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Context of 'August 24, 2009: Health Insurers Sending 50,000 Employees to Speak at Town Halls'

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Wendell Potter (r) being interviewed by Bill Moyers (l).Wendell Potter (r) being interviewed by Bill Moyers (l). [Source: PR Watch (.org)]Former health care executive Wendell Potter, who left the insurance giant Cigna after fifteen years, appears on “Bill Moyers’ Journal.” He was formerly the head of corporate communications before he resigned his position, a post he calls “the ultimate PR job.” He says he was not forced to leave the company, and was extremely well compensated for his duties. He left after realizing that the health care industry is using underhanded and hurtful tactics to undermine the drive towards health care reform. He never went to his bosses with his observations because, he says, “for most of the time I was there, I felt that what we were doing was the right thing. And that I was playing on a team that was honorable. I just didn’t really get it all that much until toward the end of my tenure at Cigna.”
Health Care Expo Changed His Perceptions - In June 2007, Potter recalls, his perceptions were drastically changed by his visit to a health care exposition in Wise, Virginia (see June 2007).
Changing Plans - The industry shifted from selling primarily managed care plans, he says, to what they call “consumer-driven plans.” Despite the name, they are health care plans with high deductibles and limited coverage.
'Highlight Horror Stories' - Moyers shows Potter a copy of an “action plan” devised by America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the industry’s trade association. In large gold letters, the plan tells lobbyists and industry representatives to “Highlight horror stories of government-run systems.” Potter says that AHIP and other industry representatives try to paint government-run health care as socialism, and as inevitable failures. “The industry has always tried to make Americans think that government-run systems are the worst thing that could possibly happen to them,” he says, “that if you even consider that, you’re heading down on the slippery slope towards socialism. So they have used scare tactics for years and years and years, to keep that from happening. If there were a broader program like our Medicare program, it could potentially reduce the profits of these big companies. So that is their biggest concern.” Moyers also notes that the AHIP plan targets the film Sicko, a 2007 documentary by leftist filmmaker Michael Moore that portrayed America’s health care industry in a dismal light. AHIP’s action plan is to “Position Sicko as a threat to Democrats’ larger agenda.” Potter says that was an effort to discredit the film by using lobbyists and AHIP staffers “to go onto Capitol Hill and say, ‘Look, you don’t want to believe this movie. You don’t want to talk about it. You don’t want to endorse it. And if you do, we can make things tough for you.’” If they did, AHIP would retaliate by running negative ads against the lawmakers in their home districts or other electoral punishments. AHIP focused strongly on the conservative Democratic Leadership Council. Another tactic, as delineated in the memo: “Message to Democratic insiders. Embracing Moore is one-way ticket back to minority party status.” Moyers says that AHIP attempted to “radicalize” Moore and portray him as an extremist who could not be believed. Many politicians used AHIP talking points in discussing Moore and his film. “So your plan worked,” Moyers observes. Potter agrees: “It worked beautifully.” The lesson that was lost from Moore’s film, Potter says, was that Americans “shouldn’t fear government involvement in our health care system. That there is an appropriate role for government, and it’s been proven in the countries that were in that movie.”
Conservative Counter-Strategy - Moyers then displays a memo from Republican strategist Frank Luntz, who in the spring of 2009 wrote a strategy memo for health care reform opponents. The memo reads in part: “First, you have to pretend to support it. Then use phrases like, ‘government takeover,’ ‘delayed care is denied care,’ ‘consequences of rationing,’ ‘bureaucrats, not doctors prescribing medicine.’” He then shows film clips of House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ), and others using Luntz’s talking points in discussions on the floors of Congress. Potter says that many conservatives—Democrats as well as Republicans—“are ideologically aligned with the industry. They want to believe that the free market system can and should work in this country, like it does in other industries. So they don’t understand from an insider’s perspective like I have, what that actually means, and the consequences of that to Americans. They parrot those comments, without really realizing what the real situation is.” He notes that Representative Zach Wamp (R-TN), who grew up very near Potter’s childhood home in Chattanooga, told reporters that half of America’s uninsured don’t want health care, they would rather “go naked and just take the chance of getting sick. They end up in the emergency room costing you and me a whole lot more money.” Potter notes that the word “naked” is an industry term for people who choose not to buy health insurance. He calls Wamp’s comment “ridiculous” and “an example of a member of Congress buying what the insurance industry is peddling.” Moyers cites conservative Democrat Max Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, as another politician central to the health care reform process who is heavily influenced by corporate lobbyists—two of whom used to work on his own Senate staff. Potter says: “[I]t does offend me, that the vested special interests, who are so profitable and so powerful, are able to influence public policy in the way that they have, and the way that they’ve done over the years. And the insurance industry has been one of the most successful, in beating back any kinds of legislation that would hinder or affect the profitability of the companies.”
Fierce Opposition to Public Option - The “public option,” the idea that the government would extend a non-profit, government-run health care alternative for citizens, is fiercely opposed by the health care industry. Potter says the reason why is “[t]he industry doesn’t want to have any competitor. In fact, over the course of the last few years, has been shrinking the number of competitors through a lot of acquisitions and mergers. So first of all, they don’t want any more competition period. They certainly don’t want it from a government plan that might be operating more efficiently than they are, that they operate.” Government programs such as Medicare and the Veterans Administration’s medical providers are far more efficient than private, for-profit health care providers, and the industry fears that having to compete with such a program will slash their profits. Medical companies will do whatever it takes to keep their profit margins—and shareholder returns—above a certain threshold. They will deny more claims, kick more people off their rolls, purge employer accounts, whatever it takes. Potter, evidently bemused, says, “You know, I’ve been around a long time. And I have to say, I just don’t get this. I just don’t understand how the corporations can oppose a plan that gives the unhealthy people a chance to be covered. And they don’t want to do it themselves.… I’m a capitalist as well. I think it’s a wonderful thing that companies can make a profit. But when you do it in such a way that you are creating a situation in which these companies are adding to the number of people who are uninsured and creating a problem of the underinsured then that’s when we have a problem with it, or at least I do.” A public option would help “keep [health care corporations] honest,” he says, and they would inevitably lose profits.
Predictions - Right now the industry is primarily involved in what Potter calls a “charm offensive,” where it is attempting to give the perception that it, too, is for health care reform. But once Congress begins putting out specific legislative language, the industry and its flacks will begin attacking specific provisions. Moyers says the upshot is for the industry to either “kill reform” or prevent lawmakers from agreeing on a bill, just like what happened in 1993-94 under the Clinton administration. No matter what they say—favoring the elimination of pre-existing condition restrictions, for example—the industry will adamantly oppose reform of any kind. “They don’t want a public plan,” Potter says. “They want all the uninsured to have to be enrolled in a private insurance plan. They want—they see those 50 million people as potentially 50 million new customers. So they’re in favor of that. They see this as a way to essentially lock them into the system, and ensure their profitability in the future. The strategy is as it was in 1993 and ‘94, to conduct this charm offensive on the surface. But behind the scenes, to use front groups and third-party advocates and ideological allies. And those on Capitol Hill who are aligned with them, philosophically, to do the dirty work. To demean and scare people about a government-run plan, try to make people not even remember that Medicare, their Medicare program, is a government-run plan that has operated a lot more efficiently.… [T]hey want to scare you into thinking that through the anecdotes they tell you, that any government-run system, particularly those in Canada, and UK, and France that the people are very unhappy. And that these people will have to wait in long lines to get care, or wait a long time to get care. I’d like to take them down to Wise County. I’d like the president to come down to Wise County, and see some real lines of Americans, standing in line to get their care. [PBS, 7/10/2009]

