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In 1991, there is a surge in the number of US soldiers adhering to Islam, due to a conversion program sponsored by the Saudi government (see March-September 1991). Islamic activist Abdurahman Alamoudi approaches the US military and suggests they create a program for Muslim chaplains, similar to a longstanding program for Christian chaplains. His proposal is accepted and in 1991 he creates the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council (AMAFVAC) with the stated purpose to “certify Muslim chaplains hired by the military.” In 1993, the Defense Department certifies it as one of two organizations to select and endorse Muslim chaplains. The other is the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences (GSISS). (US Congress, Senate, Committee on the Judiciary 10/14/2003; Simpson 12/3/2003) That group is run by prominent Islamic scholar Taha Jabir Al-Alwani. Most of the roughly one dozen Muslim chaplains in the US military are educated there. In 2002, the US government searches the school and Al-Alwani’s home as part of a raid on the SAAR network (see March 20, 2002). He appears to also be named as an unindicted coconspirator in the Sami al-Arian trial. Counterterrorism expert Rita Katz says Al-Alwani is a “person who supports and funnels money to terrorist organizations,” but Al-Alwani denies all terrorism ties and has not been charged with any crime. (Jacoby 3/27/2003) Most Muslim chaplains trained at GSISS then receive an official endorsement from Alamoudi’s AMAFVAC organization. US intelligence will learn in early 1994 that Alamoudi has ties to bin Laden (see Shortly After March 1994). (US Congress, Senate, Committee on the Judiciary 10/14/2003) In 1996, counterterrorism expert Steven Emerson will warn in a Wall Street Journal editorial that Alamoudi openly supports Hamas, even after the US government officially designated it a terrorist organization (see March 13, 1996). (Emerson 3/13/1996) But Alamoudi will work for the Defense Department until 1998 on an unpaid basis to nominate and to vet Muslim chaplain candidates. After that, he will give the task to others in his AMAFVAC organization. (US Congress, Senate, Committee on the Judiciary 10/14/2003) Furthermore, Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) will later allege the US the military allowed Muslim chaplains to travel to the Middle East on funds provided by the Muslim World League, which has been linked to al-Qaeda (see October 12, 2001). Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) will later comment, “It is remarkable that people who have known connections to terrorism are the only people to approve these chaplains.” (Leo 10/27/2003) In late 2003, Alamoudi will be arrested and later sentenced to 23 years in prison for terrorism-related crimes. The US military will announce around the same time that it is reviewing and overhauling its Muslim chaplain program. (Leo 10/27/2003)
Gary Milhollin, a law professor and the director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Weapons, testifies to a Senate committee and complains about a lack of US action over intelligence showing China is breaching treaty obligations. “We are simply watching the Chinese shipments go out, without any hope of stopping them,” says Milhollin. “All our present policy has produced is a new missile factory in Pakistan (see (Mid-1990s)), an upgraded nuclear weapons factory in Pakistan (see Early 1996), and new chemical weapon plants in Iran.” At the same hearing, Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) criticizes President Clinton for “giving Chinese firms a green light to sell missile technology to Iran and Pakistan.” (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 260, 512)
Senator Bob Graham (D-FL), Representative Porter Goss (R-FL), and Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) travel to Pakistan and meet with President Pervez Musharraf. They reportedly discuss various security issues, including the possible extradition of bin Laden. They also meet with Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan. Zaeef apparently tells them that the Taliban wants to solve the issue of bin Laden through negotiations with the US. Pakistan says it wants to stay out of the bin Laden issue. (Agence France-Presse 8/28/2001; Tapper 9/14/2001)
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who, with Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ), has sent a copy of draft legislation on counterterrorism and national defense to Vice President Cheney’s office on July 20, is told by Cheney’s top aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby on this day “that it might be another six months before he would be able to review the material.” (Dianne Feinstein 5/17/2002; Hirsh and Isikoff 5/27/2002)
Around 8:00 a.m., on September 11, 2001, ISI Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed is at a breakfast meeting at the Capitol with the chairmen of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) and Representative Porter Goss (R-FL), a 10-year veteran of the CIA’s clandestine operations wing. Also present at the meeting are Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and the Pakistani ambassador to the US, Maleeha Lodhi, as well as other officials and aides. (Goss, Kyl, and Graham had just met with Pakistani President Pervez Mushrraf in Pakistan two weeks earlier (see August 28-30, 2001)). (Tapper 9/14/2001; Leiby 5/18/2002) Graham and Goss will later co-head the joint House-Senate investigation into the 9/11 attacks, which will focus on Saudi government involvement in the 9/11 attacks, but will say almost nothing about possible Pakistani government connections to al-Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks (see August 1-3, 2003 and December 11, 2002). (Priest and Eilperin 7/11/2002) Note that Senator Graham should have been aware of a report made to his staff the previous month (see Early August 2001) that one of Mahmood’s subordinates had told a US undercover agent that the WTC would be destroyed. Some evidence suggests that Mahmood ordered that $100,000 be sent to hijacker Mohamed Atta (see October 7, 2001).
