into Medicare in 1965, and I'm still paying into it today. I earned everything I get from those programs. I earned every benefit I get and then some. They are earned benefits, not entitlements.

Don't let anyone call Social Security or Medicare or Medicaid an entitlement. Shame on the major media and their wealthy corporate owners for using the term. Entitlements are for people with titles – like kings or queens – and we don't have those in America. But we do have CEO's who are entitled to massive bonuses and golden parachutes when they ruin the economy, and we do have banks too big to fail entitled to bailouts when their risky loans go bust.

We are not facing a fiscal cliff; we are in another battle in the class war, and it is time to tax the rich and pay workers a lot better, bring the jobs back and put people to work at good jobs, expand Medicare until everyone is covered, expand the coverage until every illness is covered, and improve the payments until co-pays and deductibles are abolished.

It won't take much. Just start taxing the rich. Tax their excess profits; tax their capital gains; tax their dividends, their interest, their rents, royalties, bonuses, stock options, and use the money for Medicare and a whole lot of other good things.

Medicare is not facing a fiscal cliff. It has an enormous surplus. The trust fund is good for a dozen years, and even then it will break even. Not go broke. That only happens if we do not tax the rich and get rid of the private, for-profit insurance companies.

Medicare averages two to three percent overhead, Medicaid three to five percent. So-called non-profit private insurance averages 10 percent or more. The for-profit insurance companies have 10 to 30 percent overhead.

Insurance companies are not entitled to their excess profits and don't deserve them. Single payer or "Medicare for all" is the only real solution to our health care crisis. Not only would that solve our health-care crisis but it would go a long way toward solving our financial problems. Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution says that Congress has the power to lay and collect taxes and provide for the general welfare. "Medicare for all" is a way to do what the Constitution says.

BILL AND SALLY MCCOY, ROCHESTER

Equal treatment

for mental health

Just last month we were witness to two terrible mass murders, one in Connecticut and another in Webster. As we reel from the numerous mass shootings across the country, there has been a long overdue call for improved gun-control measures. There has been a fainter call for improved mental health services. The NRA says, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people." I am a stanch gun-control advocate, but I think the NRA folks may have a point here, and the logical extension is that open access to mental health services is essential to the health and well-being of all Americans.

Acknowledging that mental health problems are as real as physical health problems and that they can have real consequences at least as devastating is an important first step. The critical next step is understanding that mental health problems can be successfully treated, but that the barriers to getting that treatment can be huge.

This summer my mentally ill cousin died. She took her own life. As her sister said, the tragedy is that when she was under treatment, she was pretty normal with every intention of getting her life back on track. Unfortunately, for much of her life, there was no way to get her that treatment.

The first legislative step we need is parity between mental and physical illnesses. Medicare should cover mental health diagnoses the same way it covers physical health diagnoses. Insurance companies should be required to cover mental health diagnoses the same way they cover physical diagnoses, and with the same co-pays. Although there have been some improvements in this direction locally, I can tell you that my personal medical insurance — through one of the major insurers in the Rochester area — has no coverage at all for any mental health services.

Another obvious step? Don't let convicted felons out of prison without long term, ongoing mental health follow-up. A less obvious step: mental-health help for people who seem troubled.

You can call child protective services when you are concerned about child abuse; why can't you call when you are concerned about someone who may have a mental health issue in your community? Oh wait, these would require upfront public funding, which as we all know is politically untenable.

But maybe if we could see that we have a choice of paying now, or continuing with our current policy of paying later to deal with the aftermath of the ongoing disasters. Public health and public mental health affect all of us. Gun control measures and banning assault weapons should be a public health priory. Open, streamlined access to appropriate services should be our first priority when it comes to mental health.

DR. NAOMI PLESS, HENRIETTA

Pless is a New York State licensed physician, board certified in family medicine.

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