Entity Tags: John Boehner, Frank Luntz, Cigna, Bill Moyers, America’s Health Insurance Plans, Zach Wamp, Wendell Potter, US Veterans Administration, Senate Finance Committee, Michael Moore, Medicare, Max Baucus, Mitch McConnell, Jon Kyl, Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

Republicans intend to use the fight over health care reform to “break” President Obama, says at least one Republican senator. Jim DeMint (R-SC) joins other Republican lawmakers in a conference call with so-called “tea party” organizers (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, and Before August 6, 2009) to plan how to use town hall confrontations with Democratic lawmakers to help stall any health care reform bill from being voted on in Congress until at least after the August recess. The call was organized by the lobbying organization Conservatives for Patients Rights (CPR). “I can almost guarantee you this thing won’t pass before August, and if we can hold it back until we go home for a month’s break in August,” members of Congress will hear from “outraged” constituents, DeMint says. “Senators and Congressmen will come back in September afraid to vote against the American people.… [T]his health care issue is D-Day for freedom in America. If we’re able to stop Obama on this it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.” One of the talking points from CPR is to characterize the reform package as a “government takeover” of health care. [Politico, 7/17/2009] When Obama says on PBS that “[w]hat they [DeMint and other Republicans] don’t recognize is, this isn’t about me; it’s about the American people… [a]nd things have gotten worse since 1993,” DeMint takes to Fox News to say the argument is about “socialism versus freedom,” and challenge Obama to a debate. “So, I’m glad to have the debate with him,” DeMint says, “but frankly, I’ve been working on health care for over 10 years. I think I know a lot more about how it works than he does. So I’m ready.” [Think Progress, 7/22/2009]

Entity Tags: Conservatives for Patients Rights, Jim DeMint, Barack Obama

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2012 Elections, 2010 Elections

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says of the corporate-led resistance to health care reform (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, and August 6-7, 2009): “Insurance companies are out there in full force, carpet bombing, shock and awe against the public option. These are initiatives that are very important in this legislation, and they are to correct what the insurance companies have done to America and to the health of our people over the years.” Afterwards, Pelosi is equally blunt, telling reporters: “It is somewhat immoral what they are doing. Of course, they have been immoral all along how they have treated the people they insure. They are the villains in this. They have been part of the problem in a major way. The public has to know that.” [MSNBC, 7/31/2009]

Entity Tags: Nancy Pelosi

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

Conservative blogger and commentator Michelle Malkin, on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” calls the “tea party movement” opposing taxes and health care reform “counterinsurgencies.” Malkin says there is a growing “tea party movement—these counterinsurgencies amongst taxpayer rights groups,” that is fomenting opposition to health care reform. She claims that these “counterinsurgencies” will escalate their confrontation behaviors in what she calls “town halls-gone-wild.” And, Malkin says, the “counterinsurgents” are members of true “grassroots” organizations (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, and Before August 6, 2009). [Think Progress, 8/2/2009]

