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Profile: Obama administration
Obama administration was a participant or observer in the following events:
The Center for American Progress (CAP), a progressive think tank and lobbying organization, releases a report that says the “tea party” movement protesting the various policies of the Obama administration (see April 8, 2009) is not, as purported, entirely a grassroots movement of ordinary citizens, but an “astroturf” movement created, organized, and funded by powerful conservative and industry firms and organizations. (CAP notes that the anti-tax “tea parties,” with “tea” standing for “Taxed Enough Already,” fail to note that President Obama’s recent legislation actually has cut taxes for 95 percent of Americans.) Two of the most prominent organizations behind the “tea parties” are FreedomWorks and Americans for Progress (AFP). FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009) is a corporate lobbying firm run by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX), and organized the first “tea party,” held in Tampa, Florida, on February 27. It then began planning and organizing “tea parties” on a national scale; officials coordinated logistics, called conservative activists, and provided activists with sign ideas and slogans and talking points to use during protests. AFP has coordinated with FreedomWorks. AFP is a corporate lobbying firm run by Tim Phillips, a former lobbying partner of conservative activist Ralph Reed, and funded in part by Koch Industries, the largest private oil corporation in America (see May 29, 2009). Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) is also involved, through his lobbying form American Solutions for Winning the Future, which is supported by oil companies.
Support, Promotion from Fox News - On cable news channels, Fox News and Fox Business have run promotions for the “tea parties” in conjunction with enthusiastic reports promoting the affairs (see April 13-15, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 15, 2009, and April 6-13, 2009); in return, the organizers use the Fox broadcasts to promote the events. Fox hosts Glenn Beck, Neil Cavuto, and Sean Hannity all plan to broadcast live reports from the events. Fox also warns its viewers that the Obama administration may send “spies” to the events. (Fox justifies its depth of coverage by saying that it provided similar coverage for the 1995 Million Man March. However, Fox did not begin broadcasting until 1996—see October 7, 1996.)
Republican Support - Congressional Republicans have embraced the “tea parties” as ways to oppose the Obama administration. Many leading Republicans, such as Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), Paul Ryan (R-WI), and some 35 others, will speak at AFP-funded “tea parties.” Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele has moved the RNC to officially support the protests. And Senator David Vitter (R-LA) has introduced legislation formally honoring April 15 as “National Tea Party Day.” “It’s going to be more directed at Obama,” says reporter and commentator Ana Marie Cox. “This is very much, I think, part of the midterm strategy” to win elections in 2010.
Fringe Elements - According to CAP, many “fringe” elements of the conservative movement—including “gun rights militias, secessionists, radical anti-immigrant organizations, and neo-Nazi groups”—are involved in the “tea parties.” [Think Progress, 4/15/2009; Think Progress, 5/29/2009]
Entity Tags: Ralph Reed, Republican National Committee, Paul Ryan, Tim Phillips, Obama administration, Sean Hannity, Newt Gingrich, John Boehner, Michael Steele, Barack Obama, Neil Cavuto, Center for American Progress, Ana Marie Cox, Americans for Progress, Fox Business Channel, Fox News, Koch Industries, David Vitter, American Solutions for Winning the Future, FreedomWorks, Glenn Beck, Dick Armey
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections
Afghan Defense Minister, General Abdul Rahim Wardak, tells the Council on Foreign Relations in an interview that Washington’s commitment to equipping and expanding the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) falls short of expectations. “It was a big surprise” when the president made his announcement, he remarks. Wardak says that President Obama’s announced plan to raise 134,000 Afghan National Army soldiers and 82,000 National Police by 2011 (see March 27, 2009) is not an overall increase in numbers or pacing, explaining that those targets had been planned for months. Wardak says he was expecting a much more rapid increase of combined forces to between 400,000 and 450,000 in number. Similar numbers were floated by US military and NATO sources in earlier reports (see March 18, 2009, April 2, 2009, and March 24, 2009). Furthermore, Gen. Wardak says he has repeatedly asked the US and NATO for help in getting more and better equipment, but to no avail. “At the moment we are still lighter than light infantry,” Wardak says. “I was much [better] equipped when we were fighting the Soviets” in the 1980s. [Council on Foreign Relations / CFR.org, 4/16/2009]
As the Obama administration releases four new and controversial Bush-era torture memos (see April 16, 2009), both the White House and the CIA reassure agency personnel that they will not be prosecuted for carrying out the policies of the Bush administration. The White House statement is carefully worded to give no such reassurances to former Bush administration officials who helped codify and implement such policies. “It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department,” says Attorney General Eric Holder. White House officials say that any CIA agency employee subjected to international tribunals or Congressional inquiries would receive legal representation at no cost to themselves, and the government would indemnify agency workers against any financial judgments. In the weeks before the memos’ release, top CIA officials, including CIA Director Leon Panetta, argued that the memos should not be released because the graphic detail in them could lead to a demand for investigations and prosecutions of CIA interrogators and other personnel. Panetta tells CIA employees that since the torture policies were approved at the highest level of the Bush administration, they would not be prosecuted as long as they followed the legal guidelines laid down by the Justice Department. “You need to be fully confident that as you defend the nation, I will defend you,” Panetta says. Some civil rights organizations respond with a call for prosecutions. A statement from the Center for Constitutional Rights says, “Whether or not CIA operatives who conducted waterboarding are guaranteed immunity, it is the high level officials who conceived, justified, and ordered the torture program who bear the most responsibility for breaking domestic and international law, and it is they who must be prosecuted.” [Washington Post, 4/17/2009] The American Civil Liberties Union is calling for criminal investigations (see April 16, 2009).
Constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley discusses the Bush-era Justice Department torture memos released by the Obama administration (see April 16, 2009). Turley is interviewed by MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, who notes that as the memos were being released, President Obama said, “This is a time for reflection, not retribution; nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.” She wonders if Obama means he won’t prosecute CIA officers who carried out the orders to torture prisoners, or if he means he won’t prosecute the civilian officials who sanctioned torture. Turley is not sure. “But what is really disturbing is that President Obama’s obviously referring to criminal investigation and prosecution,” he says, “that somehow he’s equating the enforcement of federal laws that he took an oath to enforce, to uphold the Constitution and our laws—and he’s equating that with an act of retribution, and some sort of hissy fit or blame game. You know, it’s not retribution to enforce criminal laws. But it is obstruction to prevent that enforcement and that is exactly what he has done thus far. He is trying to lay the groundwork, to look principled when he’s doing an utterly unprincipled thing. There’s very few things worse for a president to do than to protect accused war criminals, and that’s what we’re talking about here. President Obama himself has said that waterboarding is torture. And torture violates at least four treaties and is considered a war crime. So, the refusal to let it be investigated is to try to obstruct a war crime investigation. That puts it in the same category as Serbia and other countries that have refused to allow investigations to occur.” It is not up to a president to decide who gets prosecuted for breaking a law and who does not, Turley notes, and adds: “[W]hat’s amazing is that we’ve gotten used to senators and our president and the attorney general talking about whether it’s a convenient time, whether this is a good time for us to investigate, whether we’ve got other things to do. There aren’t any convenient or inconvenient times to investigate war crimes. You don’t have a choice. You don’t wait for the perfect moment. You have an obligation to do it. And what I think the president is desperately trying to do is to sell this idea that somehow it’s a principled thing not to investigate war crimes because it’s going to really be painful. And, quite frankly, I think the motive is obvious. He knows that it will be politically unpopular, because an investigation will go directly to the doorstep of President Bush and he knows it. And there’s not going to be a lot of defenses that could be raised for ordering a torture program.” [MSNBC, 4/17/2009]
The White House releases four key Justice Department memos documenting the CIA’s use of harsh interrogation methods—torture—against suspected terrorists. The memos were released as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The documents show that two high-level detainees were subjected to waterboarding at least 266 times between them. Al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida was waterboarded at least 83 times in August 2002, contradicting earlier CIA reports that he “broke” after a single waterboarding session (see December 10, 2007). Confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was waterboarded at least 183 times in March 2003. The so-called “insect” technique—exposure to insects within an enclosed box—was approved for use on Zubaida, but apparently never used. Numerous prisoners were subjected to “walling” and “sleep deprivation,” with at least one detainee subjected to the technique for 180 hours (over seven days). Three of the memos were written by then-Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) chief Steven Bradbury in May 2005 (see May 10, 2005, May 10, 2005, and May 30, 2005), and the fourth by Bradbury’s predecessor, Jay Bybee, in August 2002 (see August 1, 2002). [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/16/2009; New York Times, 4/19/2009; BBC, 4/23/2009] Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says: “These legal memoranda demonstrate in alarming detail exactly what the Bush administration authorized for ‘high value detainees’ in US custody. The techniques are chilling. This was not an ‘abstract legal theory,’ as some former Bush administration officials have characterized it. These were specific techniques authorized to be used on real people.” [CNN, 4/17/2009] House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) agrees, saying: “This release, as well as the decision to ban the use of such techniques in the future, will strengthen both our national security and our commitment to the rule of law and help restore our country’s standing in the international community. The legal analysis and some of the techniques in these memos are truly shocking and mark a disturbing chapter in our nation’s history.” [Think Progress, 4/16/2009] Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), whose committee is conducting an investigation of abusive interrogation methods used during the Bush administration, says Bush officials “inaccurately interpreted” the Geneva Conventions prohibiting torture. “I find it difficult to understand how the opinions found these interrogation techniques to be legal,” she says. “For example, waterboarding and slamming detainees head-first into walls, as described in the OLC opinions, clearly fall outside what is legally permissible.” [United Press International, 4/16/2009]
White House Condemns Methods, Opposes Investigations - Attorney General Eric Holder says of the memos: “The president has halted the use of the interrogation techniques described in these opinions, and this administration has made clear from day one that it will not condone torture. We are disclosing these memos consistent with our commitment to the rule of law.” Holder adds that, according to a Justice Department statement, “intelligence community officials who acted reasonably and relied in good faith on authoritative legal advice from the Justice Department that their conduct was lawful, and conformed their conduct to that advice, would not face federal prosecutions for that conduct.” Holder states, “It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department.” [US Department of Justice, 4/16/2009] President Obama condemns what he calls a “dark and painful chapter in our history,” and promises that such torture techniques will never be used again. However, he restates his opposition to a lengthy investigation into the program, saying that “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.” In contrast, Leahy says that the memos illustrate the need for an independent investigation. Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, points out that the memos were written at a time when the CIA was working to prevent a repeat of the 9/11 attacks. “Those methods, read on a bright, sunny, safe day in April 2009, appear graphic and disturbing,” he says. “But we will absolutely defend those who relied on these memos.” [New York Times, 4/19/2009] The ACLU demands criminal prosecution of Bush officials for their torture policies (see April 16, 2009). [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/16/2009]
Techniques Include Waterboarding, Insect Exposure, 'Walling' - The memos show that several techniques were approved for use, including waterboarding, exposure to insects within a “confinement box,” being slammed into a wall, sleep deprivation, stress positions, forced nudity, and others. [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/16/2009; New York Times, 4/19/2009; BBC, 4/23/2009]
Waterboarded Well beyond Allowed Procedures - Because the information about the waterboarding of Zubaida and Mohammed comes from the classified and heavily redacted CIA’s inspector general report, which has not yet been released to the public, the information is at least in part based on the videotapes of Zubaida’s interrogation sessions that were later destroyed by CIA officials (see March 6, 2009). The CIA memo explained that detainees could be waterboarded between 12 and 18 times in a single day, but only on five days during a single month—which mathematically only adds up to 90 times in a month, and thus does not explain how Mohammed could have been waterboarded 183 times in a month if these procedures were being followed. The memos also reveal that in practice, the waterboarding went far beyond the methodologies authorized by the Justice Department and used in SERE training (see December 2001 and July 2002).
Information Unearthed by Blogger - Initial media reports fail to divulge the extraordinary number of times Zubaida and Mohammed were waterboarded. It falls to a blogger, Marcy Wheeler, to unearth the information from the CIA memo and reveal it to the public (see April 18, 2009). [Marcy Wheeler, 4/18/2009]
Entity Tags: Marcy Wheeler, Central Intelligence Agency, Dennis C. Blair, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Dianne Feinstein, Jay S. Bybee, Geneva Conventions, Eric Holder, Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), John Conyers, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), US Department of Justice, American Civil Liberties Union, Steven Bradbury, Patrick J. Leahy, Abu Zubaida, Obama administration
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer (D-MT) signs into law House Bill 246. It exempts Montana-made guns from federal regulation. The law is the latest in a long list of legislative initiatives designed to strip power from the federal government and give it to the states. “It’s a gun bill, but it’s another way of demonstrating the sovereignty of the state of Montana,” Schweitzer says. The impact is limited to Montana, which currently has only a small number of specialty gun makers who make mostly replica and recreation rifles from US history, and most of their customers are out of state. However, supporters of the new law hope it will trigger a court case testing the legal basis for federal rules governing gun sales. State Representative Joel Boniek (R-MT), who sponsored the bill, said during the House debate, “What we need here is for Montana to be able to handle Montana’s business and affairs.” Many legislators among the 50 states have introduced legislation designed to push back against what they see as unconstitutional federal intrusion, often in response to the Obama administration’s economic stimulus plan. Some legislators consider themselves part of, or sympathetic to, the “tenther” movement, that construes the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution as vastly restrictive of the federal government’s powers. Another Montana representative, Michael More (R-MT), recently said of the gun bill and similar legislation, “The whole goal is to awaken the people so that we can return to a properly grounded republic.” Legislatures in 15 other states are considering resolutions that attempt to take back power from the federal government. “The balance has swung far to the extreme to the empowerment of the federal government, and to the harm of the individual states,” More says. However, critics warn that the “tenther” movement and the move to give power to the states is in line with anti-government militia ideals. “When you really actually get in and look at it there is a lot of what we feel is very dangerous, very anti-government language that reads very similar to posters for the militia movement in the 1990s,” says Travis McAdam of the Montana Human Rights Network. Montana Senator Christine Kaufmann (D-MT) says, “I do think that there is a kind of renewed vehemence to this kind of right-wing rhetoric being spewed by conservative talk show hosts to rile the troops and they are using the fact that we have a Democratic, black president as one of their rallying calls.” In Montana, the states’ rights bills are being sponsored by freshman legislators who were elected as part of an effort to oust more moderate Republicans and replace them with more conservative, “tea party-friendly” representatives. Supporters of House Bill 246 now intend to find someone to challenge a regulation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) that requires federal dealership licensing to build and sell firearms; they will use that pretext to file a lawsuit that they hope will end in the Supreme Court. The Montana Shooting Sports Association, which drafted House Bill 246, has said it will raise the money to pay for any legal costs. [Associated Press, 4/16/2009] Author and columnist David Neiwert later notes, in agreement with Kaufmann, that the Montana gun bill echoes the ideas of “state sovereignty” promoted by radical-right militia groups and “constitutionalists” in the 1990s. The idea behind the bill originated with Charles Duke (R-CO), a far-right Colorado legislator from the 1990s who had close ties to the Rocky Mountain-area militias (see May 15-21, 1996). Duke is considered one of the first “tenther” proponents, and is popular with white supremacists who espouse the “Christian Identity” belief system (see 1960s and After). Neiwert will also note that the gun legislation prompts a series of segments from Fox News host Glenn Beck on the bill and how he hopes it is the first of a larger number of legislative and court initiatives that will ultimately cripple the federal government. [Crooks and Liars, 5/15/2009]
Entity Tags: Montana Shooting Sports Association, David Neiwert, Christine Kaufmann, Charles Duke, Brian Schweitzer, Glenn Beck, Michael More, Obama administration, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Joel Boniek, US Supreme Court, Travis McAdam
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
ProPublica reporter Dafna Linzer discovers that one of the CIA torture memos released on this day by the Obama administration (see April 16, 2009) inadvertently identifies one of the so-called CIA “ghost detainees” being held in an agency “black site.” The May 30, 2005 memo from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see May 30, 2005) was redacted before its release, but it identifies one detainee as “Gul.” This apparently refers to Hassan Ghul, arrested in northern Iraq in early 2004 (see January 23, 2004). At the time of his capture, President Bush stated: “Just last week we made further progress in making America more secure when a fellow named Hassan Ghul was captured in Iraq. Hassan Ghul reported directly to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was the mastermind of the September 11 attacks. He was captured in Iraq, where he was helping al-Qaeda to put pressure on our troops.” US officials, including then-CIA Director George Tenet, described Ghul as an al-Qaeda facilitator who delivered money and messages to top leaders. Those were the last references any US official made to him, except a brief reference in the 9/11 Commission report, which noted that Ghul was in “US custody.” The CIA has never acknowledged holding Ghul. In late 2006, human rights groups were surprised when Ghul was not one of a group of 14 “high-value” detainees sent from secret CIA prisons to Guantanamo (see September 2-3, 2006). Since then, Ghul has been considered a missing, or “ghost” detainee (see June 7, 2007). The May 30 memo notes that he was one of 28 CIA detainees who were subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques.” It says that he was subjected to the following interrogation methods: “facial hold,” “facial slap,” “stress positions,” “sleep deprivation,” “walling,” and the “attention grasp.” There is no mention in the unredacted portions of the memo as to when or where Ghul was in CIA custody, or where he is today. [ProPublica, 4/16/2009] Apparently, the CIA transferred Ghul to Pakistani custody in 2006 so he would not have to join other prisoners sent to the Guantantamo prison (see (Mid-2006)), and Pakistan released him in 2007, allowing him to rejoin al-Qaeda (see (Mid-2007)).
Marcy Wheeler. [Source: Project Censored]Progressive blogger Marcy Wheeler, who posts under the moniker “emptywheel” at FireDogLake.com, finds that, upon careful perusal of the March 30, 2005 CIA torture memo just released by the Obama administration (see May 30, 2005 and April 16, 2009), two suspected terrorists, Abu Zubaida and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, were waterboarded 266 times. Initial, more cursory news reports on the memo did not reveal this fact. The next day, the New York Times will cite Wheeler in its report on the discovery. [Marcy Wheeler, 4/18/2009; New York Times, 4/19/2009] Wheeler writes: “The CIA wants you to believe waterboarding is effective. Yet somehow, it took them 183 applications of the waterboard in a one month period to get what they claimed was cooperation out of KSM. That doesn’t sound very effective to me.” [Marcy Wheeler, 4/18/2009] Days later, an unidentified “US official with knowledge of the interrogation program” will tell a Fox News reporter that the claim of 183 waterboardings for Mohammed is inaccurate and misleading. Mohammed was only waterboarded five times, the official will claim. The figure of 183 is the number of “pours” Mohammed was subjected to. “The water was poured 183 times—there were 183 pours,” the official says, adding, “[E]ach pour was a matter of seconds.” The report of five waterboardings for Mohammed comes from a 2007 Red Cross report, the official will say. [Fox News, 4/28/2009]
Congressional Quarterly reporter Jeff Stein publishes an article alleging that House Democrat Jane Harman (D-CA) was captured on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage charges against two officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC—see October 2005). The offer was allegedly made in return for AIPAC’s help in Harman’s attempt to gain the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee (see Summer 2005). Stein’s sources say the wiretap was approved by a federal court as part of an FBI investigation into illegal Israeli covert actions in Washington. Stein also reports on accusations that the FBI investigation into Harman’s activities was halted by then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in return for Harman’s support for the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Late 2005). In a statement, Harman says the allegations are false. “These claims are an outrageous and recycled canard, and have no basis in fact,” she says through a spokesman. “I never engaged in any such activity. Those who are peddling these false accusations should be ashamed of themselves.” [Congressional Quarterly, 4/19/2009] Harman’s chief of staff, John Hess, later tells reporters that Stein’s story “recycles three-year-old discredited reporting of largely unsourced material to manufacture a ‘scoop’ out of widely known and unremarkable facts—that Congresswoman Jane Harman is and has long been a supporter of AIPAC, and that some members of AIPAC regarded her as well qualified to chair the House Intelligence Committee following the 2006 elections.” Hess adds, “If there is anything about this story that should arouse concern, it is that the Bush administration may have been engaged in electronic surveillance of members of the Congressional intelligence committees.” [Roll Call, 4/21/2009]
Explanation of Harman's Failure to Ascend - According to Stein, “[s]uch accounts go a long way toward explaining not only why Harman was denied the gavel of the House Intelligence Committee (see December 2, 2006), but failed to land a top job at the CIA or Homeland Security Department in the Obama administration.” [Congressional Quarterly, 4/19/2009]
Bipartisan Corruption - Both Congressional Democrats and their Republican colleagues are remarkably silent on the charges, which, if true, would taint both a high-ranking Congressional Democrat and a former Republican attorney general. “The whole thing smells, and nobody’s hands are clean,” says an aide to a senior Democratic lawmaker. Conservative scholar Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute says, “I don’t think anybody wants to touch it.” Ornstein, who says he knows Harman “very well,” calls the charges a “big embarrassment,” but notes that he would be “very surprised” if the charges proved to be true. The political watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is calling for an investigation. CREW executive director Melanie Sloan says, “If Rep. Harman agreed to try to influence an ongoing criminal investigation in return for help securing a committee chairmanship, her conduct not only violates federal law and House rules, but also her oath to uphold the Constitution.” [Roll Call, 4/21/2009]
Entity Tags: John Hess, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Central Intelligence Agency, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Alberto R. Gonzales, House Intelligence Committee, Jeff Stein, US Department of Homeland Security, Jane Harman, Norman Ornstein, National Security Agency, Melanie Sloan, Obama administration
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The Obama administration sends mixed signals on whether or not to go forward with investigations and possible prosecutions of Bush administration officials who may have advocated or authorized the illegal torture of detainees in US custody, as detailed in two recent information releases (see April 16, 2009 and April 21, 2009). President Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, says the White House does not favor investigations or prosecutions. But three days later, Obama contradicts Emanuel, saying he favors a Congressional investigation, and if his Attorney General, Eric Holder, believes criminal prosecutions are warranted, he would not block them. “With respect to those who formulated those legal decisions,” Obama says, “I would say that that is going to be more of a decision for the attorney general within the parameters of various laws, and I don’t want to prejudge that.” [Scotsman, 4/23/2009]
Responding to the news that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in a single month (see April 18, 2009), Senator John McCain (R-AZ) reiterates his opposition to waterboarding and to torture: “One is too much. Waterboarding is torture, period. I can ensure [sic] you that once enough physical pain is inflicted on someone, they will tell that interrogator whatever they think they want to hear. And most importantly, it serves as a great propaganda tool for those who recruit people to fight against us.” He adds, “The image of the United States of America throughout the world is a recruiting tool for Islamic extremists.” However, McCain says it was a “serious mistake” for the Obama administration to release the CIA torture memos (see April 16, 2009), saying, “The release of these memos helps no one, doesn’t help America’s image, does not help us address the issue.” [Think Progress, 4/20/2009]
Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) tells a Fox News interviewer that he opposed the release of four Bush-era Justice Department memos approving torture (see April 16, 2009). “I thought release of the memos was a bad idea,” he says. “It wasn’t necessary. It just helps our enemies. It doesn’t really help us.” Lieberman then says that one of the tactics considered the harshest, waterboarding, should always be available to US interrogators. Asked if he believes waterboarding is torture, Lieberman replies: “Well, I take a minority position on this. Most people think it’s definitely torture. The truth is, it has mostly a psychological impact on people. It’s a terrible thing to do.… I want the president of the United States in a given circumstance where we believe somebody we’ve got in our control may have information that could help us stop an attack, an imminent attack on the United States like 9/11 or, God forbid, worse, we ought to be able to use something like waterboarding.” Lieberman says he believes Bush officials’ claims that waterboarding worked to prevent terrorist attacks. [Think Progress, 4/21/2009] Two days later, Lieberman will write that he has always “strongly opposed” waterboarding (see April 22, 2009).
Former Vice President Dick Cheney says that since memos disclosing the opinions surrounding the Bush administration’s torture policies have been released (see April 16, 2009), he wants the Obama administration to release documents that he says show the critical information garnered through the use of torture—though he does not consider the methods used to be torture (see December 15, 2008). To release the documents would make for an “honest debate.” Cheney, interviewed by conservative pundit Sean Hannity, asks why the memos were released but not documents proving the efficacy of torture. “One of the things that I find a little bit disturbing about this recent disclosure is they put out the legal memos, the memos that the CIA got from the [Justice Department’s] Office of Legal Counsel, but they didn’t put out the memos that showed the success of the effort,” he says. Cheney says he has requested that those documents also be declassified. “I haven’t talked about it, but I know specifically of reports that I read, that I saw, that lay out what we learned through the interrogation process and what the consequences were for the country,” he says. “I’ve now formally asked the CIA to take steps to declassify those memos so we can lay them out there and the American people have a chance to see what we obtained and what we learned and how good the intelligence was.” [Fox News, 4/20/2009] The CIA memos Cheney is referring to are released several months later (see August 24, 2009). Though Cheney will insist that the memos prove his point (see August 24, 2009), many, including a former CIA case officer, will disagree (see August 25, 2009).
The Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), holds a series of hearings about health care reform, on April 21, May 5, and May 12. In all, 41 experts testify, but none of them advocate the so-called “single-payer” form of health care, a system which essentially has the government providing health care insurance instead of private insurers—“Medicare for all Americans,” as some characterize it. [Politico, 5/5/2009; Single Payer Action, 5/21/2009] The experts are from organizations like America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the health industry’s largest lobbying firm, and health insurers Blue Cross and Aetna. Some of the invited organizations employ former Baucus staff members. [Rolling Stone, 9/3/2009] Baucus says that single-payer is “off the table,” and will not be considered. [TPM Cafe, 5/5/2009]
Health Industry Heavy Donors to Baucus - The nonpartisan organization Consumer Watchdog has reported that Baucus, one of the Senate’s most important architects of Congressional health reform, has accepted more campaign contributions from the health insurance and pharmaceutical corporations than any other current Democratic member of the House or Senate. During the last two election cycles, he received $183,750 from health insurance companies and $229,020 from drug companies. [Single Payer Action, 5/21/2009]
Protesters Disrupt Hearings - Protesters disrupt the hearings by standing up and shouting criticisms of the committee over its failure to bring single-payer into the discussion. Eight protesters are led out of the hearing room and later arrested. At one point, Baucus asks for more police officers to enforce security. The protests are organized by Healthcare Now, Physicians for a National Health Program, and Single Payer Action, all of whom support a single-payer, government-run health care system. One protester calls the hearings nothing more than “political theater.” For his part, Baucus assures the audience, “I want you to know I care deeply about your views.” [Politico, 5/5/2009] The eight protesters spend around seven hours in jail. One, Dr. Margaret Flowers, later recalls: “It’s funny, the policemen were all telling us their horror stories about health care. One was telling us about his mother who was 62 and lost her job and was uninsured, waiting to get Medicare when she was 65.” The protesters are sentenced to six months’ probation. Baucus later admits that not allowing single-payer advocates to participate in the hearings was a mistake; he will eventually agree to meet with a group of those advocates (see June 3, 2009).
Single-Payer Never Considered - In September, Rolling Stone reporter Matt Taibbi will note that Baucus, like President Obama and other prominent Democrats, has supported single-payer insurance in theory, but asserts such a proposal would never get through Congress. Journalist Russell Mokhiber, who advocates for single-payer as a member of Single Payer Action, later says that the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats made an agreement with health industry leaders months before considering legislation for health care reform that single-payer would not be part of their proposals. In return, Mokhiber will say, they asked the industry not to oppose their reform efforts, a request that the industry has generally not honored. [Rolling Stone, 9/3/2009]
Entity Tags: Aetna, Healthcare Now, Consumer Watchdog, Barack Obama, America’s Health Insurance Plans, Single Payer Action, Blue Cross, Russell Mokhiber, Margaret Flowers, Matt Taibbi, Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus, Obama administration, Physicians for a National Health Program
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda
Former Vice President Dick Cheney says that the Obama administration’s decision to release a spate of Justice Department torture memos (see April 16, 2009) was a mistake, but now that these have been released, he says the CIA should release memos which he says prove torture works. “[I]n the aftermath of 9/11 with 3,000 dead Americans, 16 acres of downtown New York devastated, a big hole in the Pentagon,” and anthrax attacks shortly thereafter, the US had to obtain “good first-rate intelligence” quickly to “prepare and defend against” future threats, Cheney tells Fox News host Sean Hannity. “That’s what we did. And with the intelligence programs, terror surveillance programs, as well as the interrogation program, we set out to collect that type of surveillance.” The upshot was, Cheney says, “It worked.” Cheney objects to what he characterizes as selective declassification on the part of the Obama White House, saying: “One of the things that I find a little bit disturbing about this recent disclosure is that they put out the legal memos… but they didn’t put out the memos that show the success of the effort.… There are reports that show specifically what we gained as a result of this activity. They have not been declassified. I formally ask that they be declassified now.” Cheney does not specify which, if any, unreleased memos might prove his contention that waterboarding and other torture methods produce accurate and reliable information. [BBC, 4/21/2009; Christian Science Monitor, 4/21/2009] Cheney is reiterating a call he made two days ago, again on Hannity’s show (see April 20, 2009).
Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, former intelligence chief and ambassador to Washington (see May 1998), recommends the Obama administration emulate earlier administrations and work with insurgent leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, a key Pakistan-based Taliban ally who has had ties to the ISI, CIA, and Osama bin Laden (see Early October 2001). Haqqani is “someone who could be reached out to… to negotiate and bring [the Taliban] into the fold,” Prince Turki tells a group of government and business leaders and journalists over a dinner in Washington organized by blogger Steve Clemons. Haqqani is thought to be behind recent suicide attacks in Afghanistan, and is suspected to have been behind the attempted assassination of Hamid Karzai (see April 27, 2008). Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to President Gerald Ford and President George H. W. Bush, also urges the US to negotiate with some members of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan in remarks following Prince Turki’s. [Washington Times, 4/27/2009]
The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reinstates the case of Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, overruling strong objections from the Obama administration (see February 9, 2009), which argued that the case risked revealing “state secrets.” The New York Times writes that the verdict “deal[s] a blow to efforts by both the Bush and Obama administrations to claim sweeping executive secrecy powers.” Five victims of the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program are suing Jeppesen, a subsidiary of Boeing, for assisting the CIA with its transfer flights to and from secret overseas detention sites. The former detainees are joined in their suit by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). A lower court had previously ruled in the government’s favor while President Bush was in office; the Obama administration supported the Bush administration’s position. The logic of the state secrets privilege, the appeals court panel writes, “simply cannot stretch to encompass cases brought by third-party plaintiffs against alleged government contractors for the contractors’ alleged involvement in tortious intelligence activities. Nothing the plaintiffs have done supports a conclusion that their ‘lips [are] to be for ever sealed respecting’ the claim on which they sue, such that filing this lawsuit would in itself defeat recovery.” The ACLU had argued that there was no compelling reason to prevent the victims from bringing suit against a government contractor who allegedly assisted in their torture. The pursuit of those claims would not necessarily endanger state secrets. [Washington Independent, 4/28/2009; New York Times, 4/28/2009]
Government Asked for Immunity from Oversight, Court Finds - Repudiating the state secrets claim in the case, the appeals court adds: “The [government’s position] has no logical limit—it would apply equally to suits by US citizens, not just foreign nationals; and to secret conduct committed on US soil, not just abroad. According to the government’s theory, the Judiciary should effectively cordon off all secret government activities from judicial scrutiny, immunizing the CIA and its partners from the demands and limits of the law.” [Salon, 4/28/2009]
Civil Liberties Advocates Celebrate Verdict - Civil liberties correspondent Daphne Eviatar calls the decision “a huge victory, not only for the five victims themselves, but also for many civil liberties advocates.” Former civil litigator and columnist Glenn Greenwald calls the government’s position a “radical secrecy theory” that should have been repudiated in its entirety. “Today’s decision is a major defeat for the Obama [Justice Department]‘s efforts to preserve for itself the radically expanded secrecy powers invented by the Bush [Justice Department] to shield itself from all judicial scrutiny,” he writes.
Further Actions Possible - The Obama administration has the option to ask for another appeals court hearing, ask that the Supreme Court review the decision, or accept the ruling. Greenwald is certain it will ask for another appeal. [Washington Independent, 4/28/2009; Salon, 4/28/2009]
Newly retired Lieutenant General Karl W. Eikenberry, the former top commander of US forces in Afghanistan, is sworn in as the new US ambassador to Kabul. Prior to his appointment, Eikenberry served as the deputy chairman of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Military Committee in Brussels, Belgium. In a rare move, Eikenberry retired from the Army the day before he is sworn in as ambassador by Hillary Clinton at the State Department. [American Forces Press Service, 4/28/2009; Associated Press, 4/28/2009] Shortly before President Obama’s nomination of Eikenberry was made public, the New York Times noted that the decision to send an about-to-retire career Army officer to fill one of the country’s most sensitive diplomatic jobs was “a highly unusual choice,” raising concerns among critics of the war that the Pentagon has too much influence over American foreign policy. [New York Times, 1/29/2009]
Federal prosecutors drop all charges against two former lobbyists accused of passing classified information to Israel (see August 4, 2005). The lobbyists, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, worked for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) when they took classified information from former government official Larry Franklin and passed it to Israeli officials (see April 13, 1999-2004 and October 5, 2005). The case against Rosen and Weissman had the potential to criminalize the exchange of classified information among journalists, lobbyists, and ordinary citizens not bound by government restrictions. “Thank God we live in a country where you can defend yourself against an injustice like this,” says Rosen. He calls the case an example of government officials “who have an obsession with leaks (see May 21, 2006)… and an obsession with Israel and the theory that it spies on America.” The lawyers for the two former lobbyists believe that Obama administration officials had reservations about the case where their predecessors in the Bush administration did not, but former FBI counterintelligence official David Szady says that politics played no part in the decision to withdraw the charges. Prosecutors say that recent court rulings would make winning their case much more difficult than they had previously anticipated. Gary Wasserman, a Georgetown University professor who is writing a book about the case, says it is understandable that AIPAC welcomes the dismissal. A trial, he says, “would have provoked a lot of public discussion about how they worked.” [Washington Post, 5/2/2009]
Misha Lerner asks his question for Condoleezza Rice. [Source: Ron Sachs / Forward]Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is quizzed on the Bush administration’s use of torture as an interrogation method by a 10-year-old boy. Misha Lerner, a fourth grader at the Washington, DC, Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation’s Capital, asks, “How do you feel about the things the Obama administration has said about the ways you got information from prisoners?” Rice responds: “Let me just say that President Bush was very clear that he wanted to do everything he could to protect the country. After September 11, we wanted to protect the country. But he was also very clear that we would do nothing, nothing, that was against the law or against our obligations internationally. So the president was only willing to authorize policies that were legal in order to protect the country.… I hope you understand that it was a very difficult time. We were all so terrified of another attack on the country. September 11 was the worst day of my life in government, watching 3,000 Americans die.… Even under those most difficult circumstances, the president was not prepared to do something illegal, and I hope people understand that we were trying to protect the country.” Lerner later tells a reporter that he asked the question because he thought it would “be interesting to see her answer on it.” He had originally planned to ask Rice, “If you would work for Obama’s administration, would you push for torture?” but he was persuaded to “make it a little softer.” [Washington Post, 5/4/2009; National Public Radio, 5/4/2009; Forward, 5/6/2009] School official David Zimand, who helped Lerner and the other students formulate their questions, says he found the original wording “mind-boggling,” and asked Lerner to soften the wording a bit. However, Zimand says: “We let him ask the question. Misha’s not this crusading political person. He’s a quiet, shy, sweet, thoughtful little boy. And nobody put him up to this, either.” Zimand adds: “I told him, ‘I really want you to have an opportunity to ask this question, but I want to make sure we ask it in a way that will give her a chance to answer and to feel respected, even if we’re pressing her.‘… We reframed the question together. I said: ‘Are you comfortable with this? Is this a question you want to ask? Is it your question?’ And he said yes.” Lerner later says he is not sure he understands Rice’s response. The Bush administration used torture, he says, which “is basically like robbing someone. Like you put a gun to someone’s head and say, ‘Gimme the money,’ but you’re doing it with torture and information, not a gun and money.” Rice’s answer is not good enough, he says. [Forward, 5/6/2009]
Columnist Marc Ambinder joins in the wave of conservative criticism against prospective Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 4, 2009) triggered by an analysis in the New Republic (see May 4, 2009). Ambinder warns the Obama administration not to choose Sotomayor simply because some liberals and Hispanics want her on the bench, calls her “solid if unspectacular,” and writes, “And the respectable intellectual center… is beginning to have doubts.” Ambinder does not note who, exactly, makes up the “intellectual center” he cites. [Atlantic Monthly, 5/5/2009] Nation columnist Chris Hayes retorts: “One gossipy article from Jeff Rosen means ‘the respectable intellectual center… is beginning to have doubts.’ Really?” [Salon, 5/5/2009] Less than a month later, Sotomayor will be nominated to the Court (see May 26, 2009).
In an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation, former Vice President Dick Cheney acknowledges that President Bush knew of the torture program as performed under his administration. However, he again says that in his view the practices employed by the US on enemy detainees did not constitute torture (see December 15, 2008). He also reiterates earlier claims that by dismantling Bush-era policies on torture and warrantless wiretapping, the Obama administration is making the country more vulnerable to terrorist attacks (see January 22, 2009, January 22, 2009, January 23, 2009, February 2009, March 17, 2009, March 29, 2009, April 20, 2009, April 21, 2009, April 22, 2009, April 22, 2009, April 22, 2009, April 23, 2009, and April 26, 2009), and reiterates his claim that classified documents will prove that torture was effective in producing actionable intelligence (see April 20, 2009).
Claims Documents Prove Efficacy of Torture - Cheney says: “One of the things that I did six weeks ago was I made a request that two memos that I personally know of, written by the CIA, that lay out the successes of those policies and point out in considerable detail all of—all that we were able to achieve by virtue of those policies, that those memos be released, be made public (see April 22, 2009). The administration has released legal opinions out of the Office of Legal Counsel. They don’t have any qualms at all about putting things out that can be used to be critical of the Bush administration policies. But when you’ve got memos out there that show precisely how much was achieved and how lives were saved as a result of these policies, they won’t release those. At least, they haven’t yet.” Host Bob Schieffer notes that Attorney General Eric Holder has denied any knowledge of such documents, and that other administration officials have said that torture provided little useful information. Cheney responds: “I say they did. Four former directors of the Central Intelligence Agency say they did, bipartisan basis. Release the memos. And we can look and see for yourself what was produced.” Cheney says the memos specifically discuss “different attack planning that was under way and how it was stopped. It talks [sic] about how the volume of intelligence reports that were produced from that.… What it shows is that overwhelmingly, the process we had in place produced from certain key individuals, such as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaida (see After March 7, 2003), two of the three who were waterboarded.… Once we went through that process, he [Mohammed] produced vast quantities of invaluable information about al-Qaeda” (see August 6, 2007). Opponents of Bush torture policies, Cheney says, are “prepared to sacrifice American lives rather than run an intelligent interrogation program that would provide us the information we need to protect America.”
Bush Knew of Torture Program - Cheney also acknowledges that then-President Bush knew of the torture program, saying: “I certainly, yes, have every reason to believe he knew—he knew a great deal about the program. He basically authorized it. I mean, this was a presidential-level decision. And the decision went to the president. He signed off on it.” Cheney concludes by saying that he would be willing to testify before Congress concerning the torture program and his administration’s handling of its war on terror, though he refuses to commit to testifying under oath. [Congressional Quarterly, 5/10/2009; CBS News, 5/10/2009 ]
Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal. [Source: DoD photo by Helene C. Stikkel/Released, via Reuters]Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen announce the nomination of controversial former special/black operations commander Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal to replace the top US commander in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan. At the Pentagon, Gates explains that “new leadership and fresh eyes” are needed to reverse the course of the seven-year-old war. “We have a new strategy, a new mission, and a new ambassador. I believe that new military leadership also is needed,” he says. The White House confirms that President Obama has signed off on the nomination. McChrystal is the former commander of the secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which during his tenure was tied to prisoner abuse and covert assassinations in Iraq, as well as controversy in the military’s handling of the death of Pat Tillman in Afghanistan. McKiernan will remain in place until the Senate confirms the appointments of McChrystal and his designated deputy, Lieutenant General David Rodriguez, also a veteran of elite US forces. Both officers have experience in Afghanistan and have more familiarity with counterinsurgency operations than McKiernan. Gates says that McChrystal and Rodriguez will “bring a unique skill set in counterinsurgency to these issues, and I think that they will provide the kind of new leadership and fresh thinking that [Admiral Mike Mullen] and I have been talking about.” [CNN, 5/11/2009; Army Times, 5/11/2009]
Prisoner Abuse, Geneva Convention Violations - Under McChrystal’s command, the Joint Special Operations Command supplied elite troops to a secret unit known variously as Task Force 626 and Task Force 121, based at Camp Nama (an acronym for “nasty ass military area”) near Baghdad. A Human Rights Watch report found evidence that the task force engaged in prisoner torture and abuse, and that the JSOC command likely violated the Geneva Conventions (see November 2004). According to the report, which was based on soldier testimony, inmates at the camp were subjected to beatings, exposure to extreme cold, threats of death, humiliation, and various forms of psychological abuse or torture. The report’s sources claimed that written authorizations were required for abusive techniques—indicating that the use of these tactics was approved up the chain of command—and that McChrystal denied the Red Cross and other investigators access to Camp Nama, a violation of the Geneva Conventions. [New York Times, 3/19/2006; Sifton and Garlasco, 7/22/2006; Daily Telegraph, 5/17/2009]
Secret Assassinations - During McChrystal’s tenure as head of JSOC, he led campaigns to track down, capture, or kill enemies. To this end, McChrystal built a sophisticated network of soldiers and intelligence operatives to assassinate Sunni insurgent leaders and decapitate al-Qaeda in Iraq. He is also understood to have led the hunt for Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, a Human Rights Watch report on the secret units under JSOC command states that although targets included Saddam Hussein and Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the operations also swept up “hundreds of anonymous, and often innocent, detainees.” One senior Pentagon officer, quoted by the Washington Post, warns, “People will ask, what message are we sending when our high-value-target hunter is sent to lead in Afghanistan?” [Sifton and Garlasco, 7/22/2006; Washington Post, 5/13/2009] Newsweek has noted that JSOC is likely part of what then-Vice President Dick Cheney was referring to when he said America would have to “work the dark side” after 9/11 (see September 16, 2001). [Newsweek, 6/26/2006] Furthermore, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh has reported that JSOC ran what he called an “executive assassination wing” that reported directly to Cheney’s office, which then cleared lists of people to be targeted for assassination by secret JSOC units (see March 10, 2009 and March 31, 2009).
Pat Tillman Silver Star Controversy - The Pentagon’s inspector general found McChrystal responsible for promulgating false and misleading information in the aftermath of the “friendly fire” death of Pat Tillman in 2004. In the controversy, McChrystal had approved paperwork recommending Tillman for a silver star, which stated that he died from “devastating enemy fire,” despite knowledge of internal investigations pointing to friendly fire as the cause of death (see April 29, 2004) and April 23-Late June, 2004). McChrystal then backtracked only when he learned that then-President Bush was about to quote from the misleading silver star citation in a speech. The US Army later overruled the Pentagon inspector general’s recommendation that McChrystal be held accountable for his actions. [Washington Post, 8/4/2007; Daily Telegraph, 5/17/2009]
Entity Tags: Seymour Hersh, Task Force 121, Robert M. Gates, Task Force 626, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, David Rodriguez, Obama administration, Camp Nama, David D. McKiernan, Human Rights Watch, Joint Special Operations Command, Michael Mullen, Pat Tillman, Stanley A. McChrystal
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Former Vice President Dick Cheney praises President Obama’s choice of Stanley McChrystal to replace General David McKiernan as the top commander in Afghanistan. In an interview with Fox News’s Neil Cavuto, Cheney says that the Obama administration’s decision to assign Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal the top job in Afghanistan is a good one. “I think the choice is excellent.… Stan is an absolutely outstanding officer,” Cheney tells Cavuto. “I think you would be hard put to find anybody better than Stan McChrystal to take on that assignment.” [Your World with Neil Cavuto, Fox News, 5/13/2009] In a 2006 profile of McChrystal, Newsweek noted that the secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which McChrystal then headed, was likely part of what Cheney was referring to when he said America would have to “work the dark side” after 9/11 (see September 16, 2001). [Newsweek, 6/26/2006]
The Pentagon gives Stanley McChrystal, nominated to become commander of US and allied forces in Afghanistan, unprecedented leeway to handpick his top staff, according to nearly a dozen senior military officers who provide details about McChrystal’s plans to the New York Times. According to the Times report, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen has personally told McChrystal that “he could have his pick from the Joint Staff.” McChrystal chooses several veterans of Special Operations, including former colleagues now serving with the Joint Staff, to join his inner circle. He is ultimately assembling a corps of 400 officers and soldiers who will rotate between the United States and Afghanistan for a minimum of three years (see October 7, 2009), a rare military commitment to one theater of combat which is common to Special Operations.