Pakistan's Demands - Graham will later say of the meeting: “We were talking about terrorism, specifically terrorism generated from Afghanistan.” The New York Times will report that bin Laden is specifically discussed. (Sergent 9/12/2001; Tapper 9/14/2001; Risen 6/3/2002) The US wants more support from Pakistan in its efforts to capture bin Laden. However, Mahmood says that unless the US lifts economic sanctions imposed on Pakistan and improves relations, Pakistan will not oppose the Taliban nor provide intelligence and military support to get bin Laden. He says, “If you need our help, you need to address our problems and lift US sanctions.” He also encourages the US to engage the Taliban diplomatically to get them to change, instead of isolating them. Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid will later comment, “It was absurd for Mahmood to insist now that the Americans engage with the Taliban, when [Pakistan’s] own influence over them was declining and al-Qaeda’s increasing.”
Meeting Interrupted by 9/11 Attacks - Zamir Akram, an accompanying Pakistani diplomat, leaves the room for a break. While outside, he sees a group of Congressional aides gathered around a television set. As Akram walks up to the TV, he sees the second plane crashing into the World Trade Center. He immediately runs back to the meeting to the tell the others. But even as he gets there, a congressional aide comes in to say that Capitol Hill is being evacuated. The aide says, “There is a plane headed this way.” Mahmood and the rest of the Pakistani delegation immediately leave and attempt to return to the Pakistani embassy. But they are stuck in traffic for three hours before they get there. (Rashid 2008, pp. 26-27)
Nine Republican senators, led by conservatives Jesse Helms (R-NC), Trent Lott (R-MS), and Jon Kyl (R-AZ), send a letter to President Bush urging him to withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (see May 26, 1972, May 1, 2001, and June 2001). They explain their position by arguing that the ABM Treaty has become “the most significant obstacle to improved relations between the United States and Russia.” This argument is a complete reversal of conservatives’ earlier positions: that arms control agreements such as the ABM Treaty did nothing to stabilize relations between the US and its nuclear-armed opponents. The argument also flies in the face of public and private statements by Russian leaders, who consider the treaty one of the key elements of stable US-Russian relations. Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly stressed the importance of the treaty in maintaining nuclear parity between the two nations (see July 2001), even as Russia seeks to reduce its nuclear arsenal from 6,000 to 1,500 deployed missiles. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will speculate as to why conservatives wish to withdraw from the treaty: “For isolationists, missile defense renewed the dream of Fortress America, allowing us to retreat even further from crises abroad. For nationalists and moralists, missile defense was a shield against engagement and detente in the event that, say, North Korea was to develop a nuclear-armed ICBM (see August 31, 1998). For neoconservatives, missile defense was a necessary adjunct to their proactive vision of changing regimes and democratizing the world” (see March 12, 2001). (Scoblic 2008, pp. 174-176)
Paul Charlton is sworn in as the US Attorney for Arizona. (CBS News 2007; Thomas 2011) An experienced prosecutor, Charlton was recommended for the position by Senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and John McCain (R-AZ). He began as an interim US Attorney, and was reappointed to the position after 120 days by the federal district court, as the law provides. President Bush nominated him for the position in July 2001, and he was confirmed by the Senate. He will go on to chair the Border and Immigration Subcommittee of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee (AGAC), replacing US Attorney David Iglesias of New Mexico (see October 18, 2001). He will also create a program to protect crime victims, praised by the Justice Department as a “model program” in 2006. He and his staff will consistently be ranked in the top three US Attorneys’ offices in number and quality of prosecutions and convictions, and have notably high rates of convictions in the targeted areas of drugs, weapons, and immigration crimes. Charlton will also establish the Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council (ATAC), which will successfully improve communications and coordination between numerous law enforcement agencies. There are 93 US Attorneys serving in the 50 states as well as in Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and the Northern Marianas. All US Attorneys are appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate, and serve under the supervision of the Office of the Attorney General in the Justice Department. They are the chief law enforcement officers for their districts. They serve at the pleasure of the president, and can be terminated for any reason at any time. Typically, US Attorneys serve a four-year term, though they often serve for longer unless they leave or there is a change in presidential administrations. (Iglesias and Seay 5/2008, pp. 119; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General 9/29/2008)