Entity Tags: Michelle Malkin

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh says that if the recent spate of disruptive and violent protests against health care reform (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, and August 4, 2009) are, in fact, orchestrated (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, and Before August 6, 2009), then it is “about damn time.” He continues: “We have had groups like ACORN [the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now] and Democrat rent-a-mobs making up excuses and lying about things they oppose to affect public policy for years, while people like me haven’t had time because we work. We do not protest for a living. We do not rent ourselves out to be part of mobs. So, if this is actually an orchestrated event, then I’m glad somebody on our side’s getting in gear.… It doesn’t matter to me one way or the other [if the protests are coordinated]. The people who are showing up are genuinely angry. And if their transportation is being facilitated—about damn time. You’ve got to take these people on the way they play the game. The aggressor sets the rules in a conflict.” [Media Matters, 8/6/2009]

Entity Tags: Rush Limbaugh, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

Local ‘tea party’ protesters at the Arcuri/Hoyer town hall.Local ‘tea party’ protesters at the Arcuri/Hoyer town hall. [Source: WKTV]Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), taking part in a town hall meeting in upstate New York hosted by House member Michael Arcuri (D-NY), is browbeaten and verbally assaulted by conservative protesters who are against health care reform. The meeting is to discuss a proposal for a high-speed rail system for the area. “You’re lying to me!” one protester, local conservative activist Don Jeror, screams during the assemblage. “Just because I don’t have sophisticated language, I can recognize a liar when I see one!” Jeror adds, “Why would you guys try to stuff a health care bill down our throats in three to four weeks, when the president took six months to pick a dog for his kids?!” Jeror and many of the activists, who continue to scream and shout over Hoyer during his entire presentation, belong to a group called the “Fort Stanwix Tea Party ‘Patriots.’” House Member Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), who was recently accosted by conservative protesters during a town hall meeting in his district (see August 1, 2009), says the protests are anything but spontaneous and citizen-driven. “This notion of a grass-roots campaign is totally and completely phony,” he says. “The Republican Party has coordinated this apparent outrage and stirred it up.” While he and fellow Democrats welcome dialogue, he says, “there’s no way you can change the legislation to satisfy any of these Republicans and their insurance allies.” Doggett is referring to allegations that corporate lobbying groups such as Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, and Before August 6, 2009) are behind the protests. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs agrees, saying, “I think what you’ve seen is they have bragged about manufacturing, to some degree, that anger.” Bob MacGuffie, a Connecticut conservative activists who recently wrote a strategy memo directing fellow conservatives in methods to disrupt and dominate town hall meetings (see Late July, 2009), says that while there is organization, the anger and resistance to reform is “most assuredly real.… We’re organizing those voices, but it’s a real emotion, coast to coast.” ABC News reports that polls show the “protesters are not representative of the public at large, which overwhelmingly supports provisions such as ‘requiring insurance companies to sell health coverage to people, even if they have pre-existing medical conditions’ and ‘requiring that all Americans have health insurance, with the government providing financial help for those who can’t afford it.’” [ABC News, 8/4/2009; TPMDC, 8/4/2009; WKTV, 8/4/2009]

Entity Tags: Lloyd Doggett, Americans for Prosperity, ABC News, Bob MacGuffie, FreedomWorks, Robert Gibbs, Don Jeror, Michael Arcuri, Steny Hoyer, Republican Party

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the health care industry’s trade association, distributes “talking points” for use by opponents of health care reform that specifically target the so-called “public option” for alternative government-provided health care. AHIP has been heavily involved in orchestrating and facilitating the recent spate of raucous anti-reform protests (see July 10, 2009 and August 2, 2009). The talking points, entitled “August Recess Talking Points,” include the following: “Health plans strongly believe that now is the time for comprehensive, bipartisan health care reform that enhances affordability, improves quality, covers all Americans, and puts the health care system on a sustainable path. However, we also share the concerns that employers, providers, and patients have raised about the significant unintended consequences of a new government-run plan. A government-run plan would dismantle employer-based coverage, thereby violating the shared commitment to ensure that those who like their current coverage can keep it. The government-run plan would also add significant liabilities to the federal budget.” Reporter Greg Sargent notes that like any other lobbying group or citizens’ organization, AHIP has the right to “encourage… participation and distribut[e] talking points.” However, he notes that the industry AHIP represents “has a tremendous financial stake in whether a public plan becomes a reality. And the industry is not only telling people to go to town meetings, but also telling them how to voice their opposition to a public option. Bottom line: It’s indisputable that the industry is orchestrating public opposition to one of health care reform’s most important components.” [Plum Line, 8/6/2009]