Special Operations Vets Chosen for Inner Circle - McChrystal chooses friend and former Army Ranger colleague Lieutenant General David M. Rodriguez to be his deputy, marking the first time an American commander in Afghanistan will have a three-star second in command. Rodriguez will be in charge of running day-to-day combat operations. McChrystal picks a senior intelligence adviser to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Major General Michael T. Flynn, to join him in Kabul as director of intelligence. General Flynn was McChrystal’s chief of intelligence when he headed the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). McChrystal selects Brigadier General Scott Miller to organize a new Pakistan-Afghanistan coordination cell. Miller is a longtime Special Operations officer assigned to the Joint Chiefs of Staff who has served previously under McChrystal. [New York Times, 6/10/2009; Wall Street Journal, 6/12/2009]
Malalai Joya. [Source: Getty]In a series of editorials and interviews, Afghan MP Malalai Joya declares that the upcoming presidential election polls in Afghanistan are illegitimate and have been determined in advance in favor of current Afghan President Hamid Karzai by the United States in cooperation with a group of powerful allied warlords and former Mujaheddin. “Under the shadow of warlordism, corruption, and occupation, this vote will have no legitimacy, and once again it seems the real choice will be made behind closed doors in the White House,” Joya writes in a Guardian editorial. [Guardian, 7/25/2009] She echoes this in a later interview in London with the Arab daily, Asharq Al-Awsat: “Even the upcoming presidential elections in Afghanistan will not change anything because the next president will be chosen behind the closed doors of the Pentagon.” [Asharq Al-Awsat, 8/3/2009]
Karzai a 'Shameless Puppet' of Afghan Warlords, Coalition Occupiers - In an interview with Johann Hari in The Independent, Joya rails against the current government of Hamid Karzai, the US and NATO occupation, and the mafia-ridden warlordism that dominates Afghan social and political life. She asserts that Karzai keeps power only as “a shameless puppet” of both the Afghan warlords and the occupying powers, thus guaranteeing him victory in the August elections due to his fealty to these powers. “He hasn’t yet stopped working for his masters, the US and the warlords.… At this point in our history, the only people who get to serve as president are those selected by the US government and the mafia that holds power in our country,” she says. “Dust has been thrown into the eyes of the world by your governments. You have not been told the truth. The situation now is as catastrophic as it was under the Taliban for women. Your governments have replaced the fundamentalist rule of the Taliban with another fundamentalist regime of warlords. [That is] what your soldiers are dying for.” [Independent, 7/28/2009] Joya also slams the recent western troop surge as a farce masquerading as support for democratic elections. In the progressive Internet magazine ZNet, she writes: “We are told that additional US and NATO troops are coming to Afghanistan to help secure the upcoming presidential election. But frankly the Afghan people have no hope in this election—we know that there can be no true democracy under the guns of warlords, the drug trafficking mafia, and occupation.” [ZNet, 5/16/2009]
Suspended from Assembly, in Hiding from Assassins - Joya was elected to the 249-seat National Assembly, or Wolesi Jirga, in September 2005 as a representative of Farah province, but was suspended from the parliament in 2007 for publicly denouncing fellow members as drug smugglers, warlords, and war criminals. Her suspension sparked international condemnation and is currently under appeal. Joya, a champion of women’s rights and democracy in Afghanistan, lives in hiding and has survived at least four assassination attempts. [Human Rights Watch, 5/23/2007; Democracy Now!, 6/19/2007]
The federal government sets a fuel efficiency standard of 35 miles per gallon or more for all cars and trucks sold in the US by 2016. The rationale is that raising the fuel efficiency standards will increase fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gas pollution. The measure is projected to save 1.8 billion barrels of oil between 2012 and 2016, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 900 million metric tons. The measure goes into effect in 2012. President Obama says: “In the past, an agreement such as this would have been considered impossible. That is why this announcement is so important, for it represents not only a change in policy in Washington, but the harbinger of a change in the way business is done in Washington. As a result of this agreement, we will save 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of the vehicles sold in the next five years. And at a time of historic crisis in our auto industry, this rule provides the clear certainty that will allow these companies to plan for a future in which they are building the cars of the 21st century.” The policy was developed in a collaboration between the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the nation’s major auto manufacturers, the United Auto Workers, environmental organizations, the State of California, and other state governments. EPA head Lisa P. Jackson says: “The president brought all stakeholders to the table and came up with a plan to help the auto industry, safeguard consumers, and protect human health and the environment for all Americans. A supposedly ‘unsolvable’ problem was solved by unprecedented partnerships. As a result, we will keep Americans healthier, cut tons of pollution from the air we breathe, and make a lasting down payment on cutting our greenhouse gas emissions.” Carol Browner, Obama’s assistant for energy and climate change, says: “A clear and uniform national policy is not only good news for consumers who will save money at the pump, but this policy is also good news for the auto industry which will no longer be subject to a costly patchwork of differing rules and regulations. This an incredible step forward for our country and another way for Americans to become more energy independent and reduce air pollution.” Daniel Becker of the Safe Climate Campaign, an organization which for two decades has advocated tougher mileage and emissions standards, says: “This is a very big deal. This is the single biggest step the American government has ever taken to cut greenhouse gas emissions.” The measure is based in part on a 2007 application by California to put its emissions standards in effect, an application rejected by the Bush administration. The measure complements fuel efficiency guidelines set by the Department of Energy in January 2009. [White House, 5/19/2009; New York Times, 5/19/2009; Adam Johnston, 7/2013]
Former White House political director Karl Rove continues his attacks on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009). In a column for the Wall Street Journal, Rove echoes former Justice Department official John Yoo in claiming that the Obama administration chose “empathy” over capability in Sotomayor’s selection (see May 26, 2009). Rove goes one step further than Yoo in equating Sotomayor’s “empathy” with “liberal judicial activism.” “‘Empathy’ is the latest code word for liberal activism,” Rove writes, “for treating the Constitution as malleable clay to be kneaded and molded in whatever form justices want. It represents an expansive view of the judiciary in which courts create policy that couldn’t pass the legislative branch or, if it did, would generate voter backlash.” He accuses Sotomayor, and indirectly President Obama, of a “readiness to discard the rule of law whenever emotion moves them.” He also accuses Obama of attempting to “placate Hispanic groups who’d complained of his failure to appoint more high profile Latinos to his administration.… Mr. Obama also hopes to score political points as GOP senators oppose a Latina. Being able to jam opponents is a favorite Chicago political pastime.” Rove advises Republicans to use Sotomayor’s nomination as an opportunity to “stress their support for judges who strictly interpret the Constitution and apply the law as written.” He notes: “A majority of the public is with the GOP on opposing liberal activist judges. There is something in our political DNA that wants impartial umpires who apply the rules, regardless of who thereby wins or loses.” [Wall Street Journal, 5/28/2009] Hours after his attack column is printed, Rove tells a Fox News audience that Republicans need to treat Sotomayor with “respect” and criticize her over her “philosophy,” not her background. [Think Progress, 5/29/2009]
US President Barack Obama issues a terse condemnation of the murder of late-term-abortion-provider Dr. George Tiller (see May 31, 2009) in a statement issued on the same day as the shooting. The president writes: “I am shocked and outraged by the murder of Dr. George Tiller as he attended church services this morning. However profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion, they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence.” [White House Press Office, 5/31/2009]
Author and pro-choice advocate Cristina Page writes that the murder of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller (see May 31, 2009) is anything but an isolated incident, and warns that more anti-abortion violence may well be forthcoming. “The pattern is clear and frightening,” she writes. Page notes that the tenure of President Clinton, who supported abortion rights, was marred by a large and ever-escalating number of violent protests and attacks on abortion providers, beginning with the murder of Dr. David Gunn in 1993 (see March 10, 1993); Gunn’s murder, Page writes, “was the beginning of what would become a five-fold increase in violence against abortion providers throughout the Clinton years.” During Clinton’s two terms, six abortion providers and clinical staff members were murdered, and 17 other attempted murders took place. There were 12 bombings or arsons during Clinton’s tenure. From 2001 through 2008, no abortion-related murders, nor attempted murders, occurred, while George W. Bush, an anti-abortion president, was in office. A single clinic bombing took place during Bush’s two terms. Since the election of President Obama, another pro-choice president, a steady escalation of anti-abortion violence has occurred (see February-May, 2009), culminating in the murder of Tiller. Page notes that in the eight years of the Bush administration, abortion and women’s health clinics registered 396 harassing phone calls. In the five months of the Obama administration, that number is at 1401 and rising. Page writes: “Battered women are at greatest danger of being killed by their abusers when they are most strong—that is, when they muster the courage to leave. The same phenomenon may be true in the abusive political abortion debate. The pro-choice movement, specifically our abortion providers, are in the greatest danger of violence when we take power. When the anti-abortion movement loses power, their most extreme elements appear to move to the fore and take control. The murder of Dr. Tiller suggests that violence against abortion providers may be far more linked to the power, or lack thereof, anti-abortion groups have politically than to laws designed to increase penalties against such acts.” She notes the violent rhetoric of numerous anti-abortion organization leaders since Obama’s election, many targeting Obama himself, with one official calling Obama a “radical pro-abortion president” and another saying that Obama will “force Americans to pay for the killing of innocents.” Elizabeth Barnes, executive director of the Philadelphia Women’s Center, says: “When the pendulum swung in the direction of protecting women’s rights, we expected something. The way the antis are reacting has changed, they’re taking more liberties, pressing the boundaries of legal, civil protest.” Page concludes: “Anti-abortion groups will put out carefully worded press statements condemning the murder of Dr. Tiller, as became routine for them during the Clinton years. But unless the rhetoric they choose from now on becomes careful too—they may be the enablers of murder and terror.” [Huffington Post, 5/31/2009]
Dan Monnat, who acted as George Tiller’s attorney until the late-term abortion provider was murdered (see May 31, 2009), discusses his relationship with Tiller, and the fears and threats leading up to the murder, in a lengthy interview with the Wichita Eagle. One observation he makes is that, since Barack Obama came into office, federal authorities have been more attentive to complaints of vandalism against abortion clinics. “I think there had been other requests during the previous administration for Dr. Tiller’s clinic to be protected under the FACE [Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances] Act and nobody had done anything,” he says. However, when clinic staff reported vandalism on May 1 that showed “a little more cloak and dagger planning and sophistication” than most acts of vandalism, according to Monnat, the FBI opened an investigation (see June 2, 2009). Federal authorities say they will investigate a possible conspiracy in the Tiller murder. [Wichita Eagle, 6/13/2009]
The CIA releases heavily redacted documents containing statements by Guantanamo detainees concerning their allegations of torture and abuse at the hands of CIA personnel. The documents are released as part of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The lawsuit seeks uncensored transcripts from Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) that determine if prisoners held by the Defense Department at Guantanamo qualify as “enemy combatants.” Previously released versions were redacted so heavily as to contain almost no information about abuse allegations; the current versions, while still heavily redacted, contain some new information. ACLU attorney Ben Wizner, the lead attorney on the FOIA lawsuit, says: “The documents released today provide further evidence of brutal torture and abuse in the CIA’s interrogation program and demonstrate beyond doubt that this information has been suppressed solely to avoid embarrassment and growing demands for accountability. There is no legitimate basis for the Obama administration’s continued refusal to disclose allegations of detainee abuse, and we will return to court to seek the full release of these documents.” The ACLU press release notes, “The newly unredacted information includes statements from the CSRTs of former CIA detainees,” and includes quotes from alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003); alleged high-level al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see Mid-May 2002 and After); and accused terrorists Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see (November 2002)) and Majid Khan (see March 10-April 15, 2007). These statements include details about their treatment, which the ACLU refers to as “torture and coercion”:
Abu Zubaida - “After months of suffering and torture, physically and mentally, they did not care about my injuries that they inflicted to my eye, to my stomach, to my bladder, and my left thigh and my reproductive organs. They didn’t care that I almost died from these injuries. Doctors told me that I nearly died four times.… They say ‘this in your diary.’ They say ‘see you want to make operation against America.’ I say no, the idea is different. They say no, torturing, torturing. I say ‘okay, I do. I was decide to make operation.’”
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri - “[And, they used to] drown me in water.”
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed - “This is what I understand he [a CIA interrogator] told me: you are not American and you are not on American soil. So you cannot ask about the Constitution.”
Majid Khan - “In the end, any classified information you have is through… agencies who physically and mentally tortured me.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 6/15/2009]
Representative Tim Bishop (D-NY) holds a “town hall” meeting in Setauket, New York, to attempt to discuss the White House’s health care reform package. However, the town hall is disrupted by a large number of angrily shouting conservatives, there to protest the reform proposals. The protesters hound Bishop throughout the meeting, shouting him down when he attempts to speak, and accusing him of “selling out” the country through his positions on the White House’s energy, economic, and health care policies. The mob becomes so threatening that five police officers are forced to escort Bishop to his car for his own safety. In part because of the incident, Bishop will suspend further town hall meetings until August 2009. Bishop has held over 100 such meetings since his election to Congress in 2002. [Politico, 7/31/2009; MSNBC, 8/4/2009]
Fake ‘ObamaCare’ card distributed by FreedomWorks. [Source: FreedomWorks]The corporate lobbying firm FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009) sends out a detailed memo, written in part by founder Dick Armey (R-TX), laying out strategies for protesting the Obama administration’s health care reform proposals. The memo claims that the White House intends to supplant the current privately owned and operated health care system with a “government-run” system “that would cost taxpayers trillions of dollars in new taxes” and feature “government bureaucrats,” not doctors and patients, deciding who received what health care. “This takeover of the health care system would be costly in terms of our money, our freedom, and even our lives,” the memo states. Members and sympathizers should descend on the “town hall” meetings and other venues hosted by their Congressional representatives and demand that they oppose the proposals. The memo states that its “action kit” should be used at the “tea parties” being sponsored by FreedomWorks and other right-wing organizations (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, and May 29, 2009). The memo contains talking points, slogans, sample questions, a “sample” letter to the editor that members can copy and sign, a petition, and a satirical “Obamacare Card” issued to “Nancy P. Pelosi,” the Democratic Speaker of the House, saying that the bearer is entitled to “rationed health care, long waits, less choice and control, poorer care, fewer doctors and drugs, massive government, higher taxes, growing debt, zero innovation, rising costs, waste, fraud, and abuse, [and] anxiety, pain, [and] fear of death.” [Dick Armey, 6/26/2009 ]
Thousands of US Marines launch Operation Khanjar (“Strike of the Sword”) in a campaign to assert control in the lower Helmand River valley, a stronghold of the Taliban and other insurgent groups and center of the world’s largest opium poppy producing region. Nearly 4,000 Marines from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) are deployed in the offensive, which is being called one of the biggest operations conducted by foreign troops in Afghanistan since the 1989 Soviet withdrawal. Approximately 650 Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police forces also participate in the mission. An adjacent operation called “Panther Claw” initiated by British-led Task Force Helmand has been under way in northern Helmand for a week. Operation Khanjar marks the beginning of a new effort by the US and its allies to assert control in Afghanistan since the arrival of commander General Stanley McChrystal, as well as the first major initiative under the Obama administration’s troop increase and counterinsurgency strategy, which it says is intended to secure and stabilize the country. US commanders say the operation is part of an effort to restore the authority of local government and security forces in Helmand and to secure the region for the presidential elections scheduled for August. “What makes Operation Khanjar different from those that have occurred before is the massive size of the force introduced, the speed at which it will insert, and the fact that where we go we will stay, and where we stay, we will hold, build, and work toward transition of all security responsibilities to Afghan forces,” says Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, commanding general of the MEB in Afghanistan. US Forces reportedly meet with very little direct resistance as insurgents blend into the local population and prepare for later attacks. [Reuters, 7/2/2009; Marines.mil, 7/2/2009]
House Representative Paul Broun (R-GA—see November 11, 2008) says that the Obama health care reform proposals will kill Americans. On the floor of the House, Broun attacks the idea of a “public option,” described by Congressional Democrats as a government-funded alternative to private health care. Broun says, “[T]his program of ‘government option’ is being touted as being the panacea, the savior of allowing people to have quality health care at an affordable price is gonna kill people.” Broun says that Canada and the United Kingdom, both countries that rely on public health care, “don’t have the appreciation of life as we do in our society.” Progressive news and advocacy site Think Progress notes that both Canada and the UK have both a lower infant mortality rate and longer life expectancy than the US. [Think Progress, 7/10/2009] Liberal media watchdog site Media Matters notes that neither the Canadian nor British health care systems serve as models for President Obama’s health care reform proposals. [Media Matters, 7/10/2009] Broun’s claims are based in part on health insurance advocate Betsy McCaughey’s warnings that the health care reform proposal will encourage senior citizens to die sooner (see February 9, 2009 and July 23-24, 2009), warnings that are debunked by the St. Petersburg Times (see July 23, 2009).
The July death toll for coalition troops fighting in Afghanistan reaches 47, surpassing full month highs set in August and June 2008. The record toll comes in the two weeks since the US and its allies launched a massive offensive dubbed “Operation Khanjar” in opium-ridden Helmand province as part of the Obama administration’s new escalation and counterinsurgency strategy (see Early Morning July 2, 2009). According to a CNN count based on government figures, the deaths in July so far include 23 Americans, 15 Britons, five Canadians, two Turks, an Italian, and a NATO soldier whose nationality has not been revealed. [CNN, 6/16/2009]
Surge and Death Rate Mirror Iraq War - In the two weeks coinciding with the launch of US-led “Operation Khanjar,” international troops have died at an average rate of three a day, which is almost 20 times the rate in Afghanistan from 2001-04 and approaching the death rate of the deadliest days in Iraq. “It is something we did anticipate occurring as we extend our influence in the south,” says US Rear Admiral Greg Smith, spokesman for US and NATO forces, adding that the increased violence is likely to continue for several months at minimum. The Obama administration’s escalation strategy resembles some tactics of the “surge” of additional forces that then-President Bush ordered in Iraq in 2007, which saw months of increased American casualties before violence declined (see December 30, 2007). The US military does not use the term “surge” to refer to the increase in forces in Afghanistan because the escalation is considered indefinite as opposed to the time limit the Bush administration set in Iraq. [Reuters, 6/15/2009]
Betsy McCaughey, the chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths, a former Republican lieutenant governor of New York, and a conservative opponent of health care reform, says that under the Obama administration’s reform proposal, elderly Americans would be encouraged to die earlier to save money (see February 9, 2009 and July 23-24, 2009). On conservative radio host Fred Thompson’s show, she says, “Congress would make it mandatory—absolutely require—that every five years people in Medicare have a required counseling session that will tell them how to end their life sooner.” These sessions will help elderly patients learn how to “decline nutrition, how to decline being hydrated, how to go in to hospice care… all to do what’s in society’s best interest or in your family’s best interest and cut your life short.” [St. Petersburg Times, 7/23/2009] “These are such sacred issues of life and death. Government should have nothing to do with it.” Thompson calls McCaughey’s claim the “dirty little secret” of the health care reform proposal. [St. Petersburg Times, 7/23/2009; Politico, 7/28/2009] In August, progressive MSNBC host Rachel Maddow will tell her listeners: “That is not true at all, not a word of it. Not mandatory, not require, not every five years, not counseling, not tell them, not how to, not end their life. None of the words in that claim are true except maybe the two ‘that’s’ and the word ‘in.’ It’s not true, but it is convenient, and so it survives. And it is in fact being promoted more than ever. It’s convenient for the interests [that oppose] health care reform to scare old people about reform.” [MSNBC, 8/12/2009] The next day, McCaughey publishes an op-ed in the New York Post advancing the same arguments. “One troubling provision” of the bill, she writes, “compels seniors to submit to a counseling session every five years… about alternatives for end-of-life care.… [The] mandate invites abuse, and seniors could easily be pushed to refuse care.” [New York Post, 7/17/2009]
Availability of Discussions Mandated Since 1990 - The provision in question states that as part of an advanced care consultation, an individual and practitioner will have a consultation that includes “an explanation by the practitioner of the continuum of end-of-life services and supports available, including palliative care and hospice, and benefits for such services and supports that are available under this title.” Such explanations and consultations have been part of government-provided senior care since 1990; in 2003, the Bush administration issued guidelines for physicians’ discussion of end-of-life care with seniors.
Claims Contradicted - John Rother of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) counters with a statement: “This measure would not only help people make the best decisions for themselves but also better ensure that their wishes are followed. To suggest otherwise is a gross, and even cruel, distortion—especially for any family that has been forced to make the difficult decisions on care for loved ones approaching the end of their lives.” Jon Keyserling of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization adds: “I was surprised that any responsible legislative analyst would indicate this is a mandatory provision. That is just a misreading of the language and, certainly, of the intent.” McCaughey later responds to those statements by repeating her assertions, saying that doctors would “pressure” seniors to accept less costly services that would lead to quicker deaths. [St. Petersburg Times, 7/23/2009; Politico, 7/28/2009]
Debunked - McCaughey’s claims will soon be disproven (see July 23, 2009).
Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths, Fred Thompson, Elizabeth (“Betsy”) McCaughey, American Association of Retired Persons, John Rother, Medicare, National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, New York Post, Obama administration, Rachel Maddow, Jon Keyserling
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections
The national tea party organization Tea Party Patriots (see August 24, 2010) holds a series of rallies and protests in locations throughout the nation to protest the Obama administration’s push to reform the nation’s health care system. Most of the protests take place outside the offices of US Congressional members. Don Mashak, a tea party activist writing for the Minnesota Examiner, accuses the national media and both the Democratic and Republican Parties of working together to deny media coverage to the protests, even lumping Fox News into the “conspiracy.” Mashak writes, “Apparently American News Reporters are a bunch of Political Cuckolds who prefer to nurse at the bitter teat of Tyranny.” Mashak estimates, “Hundreds, if not thousands,of protests like this occurred across the USA simultaneously”; a reporter in Atlanta notes definitively that 254 protests under the Tea Party Patriots banner take place. One protester in Atlanta tells the reporter that Canadian citizens routinely come to America to “pay regular prices” for health care “[b]ecause they cannot get that free stuff in Canada.” [WXIA-TV, 7/17/2009; Minneapolis Examiner, 7/18/2009]
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, following up on claims that the Obama health care reform proposal would encourage elderly Americans to die sooner (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, and July 17, 2009), tells his listeners that the reform proposal includes “[m]andatory counseling for all seniors at a minimum of every five years, more often if the seasoned citizen is sick or in a nursing home.… That’s an invasion of the right to privacy. We can’t have counseling for mothers who are thinking of terminating their pregnancy, but we can go in there and counsel people about to die.” The claim will soon be debunked (see July 23, 2009). [St. Petersburg Times, 7/23/2009]
US troop deaths in Afghanistan reach 31, the highest toll for US troops in Afghanistan in any month since the war began in late 2001, surpassing the previous record of 28 deaths in June 2008. “This is probably the new normal,” says Seth G. Jones, an analyst for the Rand Corporation and author of a new book on the war in Afghanistan. “I’d actually be shocked if casualties didn’t continue to increase.” The Washington Post notes that although thousands of US Marines are in the midst of a major operation in the southern province of Helmand (see Early Morning July 2, 2009), American troops suffer the heaviest losses in the eastern part of the country where 16 US soldiers have been killed so far this month. The majority of the fatalities are caused by roadside bombs, which have grown increasingly sophisticated. [Washington Post, 7/22/2009] By the end of the month, the death toll for US troops will reach at least 43 among 75 coalition troops killed. [Voice of America, 7/31/2009] A similar spike in US military fatalities occurred in Iraq in 2007 just after then-President George W. Bush dispatched around 30,000 additional troops to the country (see December 30, 2007). US troop levels will roughly double this year in Afghanistan, a rate of increase sharper than that of the Iraq “surge” ordered by Bush (see January 10, 2007). [Washington Post, 7/22/2009]
Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) says that the Republican Party must ensure the total failure of the Obama administration’s attempt to reform American health care for the good of the party’s electoral chances in 2010. Appearing on a radio show, Inhofe says: “They [President Obama and the Democrats] ought to know, they ought to know from history. This is a losing proposition for them. And for those out there who believe, that would like to have something optimistic to look at, we are plotting the demise on a week by week basis of where Bill Clinton was in 1993 and where Obama is today and his demise ratio is greater than Clinton’s was in 1993. So, he’s trying to do the same things, except more extreme.” On another talk radio show, Inhofe adds: “I just hope the president keeps talking about it, keeps trying to rush it through. We can stall it. And that’s going to be a huge gain for those of us who want to turn this thing over in the 2010 election.” [Town Hall (.com), 7/22/2009; Think Progress, 7/23/2009] Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) responds to Inhofe’s statements: “Slowly but surely the Republicans are revealing their true strategy on health care: partisans gamesmanship comes before getting something done. If Republicans believe doing nothing will ingratiate themselves with the American people, they have not learned a single lesson from the last two elections. Their do nothing approach is why health care costs have skyrocketed, and it’s why Republicans are in such a bad place today. This strategy is bad politics, but it is also a deeply troubling way to govern.” [Think Progress, 7/23/2009]
Patients First bus featuring the “Hands Off Our Health Care” slogan and bloody handprint logo. [Source: Associated Press]The citizens’ organization Patients First, a subsidiary of the conservative lobbying group Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, and May 29, 2009), schedules a 13-state bus tour. The tour is aimed at bringing conservative protesters to rallies and “town hall” meetings where the White House’s controversial health care proposals are being discussed. AFP’s board includes James Miller, a Federal Trade Commission chairman and budget director during the Reagan administration. The tour begins with a “tea party” rally in Richmond. According to AFP official Ben Marchi, organizers will urge constituents to call or visit their senators and sign a petition that asks members of Congress to “oppose any legislation that imposes greater government control over my health care that would mean fewer choices for me and my family and even deny treatments to those in need.” The bus will make 26 stops in Virginia alone before journeying to North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Louisiana. Another bus will visit Nebraska, Colorado, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Iowa, Arkansas, and Missouri. “Virginians are fired up about health care and what they see as an overreaching federal government,” Marchi says. “We don’t want legislators to come between them and their doctor. The relationship that exists between doctors and patients is sacred and should not be interfered with.” [Richmond Times-Dispatch, 7/23/2009; Politico, 7/28/2009]
CNN reports that millions could be saved per year by the so-called “end of life” discussions that the Obama health care proposal would have Medicare pay for, without a loss in the quality or availability of care. According to a recent study cited by CNN, $76 million per year could be saved “if half of the people who die from cancer annually had end-of-life conversations with their doctors.… [P]atients who reported having those talks had 36 percent lower health care costs in the final week of life.” Most of the savings would come from patients who do not want extraordinary measures taken to preserve their lives, but because hospitals have no such instructions, when a dying patient “codes,” or lapses into a terminal state, hospital doctors by default will use extraordinary methods to resuscitate them. Dr. Arthur Kellerman, chairman of the emergency medicine department at Emory University, says that many aging parents and grandparents avoid such discussions because of the strain they might place on their children and grandchildren. And the younger relatives often avoid these discussions because they don’t want to appear ungrateful or grasping. As for doctors: “There are a lot of my colleagues who don’t bother having that conversation. They just intubate them, and ship them up to an ICU, and say ‘next,’” Kellerman says. “Ultimately, it drives up costs, it degrades their quality of life, and you have less money and less resources available for people who really are salvageable and have a whole lot more time left on Earth.” Kellerman says when his own mother was at the end of his life, he had to use his position as a doctor to ensure that “do not call 911, do not send her to the hospital” was written on her chart so that she would be able to die in her nursing home. “You end up with a daughter at two in the morning, and Grandma is in respiratory failure, and we’re having a conversation in a family room in the ER about what Grandma wants,” Kellerman adds. “That conversation should have been with that grandmother and her daughter and her doctor and should have happened two years earlier, and it would have been easier on everybody.” The study shows that 60 percent of elderly patients prefer that their doctors not use extraordinary measures to preserve their lives. “Everybody wants their parents to live forever, everyone wants to live forever,” says Kellerman. “But the fact is that won’t happen, and you do need to think and plan ahead.” [CNN, 7/23/2009]
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and Representative Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI) issue a statement that warns the Obama administration’s health care reform proposal would provide for “government-encouraged euthanasia” of senior citizens. Boehner and McCotter’s statement reads: “Section 1233 of the House-drafted legislation [HR 3200, the most recent version of the reform proposal] encourages health care providers to provide their Medicare patients with counseling on ‘the use of artificially administered nutrition and hydration’ and other end of life treatments, and may place seniors in situations where they feel pressured to sign end of life directives they would not otherwise sign. This provision may start us down a treacherous path toward government-encouraged euthanasia if enacted into law. At a minimum this legislative language deserves a full and open public debate—the sort of debate that is impossible to have under the politically-driven deadlines Democratic leaders have arbitrarily set for enactment of a health care bill.” Boehner and McCotter also state that the reform bill would encourage state-assisted suicide: “With three states having legalized physician-assisted suicide, this provision could create a slippery slope for a more permissive environment for euthanasia, mercy-killing, and physician-assisted suicide because it does not clearly exclude counseling about the supposed benefits of killing oneself. Health care reform that fails to protect the sanctity and dignity of all human life is not reform at all.” [House Republican Leader, 7/23/2009] The next day, McCotter will add: “This is very dangerous. We, in Michigan, have already fought back in attempted assisted suicide several years ago. And yet you see that the people who support this are trying to use this bill to advance this agenda.” [MSNBC, 7/29/2009] The statement is quickly challenged by Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who with Representative Charles Boustany (R-LA) introduced a separate bill that would provide for end-of-life consultations for senior citizens. Both bills propose nothing more than having Medicare pay for such consultations, if the patients or the patients’ families desire them. “I cannot tell you how disappointed I was to see this type of reaction to a carefully crafted piece of legislation we have been working on for more than six months that is bipartisan and that speaks to the needs of American families,” Blumenauer says. “The American public, especially our senior citizens, deserve our best efforts to meet their needs—not treat them like political footballs.” A Boustany spokesman says the congressman stands behind the measure he co-authored, but says it should include language stating that taxpayer money would not be used to counsel patients on physician-assisted suicide. Two states—Oregon and Washington—allow physician-assisted suicide in certain situations, and the Montana Supreme Court is considering a lower-court ruling that found physician-assisted suicide to be a right under Montana’s Constitution. [Politico, 7/28/2009] Liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters calls the statement’s analysis “repulsive.” [Media Matters, 7/24/2009] The characterization of the bill by Boehner and McCotter will be disproven by a St. Petersburg Times analysis (see July 23, 2009).