In a congressional closed-door hearing, CIA Director George Tenet and his deputy John McLaughlin appear before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to discuss the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq that was released the day before (see October 1, 2002). When Tenet is asked whether the agency has any of its own spies on the ground in Iraq who can verify the NIE’s claims about Saddam Hussein’s alleged arsenal of illicit weapons, he replies that the agency does not. “I was stunned,” Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) later recalls. At some point during the hearing, Levin asks McLaughlin: “If [Hussein] didn’t feel threatened, did not feel threatened, is it likely that he would initiate an attack using a weapon of mass destruction?” McLaughlin responds that under those circumstances “the likelihood… would be low.” But the probability of Hussein using such weapons would increase, McLaughlin says, if the US initiates an attack. (Central Intelligence Agency 10/7/2002; CBC News 11/1/2002; Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 138, 141) Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) asks McLaughlin whether he has read the British white paper (see September 24, 2002) on Iraq and whether he disagrees with any of its conclusions. McLaughlin says, “The one thing where I think they stretched a little bit beyond where we would stretch is on the points about Iraq seeking uranium from various African locations. We’ve looked at those reports and we don’t think they are very credible…” (US Congress 7/7/2004, pp. 59) Graham and Levin ask the CIA to release a declassified version of the NIE so the public will be aware of the dissenting opinions in the document and so members of Congress can have something to refer to during their debates on the Iraq war resolution. (Central Intelligence Agency 10/7/2002; CBC News 11/1/2002; Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 138, 141) The CIA will comply with the request and release a declassified version of the document two days later (see October 4, 2002).
Deputy Director of Central Intelligence John McLaughlin testifies before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. When asked by Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) whether he has read the British white paper (see September 24, 2002) on Iraq and whether he disagrees with any of its conclusions he responds: “[T]he one thing where I think they stretched a little bit beyond where we would stretch is on the points about Iraq seeking uranium from various African locations. We’ve looked at those reports and we don’t think they are very credible…” (US Congress 7/7/2004)
The General Accounting Office, the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, releases a report asserting that at least 13 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were never interviewed by US consular officials before being granted visas to enter the US. This contradicts previous assurances from the State Department that 12 of the hijackers had been interviewed. It also found that, for 15 hijackers whose applications could be found, none had filled in the documents properly. Records for four other hijackers (the four non-Saudis, i.e., Ziad Jarrah, Mohamed Atta, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, and Marwan Al Shehhi) could not be checked because they were accidentally destroyed. (Mowbray 10/21/2002; United States General Accounting Office 10/21/2002 ; Eggen 10/22/2002) The State Department maintains that visa procedures were properly followed. In December 2002, Senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Pat Roberts (R-KS) state in a chapter of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry that “if State Department personnel had merely followed the law and not granted non-immigrant visas to 15 of the 19 hijackers in Saudi Arabia… 9/11 would not have happened.” (Associated Press 12/19/2002; US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. pp. 653-673 )