Entity Tags: Greg Sargent, America’s Health Insurance Plans

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

Tim Phillips (r) being interviewed by Rachel Maddow (l).Tim Phillips (r) being interviewed by Rachel Maddow (l). [Source: YouTube]Tim Phillips, the president of the corporate lobbying firm Americans for Prosperity (AFP), is interviewed by progressive MSNBC host Rachel Maddow. AFP, like FreedomWorks, Conservatives for Patients Rights (CPR), and other organizations, is responsible for what Maddow calls “astroturfing” the health care reform debate—creating “fake grassroots organizations” such as Patients First and Patients United Now that purport to represent ordinary citizens, but are in fact entities created and controlled by corporate and/or political interests (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, and August 6-7, 2009).
Representing 'Real Folks' - Phillips is jovial with Maddow, insisting that AFP merely represents the interests of “real folks.” When asked who funds AFP’s “grassroots” offshoot, Patients First, instead of answering, Phillips tells Maddow that the organization is made up of patients “just like us. I’m a patient. Rachel, you’re a parent. So I think we’re all patients in this issue. And we all have something at stake here.” Phillips even denies being a Washington lobbyist, but instead calls himself “a community organizer” similar to the position once held by President Obama. “What do you think about that?” he asks. “Maybe I’m qualified to be president.” He finally claims that AFP is funded by citizen donors, though he admits that the bulk of its money comes from foundations such as the Koch Industries Foundations, the grant-giving arm of Koch Industries, the largest privately held oil company in the US. Maddow says, “[I]t seems odd to just call yourself patients like us when you’re a huge recipient of funding from a big company, and you’re trying to distinguish yourself from lobbyists and big companies.” Phillips in turn says that to label groups like AFP anything but citizen organizations is “demeaning” to the ordinary citizens who turn out at the rallies and forums. Maddow responds: “I’m not calling anybody, any individual American, a front group. I’m calling Americans for Prosperity’s subgroups a front group for the corporate interest that funds you, guys. Honestly, I mean, that’s the allegation that we’re making here.”
'We Would Love to Have More Corporate Funding' - Phillips says: “[C]orporate interests are a minuscule part of our funding.… And by the way, we would love to have more corporate funding. So if there’s more corporations watching us, feel free to give to us. We’ll be happy to have their support as well. We will get the message out on this health care issue.” He denies ever taking money from Exxon, but says AFP would be more than happy to accept Exxon and other such funding. Maddow notes that Exxon has listed AFP as a recipient of large amounts of money, and Phillips qualifies his statement: “This year, we haven’t had any Exxon money.… But again, though, we’re happy to take corporate money.” Maddow says that she isn’t sure the protesters showing up at the town halls at the behest of AFP know that the organization is funded by oil and health care corporations.
'Gotcha Politics' - After Maddow notes Phillips’s involvement with several Republican political and lobbying campaigns, Phillips accuses her of playing “gotcha politics.” Maddow retorts that Americans “want to know who the players are in this fight and who’s organizing what are being maintained as if they’re just spontaneous efforts happening organically by Americans who are angry and they’re aren’t being coordinated by industry and by lobbyists and by political campaign groups associated with the Republican Party. And that’s why I want to talk about who you are, because you have such an important role in coordinating these events and I think the American people are curious.” In his turn, Phillips says that it is “gotcha politics” that is helping the anti-reform movement win the issue. Before Maddow ends the interview, Phillips invites her to join AFP on the bus tour “as my guest to see these real Americans. Would you do that?” Maddow replies, “I can’t bear the conflict of interest with your corporate funders.” [MSNBC, 8/7/2009]

Entity Tags: Koch Industries Foundations, Conservatives for Patients Rights, Americans for Prosperity, ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, Republican Party, FreedomWorks, Patients United Now, Patients First, Tim Phillips, Rachel Maddow