Conservative radio host Glenn Beck accuses the Obama administration of colluding with ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) and SEIU (the Service Employees International Union) to construct a “modern-day slave state” in the US. Beck tells his listeners: “So, now, inside the health care bill is an organization where your tax dollars are going to go to go find information out about minority health. It creates a group of slaves to the government—a group of people working for the government—most likely minorities, working for the government, under the auspices of community organizers, going door to door to find out information about people’s health. This is a modern-day slave state that is being created.” [Media Matters, 7/23/2009]
PolitiFact logo. [Source: Yahoo! Buzz]The St. Petersburg Times’s “PolitiFact” debunks the recent spate of claims by Betsy McCaughey (R-NY) that the Obama health care reform proposal would mandate ‘death counseling’ (see July 16, 2009) and encourage seniors to die sooner to save money (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 23, 2009, and July 23-24, 2009). Days later, the Annenberg Political FactCheck organization will come to the same conclusions.
'Advance Care Planning Consultation' - According to HR 3200, the latest version of the health care reform legislation, the relevant section is entitled “Advance Care Planning Consultation.” This details how Medicare would pay for voluntary end-of-life counseling sessions. According to the legislation: “such consultation shall include the following: An explanation by the practitioner of advance care planning, including key questions and considerations, important steps, and suggested people to talk to; an explanation by the practitioner of advance directives, including living wills and durable powers of attorney, and their uses; an explanation by the practitioner of the role and responsibilities of a health care proxy.” Medicare will pay for one such session every five years, and will pay for interim sessions if a Medicare recipient’s health worsens in between those five-year sessions. Jon Keyserling, general counsel and vice president of public policy for the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, which supports the provision, says the bill does not encourage seniors to end their lives, it just allows some important counseling for decisions that take time and consideration. “These are very serious conversations,” he says. “It needs to be an informative conversation from the medical side and it needs to be thought about carefully by the patient and their families.” According to Jim Dau of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), the legislation does not encourage patients to end their lives. Dau says McCaughey’s claims are “not just wrong, they are cruel.” He adds: “We want to make sure people are making the right decision. If some one wants to take every life-saving measure, that’s their call. Others will decide it’s not worth going through this trauma just for themselves and their families, and that’s their decision, too.” Keyserling says it is clear to him and his organization’s lawyers that such end-of-life counseling sessions are purely voluntary, like everything in Medicare. “The only thing mandatory is that Medicare will have to pay for the counseling,” says Dau. A press release from the AARP says that McCaughey’s characterization of the health care bill is “rife with gross—and even cruel—distortions.” [St. Petersburg Times, 7/23/2009; Annenberg Political Fact Check, 7/29/2009]
'Scare Tactics' - The St. Petersburg Times concludes: “For our ruling on this one, there’s really no gray area here. McCaughey incorrectly states that the bill would require Medicare patients to have these counseling sessions and she is suggesting that the government is somehow trying to interfere with a very personal decision. And her claim that the sessions would ‘tell [seniors] how to end their life sooner’ is an outright distortion. Rather, the sessions are an option for elderly patients who want to learn more about living wills, health care proxies and other forms of end-of-life planning. McCaughey isn’t just wrong, she’s spreading a ridiculous falsehood.” [St. Petersburg Times, 7/23/2009] The non-partisan FactCheck.org, an organization sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, will write: “In truth, that section of the bill would require Medicare to pay for voluntary counseling sessions helping seniors to plan for end-of-life medical care, including designating a health care proxy, choosing a hospice, and making decisions about life-sustaining treatment. It would not require doctors to counsel that their patients refuse medical intervention.” The organization will note that inflammatory “chain e-mails” are making the rounds making claims such as: “On Page 425 of Obama’s health care bill, the federal government will require EVERYONE who is on Social Security to undergo a counseling session every five years with the objective being that they will explain to them just how to end their own life earlier. Yes.… They are going to push SUICIDE to cut medicare spending!!!” FactCheck will respond: “In fact, [the part of the bill cited on p. 425] requires Medicare to cover counseling sessions for seniors who want to consider their end-of-life choices—including whether they want to refuse or, conversely, require certain types of care. The claim that the bill would ‘push suicide’ is a falsehood.” FactCheck will find that McCaughey “misrepresent[ed]” the bill in her claims, and she and other health care reform opponents are resorting to “scare tactics” to try to defeat the legislation. [Annenberg Political Fact Check, 7/29/2009]
Entity Tags: St. Petersburg Times, Medicare, Jon Keyserling, American Association of Retired Persons, National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, FactCheck (.org), Jim Dau, Elizabeth (“Betsy”) McCaughey, Obama administration
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections
Betsy McCaughey, the former lieutenant governor of New York and a lobbyist for the health care industry, writes two frightening op-eds, one for the Wall Street Journal and one for the New York Post, that make false claims about the Democrats’ health care reform package. In the Journal, she claims that the bill contains a provision that would “pressure the elderly to end their lives prematurely,” a claim she has made before (see July 16, 2009). In the Post, she goes much farther, claiming that two of President Obama’s top health care advisers favor denying expensive health care treatments to senior citizens, the mentally disabled, and other “less productive” members of American society. She names Ezekiel Emanuel, a bioethicist, the health care adviser at the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and a member of the Federal Council on Comparative Effectiveness Research. She cites a 2008 article by Emanuel in the American Medical Association’s journal, where he wrote that some doctors sometimes go too far, construing the Hippocratic Oath “as an imperative to do everything for the patient regardless of the cost or effects on others.” McCaughey takes Emanuel’s words and accuses him of wanting “doctors to look beyond the needs of their patients and consider social justice, such as whether the money could be better spent on somebody else. Many doctors are horrified by this notion; they’ll tell you that a doctor’s job is to achieve social justice one patient at a time.” McCaughey states that Emanuel believes “medical care should be reserved for the non-disabled, not given to those ‘who are irreversibly prevented from being or becoming participating citizens…’ Translation: Don’t give much care to a grandmother with Parkinson’s or a child with cerebral palsy.” She also claims that Emanuel “explicitly” advocated denying health care to senior citizens in favor of providing treatment to younger patients. McCaughey claims that both Emanuel and Dr. David Blumenthal, the White House’s national coordinator of health information technology, favor “slowing medical innovation to control health spending” and denying patients access to advanced medical technology. According to McCaughey, Blumenthal also favors letting “computers tell… doctors what to do.” She concludes: “No one has leveled with the public about these dangerous views.… Do we want a ‘reform’ that empowers people like this to decide for us?” [Wall Street Journal, 7/23/2009; New York Post, 7/24/2009] A White House official later notes that McCaughey misrepresented Emanuel’s writings, and that Emanuel was describing positions and beliefs that he opposed in the same articles. ABC News’s Jake Tapper will note that Emanuel’s fellow doctors and medical ethicists know him as a fervent advocate of the rights of dying patients. [ABC News, 7/28/2009] And Emanuel himself will rebut McCaughey’s claims (see August 12, 2009). McCaughey’s previous claims about the dangers of health care reform, including her assertion that reform would encourage doctors to let senior citizens die, have been roundly debunked (see July 23, 2009).
Entity Tags: New York Post, Elizabeth (“Betsy”) McCaughey, David Blumenthal, Ezekiel Emanuel, Jake Tapper, Wall Street Journal, Federal Council on Comparative Effectiveness Research, Obama administration, Office of Management and Budget
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections
Rep. Louis Gohmert. [Source: Associated Press / Washington Blade]Representative Louis Gohmert (R-TX) lays out a skein of theories on radical radio host Alex Jones’s broadcast. During his interview with Jones, Gohmert accuses the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats of trying to implement socialism and kill senior citizens; Jones and Gohmert compare Obama to a number of foreign despots. Gohmert tells Jones and his listeners: “We’ve been battling this socialist health care, the nationalization of health care, that is going to absolutely kill senior citizens. They’ll put them on lists and force them to die early because they won’t get the treatment as early as they need.… I would rather stop this socialization of health care because once the government pays for your health care, they have every right to tell you what you eat, what you drink, how you exercise, where you live.… But if we’re going to pay 700 million dollars like we voted last Friday to put condoms on wild horses, and I know it just says an un-permanent enhanced contraception whatever the heck that is. I guess it follows that they’re eventually get around to doing it to us.” Gohmert is echoing claims by Republican lawmakers and industry lobbyists that the Democrats’ health care reform proposal will kill senior citizens (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, and July 23-24, 2009). Jones ups the ante by accusing the White House “science czar” of planning to “put… stuff in the water to sterilize us,” and then goes on to accuse the White House of, among other things, implementing a “eugenics control grid over us” and implementing “youth brigades, national service compulsory in a group outside the military under the Democratic Party control in the city year in the red and black uniforms.” Gohmert agrees with Jones, and says these kinds of policies were “done in the 1930s,” a plain reference to Nazi Germany, “and it’s not the only place its been done. It has been done throughout history.” Jones says, “Mao did it,” referring to Communist China’s Mao Zedong. Gohmert agrees: “Well, that’s exactly what I was thinking of. This is the kind of the thing we got to stop. We got to get back to the roots, the basics.” Gohmert praises Jones for his rhetoric and accusations: “That shows how on top of things you are, Alex.” For his part, Jones effusively thanks Gohmert and reminds him that “you’re there fighting and we’re supporting you.” [Think Progress, 7/27/2009] Progressive MSNBC host Rachel Maddow says of Gohmert and Jones: “You know, the Democrats may be fighting it out about whether they’re going to be beholden to the insurance companies and whether there’s going to be a public option in health care reform. But when it comes to the Republicans, this is the kind of thing they are bringing to the table: Hitler, Mao, and secret plots to kill old people.” [MSNBC, 7/29/2009]
Stanley Karnow, seated, in Washington, paying respect to the first American causalities killed in Vietnam. July 8, 2009. [Source: Chase Martinez / Washington Times, via AP]Richard Holbrooke, US special envoy to Afghanistan, and Afghan war commander General Stanley McChrystal, telephone Stanley Karnow, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Vietnam War historian to discuss the similarities between the two American wars and to seek guidance from the eminent scholar. Holbrooke will later confirm that the three men conferred on the two wars. “We discussed the two situations and what to do,” he will say during a visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels. Karnow, an acknowledged critic of the war in Afghanistan, will also confirm that the discussion was held. “Holbrooke rang me from Kabul and passed the phone to the general,” says Karnow, who authored the 1983 book, Vietnam: A History. He does not, however, elaborate on the specifics of the conversation. The telephone call is made in the context of a reevaluation of American strategy in Afghanistan amidst an escalation in spending, troops, and casualties. President Obama has tasked General McChrystal to conduct a strategic review of the increasingly criticized and unpopular war.
Comparing Ngo Dinh Diem and Hamid Karzai - Among the issues voiced by scholars and analysts who draw their own analogies between the Vietnam War and the war in Afghanistan is the credibility of President Hamid Karzai’s government, which is widely seen as corrupt and ineffective. David Kilcullen, a counterinsurgency specialist who the Associated Press reports will soon assume a role as a senior adviser to McChrystal, compares Karzai to former South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem. “[Karzai] has a reasonably clean personal reputation but he’s seen as ineffective; his family are corrupt; he’s alienated a very substantial portion of the population,” Kilcullen says. “He seems paranoid and delusional and out of touch with reality,” he continues. “That’s all the sort of things that were said about President Diem in 1963.” Ngo Dinh Diem was killed in a US-backed coup in 1963 (see November 1963).
Comparing the 1967 Vietnam Ballot and the 2009 Afghanistan Ballot - The Associated Press quotes other analysts who draw parallels between Afghanistan’s presidential election schedule for August 20 and the failed US effort in Vietnam to legitimize a military regime lacking broad popular support through an imposed presidential election in 1967. James McAllister, a political science professor who has written extensively on Vietnam, recognizes why US policy chiefs are looking to the Vietnam War for parallels and lessons, especially with regard to the presidential elections. “That [1967 ballot] helped ensure that US efforts would continue to be compromised by its support for a corrupt, unpopular regime in Saigon,” McAllister says. Rufus Phillips, Holbrooke’s former boss in Vietnam and author of the book Why Vietnam Matters, echoes this warning. “The rigged election in South Vietnam proved [to be] the most destructive and destabilizing factor of all,” says Phillips, now in Kabul helping to monitor the upcoming election.
Karnow: Lessons We Learned from Vietnam and What to Expect in Afghanistan - “It now seems unthinkable that the US could lose [in Afghanistan], but that’s what experts… thought in Vietnam in 1967,” Karnow will say later, from his home in Maryland. “It could be that there will be no real conclusion and that it will go on for a long time until the American public grows tired of it.” When asked what lessons could be drawn from the Vietnam experience, Karnow will tell the Associated Press: “What did we learn from Vietnam? We learned that we shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Obama and everybody else seem to want to be in Afghanistan, but not I.” [Associated Press, 8/6/2009]
The New York Times reports that the ultra-secretive Continuity of Government program, which was activated and expanded by the Bush administration following the 9/11 attacks, is kept in tact by the new administration of Barrack Obama. According to the Times, White House officials draw “no distance between their own policies and those left behind by the Bush administration.” Officials refuse to discuss details of the continuity plans, but say the current policy is “settled.” [New York Times, 7/27/2009] Shortly before leaving office, Bush officials updated the plans and increased the role of the White House and the military (see January 2009).
Lewin Group logo. [Source: WNY Media]The Republican National Committee plans to spend a million dollars in August on television ads opposing health care reform. One of the key elements of the ad campaign is a study released today by the Lewin Group that finds 119 million Americans would lose the coverage they currently have under the Obama administration’s health care reform proposal. MSNBC’s progressive talk show host Rachel Maddow airs video clips of Senators John Barrasso (R-WY) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Representatives John Boehner (R-OH), Tom Price (R-GA), Paul Ryan (R-WI), and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) all citing the Lewin study as evidence that health care reform is bad for Americans. The Lewin Group is a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group, a health insurance provider. United Health operates a subsidiary called Ingenix, which in turn operates a consulting firm, the Lewin Group. Maddow notes that Republicans call the Lewin Group “nonpartisan and independent” when in fact it is a branch of a health care insurer. In January 2009, United Health agreed to pay $400 million to the State of New York after being charged with defrauding customers—manipulating data in order to shift medical expenses onto consumers. Former Vermont governor and Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean, himself a doctor, says the issue is “not… about Democrats versus Republicans. This is about the health insurance agency versus the American people.” [Ingenix, 7/27/2009; MSNBC, 7/28/2009]
Entity Tags: Republican National Committee, Tom Price, UnitedHealth Group, Rachel Maddow, Lewin Group, Obama administration, Paul Ryan, Ingenix, John Boehner, Howard Dean, MSNBC, Newt Gingrich, Charles Grassley, John Barrasso
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Civil Liberties, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections
Virginia Foxx. [Source: Watauga Watch]Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC) says that the Obama administration’s health care proposals will put millions of elderly Americans at risk of being killed by the government. “Republicans have a better solution that won’t put the government in charge of people’s health care, that will make sure we bring down the cost of health care for all Americans, and that insures affordable access for all Americans, and is pro-life because it will not put seniors in a position of being put to death by their government.” Huffington Post’s Jason Linkins notes that the Republican leadership in Congress has not actually proposed any alternatives to the Obama health care proposals. Liberal media watchdog site Media Matters writes, “Democratic legislation actually provides professional guidance for seniors’ difficult decisions—NOT to encourage euthanasia.” [Huffington Post, 7/28/2009; MSNBC, 7/29/2009]
The editors of the conservative National Review criticize the “birther” movement, which has for years claimed that President Obama is not a US citizen despite all evidence to the contrary (see July 20, 2008, August 15, 2008, October 8-10, 2008, October 16, 2008 and After, November 10, 2008, and December 3, 2008). Although the editorial mocks Obama’s character and political stances, it asserts that Obama is, indeed, a US citizen, and the evidence presented by the Obama campaign in 2008 is enough for anyone to accept that as fact (see June 13, 2008, June 27, 2008, July 2008, August 21, 2008, October 30, 2008, July 1, 2009, and July 28, 2009). “Much foolishness has become attached to the question of President Obama’s place of birth, and a few misguided souls among the Right have indulged it,” the editors write. They call the idea that Obama is not a citizen a “myth” that “represents the hunt for a magic bullet that will make all the unpleasant complications of his election and presidency disappear.” The editors say that conspiracy theories such as “birtherism” are usually promulgated by liberals and progressives, citing the “9/11 truther” movement and the various arguments made against the Iraq invasion and occupation as “left-wing” conspiracy theories. The editors believe that the White House, while probably not actually encouraging “birther” speculation, certainly takes advantage of it, because, they write, “[t]here is nothing that President Obama’s coterie would enjoy more than to see the responsible Right become a mirror image of the loopy Left circa 2003.” The editors write: “The fundamental fiction is that Obama has refused to release his ‘real’ birth certificate. This is untrue. The document that Obama has made available is the document that Hawaiian authorities issue when they are asked for a birth certificate. There is no secondary document cloaked in darkness, only the state records that are used to generate birth certificates when they are requested. If one applies for a United States passport, the passport office will demand a birth certificate. It defines this as an official document bearing ‘your full name, the full name of your parent(s), date and place of birth, sex, date the birth record was filed, and the seal or other certification of the official custodian of such records.’ The Hawaiian birth certificate President Obama has produced—the document is formally known as a ‘certificate of live birth’—bears that information. It has been inspected by reporters, and several state officials have confirmed that the information in permanent state records is identical to that on the president’s birth certificate—which is precisely what one expects, of course, since the state records are used to generate those documents when they are requested. In other words, what President Obama has produced is the ‘real’ birth certificate of myth and lore. The director of Hawaii’s health department and the registrar of records each has personally verified that the information on Obama’s birth certificate is identical to that in the state’s records, the so-called vault copy. Given that fact, we are loath even to engage the fanciful notion that President Obama was born elsewhere, contrary to the information on his birth certificate, but we note for the record that his mother was a native of Kansas, whose residents have been citizens of the United States for a very long time, and whose children are citizens of the United States as well.” However, the editors note, “[t]he hallmark of a conspiracy theory is that a lack of evidence for the theory is taken as yet more evidence for the theory. Indeed, the maddening thing about dealing with conspiracy hobbyists of this or any sort is the ever-shifting nature of their argument and their alleged evidence: Never mind the birth certificate, his step-grandmother said he was born in Kenya (see October 16, 2008 and After)! (No, she didn’t.)” [National Review, 7/28/2009]
Glenn Beck and the hosts of Fox & Friends. Brian Kilmeade is on the far right. [Source: Media Matters]Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck, appearing as a guest on Fox News’s morning show Fox & Friends, tells viewers that President Obama is a “racist” with a “deep-seated hatred of white people.” During a discussion of a recent incident involving black professor Henry Gates and a white policeman, Beck says, “This president, I think, has exposed himself as a guy, over and over and over again, who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture, I don’t know what it is.” Host Brian Kilmeade notes that Obama has many people in his administration who are white, so “you can’t say he doesn’t like white people.” Beck continues making his point: “I’m not saying he doesn’t like white people, I’m saying he has a problem. This guy is, I believe, a racist.” [Media Matters, 7/28/2009; Huffington Post, 7/28/2009; Chicago Tribune, 7/29/2009] Though Beck says nothing about the comments on his own show in the afternoon, the next day he reiterates his statements on his radio show. “I said yesterday on Fox News & Friends that the president is a racist; I think he has race issues.… Well, I stand by that—I deem him a racist, really, by his own standard of racism—the standard of the left.” [Daily Mail, 7/30/2009] Fox News vice president Bill Shine says of Beck’s comment: “During Fox & Friends this morning, Glenn Beck expressed a personal opinion which represented his own views, not those of the Fox News Channel. And as with all commentators in the cable news arena, he is given the freedom to express his opinions.” The Chicago Tribune’s Mark Silva will write, “The remarks may say more about Beck than Obama, and perhaps something about the level of political discourse that Fox is sponsoring in Beck.” [Chicago Tribune, 7/29/2009] Politico’s Michael Calderone calls Beck’s remarks “ridiculous,” but notes that Beck is in line with at least one other conservative commentator: Rush Limbaugh has recently called Gates, a scholar, author, and documentary maker, “an angry racist.” [Politico, 7/28/2009] MSNBC talk show host Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman, calls Beck’s comments little more than an attempt to garner attention. The White House declines to make a statement on Beck’s comments. [Daily Mail, 7/30/2009] In part because of Beck’s comments, a number of advertisers, including Proctor & Gamble, will soon remove their ads from his show. [Huffington Post, 8/6/2009] The African-American advocacy organization Color Of Change uses Beck’s comments to mount a call for more advertisers to drop their sponsorship of his shows. The organization calls his comments “repulsive” and “divisive.” [Color of Change, 7/29/2009]
Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Glenn Beck, Bill Shine, Brian Kilmeade, Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Color Of Change, Obama administration, Henry Louis Gates, Proctor & Gamble, Mark Silva, Joseph Scarborough, Michael Calderone
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections
The Internet news site Politico reports on the quickly escalating confrontations occurring at “town hall” meetings held around the country, featuring conservative protesters agitating against the White House’s health care reform proposals (see Late July, 2009). Reporter Alex Isenstadt writes: “Screaming constituents, protesters dragged out by the cops, congressmen fearful for their safety—welcome to the new town hall-style meeting, the once-staid forum that is rapidly turning into a house of horrors for members of Congress.” The meetings, held by Democratic House members attempting to discuss the health care proposals with their constituents, have quickly devolved into confrontational events disrupted by shouting, cursing protesters waving signs and shouting down speakers, often before they can begin speaking.