The Senate passes Senate Concurrent Resolution 81 (S.Con.Res.81) calling on Iran to immediately and permanently halt all efforts to acquire nuclear fuel cycle capabilities, in particular uranium enrichment activities. It is not voted on by the House. A concurrent resolution requires approval by both chambers of Congress. (US Congress. Senate 11/20/2003) The proposed resolution, introduced by Senators Jon Kyl (R-Az) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca) the year before (Office of Senator Dianne Feinstein 10/15/2003) , reminds Iran of its obligation under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) never to develop or acquire nuclear weapons, lists several areas of concern, and urges the European Union to take a tougher stance against the country. It also calls for Japan to halt development of Iran’s Azadegan oil field, and France and Malaysia to withdraw their agreements with Iran to develop Iran’s Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) fields. Additionally, it orders the suspension of all investment and investment-related activities that support Iran’s energy industry. (US Congress. Senate 11/20/2003)
The Bush administration relents in its opposition to the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA), which would ban torture of prisoners by US personnel (see July 24, 2005 and After and December 30, 2005). President Bush meets with the bill’s primary sponsor, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), and John Warner (R-VA), chairman of the Senate Armed Service Committee, in a press conference to praise the bill. McCain says after the conference that the bill “is a done deal.” The bill still faces some opposition from Congressional Republicans such as House Armed Services Committee chairman Duncan Hunter (R-CA), who says he won’t vote for the bill unless it can be amended to ensure that the nation’s ability to gather intelligence is not diminished. Both the House and Senate have voted by veto-proof margins to accept the bill, which is actually an amendment to a defense appropriations bill. McCain says after the conference with Bush and Warner, “We’ve sent a message to the world that the United States is not like the terrorists. We have no grief for them, but what we are is a nation that upholds values and standards of behavior and treatment of all people, no matter how evil or bad they are.” Bush says the ban “is to make it clear to the world that this government does not torture and that we adhere to the international convention of torture, whether it be here at home or abroad.” McCain has been the target of months of vilification and opposition from the White House over the bill, which argued that the bill would limit Bush’s authority to protect the US from terrorist attacks, and that the bill is unnecessary because US officials do not torture. (CNN 12/15/2005)
Loopholes - But the bill contains key loopholes that some experts believe significantly waters down the bill’s impact. Author Alfred McCoy, an expert on the CIA, notes that the bill as revised by White House officials does not give any real specifics. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will assert that the only restrictions on prisoner interrogations are the ban on “severe” psychological or physical pain, “the same linguistic legerdemain that had allowed the administration to start torturing back in 2002” (see August 1, 2002). Gonzales also implies that practices such as waterboarding are not prohibited. (McCoy 2/8/2006)
Legal Cover - A provision of the bill inserted after negotiation with White House officials says that CIA and military officials accused of torture can claim legal protection by arguing that they were simply following the orders of their superiors, or they have a reasonable belief that they are carrying out their superiors’ wishes. McCain dropped the original provision that all military personnel must follow the stringent guidelines for interrogation laid out in the Army Field Manual; the bill now follows the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which says that anyone accused of violating interrogation rules can defend themselves if a “reasonable” person could conclude they were following a lawful order. McCain resisted pressure from the White House to include language that would afford interrogators accused of torture protection from civil or criminal lawsuits. (CNN 12/15/2005; Associated Press 12/15/2005)