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow (l) interviews Frank Schaeffer (r).MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow (l) interviews Frank Schaeffer (r). [Source: Crooks and Liars (.com)]Frank Schaeffer, who with his late father Francis Schaeffer helped shape the social and religious conservatism that currently dominates much of American politics, writes what he calls an “inside scoop” on “why conservatives are rampaging town halls” to disrupt discussions of health care reform (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, and August 6-8, 2009), and, ultimately, to deliberately foment political violence. Schaeffer was once a leader of the conservative evangelical movement who has now repudiated his former positions, and has written a book on the subject. [AlterNet (.org), 8/7/2009; MSNBC, 8/10/2009] Schaeffer’s father wrote a book, A Christian Manifesto, which compared pro-abortion policies to those of Adolf Hitler, and said that the use of force to roll back abortion law would be justified. Schaeffer himself has written a very different book, entitled Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elects, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All or Almost All of It Back. [MSNBC, 6/1/2009]
Comparing Pro-Abortion Activists to Nazis - He tells MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that his father used to compare pro-abortion activists to Nazis, and told his followers “that using violence or force to overthrow Nazi Germany would have been appropriate for Christians, including the assassination of [Adolf] Hitler.” It is a straight, short line, Schaeffer says, to go from the concept of justifiably assassinating Hitler to using violence against those who are compared to Nazis. “It’s really like playing Russian roulette,” he says. “You put a cartridge in the chamber, you spin, and once in a while it goes off. And we saw that happen with Dr. Tiller (see May 31, 2009). We’ve seen it happen numerous times in this country with the violence against political leaders, whether it’s Martin Luther King or whoever it might be. We have a history of being a well-armed, violent country.… There is a coded message here. And that is that you have a group of people who, like Rush Limbaugh (see July 21, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 28, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 6, 2009, and August 6, 2009) would rather see the president and the country fail, and their coded message to their own lunatic fringe is very simple—and that is go for broke. When you start comparing a democratically elected president, who is not only our first black president but a moderate progressive, to Adolf Hitler (see August 7, 2009), you have arrived at a point where you are literally leading—leaving a loaded gun on the table, saying the first person who wants to come along and use this, go ahead. Be our guest.” [MSNBC, 8/10/2009]
Conservative World View Shattered by Obama Election - In a separate op-ed, Schaeffer writes: “The Republican Old Guard are in the fix an atheist would be in if Jesus showed up and raised his mother from the dead: Their world view has just been shattered. Obama’s election has driven them over the edge.” Schaeffer says that when he worked with Dick Armey (R-TX), the former House Majority Leader and now lobbyist was “a decent guy, whatever his political views. How could he stoop so low as to be organizing what amounts to America’s Brown Shirts today?” He answers his own question: Armey, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), and others “can’t compute that their white man-led conservative revolution is dead. They can’t reconcile their idea of themselves with the fact that white men like them don’t run the country any more—and never will again. To them the black president is leading a column of the ‘other’ into their promised land. Gays, immigrants, blacks, progressives, even a female Hispanic appointed to the Supreme Court (see May 26, 2009)… for them this is the Apocalypse.… [N]ow all the the Republican gurus have left is what the defeated Germans of World War Two had: a scorched earth policy. If they can’t win then everyone must go down. Obama must fail! The country must fail!”
Using 70s-Era Anti-Abortion Protest Tactics - Schaeffer says conservative and industry lobbying firms orchestrating the anti-reform movement (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, May 29, 2009, and August 6-7, 2009) are using the same tactics he and his father helped create for anti-abortion clinic protesters in the 1970s. He notes one lobbying organization, Armey’s FreedomWorks. “FreedomWorks represents a top-down, corporate-friendly approach that’s been the norm for conservative organizations for years,” Schaeffer writes. “How do I know this is the norm? Because I used to have strategy meetings with the late Jack Kemp (R-NY) and Dick Armey and the rest of the Republican gang about using their business ties to help finance the pro-life movement to defeat Democrats. I know this script. I helped write it. Democratic members of Congress are being harassed by angry, sign-carrying mobs and disruptive behavior at local town halls. It’s the tactic we used to follow abortion providers around their neighborhoods. ‘Protesters’ surrounded Rep. Tim Bishop (see June 22, 2009) and forced police officers to have to escort him to his car for safety. We used to do the same to Dr. Tiller… until someone killed him.” [AlterNet (.org), 8/7/2009]
Aware of Potential for Violence - In a previous interview with Maddow, Schaeffer expounded on this same topic. “[W]hat we did is we talked one game to the large public and we talked another game amongst ourselves,” he told Maddow. “And amongst ourselves, we were very radical.… I know that this is the case because of the fact that I was part of the movement, but also understood very well what we were doing back then was to attack the political issue when we talked to people like Ronald Reagan and the Bush family and Jack Kemp—the late Jack Kemp that we were very close to in all this. But on a private side, we also were egging people on to first pick at abortion clinics, then chain themselves to fences, then go to jail. We knew full well that in a country that had seen the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, two Kennedy brothers, and others, that what we were also doing was opening a gate here. And I think there’s no way to duck this. We live in a country in which guns are all over the place. We have plenty of people with a screw loose, plenty of people on the edge. It only takes one.” [MSNBC, 6/1/2009]
Using Lies to Obscure Facts, Disrupt Debate - The health care reform opponents are using what Schaeffer calls “[a] barrage of outright lies, wherein the Democrats are being accused of wanting to launch a massive euthanasia program against the elderly, free abortions for everyone, and ‘a government takeover’ of health care” to disrupt informed debate. Some protesters have escalated to physical violence and intimidation. Schaeffer says that just as in the 1970s, the protesters engaging in the physical violence are often “plants sent to disrupt public forums on the health care issue.… [M]uch of these protests are coordinated by public relations firms and lobbyists who have a stake in opposing President Obama’s reforms. There is no daylight between the Republican Party, the health care insurance industry, far-right leaders like Dick Armey, the legion of insurance lobbyists, and now, a small army of thugs.… No, I don’t believe that these people are about to take over the country. No, the sky is not falling. But the Republican Party is. It is now profoundly anti-American. The health insurance industry is run by very smart and very greedy people who have sunk to a new low. So has the Republican Party’s leadership that will not stand up and denounce the likes of Dick Armey for helping organize roving bands of thugs trying to strip the rest of us of the ability to be heard when it comes to the popular will on reforming health care.”
American Fascism - Schaeffer accuses the right of undermining American democracy and attempting to establish an almost-fascist control of society. “Here’s the emerging American version of the fascist’s formula,” he writes: “combine millions of dollars of lobbyists’ money with embittered troublemakers who have a small army of not terribly bright white angry people (collected over decades through pro-life mass mailing networks) at their beck and call, ever ready to believe any myth or lie circulated by the semi-literate and completely and routinely misinformed right wing—evangelical religious underground. Then put his little mob together with the insurance companies’ big bucks. That’s how it works—American Brown Shirts at the ready.” He notes that the murder of Tiller closed down his clinic, one of the few in the country that performed late-term abortions. So the murder of Tiller achieved the goal of the anti-abortion movement. “In this case a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to save our economy from going bankrupt because of spiraling health care costs may be lost, not because of a better argument, but because of lies backed up by anti-democratic embittered thuggery. The motive? Revenge on America by the Old White Guys of the far right, and greed by the insurance industry.” Schaeffer concludes, “It’s time to give this garbage a name: insurance industry funded fascism.[AlterNet (.org), 8/7/2009]

Entity Tags: Frank Schaeffer, Francis Schaeffer, Newt Gingrich, Dick Armey, FreedomWorks, Tim Bishop, Rachel Maddow, Barack Obama