Other Methods to Discuss Issue with Constituents - After one such meeting (see June 22, 2009), House member Tim Bishop (D-NY) says he will not hold more town halls until late August. “I had felt they would be pointless,” he says. “There is no point in meeting with my constituents and [to] listen to them and have them listen to you if what is basically an unruly mob prevents you from having an intelligent conversation.” He adds: “I have no problem with someone disagreeing with positions I hold. But I also believe no one is served if you can’t talk through differences.” Other Democrats such as Bruce Braley (D-IA), Allen Boyd (D-FL), and Thomas Perriello (D-VA) have experienced similar incidents at their own town hall meetings. Isenstadt characterizes the meetings as plagued by “boiling anger and rising incivility.” Braley explains the heated protests by saying, “I think it’s just the fact that we are dealing with some of the most important public policy issues in a generation.” Bishop notes: “I think in general what is going on is we are tackling issues that have been ignored for a long time, and I think that is disruptive to a lot of people. We are trying, one by one, to deal with a set of issues that can’t be ignored, and I think that’s unsettling to a lot of people.” Dan Maffei (D-NY), whose July 12 meeting at a Syracuse middle school was disrupted, says he is considering other options to avoid the confrontations. “I think you’ve got to communicate through a variety of different ways,” he says. “You should do the telephone town hall meetings. You should do the town hall meetings. You should do the smaller group meetings. It’s important to do things in a variety of ways, so you don’t have one mode of communication. You’re going to have people of varying views, and in this case, you’ve got the two extremes who were the most vocal.” Russ Carnahan (D-MO) says he enjoys the town hall meetings, and will not let disruptions stop him from holding them. Perriello agrees. “I enjoy it, and people have a chance to speak their mind,” he says.
Countering the Protesters - Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), has planned countermethods for the spate of meetings to be held during the August recess. According to sources familiar with the meetings Van Hollen has held, Van Hollen advised his fellow Democrats to “Go on offense. Stay on the offense. It’s really important that your constituents hear directly from you. You shouldn’t let a day go by [that] your constituents don’t hear from you.”
Continuing the Protests - Van Hollen’s Republican counterpart, Pete Sessions (R-TX), who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), says the protests will continue. “We’ve seen Russ Carnahan, we’ve seen Tim Bishop, we’ve seen some other people face some very different crowds back home,” he says. “The days of you having a town hall meeting where maybe 15 or 20 of your friends show up—they’re over. You’ve now got real people who are showing up—and that’s going to be a factor.” Asked if the Republicans would use the confrontations against Democrats, Sessions says, “Wait till next year.”
Possible Backlash? - Democrats warn that Republicans will likely face a backlash in public opinion if the public perceives the party as being too closly aligned with tea party activists or other radical-right protesters. Former DCCC political director Brian Smoot says: “It’s a risk that they align themselves with such a small minority in the party. They risk alienating moderates.” [Politico, 7/31/2009]
Entity Tags: Dan Maffei, Brian Smoot, Allen Boyd, Alex Isenstadt, Chris Van Hollen, Tim Bishop, Russ Carnahan, Bruce Braley, Obama administration, Pete Sessions, National Republican Congressional Committee, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Politico, Thomas Perriello
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections
A screenshot from a Democratic National Committee ad highlighting phrases from the memo. [Source: Weekly Standard]The conservative Web site and political action committee (PAC) Right Principles releases a memo entitled “Rocking the Town Halls: Best Practices,” written by Bob MacGuffie, a founder of the organization and a volunteer with the “Tea Party Patriots,” a subsidiary of the conservative lobbying group FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009). [Think Progress, 7/31/2009; Tea Party Patriots, 8/6/2009] The organization is very small—basically MacGuffie and four friends—and although MacGuffie volunteers with the aforementioned tea party group, he insists he and his organization have no connections to the much larger and well-funded FreedomWorks or other lobbying organizations that support anti-health care protests. “We are recommending with that memo that other grassroots groups that share our view should go to the town halls of their members and use the strategy that we did,” MacGuffie says. “We are trying to get into that town halls to make them understand that they do not have the unanimous support from people in their communities.” [TPMDC, 8/3/2009] Although the site either never posts the memo or takes it down shortly after, it quickly circulates throughout the conservative community (see July 23, 2009), and will be used to disrupt “town hall” meetings by Democratic House members, who intend to spend time during the August recess holding such meetings to discuss the Obama administration’s health care proposals. [Right Principles, 2009; Think Progress, 7/31/2009] MacGuffie later claims to have first e-mailed the memo to “8-10 community activists” in June. [Weekly Standard, 8/5/2009]
'Best Practices' - The memo advises conservative activists and protesters of the best ways to dominate and disrupt the town hall meetings. Basing the memo on actions conducted by Right Principles members and supporters during a May 2009 town hall meeting held by Congressman Jim Himes (D-CT), MacGuffie writes, “We believe there are some best practices which emerged from the event and our experience, which could be useful to activists in just about any district where their congressperson has supported the socialist agenda of the Democrat leadership in Washington.” Some of the steps include:
Artificially inflating numbers. “Spread out in the hall and try to be in the front half. The objective is to put the rep on the defensive with your questions and follow-up. The rep should be made to feel that a majority, and if not, a significant portion of at least the audience, opposes the socialist agenda of Washington.”
Being disruptive from the outset. “You need to rock the boat early in the rep’s presentation. Watch for an opportunity to yell out and challenge the rep’s statements early.” The memo also advises, “Don’t carry on and make a scene, just short, intermittent shout-outs.”
Attempt to rattle or goad the speaker. “The goal is to rattle him, get him off his prepared script and agenda. If he says something outrageous, stand up and shout out and sit right back down. Look for these opportunities before he even takes questions.”
The memo also attaches some possible questions for the representatives, “which apply to most any Democrat that is supporting the socialist agenda,” it says. [Bob MacGuffie, 7/2009 ; Think Progress, 7/31/2009] Progressive news and advocacy Web site Think Progress will note that the questions closely resemble talking points handed out in July by FreedomWorks. [Think Progress, 7/31/2009] Liberal MSNBC host Rachel Maddow will accuse Right Principles of crafting a “how-to” manual for disruptive “rent-a-mob” activities. [Washington Times, 8/6/2009] The conservative Weekly Standard will accuse “liberal media” outlets such as Think Progress and MSNBC of “manufacturing outrage” over the memo, and prints MacGuffie’s denials of having any connections to FreedomWorks. “There is no formal connection,” he says. “I don’t know anyone from FreedomWorks.” [Weekly Standard, 8/5/2009]
Entity Tags: Weekly Standard, Tea Party Patriots, Right Principles, Jim Himes, Obama administration, Rachel Maddow, Think Progress (.org), FreedomWorks, Bob MacGuffie
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections
The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder says that the Democrats are, in part, being beaten in the public perception battle over health care reform because they were caught flat-footed by the wave of angry, if orchestrated, conservative opposition manifesting itself at town hall meetings across America (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). Ambinder writes: “Democrats know the rulebook. The tactics being used against them by Republican and conservative groups were perfected by the party when it set out to defeat President Bush’s Social Security privatization proposals. They also know that it’s easier to gin up noise against a major legislative initiative than it is to sell an initiative that isn’t fully formed yet.… As a Democratic strategist said to me: ‘I think as Dems we learned a lot of lessons from beating Bush on privatization—we know and perfected all the tricks and tactics so we know what to expect from the tea baggers, the insurance companies, and other opponents.’” But because the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats have not yet created a cohesive, easily explained health care reform package, conservatives are finding it easy to attack the various proposals while Democrats flounder in attempting to explain that not-yet-perfected package. It is also easy for conservatives to allege horrific elements of that package which do not exist, but succeed in inflaming public opinion and raising the “fear level” among ordinary citizens. Ambinder concludes: “The press will be complicit in telling the story, as the louder voices at town hall meetings will ultimately get more coverage. As the Democratic National Committee has learned, it’s not easy to engineer a massive national congressional switchboard campaign unless there is a defined target.… The goal of the opposition—of FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity (see April 15, 2009)—isn’t to change minds; their activists know what they believe already: it’s to make noise. Making noise scares members of Congress. And Democrats are vulnerable to panics.” [Atlantic Monthly, 8/3/2009]
A town hall meeting to discuss the White House’s proposed health care reform package is disrupted by a volatile crowd of anti-reform protesters. The event is hosted by Representative Steve Driehaus (D-OH), and takes place at a Unitarian church. The event draws so many participants that it is moved to a larger room, but many still are forced to remain outside. Driehaus opens the meeting by saying, “I know that there are those with the tea party group and I welcome you and I welcome them to my office.” The protesters respond by screaming and shouting over Driehaus as he tries to outline his reasons for supporting reform. “Tell the truth!” one participant screams as Driehaus tries to explain what is and is not in the proposal. Another shouts, “Move to Europe!” Driehaus says he understands there are dramatically different points of view surrounding the reform proposals. “I know some people would like a single-payer system and some would like no change at all,” he says. “I get that.… We have the most expensive health care system in the world. We’ve got the best medical system in the world, if you can afford to pay for it.” One protester outside the church, Sue Hardenbergh, holds a sign opposing what she believes will be “nationalized health care,” and tells reporters she doesn’t believe assurances from the Obama administration that citizens will be able to keep their same doctor and private insurance plans under the new program. “I am in favor of reform. I am in favor of fiscal responsibility,” she says. “I think the bill as presented is going to eliminate a competitive market and the private insurance industry.” [Cincinnati Enquirer, 8/3/2009; Think Progress, 8/4/2009]
Conservatives for Patients’ Rights logo. [Source: Conservatives for Patients? Rights]An organization called Conservatives for Patients’ Rights (CPR) publicly takes credit for orchestrating the disruptive and sometimes-violent protests against the White House’s health care reform proposals (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). Washington Post reporter Greg Sargent says the admission “rais[es] questions about [the protests’] spontaneity.” CPR is headed by Rick Scott, a former health industry CEO who once ran Columbia/HCA before being ousted for malfeasance in 1997. (Columbia/HCA subsequently paid the US government $1.7 billion dollars in fines due to fraud that occured during Scott’s tenure.) Scott, who was once a part owner of the Texas Rangers with George W. Bush, now owns an investment firm that primarily traffics in health care, and owns a chain of Florida urgent care clinics called Solantic. [Washington Post, 5/10/2009; Plum Line, 8/4/2009] (Solantic also boasts former Bush administration official Thomas Scully as a member of its board. In 2004, Scully deliberately withheld information from Congress that the Bush administration’s Medicare reforms would cost $200 billion more than acknowledged.) [MSNBC, 8/7/2009]
Contracting with 'Swift Boat' PR Firm - Scott is spending millions on CPR’s public relations effort, and has contracted with CRC Public Relations, the group that masterminded the “swift boat” attacks against 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. He is also coordinating his efforts with Grover Norquist, the conservative advocate and influential Washington insider. CPR spokesman Brian Burgess confirms that CPR is e-mailing “town hall alert” flyers and schedules of town hall meetings to its mailing list. CPR is also actively recruiting members for the “tea party,” a loosely organized group of conservative protesters (see April 8, 2009). Scott says, “We have invested a lot of time, energy, and resources into educating Americans over the past several months about the dangers of government-run health care and I think we’re seeing some of the fruits of that campaign.” Doug Thornell, a House Democratic staff member, says: “The more you dig the more you learn that this is a carefully orchestrated effort by special interest lobbyists and the Republican Party, who are using fringe elements on the right to protect insurance company profits and defeat health care reform. The anger at these events looks very similar to what we saw at McCain/Palin rallies in the fall.” [Washington Post, 5/10/2009; Plum Line, 8/4/2009]
Group Interested in Protecting Industry Profits, Critics Say - Richard Kirsch of Health Care for America Now, a pro-reform group, says of Scott: “Those attacking reform are really looking to protect their own profits, and he’s a perfect messenger for that. His history of making a fortune by destroying quality in the health care system and ripping off the government is a great example of what’s really going on.” CPR plans on spending over $1 million a month in anti-reform television and radio ads. [Washington Post, 5/10/2009] White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, learning of CPR’s admission, says the organization is led by a “CEO that used to run a health care company that was fined by the federal government $1.7 billion for fraud. I think that’s a lot of what you need to know about the motives of that group.” Scott retorts, “It is a shame that Mr. Gibbs chooses to dismiss these Americans and their very real concerns, instead opting to level personal attacks.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 8/4/2009]
Entity Tags: Greg Sargent, Doug Thornell, Columbia/HCA, CRC Public Relations, Brian Burgess, Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, Solantic, Thomas A. Scully, Rick Scott, Richard Kirsch, Obama administration, Robert Gibbs, Grover Norquist, Republican Party, Medicare
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Civil Liberties, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections
House Representative Todd Akin (R-MO), holding a forum on health care reform at Maryville University, tells audience members that he opposes the Obama administration’s health care reform proposals. “Why do we want to turn over all of our health care to the government?” he asks. Akin, who bills his meeting as a “Freedom Conference,” also lambasts the Obama administration’s environmental and economic moves. Contrary to many health care discussions with Democratic lawmakers (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), the crowd at Akin’s forum is largely friendly and supportive. The forum also features speakers from conservative organizations and industry lobbying firms such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA)‘s Center for Health Transformation. [St. Louis Beacon, 8/4/2009] During the meeting, Akin jokes about his Democratic colleagues being lynched, a crack that receives cheers and applause. Akin remarks, “Different people from Washington, DC, have come back to their districts and had town hall meetings, and they almost got lynched.” After an outburst of cheers and laughter, Akin, grinning, says, “I assume you’re not approving lynchings, because we don’t want to do that.” As he says this, he mockingly imitates being strangled, presumably by a noose. [Think Progress, 8/6/2009; TPMDC, 8/6/2009]
Pamela Geller, who owns and operates the far-right blog Atlas Shrugs, continues to claim that “forensic analysis” performed on President Obama’s birth certificate by a blogger on her site she calls “Techdude” proves the certificate is forged, even though independent analysis has long since proven that “Techdude’s” analysis was fraudulent (see July 20, 2008). She claims that the analysis was never subjected to “peer review,” ignoring a review and analysis by an actual computer forensics expert, Dr. Neal Krawetz, who showed how cunningly “Techdude” manipulated the data to produce his fraudulent results. Nevertheless, Geller continues to say that her blog’s analysis “proves” Obama’s birth certificate, as posted on his Web site (see June 13, 2008), confirmed by Hawaiian officials (see October 30, 2008), and independently analyzed and verified as accurate (see June 27, 2008 and August 21, 2008), is “an altered document.” Geller claims that a year after her blog “exposed” the birth certificate, the “birther” issue “is on fire. Why? Perhaps because the American people, in their sudden desperation at having made a shotgun wedding, are looking for an annulment. And just as you couldn’t get Al Capone on his heinous crimes of murder and racketeering, but got him on tax evasion, so they hope they can get Obama on this technicality regarding eligibility. Obama’s refusal to release the vault copy has only increased interest, with the speculation now creating a veritable birth certificate circus.” Geller speculates that the recent release of an obviously fraudulent “Kenyan birth certificate” (see August 1-4, 2009) is the result of “something more sinister at work,” perhaps a “psyop” by either Obama administration officials or Obama’s supporters “to smear the Republicans in general as ‘birthers,’ conspiracy nuts who have given themselves over to right-wing nuttery.” Conservatives, she writes, are the victim of the birth certificate conspiracy, and Obama is entirely to blame for not releasing what she calls the “vault copy” (see July 1, 2009), “whether because it contains something damaging or simply because it enables him to wield the weapon of ridicule against the right. At this point, the effect is the same regardless of which of those possibilities is true. This carnival of conspiracy has become a deliberate distraction from the real issues and the real destruction being wrought by the Obama administration.” [NewsMax, 8/4/2009]
Charles (“Chuck”) Grassley addresses an AARP meeting in early 2009. [Source: AARP]Republican Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), one of the GOP senators counted on by the Obama administration to help pass the Democrats’ health care reform package, tells a radio audience that under that reform package, Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) would be allowed to die. Kennedy is in the final stages of terminal brain cancer. Under the proposal, Grassley says, Kennedy would be denied care; instead, a younger patient would receive that care because they could “contribute more to the economy.” On Iowa City radio station KCJJ-AM, Grassley says: “In countries that have government-run health care, just to give you an example, I’ve been told that the brain tumor that Senator Kennedy has—because he’s 77 years old—would not be treated the way it’s treated in the United States. In other words, he would not get the care he gets here because of his age. In other words, they’d say ‘well, he doesn’t have long to live even if he lived another four to five years.’ They’d say ‘well, we gotta spend money on people who can contribute more to economy.’ It’s a little like people saying when somebody gets to be 85 their life is worth less than when they were 35 and you pull the tubes on them.” The Iowa Independent notes that the health care reform proposal has no provisions for “rationed care” of any kind, as Grassley asserts, much less a provision to deny care to elderly patients in favor of younger, more potentially productive patients. [Think Progress, 8/5/2009; Iowa Independent, 8/5/2009] Adam Lioz, a correspondent to the liberal Huffington Post, writes: “My first thought after watching video of Grassley’s statements is that he has now disqualified himself from participation in further Senate Finance Committee negotiations. How can someone act as a good-faith negotiator on a critical and complex issue while simultaneously stoking fear and spreading bald-faced lies about the content of the leading legislation on the topic? And why should Democratic senators take him seriously and continue to engage him? Bipartisanship is helpful; but at what cost?” [Huffington Post, 8/13/2009]
Salisbury Post masthead. [Source: Echo Media]An op-ed in the Salisbury (North Carolina) Post criticizes the current wave of disruptive protests that are derailing health care forums around the nation (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, and August 5, 2009). “With funding and staff support from advocacy groups opposed to health care reform and to the Obama administration,” the Post writes, “organized groups have been showing up at Congressional town hall meetings held mostly by Democrats in favor of health care reform. The protesters jeer, heckle, wave placards, shout over the speaker, and carry on much like the student radicals of yore. Memos that have cropped up on the Web show that these protests are not intended to be any kind of dialogue but purely disruptive, preferably ending with the member of Congress forced to retreat. Videos of the demonstrations almost immediately appear on the Internet. The idea is to make opposition to health care reform seem more widespread than it really is.… [I]t is impossible to dismiss the large quotient of manufactured outrage in these disruptions. The campaign smacks of what political operatives call ‘Astroturf’—fake grass roots” (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). [Salisbury Post, 8/5/2009]
Some Democratic politicians accuse Republicans of organizing “angry mobs” to disrupt town hall meetings around the country (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 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, and August 5, 2009). Conservatives retort that the protests are spontaneous outbursts of anger and concern from ordinary citizens who oppose the White House’s health care reform proposals. According to a Democratic National Committee (DNC) ad, Republicans “have no plan for moving our country forward, so they’ve called out the mob.… [D]esperate Republicans and their well-funded allies” are trying to “destroy President Obama.” Senator Arlen Specter, who took part in a contentious town hall three days ago (see August 2, 2009), says: “I think that a fair amount of the activity was orchestrated. I think a fair amount of it was involved individuals who came without being orchestrated. But it was a battleground.” And White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says some of the anger from the crowds is manufactured: “In fact, I think you’ve had groups today, Conservatives for Patients Rights [CPR], that have bragged about organizing and manufacturing that anger” (see August 4, 2009). In return, CPR spokesman Brian Burgess says, “The White House is desperate for a scapegoat to blame for their failure to convince Americans to let the government take over health care.” A Democratic organization with connections to the Obama administration, Organizing for America, is planning strategy for upcoming events, including a Michigan appearance by Vice President Joe Biden. An e-mail from the organization encourages Michigan Democrats to “stand with the vice president and against the angry mobs being directed by Republican operatives in Washington to disrupt events throughout the month of August.” DNC spokesman Brad Woodhouse says that mobs of right-wing activists are being transported from one rally to another by “well-funded, highly organized groups run by Republican operatives and funded by the special interests who are desperately trying to stop the agenda for change the president was elected to bring to Washington.… This type of anger and discord did not serve Republicans well in 2008—and it is bound to backfire again.” Republican National Committee (RNC) spokeswoman Gail Gitcho responds: “In a remarkable example of callousness, the White House and Democrats have reduced the concerns and opinions of millions of Americans to ‘manufactured’ and have labeled them as ‘angry extremists,’ for voicing their opposition to President Obama’s government-run health care experiment.… Are Democrats so out of touch that they are shocked to learn that Americans are concerned about their $1.6 trillion government-run health care experiment?” CNN political analyst Bill Schneider observes: “On issues like this, intensity of opinion matters as much as numbers. Opponents of the president’s health care reform seem to feel more intensely about it than Obama’s supporters.” [CNN, 8/5/2009] Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, says he believes the use of intimidation and extreme tactics—including displays of overtly Nazi symbols and hanging representatives in effigy—will “backfire in a big way” because their aim is to keep people from talking about health care. “When you’ve got people shouting and hanging members of Congress in effigy,” he says, “most people are going to react badly to that. I think most people want to have a civil discussion.” Van Hollen says that House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and other Republican leaders “are actively involved in sort of fueling the fire of these disruptions. They’ve got to be careful what they ask for here.… If Republicans want to continue to ally themselves with these fringe groups, it will continue to discredit them.” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ken Spain counters: “Democrats have gone from blaming Republican obstruction, to the insurance industry, to Matt Drudge, and now they are even blaming the voters who are registering their opposition at town halls across the country. At what point are they going to get the message that people simply don’t want a government takeover of health care?” [Roll Call, 8/5/2009]
Entity Tags: Chris Van Hollen, Robert Gibbs, Bill Schneider, Barack Obama, Arlen Specter, Brian Burgess, Obama administration, Republican National Committee, Ken Spain, Democratic National Committee, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Conservatives for Patients Rights, Gail Gitcho, National Republican Congressional Committee, Joseph Biden, John Boehner, Brad Woodhouse
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections
The logo used for the Obama administration’s health care proposal on the White House Web site. The logo combines the Obama presidential campaign’s ‘sunrise’ emblem with a stylized version of the medical caduceus. [Source: White House]After denouncing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for claiming that anti-health care protesters had used Nazi symbols and rhetoric in their protests (see August 6, 2009), conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh also makes a comparison between the Obama administration and Nazis. “Adolf Hitler, like Barack Obama, also ruled by dictate,” he says. Like Obama, Limbaugh asserts, Hitler “was called the Messiah” and did not need the advice of a cabinet or other advisers to make decisions. “The people spoke through” Hitler, as Limbaugh says Obama believes is the case for himself. Hitler’s decisions “sound like the things liberals are doing all over this country.” To Pelosi, he says, “You look much more like [a swastika] than any of us [conservatives] ever will.” [Media Matters, 8/6/2009; Boston Globe, 8/6/2009] Limbaugh also says that the Obama administration’s health care logo looks very much like the “Nazi swastika logo.” He adds: “It reminded me of Germany. Something about it reminded me of Germany, 1942. The shape of the logo, the people.… The Obama health care logo is damn close to a Nazi swastika logo.… Ms. Pelosi has some major apologizing to do.” He says perhaps Pelosi’s supposed “repeated botox injections” have caused her to have “blurry vision” that may have prevented her from seeing the similarities he noticed. [Media Matters, 8/6/2009; Boston Globe, 8/6/2009] Limbaugh apparently gets much of his information, including the Botox joke, from a right-wing blog, “Sweetness and Light,” which he credits in his statement. [Sweetness and Light, 8/6/2009] The next day, Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center says, “It is preposterous to try and make a connection between the president’s health care logo and the Nazi Party symbol, the Reichsadler.” [New York Times, 8/7/2009] Jennifer Crider of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) responds to Limbaugh’s assertions: “Rush Limbaugh’s comparison of the Democratic Party to the Nazi Party in World War II is as disgusting as it is shocking. Limbaugh’s use of the Nazi swastika in attempting to make a tasteless political comparison has no place in the public discourse. At a time when families need real solutions to rebuild the economy and make health care more affordable, Rush Limbaugh is attempting to sidetrack the important debate through his use of symbols that are synonymous with murder and intolerance. Americans deserve better.” [Boston Globe, 8/6/2009] Conservative columnist David Brooks of the New York Times calls Limbaugh’s rhetoric “insane.” [Media Matters, 8/10/2009]
An anti-reform protester displays a large sign depicting President Obama as Adolf Hitler. [Source: Daily Kos]House Representative John Dingell (D-MI), an 83-year-old advocate of health care reform, hosts a “town hall” meeting in Romulus, Michigan, to discuss the Obama administration’s plans to reform health care. The forum has so many people attempting to participate that its organizer, the local chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), says it will sponsor a second forum at a later date. Like many other forums where health care is a primary topic of discussion, anti-health care protesters attempt to disrupt and dominate the discussion by shouting down and chanting over Dingell and other audience members (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, and August 6-8, 2009).
Louder and Angrier Participants Garner More Media Coverage - One audience participant, health care reform supporter Chris Savage, writes about the forum on the liberal blog Daily Kos. Savage also takes a photograph of an anti-health care reform protester carrying a large sign depicting President Obama as Adolf Hitler. He says that anti-reform protesters outnumber supporters approximately five to one. In the Huffington Post, Savage later writes: “Typically, the more hysterical the person’s message was or the more angrily they shouted, the more likely they were to get attention from the press. The young black man with the Obama-as-Hitler poster was the busiest one of them all.”