Controversial Amendment - Perhaps even more troubling is an amendment to the bill that would essentially strip the judiciary’s ability to enforce the ban. The amendment, originally crafted by senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and added to by Carl Levin (D-MI), denies Guantanamo detainees the right to bring legal action against US personnel who torture or abuse them—effectively denying them the fundamental legal right of habeas corpus. It also gives the Defense Department the implicit ability to consider evidence obtained through torture or inhumane treatment in assessing detainees’ status. Human Rights Watch (HRW) says that the DTA marks the first time in history that Congress would allow the use of evidence obtained through torture. HRW’s Tom Malinowski says, “With the McCain amendment, Congress has clearly said that anyone who authorizes or engages in cruel techniques like water boarding is violating the law. But the Graham-Levin amendment leaves Guantanamo detainees no legal recourse if they are, in fact, tortured or mistreated. The treatment of Guantanamo Bay detainees will be shrouded in secrecy, placing detainees at risk for future abuse.… If the McCain law demonstrates to the world that the United States really opposes torture, the Graham-Levin amendment risks telling the world the opposite.” (Human Rights Watch 12/16/2005) Geoffrey Corn, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and Judge Advocate General lawyer, agrees. In January 2006, he will write that the “recent compromise inclusion of an ‘obedience to orders’ defense… has effectively undermined the goal Senator John McCain fought so long to achieve. Instead of sending a clear message to US forces that cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment of detainees is never permissible, the compromise has validated President Bush’s belief that the necessities of war provide the ultimate ‘trump card’ to justify ‘whatever it takes’ in the war on terror.” (Corn 1/6/2006)
Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) file an amicus curiae brief with the Supreme Court in the case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006) saying that because of the passage of the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA—see December 15, 2005), the Court no longer has jurisdiction over the case. Graham and Kyl argue their point by citing the “legislative history” of the DTA, in particular the official statements Graham and Kyl made during debate over the bill, and specifically an “extensive colloquy” between the two that appears in the Congressional Record for December 21, 2005. Graham and Kyl argue that this “colloquy,” which argues that Guantanamo prisoners have no rights under the standard of habeas corpus, stands as evidence that “Congress was aware” that the DTA would strip the Court of jurisdiction over cases that involve Guantanamo detainees. (The Senate included an amendment written by Graham, Kyl, and Carl Levin (D-MI) to the DTA that would reject habeas claims in future court cases, but does not apply retroactively to cases already filed, such as Hamdan.) However, Graham and Kyl never engaged in such a discussion on the floor of the Senate. Instead, they had the text inserted in the Record just before the law passed (see December 30, 2005), meaning that no one in Congress heard their discussion. The brief indicates that the discussion happened during the debate over the bill when it did not. The Record indicates that the discussion that did take place concerning the Hamdan case comes from Democrats, and explicitly state that the DTA has no bearing on the case. C-SPAN video coverage of the debate proves that Graham and Kyl never made those statements, and Senate officials confirm that the discussion was inserted later into the Record. But in their brief, Graham and Kyl state that “the Congressional Record is presumed to reflect live debate except when the statements therein are followed by a bullet… or are underlined.” The Record shows no such formatting, therefore, says the brief, it must have been live. The debate between Graham and Kyl is even written to make it appear as if it had taken place live, with Graham and Kyl answering each other’s questions, Kyl noting that he is nearing the end of his allotted time, and another senator, Sam Brownback (R-KS) apparently attempting to interject a question. Lawyers for the prosecution will strenuously object to the brief, and Justice Department defense lawyers will use the brief as a centerpiece for their argument that the Supreme Court should throw the case out. (US Supreme Court 2/2006 ; Bazelon 3/27/2006; Dean 7/5/2006) Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will call the brief “a blatant scam,” and will accuse Graham and Kyl of “misle[ading] their Senate colleagues, but also sham[ing] their high offices by trying to deliberately mislead the US Supreme Court.… I have not seen so blatant a ploy, or abuse of power, since Nixon’s reign.… [Graham and Kyl] brazenly attempted to hoodwink the Court regarding the actions of Congress in adopting the DTA.” (Dean 7/5/2006) Their efforts will not be successful, as the Supreme Court will ultimately rule against the Republican position in Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006).