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

60+ logo.60+ logo. [Source: 60 Plus Association]An anti-health care reform television ad designed to frighten seniors into believing that so-called “death panels” will have government officials choosing to terminate them (see August 7, 2009, August 10, 2009, and August 10, 2009) is produced by a supposedly “non-partisan seniors advocacy group.” However, in fact the group is led, organized, and funded by senior Republican operatives. The ad says in part that health care reform will, for seniors, “mean long waits for care, cuts to MRIs, CAT Scans, and other vital tests. Seniors may lose their own doctors. The government, not doctors, will decide if older patients are worth the cost.” The organization that produced and released the ad is called the “60 Plus Association,” or “60+,” a registered non-profit organization that claims to be non-partisan. The president of 60+ is Jim Martin, a former official for the National Conservative Action Committee and another group, Americans Against Union Control of Government. The honorary chairman of 60+ is Roger Zion, a former Illinois Republican congressman whom the group’s site calls “one of Washington’s leading spokesman for the conservative cause.” When 60+ began running ads against prescription drug reform a few years ago, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) discovered that, in the organization’s words, “virtually all of their largest contributions in recent years have come from the same source—the nation’s pharmaceutical industry.” John Rother of AARP will confirm that 60+ is “funded primarily by corporate interests, especially pharmaceuticals.” Speaking to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, he says that 60+ and other anti-reform groups are specifically targeting seniors. “I don’t think you can look at those commercials and not conclude that seniors are the target of a very intentional scare campaign,” he says. “And many seniors, of course, are worried about change because they depend on Medicare. They are perhaps not in the greatest of health, and they definitely want to know that Medicare will be there, their doctor will be there when they need it. So, change can be a little scary.… It certainly makes me angry because, you know, there are real issues and people should be engaged in this debate. But to scare people, to raise these bogus issues, to intentionally mislead a big part of the population is—you know, it’s a subversion of democracy.” Rother adds: “[W]e’ve looked at this bill and we read every page, we’ve concluded that the bills proposed in the Congress would be good for seniors, would actually help them afford their medications better, make sure that doctors are there when they need them. So, we feel there’s nothing to be scared about in the actual legislation.” In 2003, the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer paid 60+ to organize opposition against prescription drug reform in Minnesota and New Mexico. 60+ in turn hired a PR firm, Bonner & Associates, which according to the AARP “specializes in ‘Astroturf lobbying’” (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, and August 6-7, 2009). Bonner paid employees to call residents of those states and, identifying themselves as volunteers for 60+, urge them to oppose the legislation. 60+ also has ties to former Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who directed Native American tribes to donate to 60+ in return for Republican support in Congress. 60+ has also lobbied in favor of approving the storage of nuclear waste at the infamous Yucca Mountain, Nevada, storage site. Maddow says: “[T]he campaign against health care reform in this country is being brought to you by professional, corporate-funded, Republican-staffed political PR operations. In this case, an organization that promotes itself as non-partisan but appears to be anything but. These are professional PR operatives that are scaring real Americans with increasingly paranoid and kooky lies about health care. And they’re getting rich in the process, thanks to the largess of extremely interested parties who are more than willing to pay for their services.” [MSNBC, 8/11/2009; MSNBC, 8/12/2009]

Entity Tags: John Rother, 60 Plus Association, American Association of Retired Persons, Jim Martin, Roger Zion, Rachel Maddow

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

The progressive news Web site AlterNet publishes an analysis of how health insurance and medical industry firms use so-called “Astroturf” organizations (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, and August 6-7, 2009) to work against health care reform. One firm investigated is the Medicines Company, a small pharmaceutical firm, which has hired the Washington lobbying firm DLA Piper to promote its interests, including fighting health care reform. Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) is a senior policy adviser for DLA Piper, and heads the “grassroots” organization FreedomWorks, which apparently conducts protests and advocacy for the interests of DLA Piper’s clients (see April 14, 2009). The AlterNet analysis, by Adele M. Stan, accuses Armey of having a conflict of interest in his dual roles as lobbyist and “grassroots” organizer. The Medicines Company’s contract with DLA Piper comprises 15 percent of that firm’s business. (The Medicines Company will later claim that it does not contract with any lobbying firms to influence anyone’s position on health care legislation.) Other “Astroturf” organizations such as Grassfire.org and its subsidiary, ResistNet, are also involved in combating reform. ResistNet bills itself as “[t]he online community for patriotic citizens who are opposing the Obama-led socialist agenda.” The home page of ResistNet’s Web site features a video entitled “Obama Equals Hitler.” ResistNet is run by Grassfire, which says it funds ResistNet as part of “our overall patriotic resistance efforts.” Stan expands her analysis to include media mogul Rupert Murdoch, whose NewsCorp owns Fox News. NewsCorp invests heavily in health industry firms, and, according to Stan, would profit by keeping reform from becoming law. Stan notes that one of Murdoch’s key hires was radio and former CNN host Glenn Beck. Beck was hired, Stan claims, to host a Fox News show and to organize a group called the 9/12 Project. Beck’s 9/12 Project, which, like Grassfire and ResistNet, serves as a “social networking” tool to bring together reform opponents, has been involved in a number of raucous anti-reform protests (see June 30, 2009 and August 6, 2009). Stan says the combination of these elements, along with what she calls “an oppressed-white-people narrative that has its roots in the origins of what used to be called the New Right,” has created the “perfect storm” of converging trends to create a chaotic and confrontational season for anti-reform protests and lobbyists. [AlterNet (.org), 8/10/2009; MSNBC, 8/14/2009]

Entity Tags: ResistNet, News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch, Medicines Company, FreedomWorks, Glenn Beck, AlterNet (.org), Adele M. Stan, 9/12 Project, DLA Piper, Grassfire (.org), Dick Armey, Fox News