Shouting Down Participants from Outset - Even before the event begins, protesters are shouting and catcalling, with one woman yelling to an elderly reform supporter: “You may be dead in five years! They may euthanize you!” AARP official Erick Schneidewind is shouted down with calls of “Traitor!” and “Liar!” before he can even introduce himself. One disabled woman, Marcia Boehm, attempts to tell her story—how she lost her health care in December 2008 and her pre-existing conditions make it difficult for her to get new coverage—but is shouted down by protesters who scream, “I shouldn’t have to pay for your healthcare!” and “Get government healthcare!” After Dingell takes the podium, another protester, Mike Sola, approaches him, pushing his son before him in a wheelchair. The man accuses Dingell of participating in a government plan to kill his son, who has cerebral palsy, by denying him health care. When Dingell denies the charge, the man begins shouting “Liar!” over and over, and trying to push forward into Dingell’s personal space with his wheelchair-bound son. He is prevented from getting within touching distance by Dingell staffers; he is soon escorted out by police officers. The Daily Kos blogger writes that no matter what Dingell attempts to say, he is countered and sometimes drowned out by screams and chants of “Liar!” “Traitor!” “Bullsh_t!” “Did you even read the bill?” (Dingell helped write the House version of the bill.) “The goverment is going to kill us when we are older!” “The goverment is providing abortion money!” and other shouts, boos, catcalls, and chants. One protester in the second session, Matt McCormack, is particularly noticeable; after the first few minutes of the meeting, where he repeatedly shouts phrases like “Look at me! Look at me! You are being used!” he begins a loud conversation on his cell phone, looking up periodically to scream “Liar!” at inappropriate moments, like when questions are being asked. McCormack later stands up, launches a spate of invective towards Dingell, and storms towards the podium, but is intercepted by police and escorted outside. On his blog, McCormack later claims to have been arrested.
Attempts at Confrontation Outside Hall - Savage reports that outside the hall, anti-reform protesters attempt to provoke a physical confrontation with him, apparently in an attempt to create a disturbance for the media. One protester tells the blogger’s son, “Your dad is a coward!” for refusing to argue with him. [Daily Kos, 8/6/2009; Detroit Free Press, 8/6/2009; Huffington Post, 8/10/2009]
Many from Outside District - Almost half of the attendees who sign in to the event put down addresses outside of Dingell’s district. The Huffington Post will note, “In short, the sign-in sheets lend credence to the accusation that the protests are the product of Washington-based ‘Astroturf’ organizations, rather than evidence of a groundswell of popular resistance to health care reform.” [Huffington Post, 8/11/2009]
Refusing Offer to Meet One-on-One, Claims Intimidation - Dingell later offers Sola the chance to meet with him one-on-one to discuss his concerns over his son’s health care coverage, but Sola refuses. Dingell writes: “The offer still stands.… I have served in Congress and I have seen enough in my lifetime to know that the cause before us is too vital, too necessary, and too timely to allow it to fail. I remember many times in my career and in my life when powerful forces tried to stop progress. We cannot let this happen and we cannot allow this opportunity to go by without providing that each and every American has health care. As long as I have a vote, I will not let shouting, intimidation, or misinformation deter me from fighting for this cause.” [US House of Representatives, 8/7/2009] Sola will later tell a Fox News interviewer that one or more “liberal thugs” visit his house later in the evening to attempt to intimidate him. These “thugs” are supporters of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Sola claims, and says that if he experiences a second such visit, he will use “lethal force” to protect his family. [Hispanic Business (.com), 8/10/2009]
Entity Tags: Erick Schneidewind, Chris Savage, Daily Kos, Huffington Post, John Dingell, American Association of Retired Persons, Mike Sola, Obama administration, Marcia Boehm, Matt McCormack
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections
Club for Growth logo. [Source: St. Peterburg Times]The St. Petersburg Times’s “PolitiFact” debunks a recent claim that the Democrats’ health care reform proposal would let citizens die if keeping them alive would cost more than $22,000. The conservative Club for Growth has budgeted $1.2 million for advertisements opposing health care reform. One ad claims, “The health care reform plan would set limits similar to the ‘socialized’ system in Britain, where people are allowed to die if their treatment would cost more than $22,000.” It depicts a man weeping over another person lying in a hospital bed, while a voiceover says: ”$22,750. In England, government health officials decided that’s how much six months of life is worth. Under their socialized system if a medical treatment costs more, you’re out of luck. That’s wrong for America.” While the ad does not directly state that the Obama administration would put such a price tag on the lives of the elderly and dying, as PolitiFact writes: “[T]he implication is clear: The reform plan will lead to callous decisions that would allow people to die if they face a costly treatment.” The ad is based on “comparative effectiveness research,” which aims to find the most effective treatments for the lowest cost. Other conservative groups such as Conservatives for Patients Rights (CPR) have portrayed the Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research (FCCCER), a new board created by the stimulus bill to find the best health treatments, as being modeled after the British system. Unfortunately for the CPR claim, the proposed American system would be nothing like its British counterpart, which is run by government entities. In Britain, a government board, the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), decides whether particular treatments are covered or not. The Democrats’ proposal says that the FCCCER will not “mandate coverage, reimbursement, or other policies for any public or private payer.” Nor will its reports or recommendations “be construed as mandates or clinical guidelines for payment, coverage, or treatment.” PolitiFact notes that several prominent Republicans, such as Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), have made unsubstantiated claims that elderly people would be denied care in favor of younger patients if they were in Britain. Michael Cannon of the libertarian Cato Institute says that while the Club for Growth’s claim about a price limit of $22,750 for extending the life of the patient is not completely inaccurate (it is based on a single unusual case), the Democrats’ legislation does not “say it’s going to do what Britain is doing.” Dr. Sean Tunis, a former top Medicare and Medicaid official in the Bush adminstration, calls the ad “misleading” and “fallacious.” PolitiFact concludes: “[T]he ad’s main point about cost limits is incorrect. There is no such practice in the comparative effectiveness program, nor is it part of the current health reform proposals pending in Congress. The House and Senate bills under consideration would not require the government to decide how much a person’s life is worth.” It terms the ad “False.” [St. Petersburg Times, 8/6/2009]
Entity Tags: Michael Cannon, Charles Grassley, Club for Growth, Conservatives for Patients Rights, Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research, St. Petersburg Times, Sean Tunis, Obama administration, National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections
Protesters bang on the windows of the Children’s Board, demanding to be heard. [Source: WTSP]The raucous and near-riotous behavior of recent town hall and forum meetings about 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 6, 2009, and August 6, 2009) reaches new heights in Ybor City, Florida, just outside Tampa, as a large and disorderly group of anti-reform protesters disrupt a town hall meeting held by Betty Reed (D-FL) and featuring Kathy Castor (D-FL). [Think Progress, 8/6/2009; MyFoxTampaBay, 8/6/2009] The forum, apparently intended to be something of a pep rally for the Obama administration’s health care proposals, was organized by Reed, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and a pro-reform group, Organizing for America. But hundreds of protesters also appear, many affirming that they came at the urging of the Tampa 9/12 conservative activist group, an organization promoted by Fox News host Glenn Beck. Others say they received e-mails from the Hillsborough County Republican Party urging them to speak out against the plan and offering talking points. [St. Petersburg Times, 8/7/2009; Tampa Tribune, 8/7/2009]
Huge Turnout Exacerbates Tensions - Well over 1,000 people appear for the meeting, held at the Children’s Board, a venue that holds a maximum of 250. Local news reporters note that “[t]ensions were high among people who couldn’t get in.” Protesters accuse the forum organizers of barring people who oppose health care reform, but many of the people left outside are reform supporters. The meeting is marred by screams and shouts both outside the venue and in, as well as people banging on windows to be let in. [Think Progress, 8/6/2009; MyFoxTampaBay, 8/6/2009; Fox News, 8/7/2009] Both Reed and Castor are shouted down almost from the moment they begin speaking, and battle spates of shouting, chanting, and a variety of accusations throughout the evening. Castor leaves relatively early, apparently frustrated at being shouted down when she tries to speak; when Castor leaves, she requires an escort to avoid being accosted. [WTSP, 8/7/2009] One of the popular chants is an apparently orchestrated repetition of “Tyranny! Tyranny! Tyranny!” Other chants include: “Tell the truth! Tell the truth!” “Read the bill!” and “Forty million illegals! Forty million illegals!” One reporter will write, “The spectacle… sounded more like a wrestling cage match than a panel discussion on national policy.” [St. Petersburg Times, 8/7/2009]
Verbal, Physical Violence - Outside the hall, a fistfight occurs, with Orlando cameraman Mark Bishop being roughed up. “That’s the most violent anyone has been towards me,” he says. A protester, Randy Arthur, attempts to force his way into the hall, and is instead slammed into a wall by, he claims, union members acting as door guards. (Susan Smith, a member of the Hillsborough County Democratic Party, later says that members of the Young Democrats, not union members, were on the doors.) A photo of him displaying his torn shirt and scratches later makes the rounds of anti-reform Web sites. Arthur says he intends to file charges, though the Tampa police have no such plans, and says he intends to become more involved in Republican and conservative politics as a result of the forum. Inside the hall, Kathy Miracle, who supports reform, is “inadvertently” spat upon by a shouting anti-reform protester, Barry Osteen, sitting beside her, she will later say. She shoves Osteen’s face away, and is photographed doing so, in what some people construe as a slap. Osteen will say: “She didn’t slap me. I almost didn’t even know she was there.” Miracle later says she doesn’t “appreciate being spread all over the Internet.” Supporters and opponents of reform engage in a number of verbal altercations in the parking lot. No arrests are made, even though many ignore police orders, issued through bullhorns, to disperse. Later, a Tampa police spokesman says, “We walk a fine line between freedom of speech and public safety.” [WTSP, 8/7/2009; Tampa Tribune, 8/7/2009; Susan Smith, 8/7/2009; Tampa Tribune, 8/13/2009]
Cameraman Jostled - A protester with a camera, J. Mark Campbell, has his camera knocked out of his hand and his glasses broken during an attempt by protesters to force their way into the hall, and later tells his story to Fox News commentator Sean Hannity. Campbell claims that the event was “set up” by SEIU and Democratic organizers to bring supporters into the front rows and force protesters into the back rows. He also claims that four “thugs” from the “Pipe Fitters Union” not only “bum rush[ed]” the protesters, but then gave him their business cards. Campbell claims that a “28-year-old Democrat… with cancer” was assaulted by union members, but also identifies an adult woman as “his daughter.” “[T]his is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me,” he says. “And I’ve been into jihadist areas. I’ve been dealing with, you know, Muslim extremists. And, you know, this is the most afraid I’ve ever been.” Campbell’s video shows little more than jostling and shoving at the door of the hall; he tells Hannity, “it’s what you don’t see in this video is what’s really telling.” [Fox News, 8/11/2009] Tommy Ates, a diarist on the liberal blog Daily Kos, later identifies Campbell as a member of a group he calls “the far right, libertarian, and ‘islamophobic’ Florida Security Council.” (Campbell directs viewers to the organization’s Web site during the Hannity interview.) Ates also asks some questions about Campbell’s claims: “How did Campbell get the information that the Tampa town hall had been stacked with Pipefitter union members? If the men guarding the door were union men committing assault, why would they give their cards to the man they were assaulting? Why didn’t Campbell file a police report? And (if J. Mark Campbell dealt with terrorists), why didn’t he identify what international media organization he served under? And if he didn’t go overseas, is Mark trying to say he dealt with Middle East domestic terrorists?” [Daily Kos, 8/12/2009]
'Somewhere in All the Screaming, No One Got Heard' - One participant, Largo resident George Guthrie, says of the crowd, “They think they’re exercising their right to free speech, but they’re only exercising their right to disrupt civil discourse.” Andrew Reder, a reform opponent, defends the shouting from himself and his fellows by saying: “There were clearly people who were very, very upset. People are concerned about the direction of the county right now.” But Reder, who is allowed inside during the proceedings, admits that virtually nothing is accomplished in the meeting. “Somewhere in all the screaming, no one got heard,” he says. One protester, who identifies herself as a member of Beck’s 9/12 organization, says of Castor and Reed: “They’re hiding from their constituents. She works for us and needs to listen.” After the meeting, Florida Democratic Party chair Karen Thurman says in a statement: “Throughout the summer, we have been reaching out to Floridians to engage in an important debate on the future our health care system. We have heard story after story from people who are struggling to get the care they need. Recently, their thoughtful discussions are being interrupted by angry mobs—well funded and organized by Washington special interests—attempting to drown out the voices of the hard-working Floridians who are desperate for health insurance reform. These groups are not concerned about Americans’ access to quality heath care, but are extreme ideologues, only interested in ‘breaking’ the president (see July 17-22, 2009) and thwarting the change Americans voted for last November.” [WTSP, 8/7/2009; Tampa Tribune, 8/7/2009] Castor later echoes Thurman’s sentiments, saying: “The insurance industry and… Republican activists are manufacturing a lot of these phony protests.… I do expect some rabble-rousing.” Reed later says she was shocked at the behavior of some of the crowd. “When you get to the point of possible violence, you’ve gone over the edge,” she says. Castor says the protesters who appeared at this and other venues “would have been protesting Medicare.… They would never have accepted Social Security.” But protester Brad Grabill counters, “It’s the backlash to the arrogance of our government that you’re seeing here.” [St. Petersburg Times, 8/7/2009; Tampa Tribune, 8/7/2009] After the meeting, the Tampa 9/12 group posts the following on its Web site: “Be courteous while anyone is speaking, including Castor. We don’t want to sound like an ‘angry mob.’” [Tampa Tribune, 8/7/2009] Smith, the local Democratic Party official, later posts an e-mail she receives concerning the event. The message reads: “WAR IS COMING. YOUR THUG PR_CK B_STARD [apparently President Obama] SHOULD HAVE KEPT HIS F_CKING COMMUNIST MOUTH SHUT.” [Susan Smith, 8/7/2009]
Entity Tags: Andrew Reder, Fox News, Tommy Ates, Service Employees International Union, Barry Osteen, Brad Grabill, Betty Reed, Florida Security Council, Daily Kos, Sean Hannity, Susan Smith, Organizing for America, Randy Arthur, Hillsborough County Democratic Party, George Guthrie, J. Mark Campbell, Karen Thurman, Hillsborough County Republican Party, Kathy Miracle, Obama administration, Kathy Castor, Mark Bishop
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism, 2010 Elections
Sarah Palin holds her youngest child, Trig, for the cameras. [Source: Hollywood Gossip]Former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), the Republican vice presidential candidate in 2008, writes on her Facebook page that the Democrats’ health care reform package would result in a government “death panel” that would kill her baby, Trig. Her child was born with Down Syndrome. Palin writes: “Americans delve into the disturbing details of the nationalized health care plan that the current administration is rushing through Congress, our collective jaw is dropping, and we’re saying not just no, but hell no!… And who will suffer the most when they ration care? The sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course. The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.” Palin also commends Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) for warning the nation about President Obama’s “Orwellian” health care adviser: “Rep. Michele Bachmann highlighted the Orwellian thinking of the president’s health care advisor, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, the brother of the White House chief of staff [Rahm Emanuel], in a floor speech to the House of Representatives. I commend her for being a voice for the most precious members of our society, our children and our seniors.” [TPMDC, 8/7/2009; Time, 8/8/2009]
Inspired by Debunked Claims from Industry Lobbyist - Palin’s warning about government “death panels” is inspired by debunked warnings from industry lobbyist Betsy McCaughey and a variety of Republican lawmakers and conservative talk show hosts about the reform proposals’ implicit agenda to kill older Americans faster (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, and July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009). Politico’s Ben Smith writes: “As nonpartisan sources note, the [proposal] deals with medical practitioners helping individuals prepare living wills, powers of attorney, and the like. It’s a long ways from there to a ‘death panel’ where bureaucrats decide who lives or dies.” [Politico, 8/7/2009]
Countering Palin's Assertions - Progressive MSNBC host Rachel Maddow says of Palin’s assertions: “There is no Obama death panel. There’s no plan to kill old people. There’s no plan to kill off any people who aren’t productive enough. There’s no plan to kill off any of Sarah Palin’s children. And if we were actually talking about health care instead of waddling through this free-floating morass of factless partisan rage and corporate opportunism, it would occur to someone to notice that the provision being considered by Congress that has Sarah Palin ranting about Obama death panels and the death of her own children was introduced by Republican Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia (see August 10, 2009). And it’s not about killing old people. It’s about making it easier for old people to create living wills. A similar provision was introduced by another Republican senator, Susan Collins of Maine. This is a Republican idea.” [MSNBC, 8/10/2009] Days later, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) tells an audience: “It does us no good to incite fear in people by saying that there’s these end-of-life provisions, these death panels. Quite honestly, I’m so offended at that terminology because it absolutely isn’t [in the bill]. There is no reason to gin up fear in the American public by saying things that are not included in the bill.… There are things that are in this bill that are bad enough that we don’t need to be making things up.” [Anchorage Daily News, 8/11/2009]
The influential conservative blog HotAir promotes tea party activist Kenneth Gladney’s tale of being “savagely beaten” by “union thugs” during a recent town hall forum in St. Louis (see August 6-8, 2009 and August 8, 2009). Blogger Ed Morrissey writes of Gladney’s claims: “Pay attention, America. This is a glimpse into the next three years of the Obama administration, at least using the same logic by which the Left accuses health care reform opponents of ‘astroturfing.’ If its policies get organized opposition, especially at events designed to allow for public debate, purple-shirted thugs will appear to crack heads and scare off the opposition. And if nothing else, it’s a great look at how the unions will act once the secret ballot gets eliminated from organizing elections.” [Ed Morrissey, 8/7/2009] HotAir’s Patrick Ishmael posts an update later in the day giving more details about Gladney’s “brutal” “beating.” [Patrick Ishmael, 8/7/2009] Misdemeanor assault charges will be filed against two union members (see Late November, 2009); both will be found innocent of any wrongdoing (see July 12, 2011). The only person injured in the altercation was one of the union members (see Mid-August, 2009), though Gladney falsely claimed to have suffered severe injuries.
Andrew Breitbart. [Source: Media Bistro (.com)]Conservative activist and blogger Andrew Breitbart uses recent allegations by St. Louis tea party activist Kenneth Gladney to attack the Obama administration, the “liberal” media, and others. Gladney claims to have been “savagely beaten” by “union thugs” during a recent town hall forum in St. Louis (see August 6-8, 2009 and August 8, 2009). Gladney is “under fire” from what Breitbart calls “the Democrat-Media Complex (the natural coalition of the Democratic Party and the mainstream media)”; CNN’s Anderson Cooper, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann, and others, Breitbart writes, have “led the charge” in attacking tea party members, who they derisively call “tea baggers,” a term Breitbart says tea party members find offensive. The media, along with many Congressional Democrats, are working in collusion to deride and delegitimize the tea parties, Breitbart says. Breitbart turns to the Gladney incident, saying that Gladney was “viciously attacked” by “Service Employees International Union (SEIU) members,” one of whom called him a “n_gger,” Breitbart alleges. “These union thugs were directed by the White House to go to the protests and ‘punch back twice as hard,’” Breitbart continues, “[a]nd they did.” Only Fox News is reporting the Gladney story, Breitbart claims, while the “liberal media” resolutely ignores it. He concludes: “With the Democratic Party in control of all branches of government and the Fourth Estate acting as the Democratic Party’s protector, the tea party movement is the closest thing America has to checks and balances. If that isn’t enough to motivate you, perhaps showing your solidarity with Kenneth Gladney, a fellow patriot, is.” [Washington Times, 8/10/2009] Misdemeanor assault charges will be filed against two union members (see Late November, 2009); both will be found innocent of any wrongdoing (see July 12, 2011). The only person injured in the altercation was one of the union members (see Mid-August, 2009), though Gladney falsely claimed to have suffered severe injuries.
Congressman John Dingell (D-MI) writes a letter to Michigan resident Mike Sola, who was removed from a riotous health care forum hosted by Dingell days before (see August 6, 2009). Sola had accused Dingell and the Obama administration of wanting to kill his son, afflicted with cerebral palsy, with their health care reform initiative, currently labeled HR 3200: America’s Affordable Health Choices Act. Dingell writes to Sola: “I know you left last week’s health care reform town hall in Romulus without answers to your question about what the bill does to help people with disabilities. I attempted to explain an amendment which was adopted by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, but sadly before I was able to give the details of that amendment, the crowd became disruptive.” Dingell details one element of the House bill, the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act, “which would create a new, voluntary national insurance program for adults who become functionally disabled.… The CLASS Act is widely supported by many disability groups including United Cerebral Palsy, American Association of People with Disabilities, Assisted Living Federation of America, National Council on Aging, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society, and the Catholic Health Association of the United States.… The legislation is based on the principles of independence, choice, and empowerment, and creates a framework to help individuals gain access to the care they need to live independently.… Beyond the CLASS Act amendment, there are other parts of HR 3200 that will guarantee care for your son. First, this bill ends the insurance practice of denying coverage due to a pre-existing condition or charging higher premiums based on health status and gender. If your son ever had to buy insurance on his own, he would be guaranteed coverage. In addition, the bill ends lifetime limits on benefits. With the status quo, no such guarantee exists. Also, HR 3200 will ensure that no one will ever again go bankrupt because of medical bills. The bill ends lifetime limits on benefits, which should bring a particular comfort to all families who have a loved one with a disability because they often need a lot of costly medical care.” Dingell outlines a number of elements of the bill, and concludes: “Finally, your son will have a range of options when it comes to insurance plans. He will be able to keep his current plan, if so desired. No one will force him into any plan against his will.” [US House of Representatives, 8/11/2009]
Entity Tags: National Multiple Sclerosis Society, National Council on Aging, United Cerebral Palsy, Obama administration, Mike Sola, Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society, America’s Affordable Health Choices Act, American Association of People with Disabilities, John Dingell, Assisted Living Federation of America, Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act, US House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Catholic Health Association of the United States
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda
Representative Ginny Brown-Waite (R-FL), who a month ago said that the Obama administration’s ideas on health care reform would send a message to senior citizens to “drop dead,” says that the idea of “death panels” as touted by former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) and others (see July 16, 2009, August 7, 2009, and August 10, 2009), is untrue. Brown-Waite opposes the Democrats’ health care reform in the House because it would cut funds from the Medicare Advantage program, costing some senior citizens more money. Of the so-called “death panels” provision, Brown-Waite notes, “It doesn’t say that they’re going to receive counseling on euthanasia, that’s not what it says.” And, she adds, lawmakers are not considering “some of the gruesome options opponents are slinging around as scare tactics” (see July 24, 2009). “I do not believe that Americans would ever accept end-of-life care advice that included any form of ways to end one’s life.” Some conservative anti-reform protesters now consider Brown-Waite a “Democratic collaborator” for her comments, but she has won praise from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) for exposing Palin’s “death panel” rhetoric as a lie. “She put principle first and laid out the facts,” the AARP notes in a news release. [Ocala Star-Banner, 8/11/2009]
Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA), fresh from a contentious “town hall” meeting on health care reform, holds another such forum in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. Though the Lebanon auditorium seats only 250, over 1,000 show up for the forum. Those who arrive first get in first, and therefore many anti-reform protesters enter the auditorium to grill Specter, while many union members and pro-reformers are left to mill about in the parking lot outside. Many of the protesters come in response to e-mail alerts sent from local and national anti-tax, anti-reform, and “tea party” organizations, along with Specter’s own mailings. The New York Times reports that many protesters repeat slogans and questions recently aired on conservative talk radio shows, though when asked about their propensity to parrot material from such sources, the reporters receive indignant protestations of the protesters’ independence. Many shout that they are not mob members or puppets, though the chants seem orchestrated, and some of the protesters were bused in by the lobbying organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see May 29, 2009). Many of the protesters, according to the Times, are there to protest about issues other than health care. One protester says health care reform is just one aspect of the Obama administration’s plans for “the dismantling of this country,” a line which draws loud applause. “We don’t want this country to turn into Russia.” One local “tea party” organizer, John Stahl, says the issues debated at the forum go well beyond health care. “We believe there are several issues out there that leave the existence of the Republic at risk,” he says, “not the least of which is this Obamacare.” Many want to talk about enforced euthanasia of elderly citizens (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, Shortly Before August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, and August 11, 2009), immigration policy, and other concerns. In an attempt to impose some order on the forum, Specter imposes a rigid format, allowing only the first 30 people who wish to speak to submit cards with their questions. He also stands face-to-face with questioners, and allows them to speak fully before giving answers. The auditorium is patrolled by three uniformed Capitol Police officers from Washington as well as local law enforcement. One protester, Craig Miller, becomes involved with the police when he stands close to Specter and bellows, “You are trampling our Constitution!” The officers move in to restrain him but Specter asks them to give Miller his space and allow him to leave the venue under his own power. Miller refuses to leave, and instead shouts, “One day, God is going to stand before you, and he’s going to judge you!” Specter then informs the rowdy, cheering protesters that anyone who disrupts the proceedings will be removed. [New York Times, 8/11/2009]
Eric Boehlert. [Source: Simon & Schuster]Eric Boehlert, an author and editor of the progressive news watchdog organization Media Matters, writes that, in his eyes, the media is ignoring the biggest “political story of the year”: “the unhinged radical-right response to [President] Obama’s inauguration and the naked attempt to dehumanize and delegitimize him through a nonstop smear campaign,” which he says is sponsored by the Republican Party and its conservative supporters. “The misguided movement breaks all kinds of taboos in American politics,” Boehlert writes, “as well as in the press, and is redefining our political culture—for the worse. Yet the press continues to play dumb.”