The Senate passes by unanimous consent the Inspector General Reform Act of 2008, a law designed to boost the independence of the inspectors general of various federal agencies. However, the law only passes after Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) adds an amendment that deletes a key provision giving the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) jurisdiction to investigate misconduct allegations against Justice Department attorneys and senior officials. OIGs for all other agencies can, under this law, investigate misconduct within their entire agency. The Justice Department’s OIG must now refer allegations against department officials to the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), which is not statutorily independent and reports directly to the attorney general and deputy attorney general. A House bill passed last October has no such requirement. Usually a bill with such a discrepancy would be referred to a joint House-Senate conference to resolve the difference, but Congressional sources say in this case there will be no such conference; the House is likely to accept the Senate version. Many observers believe that the Kyl amendment was added at the White House’s behest after President Bush had threatened to veto the House bill. Representative James Cooper (D-TN), the sponsor of the House bill, says: “The Kyl amendment took out a lot of the substance of the bill, but it didn’t kill the bill. I think we should lock in these improvements and leave to a future Congress further improvements.” Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, agrees, saying that the Justice Department issue is a “lingering problem that has got to be addressed.” There is a “clear conflict, a real problem,” with the OPR investigating allegations against the officials to whom it reports, she says. Former Justice Department Inspector General Michael Bromwich says that the Kyl amendment sets the Justice Department apart from all other agencies. The amendment gives Justice Department lawyers what Bromwich calls a “privileged status” to be reviewed by the OPR, which lacks the OIG’s independence. Bromwich says that the amendment “either has to be based on a misunderstanding of what the IG is seeking or on an attempt by people in the department to keep certain kinds of investigations away from the IG for reasons they should articulate.” The issue garnered public attention when former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales directed OPR to investigate the firings of eight US attorneys, a matter directly involving Gonzales and his deputies. Inspector General Glenn Fine objected, and eventually the Justice Department’s OIG and OPR agreed to a joint investigation. “The whole bill was held up because of this issue,” Brian says. “We hope the Justice Department problem is not forgotten now that the legislation is passing.” (Coyle 5/5/2008)
A proposal by two Senators, Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), to cut $250 billion in estate taxes for the children of multi-millionaires, garners what progressive think tank the Center for American Progress calls “a disturbing amount of support.” The New York Times writes that for Kyl and Lincoln: “[T]he most pressing [economic] issue is clear: America’s wealthiest families need help. Now.” The Kyl-Lincoln proposal would raise the estate tax exemption from $7 million to $10 million per couple and lower the top rate from 45 percent to 35 percent. Kyl, Lincoln, and other supporters say the estate tax cuts would protect small farms and businesses. This claim is refuted by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which notes that “only 0.2 percent of the additional cost of the proposal, relative to [the Obama proposal for estate taxes], would go toward tax cuts for small businesses and farms.” Around $249.5 billion of that money would go to the inheritors of estates worth over $7 million. According to both the Times and the Center for American Progress, less than 0.3 percent of Americans would pay estate taxes under Obama’s proposal; only those households worth over $7 million. The Times observes: “In addition to creating the false impression that the estate tax eventually hits everyone—by mislabeling it a ‘death tax’—opponents routinely denounce the 45 percent top tax rate as confiscatory. In fact, the rate applies only to the portion of the estate that exceeds the exemption. As a result, even estates worth more than $20 million end up paying only about 20 percent in taxes. Another misleading argument is that the estate tax represents double taxation. In truth, much of the wealth that is taxed at death has never been taxed before. That’s because such wealth is often accrued in the form of capital gains on stocks, real estate, and other investments. Capital gains are not taxed until an asset is sold. Obviously, if someone dies owning an asset, he or she never sold it and thus never paid tax on the gain. If those arguments aren’t enough to stop the Lincoln-Kyl show, lawmakers should consider this: The estate tax creates a big incentive for high-end philanthropy, because charitable bequests are exempt.” (New York Times 4/1/2009; Furnas 4/1/2009)
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)
Jon Kyl (R-AZ), the Senate minority whip, says that the health care industry needs no further regulation or government intervention: “The health insurance industry is the most regulated or one of the most regulated industries in America. They don’t need to be kept honest by a competitor from the government.” Kyl is referring to the proposed “public option” in the Democrats’ pending health care reform legislation, which would provide a government-run alternative to private health care for millions of Americans. (MSNBC 7/31/2009)
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