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

Top “tea party” and other conservative organizers, taking part in a private conference call, discuss their primary goal for health care reform: blocking any kind of compromise entirely, and ensuring that no health care reform package of any kind is passed. An AFL-CIO organizer manages to get involved in the call, and his notes are provided to, first, the union itself, and then to the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent. The call consists of representatives of powerful lobbying and “grassroots” organizations (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, and August 6-7, 2009) such as the American Liberty Alliance, the “Tea Party Patriots,” and RecessRally.com (see August 5, 2009). [Plum Line, 8/11/2009] The conference call is sponsored by the “Tea Party Patriots,” which labels itself the “official grassroots American movement.” The group is sponsored and organized by, among other organizations, FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009). When the “Tea Party Patriots” organized a trip to Washington in July, FreedomWorks provided the members with prepared packets of information and briefed them on how a visit to Capitol Hill works. [MSNBC, 8/12/2009] Sargent writes: “It’s certain to be seized on by [Democrats] to argue that organized tea party opposition to [President] Obama has no constructive intentions and is fomenting public ‘concern’ about Obama’s plan solely to prevent any reform from ever taking place. GOP officials would argue that they don’t share these goals.” The moderator on the call tells participants that bipartisan compromise on the Senate Finance Committee, where senators are holding talks, must be stopped at all costs. Organizers are told to pressure Republican senators seen as likely to compromise with Senate Democrats, including Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Mike Enzi (R-WY), and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), to stop the negotiating. “The goal is not compromise, and any bill coming out this year would be a failure for us,” the moderator says. He adds that “the Democrats will turn even a weak bill from the Senate Finance Committee into Canadian-style single-payer through underhanded implementation.” Single-payer, or a system of government-only health care, is not in any versions of the legislation in either house of Congress. Another organizer says, “The purpose of tea parties is not to find a solution to the health care crisis—it is to stop what is not the solution: Obamacare.” A spokeswoman for the American Liberty Alliance later acknowledges that comments like the ones noted by the AFL-CIO source were likely made, and that the organization’s specific goal is to prevent the current legislation in Congress from becoming law. No audio of the call exists, she claims. A “tea party” organizer later denies that his organization has any intention of “politically ‘accepting’ or denying legislation.” [Plum Line, 8/11/2009]

Entity Tags: Greg Sargent, American Liberty Alliance, AFL-CIO, Barack Obama, FreedomWorks, Senate Finance Committee, Charles Grassley, Olympia Snowe, Mike Enzi, Tea Party Patriots, Recess Rally

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda

Wendell Potter, a former health insurance executive with CIGNA who has now become a whistleblower against the industry (see July 10, 2009 and August 10, 2009), says that the raucous and contentious protests at health care “town halls” are the result of what he calls “covert,” or “stealth” efforts by health insurance companies. Potter says he lacks the specifics for the current campaign, but he witnessed and actually took part in similar efforts in earlier years. This year’s efforts follow similar patterns to the ones he was familiar with, he says. “The industry is up to the same dirty tricks this year,” Potter says after meeting with House Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY), who supports the Democrats’ health care reform initiative. “When you hear someone complaining about traveling down a ‘slippery slope to socialism,’ some insurance flack, like I used to be, wrote that,” Potter says. He notes that during his 20 years in the industry, he watched—and participated in—the industry’s funneling money to large public firms who would create “Astroturf,” or fake grassroots, organizations (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-7, 2009, and August 10, 2009) and use friendly conservative media voices. Slaughter says, “[T]he notion that this is going to be something devilish comes from the people who would lose money on it.” [The Hill, 8/12/2009]

Entity Tags: Wendell Potter, Louise Slaughter

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda

In an op-ed for USA Today, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) takes the White House to task for “letting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi [D-CA] and Congress run health care reform into the ground,” and says that Republicans have always “stood ready to work with him to pass bipartisan health care reforms that reflect the priorities of struggling American families and small businesses.” Boehner says Pelosi and the Congressional Democrats have crafted a bill that “puts Washington in control of Americans’ health care—something most Americans staunchly oppose.” He then accuses President Obama of trying to “spin the American people” about what he calls the “hopelessly flawed bill.” He terms the bill “radical,” and claims, falsely, that Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer labeled opponents of the bill “un-American” (see August 10, 2009—Pelosi and Hoyer wrote that “[d]rowning out opposing views is simply un-American”). Boehner says that neither Republicans nor anyone else “condone… the actions of those who disrupt public events,” but decries those who claim the dissent against the bill is in any way “manufactured” (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-7, 2009, August 10, 2009, and August 12, 2009). He says Obama is lying about the portion of the bill that would allow Americans to keep their present health care, and cites the debunked study by the Lewin Group (see July 27, 2009) as evidence. He says the bill would add $239 billion to the deficit over the next decade, says Obama is lying about not cutting Medicare benefits, and says Obama is lying when he says the bill would not lead to health care “rationing.” Boehner concludes by claiming that “Republicans are offering better solutions that would make quality health care more affordable and accessible for every American,” and calls on Obama to “scrap this costly plan, start over, and work with Republicans on reforms that reflect the priorities of the American people.” [USA Today, 8/13/2009] Liberal news and advocacy Web site Think Progress notes that Boehner’s office has sent out messages promoting the town hall disruptions, and notes that Boehner’s claims of “rationing” are wrong. [Think Progress, 8/13/2009]

Entity Tags: Think Progress (.org), Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama, Steny Hoyer, John Boehner, Medicare