Playing the Nazi Card - Boehlert takes as his springboard the relative disinterest the mainstream media shows to the repeated accusations that Obama and/or Congressional Democrats are Nazis, or Nazi sympathizers, or have Nazi-like goals and ideals (see July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 7, 2009, and August 10-11, 2009), as well as the virtually unreported use of Nazi symbols and rhetoric at anti-health care protests (see July 25, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 4, 2009, and August 8, 2009). Boehlert notes that in January 2004, the liberal advocacy organization MoveOn received weeks of negative publicity and media attention when it briefly posted two amateur video clips on its Web site submitted as part of a contest for 30-second Internet advertisements against the policies of the Bush administration. The organization removed the clips within hours and apologized for posting them, but was berated for weeks over the ads. Now, Boehlert notes, Rush Limbaugh and other prominent conservative spokespersons routinely use accusations of Nazism in their rhetorical attacks on Obama and Democrats, with virtually no acknowledgement from the press. Boehlert writes: “Despite the fact that Limbaugh has not apologized for his comments—unlike MoveOn in 2004—and is continuing to compare the Obama White House and the Democratic Party with Nazis, many in the media don’t consider it newsworthy and haven’t condemned it. And more important, journalists don’t show any signs of believing that the episode tells us anything about the radically unhinged nature of the right-wing media in this country today.” Apparently, he writes, most media analysts just consider Limbaugh’s extreme rhetoric a case of “Rush being Rush.” But, he asks, if Limbaugh is going to be considered the de facto leader of conservative thought in America, why isn’t he being challenged on his use of what Boehlert calls “his radical and outrageous rhetoric.… He went to a place that previously was considered unconscionable and unpardonable by the press.… Why isn’t Limbaugh uniformly condemned for his words?”
Accusations of Racism, Racist Pronouncements - And Limbaugh is merely one of many. Fox News commentator Glenn Beck recently accused Obama of being a “racist” and having a “deep-seated hatred of white people” (see July 28-29, 2009), and outside of the small number of progressive/liberal hosts on MSNBC and a few scattered notations in the press, the accusation was virtually ignored. “At the [Washington] Post, which obsesses over the intersection of the media and politics,” Boehlert writes, “the jaw-dropping attack by Fox News’s superstar host wasn’t considered newsworthy. That’s correct: Two of the most popular and powerful conservative voices in America have recently called out Obama as a Nazi and a racist.”
Legitimizing Extremism - Boehlert assigns part of the blame to journalists being “spooked by decades’ worth of ‘liberal media bias’ attacks” that drive them to “refuse to connect the glaringly obvious dots on display.” The extreme rhetorical attacks dovetail with what he calls “the town hall mini-mobs that are wreaking havoc across the country” and “the bizarre birther conspiracy theory” that insists Obama is not a US citizen, but some sort of “plant” from Kenya brought to America to bring down American democracy. “The three right-wing phenomena are all related,” he writes, “and they all revolve around a runaway hatred of Obama (as well as the federal government), and they’re all being fueled by the [conservative media operation], especially Fox News and Limbaugh, both of which no longer recognize common decency, let alone journalistic standards. Yet instead of putting Limbaugh on the receiving end of well-deserved scrutiny and scorn, rather than turning his comments into a political firestorm, the press plays dumb and actually goes out of its way to legitimize the worst offenders of the GOP’s hate brigade.” Boehlert condemns ABC News for inviting conservative blogger and columnist Michelle Malkin to take part in a discussion of health care reform “with Pulitzer Prize-winning writers.” Malkin, he writes, is a prime member of the “hate brigade,” helping push the increasingly angry and violent mob confrontations as well as exhorting readers to believe that the Democrats want to exterminate the elderly (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009, August 7, 2009, and August 10, 2009). The New Yorker recently praised Michael Savage, who routinely attacks women, gays, liberals, and minorities with the worst rhetorical excess (see January 10, 2008, February 1, 2008, February 21, 2008, March 13, 2008, April 3, 2008, June 6, 2008, June 6, 2008, August 25, 2008, October 8-10, 2008, October 21, 2008, October 22, 2008, November 10, 2008, and November 18, 2008), calling him “fun” and “addictive.”
Comparing the Statistics - Boehlert notes that in January 2004, the Indianapolis Star published five letters to the editor about the MoveOn controversy. To date, it has not published a single letter about Limbaugh’s Nazi accusations towards Obama or Democrats. In January 2004, 28 of the nation’s largest newspapers published a total of 54 stories, articles, or letters about the MoveOn controversy. To date, that group has published a combined total of six stories about Limbaugh’s Nazi allegations. No paper has printed more than one story on the topic. In January 2004, the MoveOn-Nazi story garnered 300 percent more airtime on CNN than the Limbaugh-Nazi story has received. [Media Matters, 8/11/2009]
Entity Tags: Indianapolis Star, Glenn Beck, Eric Boehlert, Barack Obama, ABC News, Washington Post, Rush Limbaugh, MoveOn (.org), Obama administration, Michael Savage, Media Matters, MSNBC, Fox News, New Yorker, Republican Party, Michelle Malkin
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2008 Elections, 2010 Elections
Protester William Kostric, bearing his sign and wearing a gun strapped to his leg. [Source: London Daily Mail]President Obama holds a “town hall” meeting in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to discuss health care. Although the audience is allowed to attend on a first-come first-served basis, it is comprised mostly of health care reform supporters. During the event, Obama repeatedly solicits questions from skeptics of his health care plan, telling the audience, “I don’t want people thinking I have a bunch of plants in here.” In his remarks, Obama addresses what he calls some of the “wild misrepresentations that bear no resemblance to what’s in the [reform] bill.” He says for years, patients have been “held hostage” by insurance companies, and adds that “for all the scare tactics out there, what is truly scary” and risky would be the status quo, such as projections that Medicare will be in the red within five years. [ABC News, 8/11/2009; Think Progress, 8/11/2009] Seventy percent of the participants in the town hall were chosen in a random, online lottery, without consideration of political affiliation. The questions Obama answers are not prescreened. [MSNBC, 8/12/2009]
Debunking 'Death Panels' - Obama opens by saying: “I do hope that we will talk with each other and not over each other. Where we do disagree, let’s disagree over things that are real, not these wild misrepresentations that bear no resemblance to anything that’s actually been proposed.… Because the way politics works sometimes is that people who want to keep things the way they are will try to scare the heck out of folks. And they’ll create boogeymen out there that just aren’t real.” [MSNBC, 8/12/2009] Obama notes the claim of so-called “death panels that will pull the plug on Grandma,” directly referring to former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK)‘s recent claim that the Democrats intend to create “death panels” that would decide who lives and dies (see August 7, 2009). Obama responds: “[I]t turns out that this, I guess, rose out of a provision in one of the House bills that allowed Medicare to reimburse people for consultations about end-of-life care,” as well as living wills, hospice care, and the like. The “intention” is to help patients prepare for “end of life on their own terms.” Ironically, Obama adds, one of the chief sponsors of this idea is a Republican, Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA), who “sensibly thought this would expand people’s options.” (Isakson takes issue with being identified as a sponsor of “end-of-life” counseling—see August 11, 2009). Obama says that beneath the false claims of “death panels” exists a real concern: “if we are reforming the health system to make it more efficient that somehow that will mean rationing of care.” He gives an example of such a concern: “some bureaucrat” saying “You can’t have this test, you can’t have this procedure” because “some bean counter” says so. This will not be the case, Obama says. The reform package would ensure that doctors and patients, not bureaucrats, make such decisions. He notes that insurance company bureaucrats “right now are rationing care.… So why is it that people would prefer having insurance companies making those decisions rather than medical experts and doctors figuring out what are good deals for care?” Obama tells his listeners: “I want to be very clear” about the “underlying fear that people won’t get the care they need. You will have the care you need, but also care that is being denied to you right now—that is what we are fighting for.” [ABC News, 8/11/2009; Think Progress, 8/11/2009]
Countering Claims of 'Enemies List' - Obama also counters recent claims that the White House is attempting to compile a list of “enemies” in asking that emails containing “fishy” health care information be forwarded to it. “Can I just say this is another example of how the media just ends up completely distorting what’s taking place?” he says. “What we’ve said is that if somebody has—if you get an email from somebody that says, for example, ‘ObamaCare is creating a death panel,’ forward us the email and we will answer the question that is being raised in the email. Suddenly, on some of these news outlets, this is being portrayed as Obama collecting an enemies list. Now, come on guys, here I am trying to be responsive to questions that are being raised out there—and I just want to be clear that all we’re trying to do is answer questions.” In recent days, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) claimed that the White House “want[s] information on opponents of its health care plan.” [Think Progress, 8/11/2009]
Advocating Violence outside the Venue - Outside the venue, a man, William Kostric, stands in the crowd with a gun strapped to his leg. Under New Hampshire law, he is within his rights to openly carry a handgun. He carries a sign that reads, “It is time to water the tree of liberty.” MSNBC host Rachel Maddow notes: “It’s a reference, of course, to Thomas Jefferson’s famous words, ‘The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.’ For perspective on the implication of Jefferson’s words in this context being quoted by the guy with the gun at the event as which the president was speaking, when Timothy McVeigh was arrested 90 minutes after the Oklahoma City bombing, he was wearing a t-shirt with that slogan and a picture of Abraham Lincoln on the front and a tree dripping with blood in the back” (see 9:03 a.m. -- 10:17 a.m. April 19, 1995). Maddow later notes that McVeigh’s shirt bore the words “Sic Semper Tyrannis”—“thus always to tyrants”—the words shouted by Lincoln’s assassin after firing the fatal shot. Another anti-reform protester, Richard Terry Young, is arrested by security officials after sneaking inside the building hours before Obama arrives. He is carrying a knife on his person and a .38 caliber semi-automatic pistol in his truck with a round in the chamber. A number of anti-reform protesters from the New Hampshire Republican Volunteer Coalition also stage a protest outside the event. One advocates murdering all undocumented immigrants: “Why are we bankrupting this country for 21 million illegals who should be sent on the first bus one way back from wherever they come from? We don’t need illegals. Send them home once. Send them home with a bullet in their head the second time. Read what Jefferson said about the Tree of Liberty—it’s coming, baby.” [Think Progress, 8/11/2009; MSNBC, 8/12/2009; MSNBC, 8/13/2009]
Entity Tags: William Kostric, Rachel Maddow, Medicare, New Hampshire Republican Volunteer Coalition, Barack Obama, John Cornyn, Johnny Isakson, Obama administration, Richard Terry Young
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism, 2010 Elections
Representative Paul Broun (R-GA) holds a “town hall” forum to discuss the Democrats’ health care reform efforts in the North Georgia Technical College auditorium. The audience is primarily white, elderly, and supportive of Broun’s opposition to reform. He begins by displaying three white binders to the audience and declaring: “Folks, this is Obamacare. Let me start this by telling you what I think of this bill and Obamacare.” He then raises the binders over his head and slams them to the ground. “This is a stinking, rotten fish, and they don’t want you to smell it, and they want to shove it down your throat and make you eat it before you smell how rotten and stinky it is,” he says, and promises to vote against the reform bill no matter how it is changed. Broun has made headlines by claiming the health care reform proposal “is gonna kill people” (see July 10, 2009) and comparing President Obama to Adolf Hitler. During the forum, he calls Latin American socialist leaders Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez Obama’s “good buddy” (sic).
Reform an Excuse for Martial Law - Going even farther, Broun claims that a “socialist elite” made up of Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) intends to use a pandemic disease or natural disaster as an excuse to declare martial law. “They’re trying to develop an environment where they can take over,” he says. “We’ve seen that historically.”
Killing Old People - Broun feeds into his elderly audience’s concerns over the debunked claims that the reform proposal would lead to the euthanization or untimely death of American seniors (see July 23, 2009 and July 23, 2009). Obama “is going to let the old folks die, and I don’t like that at all,” one audience member says. Broun agrees, telling the audience that younger citizens would get preferential treatment over elderly patients. “Eventually, mama will be lying in bed until she gets pneumonia and dies,” he says. Citing a study by the Lewin Group, which has not only been debunked but shown to have been propagated by health insurance company UnitedHealth (see July 27, 2009), Broun tells his audience that under the reform bill, 114 million Americans will be forced off their employers’ insurance plans and onto a competing government-run plan because small businesses will not be able to pay for the mandated insurance. The reform proposal will lead to a government-only “single payer” system, he asserts. “They want to take away your insurance and dictate what kind of health care you’re going to get,” he warns. Furthermore, the government will end Medicare and other federal health care programs.
Broun's Alternative: 'Letting the Market Work' - Broun says his Republicans have an alternative: allowing groups of citizens to form private insurer groups and thusly enjoy group rates and other cost reductions. His other ideas include expanding Medicare’s stable of private providers, strictly capping malpractice lawsuits, making health care expenses tax-deductible, and relaxing some state insurers’ restrictions on pre-existing conditions. “We can lower the cost of health care markedly by giving people more options and letting the market work,” he says.
Supportive Crowd - The crowd is almost uniformly made up of Broun supporters, but one woman attempts to ask a question about covering the uninsured while Broun is speaking. Uniformed deputies remove her from the auditorium for a time before allowing her to return. When she asks another question during the question-and-answer period, audience menbers demand that the facilitators “cut her mic.” Broun conducts two sessions, the first containing some 400 participants and the second 150. The auditorium seats 250. [Think Progress, 8/12/2009; Atlanta Banner-Herald, 8/12/2009]
11-year-old Julia Hall asking her question during the Portsmouth town hall. [Source: Puma By Design (.com)]Conservatives attack an 11-year old girl who asks President Obama a question at a “town hall” rally held in New Hampshire (see August 11, 2009). Julia Hall, a sixth-grader from Malden, Massachusetts, asks: “As I was walking in, I saw a lot of signs outside saying mean things about reforming health care. How do kids know what is true, and why do people want a new system that can—that help more of us?” Obama gives a long response about the false rumors surrounding health care reform, including the debunked idea of “death panels” (see August 7, 2009). In their own responses, conservative pundits attack Hall for being an “Obama plant.” Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh tells his listeners that the entire town hall was “a stacked deck. That thing in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, was totally phony. The little girl that asked a question is the daughter of a huge Obama supporter.” One blogger makes the unsubstantiated claim that he could see a “mysterious” woman mouthing the girl’s question as she spoke, and shows a video of a woman saying something during Hall’s question, though it is unclear exactly what she is saying or whether she is speaking to the girl. Hall’s mother, Kathleen Manning Hall, later tells a Boston reporter that she had her daughter write down her question beforehand, and was “shocked” that her daughter had decided to try to ask a question of Obama. A Boston blogger notes, correctly, that Manning Hall is an Obama supporter, and adds that the White House said “that audience members are selected randomly.” Conservative author and pundit Michelle Malkin claims that Manning Hall “has donated thousands of dollars to Obama, as has her law firm,” and adds: “Now, look for Dems to play the kiddie human shield card to the hilt. Anyone who mentions Hall’s political pedigree will be attacked as a vicious meanie stalker.” The Washington Times adds its own criticism, misidentifying the girl’s age as 13 and stating, “It’s a sad commentary on the health care debate that the president has to resort to this kind of stunt to attempt to insulate his plan from criticism.” Hall herself later says she was thrilled to have been part of the debate, saying, “It was like a once in a lifetime experience.” She says she would like to “work in politics” when she gets older. [Raw Story, 8/12/2009]
US Brigadier General Walter Givhan says that the US military is looking to eventually equip Afghanistan’s air corps with unmanned aircraft, otherwise known as “drones,” for surveillance missions. Givhan, who is working to train and arm Afghanistan’s air force, says that although the US military is not presently seeking to arm the corps with drones, they are likely to be supplied in the future. “I think it fits into that category of things that, as we continue to develop and we get the basics down, that we look at adding to their portfolio,” Givhan says. [Agence France-Presse, 8/12/2009] Givhan explains to Agence France-Presse that the US military wants to give Afghanistan’s air force the capability to carry out reconnaissance and surveillance missions, which would initially be carried out with manned aircraft, but because Afghanistan also needs to deploy manned aircraft for moving troops and supplies, the Afghan military will eventually need to have the unmanned (drone) option. The plan to revive the country’s air force is part of a wider US-led effort to train and equip the Afghan National Security Forces. The Afghan Army’s air corps currently has 36 aircraft and 2,700 airmen, but Washington’s goal is to increase the fleet to 139 aircraft with 7,250 airmen by 2016, according to Givhan. [Agence France-Presse, 8/12/2009]
Extrajudicial Killing and High Civilian Casualties - The US has used drones extensively in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, not only for surveillance, but also for targeted missile attacks that have killed civilians and militant leaders alike, earning the widely unpopular weapon strong criticism as a legally dubious instrument of extrajudicial killing. [CBS News, 7/21/2009] A Brookings report, citing analysis by journalists Peter Bergen, Katherine Tiedemann, and Pakistani terrorism expert Amir Mir, estimates that drones may have killed 10 civilians for every militant killed in Pakistan. [New Republic, 6/3/2009; Brookings, 7/14/2009] Counter-insurgency expert David Kilcullen has cited even more alarming statistics. In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, he said that 98 civilians are killed for every two targeted individuals. [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 1/6/2009]
Senator Grassley’s signature on the flyleaf of the book ‘Glenn Beck’s Common Sense.’ [Source: Think Progress (.org)]Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), one of the Republicans whom the Obama administration is looking to for help in making the health care reform legislation a bipartisan effort, tells a “town hall” audience that it should be frightened of the legislation because it will allow the government to “pull the plug on Grandma.” To a crowd of some 300 listeners in Winterset, Iowa, Grassley says: “In the House bill, there is counseling for end of life. You have every right to fear. You shouldn’t have counseling at the end of life, you should have done that 20 years before. Should not have a government-run plan to decide when to pull the plug on Grandma.” Grassley is echoing “deather” claims that the reform package will give the government power to pressure doctors to prematurely force elderly or terminally ill patients to die in order to save money (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 10, 2009, Shortly Before August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 11, 2009, and August 12, 2009), an idea former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) dubbed “death panels” (see August 7, 2009). Grassley’s fellow Republican, Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA), who helped write that portion of the House bill, has called the idea “nuts” (see August 10, 2009). After the event, state senator Joe Bolkom (D-Iowa City) calls on Grassley to repudiate those who spread lies and disinformation about health care reform. Bolkom notes that a measure similar to that in the House bill has already been passed in Iowa by “large bipartisan majorities.” Grassley has previously said that terminally ill Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), dying of brain cancer, would not receive care for his illness under the Democrats’ reform proposal because care would be preferentially given to younger patients who can “contribute more to the economy” (see August 5, 2009). Grassley’s town hall, unlike many others (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, August 6-8, 2009, August 8, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, and August 11, 2009), remains calm and peaceful. [Think Progress, 8/12/2009; Iowa Independent, 8/12/2009] During the event, Grassley hands a reporter a copy of conservative Fox News host Glenn Beck’s book Glenn Beck’s Common Sense, after autographing it for him. Grassley tells the recipient, “it’s something you gotta read a couple times.” [Think Progress, 8/14/2009] Beck has claimed that the Democrats’ health care reform package constitutes Nazi-like “eugenics” (see May 13, 2009 and August 11, 2009), has used his “9-12” organization to coordinate confrontational and violent protests at Congressional town halls (see June 30, 2009, August 6, 2009, and August 10, 2009), and has said that he believes in so-called “death panels” (see August 10, 2009).
Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, a senior health care adviser in the Obama administration, rebuts claims that he is a “deadly doctor” who advocates wholesale euthanasia for America’s senior citizens (see July 23-24, 2009, July 28, 2009, and August 7, 2009). Emanuel, a medical ethicist, does not own a television or have an Internet connection and so remained unaware of the accusations about his medical beliefs for weeks. “I couldn’t believe this was happening to me,” he says. Both Emanuel and Time reporter Michael Scherer point out that Emanuel has worked throughout his career to oppose euthanasia and increase care for dying patients. “It is incredible how much one’s reputation can be besmirched and taken out of context,” Emanuel says. Scherer notes that the New York Post op-ed by Betsy McCaughey (see July 23-24, 2009) used “selective and misleading quotes from Emanuel’s 200 or so published academic papers,” and soon “went viral” on the Internet and among conservative opponents of health care reform. Scherer writes: “The attacks on Emanuel are a reminder that there is a narrow slice of Americans who not only don’t trust government, but also have come to regard it as a dark conspirator in their lives. This peculiar brand of distrust helps create the conditions for fast-moving fear-mongering, especially on complex and emotionally charged topics like the life and death of the elderly and infirm.” Scherer notes that throughout his career, Emanuel has wrestled with the ethics of medical care, often wading into horrific hypothetical situations such as how to choose who gets a single kidney if there are three dying patients in need of it and no way to procure two others. “No one who has read what I have done for 25 years would come to the conclusions that have been put out there,” says Emanuel. [Time, 8/12/2009]
President Obama appears at a “town hall” forum in Belgrade, Montana, where he promises to protect US citizens against health care insurers, and says those without health care insurance will benefit from his plans to reform the health care system. Unlike many other town halls (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, August 6-8, 2009, August 8, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, and August 11, 2009), no one heckles or attempts to shout down Obama during his speech and the subsequent question-and-answer period. Around 1,300 audience members take part in the rally, held at an airplane hanger; only two questioners ask anything remotely confrontational. Later, White House officials confirm that they had hoped Obama would get the chance to answer some difficult questions. One questioner accuses Obama of planning to raise taxes to pay for the reforms, and another says he is guilty of “vilifying” insurance companies. Obama gives detailed answers to both questioners, promising not to tax the middle class for his reforms, and saying that although some insurance companies have been “constructive,” others have fought against “any kind of reform proposals.” John Weaver, who helped Republican presidential candidate John McCain (R-AZ) organize often-confrontational town hall meetings, says Obama would do well to face more criticism. “He needs a confrontation to end some of this information,” Weaver says of the raft of false accusations and allegations surrounding the debate. “We don’t know if that’s his strength. But that’s his opportunity right now. If he really wants to turn the tide of the debate, he has to engage.” White House officials say that they are not attempting to “stack” the president’s crowds with supporters. [Washington Post, 8/15/2009]
Representative Steve Buyer (R-IN), the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, issues a press release claiming that the proposed health care reform legislation would hurt veterans’ health care. In his statement, Buyer says, “The current Democrat bill harms veterans.” He claims that under the legislation some veterans would be subjected to “penalty” taxes for failing to have “acceptable” health coverage. The White House Director of Veterans and Wounded Warrior Policy, Matt Flavin, himself a veteran of Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, quickly counters with a statement contradicting Buyer’s claims: “I’m here to tell you quite simply that if you are eligible for VA [Veterans Adminstration] health care, you will remain eligible. There is no impact on VA health care. So veterans, please be comforted in the fact that your health care will not change under health reform efforts. There is no effect.” Representative Joe Sestak (D-PA), a former Navy rear admiral, confirms Flavin’s rebuttal, and goes further, noting that the Obama administration’s budget restores VA care for some 500,000 veterans kicked out of the system during the Bush administration. “President Obama’s budget is going to also restore what we call the Priority 8 veterans to the VA system,” he says. “Back in 2003, the Bush administration kicked out over 265,000 veterans out of the Veterans Administration who happened to earn a bit over $34,000 for a family of two. Now, it’s 500,000 that are denied. And President Obama’s budget in the next four years brings them all back in. Not only does it preserve the system for our veterans, it enhances the system for our veterans.” Sestak adds: “I can absolutely confirm and the exact words are that the VA healthcare plan meets the minimal, acceptable requirements, which means it’s exempt from that 2.5 percent tax that they’re talking about. It states it just like that.” [US House of Representatives, 8/14/2009; MSNBC, 8/17/2009]
Dick Armey (R-TX), the former House Majority Leader who now heads the conservative lobbying firm FreedomWorks, predicts that the Obama administration will try to counter the “grassroots” protests with what he calls a “fear campaign” designed to frighten wavering lawmakers, whom he terms “bed-wetters.” The administration will use false claims of a “swine flu” epidemic in its efforts, Armey says in an interview with the Financial Times: “In September or October there will be a hyped-up outbreak of the swine flu which they’ll say is as bad as the bubonic plague to scare the bed-wetters to vote for health care reform. That is the only way they can push something on to the American people that the American people don’t want.” FreedomWorks reprints the original article, published in London’s Financial Times, on its Web site. [Financial Times, 8/17/2009]
Representative Wally Herger (R-CA) praises a constituent who describes himself as a “right-wing terrorist,” and tells listeners, “Our democracy has never been threatened as much as it is today” by the Obama administration’s policies. Herger holds a “town hall” meeting to discuss health care reform in Redding, California. The audience is largely made up of reform opponents who cheer when Herger calls the “public option” an “unacceptable” provision of reform. A local reporter writes, “Although Herger called several times for the audience to ‘respect each other’s opinions,’ those opposed to President Obama’s health care were greeted with cheers while the few in favor were interrupted with catcalls.” Two audience members are escorted out by police officers during the event, after arguing over the health care plan. One audience member says, “I am a proud right wing terrorist”; the audience largely cheers his declaration, and Herger beams: “Amen, God bless you. There is a great American.” Most of the audience members who ask questions denounce health care reform as a “socialist” idea. [Mount Shasta Herald, 8/21/2009; Think Progress, 8/22/2009; Daily Kos, 8/26/2009]
Charles Grassley (R-IA), a Republican senator considered a key element in the Obama administration’s push for bipartisan health care reform, says that the recent outpouring of anger and resistance at “town hall” forums has “fundamentally altered the nature of the debate and convinced him that lawmakers should consider drastically scaling back the scope of the effort.” Grassley says he believes the public is strongly against the Democrats’ ideas for health care reform, and considers the ideas a run-up to what he calls “a government takeover of health care.” Grassley is a member of the so-called “Gang of Six,” a group of three Republican and three conservative Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee primarily responsible for writing the committee’s reform proposal. In recent days, some Democrats have accused him of attempting to suborn any bipartisanship in the process by his advocacy of “death panels” (see August 12, 2009) and his misleading use of Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA)‘s terminal illness (see August 5, 2009) in his arguments against reform.