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda

John Stossel.John Stossel. [Source: Nashville Scene]The lobbying firm Americans for Prosperity (AFP), which is heavily involved in so-called “Astroturf” protests against health care reform (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-7, 2009, August 10, 2009, and August 12, 2009), announces it will hold three town-hall style meetings in Wisconsin on August 26 and 27. The meetings will take place in the districts of three House members, David Obey (D-WI), Ron Kind (D-WI), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), all of whom AFP feels might be open to pressure. ABC reporter John Stossel will moderate the sessions for AFP. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 8/14/2009] Progressive news watchdog Web site Media Matters questions the propriety of Stossel, a supposedly nonpartisan member of the media, moderating the sessions for AFP, an avowedly partisan organization. [Media Matters, 8/17/2009]

Entity Tags: Ron Kind, Americans for Prosperity, David Obey, Tammy Baldwin, John Stossel, Media Matters

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda

BlueCross BlueShield logo.BlueCross BlueShield logo. [Source: TopNews (.us)]Health insurers have mobilized tens of thousands of employees to fight against the Democrats’ health care reform initiative, according to reports by the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal. The insurance industry’s primary motive seems to be financial gain, according to the Times reporters. Many of the nation’s largest insurers, including UnitedHealth, have urged their employees to become involved in protesting health care reform, and provided advocacy “hot line” telephone numbers, printed “talking points,” sample “letters to the editor,” and other materials in almost every Congressional district throughout the nation. And many insurers, including BlueCross Blue Shield, have sponsored anti-reform television ads targeting conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats, many of whom are considered vulnerable to pressure from the industry. The insurance industry is paying for over 900 lobbyists, spending $35 million in the first half of 2009 lobbying Congress and the White House. AFL-CIO spokesman Gerald Shea says: “They have beaten us six ways to Sunday. Any time we want to make a small change to provide cost relief, they find a way to make it more profitable.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/24/2009; Wall Street Journal, 8/24/2009]
Jamming the 'Town Halls' - Insurers like UnitedHealth and others are sending their employees to “town hall” meetings to protest against reform. The Journal reports, “[T]he industry employees come armed with talking points about the need for bipartisan legislation and the unintended consequences of a government-run health plan to compete with private insurers.” But they are instructed not to become contentious and argumentative, according to a “Town Hall Tips” memo provided by the industry’s chief lobbying organization, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP—see Before August 6, 2009). The memo warns those attending the meetings to expect criticism, and to stay calm. “It is important not to take the bait,” the memo cautions. AHIP president Karen Ignagni says the town hall meetings are an opportunity “to strongly push back against charges that we have very high profits. It’s very important that our men and women… calmly provide the facts and for members of Congress to hear what these people do every day.” Larry Loew, who works for the insurance administration firm Cornerstone Group, says he attended a recent town hall meeting hosted by Representative Alan Mollohan (D-WV) because “my whole industry is being threatened.” Loew claims he was not coached by AHIP, but admits to preparing for the meeting by gathering talking points from hospital and insurance company Web sites. AHIP spokesman Robert Zirkelbach says about 50,000 employees have been engaged in writing letters and making phone calls to politicians or attending town hall meetings. [Wall Street Journal, 8/24/2009]
'Hallelujah!' - One industry proposal that is gaining traction among some in Congress is the so-called “individual mandate,” which would require all citizens to buy some form of health insurance. That provision would guarantee insurers tens of millions of new customers—many of which would receive government subsidies to help pay the premiums. Robert Laszewski, a former health insurance executive who now heads the consulting firm Health Policy and Strategy Associates, says of the provision, “It’s a bonanza.” The industry’s reaction to early negotiations can, Laszewski says, be summed up in a single word: “Hallelujah!” Linda Blumberg, a health policy analyst at the nonpartisan Urban Institute, says, “The insurers are going to do quite well” with health care reform. “They are going to have this very stable pool, they’re going to have people getting subsidies to help them buy coverage, and… they will be paid the full costs of the benefits that they provide—plus their administrative costs.” Aetna’s chief executive, Ron Williams, says: “We have to get everyone into the insurance market. That is a huge, big deal [and] everyone has coalesced around that.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/24/2009; Wall Street Journal, 8/24/2009]
Battling the Public Option, - Insurers have fought most strongly against the so-called “public option,” which would create a government-run, non-profit alternative to private health insurance. Some polls are showing public support for the public option has declined, and stock prices for the insurance corporations have tracked upwards. Other insurance industry proposals are gaining ground. The Senate Finance Committee is considering a proposal to lower the proposed mandatory reimbursement rate for insurers to policyholders from 76 percent to 65 percent, and the industry is pressuring Congress to lower the limit that insurers must meet to cover a policyholder’s medical bills, leaving more of the money it gleans from premiums as profits. “These are a bad deal for consumers,” says J. Robert Hunter, a former Texas insurance commissioner who works with the Consumer Federation of America. Insurance companies would reap huge profits by providing less insurance “per premium dollar,” he says. Former Cigna executive Wendell Potter says, “It would be quite a windfall” for the insurance industry. [Los Angeles Times, 8/24/2009]

Entity Tags: Consumer Federation of America, UnitedHealth Group, Urban Institute, Wall Street Journal, BlueCross Blue Shield, Alan Mollohan, Senate Finance Committee, AFL-CIO, Aetna, America’s Health Insurance Plans, Wendell Potter, Robert Laszewski, Health Policy and Strategy Associates, Gerald Shea, Cornerstone Group, J. Robert Hunter, Robert Zirkelbach, Ron Williams, Linda Blumberg, Karen Ignagni, Larry Loew, Los Angeles Times

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

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