Obama Should Prove Commitment to Bipartisanship by Abandoning Public Option - Grassley says that if President Obama is serious about a bipartisan approach to reform, he should abandon his support for the so-called “public option” entirely. Such a statement, he says, is “pretty important… if you’re really interested in a bipartisan bill.” Grassley also says that a reform bill would not be truly bipartisan unless it received far more than a 51-vote majority, or even a 60-vote “supermajority,” enough votes to defeat a filibuster attempt. “It’s not about getting a lot of Republicans. It’s about getting a lot of Democrats and Republicans,” he says. “We ought to be focusing on getting 80 votes.” [Washington Post, 8/20/2009] Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent contrasts Grassley’s contentious position with the more accomodating overtures from the White House. He writes: “Grassley knows the White House is under tremendous pressure to contain a revolt on the left over the public option. It’s hard to imagine any reason for demanding Obama renounce the public option right now, before there’s even a bill out of the finance committee, other than to make life politically difficult for the president. How does that compare with the White House’s treatment of Grassley? When the Senator endorsed the ‘death panel’ claim, the White House reaffirmed its commitment to working with him. Dems quietly let Grassley claim a big victory by dropping the public option from the Senate bill he’s negotiating. And when Rahm Emanuel questioned the sincerity of GOP leaders yesterday, an apparent shot at Grassley, the White House rapidly walked it back. Grassley, meanwhile, has now raised the bar yet again for what will constitute true bipartisanship on the White House’s part. Pretty telling.” [Plum Line, 8/20/2009]
Bipartisanship Not Universally Desired - Other Republicans are less interested in bipartisanship. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) blames Obama for the increasingly strident tone of the debate, and accuses Obama officials of “reject[ing] our efforts to work together.” Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), considered a likely 2012 candidate for president, says flatly: “The Republicans should kill the bill. It’s a bad idea.” House Member James Clyburn (D-SC) says Democrats might do well to abandon any idea of bipartisanship and work on a bill without Republican input, especially since it is unlikely that Republicans will vote for any reform bill at all. But Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, says he remains committed to the idea of bipartisanship. [Washington Post, 8/20/2009]
Xe logo. Xe is the name for the firm that previously called itself Blackwater USA and later Blackwater Worldwide. [Source: Public domain]Both the New York Times and Washington Post report that in 2004, the CIA hired outside contractors from Blackwater USA, a private security firm, to take part in a secret program to find and kill top al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere (see 2004). Both stories highlight the fact that a program to assassinate or capture al-Qaeda leaders that began around September 2001 (see Shortly After September 17, 2001) was terminated and then revived and outsourced to Blackwater in 2004 (see 2004 and (2005-2006)). CIA Director Leon Panetta alerted Congress to the secret program in June 2009 (see June 24, 2009), but the public is just now learning of its existence. Government officials say that bringing contractors into a program that has the authority to kill raises serious concerns about accountability in covert operations. Blackwater’s role in the program ended years before Panetta took over the agency, but senior CIA officials have long questioned the propriety and the wisdom of using outside contractors—in essence, mercenaries—in a targeted killing program. [New York Times, 8/20/2009; New York Times, 8/20/2009; Washington Post, 8/20/2009] A retired intelligence officer described as “intimately familiar with the assassination program” says, “Outsourcing gave the agency more protection in case something went wrong.” [Nation, 8/20/2009] The assassination program is just one of a number of contracted services Blackwater provided for the CIA, and may still provide, including guarding CIA prisons and loading missiles on Predator drones. The agency “has always used contractors,” says a former CIA official familiar with the Predator operations. “You have to be an explosives expert,” and the CIA has never sought to use its own personnel for the highly specialized task. “We didn’t care who put on the munitions as long as it wasn’t CIA case officers.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/21/2009]
No Laws Broken? - Former CIA general counsel Jeffrey Smith says that Blackwater may not have broken any laws even by attempting to assassinate foreign nationals on the CIA’s orders. “The use of force has been traditionally thought of as inherently governmental,” he says. “The use of a contractor actually employing lethal force is clearly troublesome, but I’m not sure it’s necessarily illegal.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/21/2009]
Mixed Reactions from Congress - Some Congressional Democrats say that the secret assassination program is just one of many secret programs conducted by the Bush administration, and have called for more intensive investigations into Bush-era counterterrorism activities. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) says: “I have believed for a long time that the intelligence community is over-reliant on contractors to carry out its work. This is especially a problem when contractors are used to carry out activities that are inherently governmental.” Conversely, some Congressional Republicans are critical of Panetta’s decision to terminate the program, with Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, accusing Panetta of indulging in too much “drama and intrigue than was warranted.” Officials say that the program was conceived as an alternative to the CIA’s primary assassination method of missile strikes using drone aircraft, which have killed many innocent civilians and cannot be used in heavily populated urban areas. [New York Times, 8/20/2009; Los Angeles Times, 8/21/2009] Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, says that she cannot confirm or deny that Congress was informed of Blackwater’s involvement in the program before the New York Times broke the story. However, she notes: “What we know now, if this is true, is that Blackwater was part of the highest level, the innermost circle strategizing and exercising strategy within the Bush administration. [Blackwater CEO] Erik Prince operated at the highest and most secret level of the government. Clearly Prince was more trusted than the US Congress because Vice President Cheney made the decision not to brief Congress. This shows that there was absolutely no space whatsoever between the Bush administration and Blackwater.” Schakowsky says the House Intelligence Committee is investigating the CIA assassination program and will probe alleged links to Blackwater. Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern says: “The presidential memos (often referred to as ‘findings’) authorizing covert action like the lethal activities of the CIA and Blackwater have not yet surfaced. They will, in due course, if knowledgeable sources continue to put the Constitution and courage above secrecy oaths.” [Nation, 8/20/2009]
Blackwater Employs Many Former CIA Officials - Author and reporter Jeremy Scahill notes that many former Bush-era CIA officials now work at Blackwater, including former CIA executive director Alvin “Buzzy” Krongard; former CIA counterterrorism chief J. Cofer Black, who now operates Prince’s private intelligence company, Total Intelligence Solutions (TIS); the CEO of TIS, Robert Richer, the former associate deputy director of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations and second-ranking official in charge of clandestine operations; and Enrique “Ric” Prado, a former senior executive officer in the Directorate of Operations. [Nation, 8/20/2009]
Loss of Control, Deniability - Former CIA field agent Jack Rice, who worked on covert paramilitary operations for the agency, says, “What the agency was doing with Blackwater scares the hell out of me.” He explains: “When the agency actually cedes all oversight and power to a private organization, an organization like Blackwater, most importantly they lose control and don’t understand what’s going on. That makes it even worse is that you then can turn around and have deniability. They can say, ‘It wasn’t us, we weren’t the ones making the decisions.’ That’s the best of both worlds. It’s analogous to what we hear about torture that was being done in the name of Americans, when we simply handed somebody over to the Syrians or the Egyptians or others and then we turn around and say, ‘We’re not torturing people.’” [Nation, 8/20/2009]
Negative Publicity Led to Name Change, Prohibition from Operating in Iraq - Blackwater has since changed its name to Xe Services, in part because of a raft of negative publicity it has garnered surrounding allegations of its employees murdering Iraqi civilians; Iraq has denied the firm a license to operate within its borders. [New York Times, 8/20/2009] However, Blackwater continues to operate in both Iraq and Afghanistan, where it has contracts with the State Department and Defense Department. The CIA refuses to acknowledge whether it still contracts with Blackwater. [Nation, 8/20/2009]
Entity Tags: Obama administration, Total Intelligence Solutions, New York Times, Paul Gimigliano, Peter Hoekstra, Robert Richer, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of State, US Department of Defense, Leon Panetta, Ray McGovern, Jeremy Scahill, Senate Intelligence Committee, Jan Schakowsky, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Blackwater USA, A.B. (“Buzzy”) Krongard, Cofer Black, Enrique (“Ric”) Prado, Dianne Feinstein, Jack Rice, Erik Prince, Jeffrey H. Smith, House Intelligence Committee
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
According to ABC News, the Justice Department’s release of a 2004 report by the CIA’s inspector general (see May 7, 2004 and August 24, 2009) is preceded by a “profanity-laced screaming match” between CIA Director Leon Panetta and White House officials. This apparently produces disquiet among White House officials regarding Panetta. According to ABC News, some White House officials are “worrying about the direction of its newly-appoint[ed] intelligence team.” Some reports say that Panetta has already threatened to resign once, and White House officials are discussing “a possible shake-up of top national security officials.” According to one unnamed “senior adviser to [President] Obama on intelligence matters,” “You can expect a larger than normal turnover in the next year.” And another former senior intelligence official predicts, “Leon will be leaving.” But a White House spokesman, Denis McDonough, says the reports of Panetta’s threatened resignation and a potential “shake-up” of top intelligence and national security officials are “inaccurate.” Both Panetta and CIA spokesman George Little say reports of his threatened resignation are “absolutely untrue”; the spokesman says of the alleged tirade that Panetta is known to use “salty language.” Former counterterrorism specialist and current ABC News consultant Richard Clarke says: “It would be a shame if such as talented a Washington hand as Panetta were to leave after one year. It takes that long for any senior bureaucrat to begin to understand what needs to get done and how to do it. The CIA needs some stability.” [ABC News, 8/24/2009] Newsweek’s Mark Hosenball says that Panetta has been sending mixed messages. “Panetta had been kind of ambiguous, at least in terms of his public statements and even his private messages, as to whether he’s strongly opposed to release of documents like this or not,” he says. “Some cases it’s looked like he’s been in favor of releasing documents like this; in other cases, it’s looked like he’s been against it. I think he’s trying to straddle the issue here. I mean, certainly, previous CIA directors like General Mike Hayden and George Tenet have strongly expressed the view that this stuff shouldn’t have been released. Panetta hasn’t been quite as strong in saying that publicly, anyway.” [PBS, 8/24/2009]
The cover of the VA booklet ‘Your Life, Your Choices.’ The cover text reads: ‘Planning for Future Medical Decisions’ and ‘How to Prepare a Personalized Living Will.’ [Source: American Veteran Magazine]Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace tells his viewers that the Veterans Administration (VA) has a secret “death book” that urges veterans to “pull the plug” and commit suicide. The 51-page booklet is called “Your Life, Your Choices,” and, Wallace says, was pulled for rewriting and reissuance in 2007, yet the VA under President Obama is still using it. In his Fox News blog, Wallace writes: “What makes the book controversial is that—according to critics—it seems to push veterans in the direction of ‘pulling the plug.’ For instance—page 21 is a worksheet in which the veteran is asked to consider various situations and then check—whether in each case, life would be ‘difficult, but acceptable’—‘worth living, but just barely’—or ‘not worth living.’ You might think that the scenarios would involve irreversible comas and the like. But no—they include: ‘I can no longer walk but get around in a wheelchair’—‘I live in a nursing home’—‘I am a severe financial burden on my family’—and ‘I cannot seem to “shake the blues”’.” Wallace’s guest, Wall Street Journal columnist James Towey, whom Wallace describes as helping to “end use of the book under President Bush, and was shocked to see it has now been reinstated,” tells viewers that the message of the book is simple: “hurry up and die.” (Wallace notes that he learned of the VA’s “death book” from Towey’s August 18 Journal column.) And, Wallace writes, quoting Towey, “he says—when government can steer vulnerable individuals to conclude that life is not worth living—‘who needs death panels?’” Wallace briefly notes that he also interviewed VA’s Assistant Secretary, Tammy Duckworth, who noted that the book is “just one of many reference tools the VA makes available—and that it is currently being revised.” [Veterans Administration, 1997 ; Wall Street Journal, 8/18/2009; Fox News, 8/23/2009]
Debunking the Claim - The story of the “death book” is quickly debunked. Richard Allen Smith of the veterans’ organization VetVoice notes that the VA booklet is actually aimed at helping veterans choose not to commit suicide, and provides them with methods and resources to battle depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other conditions which lead veterans to consider prematurely ending their lives. [Richard Allen Smith, 8/23/2009] Progressive media watchdog Web site Media Matters notes that the claim that the Bush administration “rescinded” the booklet in 2007 is false. While it was reviewed in 2007, the Bush administration actively promoted the use of the booklet throughout its tenure; an online document on the VA’s Web site labeled “Reviewed/Updated Date: December 29, 2008,” states, “To learn about a living will, read ‘Your Life, Your Choices.’” Wallace’s claim that the VA mandates all veterans receive the booklet is also false; it is considered an optional reference, not mandatory. [Media Matters, 8/24/2009]
Hidden Agenda? - Smith notes that Towey may have another reason for opposing the VA booklet. In 1996, Towey founded an organization called “Aging with Dignity.” In 1997, the organization released a 12-page pamphlet, “Five Wishes,” that it says does the same job as the VA’s booklet. It gives the ailing veteran a list of five questions that, it claims, when answered will guide your life decisions. For years, Towey has been trying to get the VA to stop distributing its own booklet and instead buy “Five Choices” to use with its veterans. In 2007, Towey did help force the VA to reassess and revise its booklet after complaining that it was biased against the anti-abortion viewpoint. Smith writes bluntly: “Astonishing. Jim Towey is one sick mother f_cker to argue that veterans should be presented with LESS information, not MORE, when it comes to making a living will, all so he can make a profit from peddling his end-of-life pamphlet that is shorter than the books my two-and-a-half-year-old reads.” [Huffington Post, 8/22/2009; Richard Allen Smith, 8/23/2009]
Claim Spread by Conservative Media - Even before Wallace’s August 23 broadcast, some conservative media outlets, having read Towey’s August 18 Wall Street Journal editorial, began spreading the story of the VA’s “death book.” The National Review printed editorials denouncing the booklet, and Fox News host Sean Hannity called it “the equivalent of a death panel.” Former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) used her Facebook blog to accuse the VA of “encourag[ing] veterans to forego care as they make end-of-life decisions.” And radio host Rush Limbaugh told his listeners: “This thing is obsessed with death. It’s obsessed with you deciding—or with some—maybe some influence—that your life isn’t worth living. It’s—there’s nothing positive in this.” [Media Matters, 8/24/2009]
Entity Tags: Chris Wallace, Media Matters, National Review, James Towey, Fox News, Obama administration, Bush administration (43), Tammy Duckworth, Richard Allen Smith, Rush Limbaugh, US Veterans Administration, Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity
Timeline Tags: US Health Care
Former Vice President Dick Cheney releases a statement that asserts the just-released CIA inspector general’s report (see August 24, 2009) proves that torture, which he refers to as “enhanced interrogation techniques,” works, and follows up with an attack on the Obama administration’s commitment to protecting the nation. Cheney writes: “The documents released Monday clearly demonstrate that the individuals subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques provided the bulk of intelligence we gained about al-Qaeda. This intelligence saved lives and prevented terrorist attacks. These detainees also, according to the documents, played a role in nearly every capture of al-Qaeda members and associates since 2002. The activities of the CIA in carrying out the policies of the Bush administration were directly responsible for defeating all efforts by al-Qaeda to launch further mass casualty attacks against the United States. The people involved deserve our gratitude. They do not deserve to be the targets of political investigations or prosecutions. President Obama’s decision to allow the Justice Department to investigate and possibly prosecute CIA personnel (see First Half of August 2009), and his decision to remove authority for interrogation from the CIA to the White House (see August 24, 2009), serves as a reminder, if any were needed, of why so many Americans have doubts about this administration’s ability to be responsible for our nation’s security.” [Weekly Standard, 8/24/2009; Washington Independent, 8/24/2009] Cheney’s statement is contemporaneous with a similar statement from the Republican National Committee (see August 24, 2009).
Disputing Cheney's Assessment - A Democratic official disputes the assertions, saying that the report provides no basis to conclude that torture was effective in eliciting actionable intelligence, and cites caveats in the body of the report. [Politico, 8/25/2009] And the New York Times notes that the memos “do not refer to any specific interrogation methods and do not assess their effectiveness.” [New York Times, 8/24/2009]
'Silly Semantic Game' - Reporter and columnist Spencer Ackerman notes that the memos seem to suggest that the most useful intelligence came from traditional intelligence techniques. He writes, “Cheney’s public account of these documents have conflated the difference between information acquired from detainees, which the documents present, and information acquired from detainees through the enhanced interrogation program, which they don’t.” Human rights organizations take a similar line. Gitanjali Gutierrez of the Center for Constitutional Rights says the documents “don’t make the case for torture, they only show that the CIA is able to tailor documents to justify its actions after the fact.” Tom Parker of Amnesty International notes that the memos “are hardly the slam dunk we had been led to expect. There is little or no supporting evidence in either memo to give substance to the specific claims about impending attacks made by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in highly coercive circumstances.” [Washington Independent, 8/24/2009; TPM Muckraker, 8/25/2009] Reporter Zachary Roth calls Cheney’s claim a “silly semantic game.” While it is true that the US gained actionable intelligence from detainees who were tortured, Roth observes, “it’s totally different from Cheney’s earlier claim—that the documents would show it was the EITs themselves that elicited the information.” [TPM Muckraker, 8/25/2009]
Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), Obama administration, Central Intelligence Agency, New York Times, Gitanjali Gutierrez, Al-Qaeda, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Zachary Roth, Republican National Committee, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Tom Parker, Spencer Ackerman
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
The Obama administration says it intends to continue the Bush administration policy of extraordinary rendition. The announcement comes from President Obama’s Interrogation and Transfer Policy Task Force, and is apparently intended to help offset the impact of the release of a long-withheld report by the CIA inspector general that provides new details about the brutal tactics used by the CIA in interrogating terrorism detainees (see August 24, 2009). As a candidate for the presidency, Obama had signaled that he would discontinue the practice. In a 2007 article for the magazine Foreign Affairs, he said the US must end “the practices of shipping away prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far-off countries, of detaining thousands without charge or trial, of maintaining a network of secret prisons to jail people beyond the reach of the law.” One of Obama’s first actions as president was to order the closure of secret CIA prisons (see January 22, 2009). Senior Obama advisers say this administration’s rendition policy is different from the Bush administration’s because the State Department will have a larger role in assuring that transferred prisoners will not be abused. “The emphasis will be on ensuring that individuals will not face torture if they are sent overseas,” one administration official says, and adds that detainees will not be sent to countries known to conduct abusive interrogations. Nevertheless, the decision is sharply criticized by human rights advocacy groups, who say that the administration will continue to send prisoners to countries that torture, and so-called “diplomatic reassurances” from those countries are meaningless. “It is extremely disappointing that the Obama administration is continuing the Bush administration practice of relying on diplomatic assurances, which have been proven completely ineffective in preventing torture,” says the American Civil Liberties Union’s Amrit Singh. Singh cites the case of detainee Maher Arar (see October 7, 2002), who was renditioned to Syria and tortured even though Syrian officials assured Bush administration officials that they would not use such techniques against him. Singh also notes that the previously used method of ensuring compliance—monitoring via visits from Americans or allied consular officials—has proven entirely ineffective. For example, Arar was visited several times by a Canadian consular official, but was too frightened to tell the official that he was being abused. Some human rights advocates believe that Obama is continuing the rendition policy in order to avoid having to admit Guantanamo detainees to US prisons after that facility is closed. [New York Times, 8/25/2009; MSNBC, 8/25/2009]
The White House announces the formation of a new unit to question “high-value” terrorism suspects. The unit is called the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG). It operates out of the FBI, but is overseen by the National Security Council; this structure removes the CIA as the primary interrogators of high-level detainees and gives the White House direct oversight. According to author and reporter David Ignatius, the HIG will be composed of small groups of “special interrogation experts” sent out to interrogate certain detainees. [PBS, 8/24/2009] Administration officials say all interrogations overseen by the HIG will comply with guidelines contained in the Army Field Manual, which prohibits the use of physical force. The group will study other interrogation methods, however, and may add additional noncoercive methods in the future. Tom Malinkowski of the organization Human Rights Watch says the new interrogation policy represents a significant step toward more humane treatment, though he wants stricter limits on rendition (see August 24, 2009]). Overall, Malinkowski says the Obama administration’s approach to counterterrorism issues is strong, noting that the government has now adopted “some of the most transparent rules against abuse of any democratic country.” [New York Times, 8/25/2009]
De-Emphasizing CIA's Role in Interrogations - Author and reporter Jane Mayer observes: “[T]o to some extent, this is bringing the CIA back to its earlier role traditionally, before 9/11, but still it’s taking authority away from the CIA. It’s also—the new rules for interrogation are going to make the CIA use only techniques that are allowed for the military. They’re not going to have any special dispensation to do enhanced interrogation techniques, so you’re basically seeing them kind of knocked down to just having to act like everybody else.” Ignatius adds: “My conversations today with the people who know the CIA tells me that the feeling out there is kind of, ‘Let this cup pass from our lips.’ You know, they are sick of this interrogation issue. They were in many cases reluctant to get into it in the first place. This has been a nightmare for them. Careers have been destroyed. Officers feel like their lives have been wrecked. And I think the career people there say, ‘Fine, you know, if the FBI wants to do this, let them have it.‘… [T]he only thing that worries me is putting it so directly under the White House, having the White House running interrogation programs, that seems a little odd to me.” [PBS, 8/24/2009] CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano says that the agency will continue to be involved in interrogations. “The CIA took active part in the work of the task force, and the agency’s strong counterterrorism knowledge will be key to the conduct of future debriefings,” he says. “That won’t change.” [New York Times, 8/25/2009]
Worries that Obama Administration May be Taking Too Much Power for Itself - MSNBC’s Alison Stewart says the decision “might cause involuntary eyebrow-raising among people who thought the Bush administration gave itself too much power in these matters.” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) supports the decision, saying that “it brings for the first time… a very rigorous and serious overview to our interrogation of high-value detainees. If you set aside all of the spin and all of the nonsense that you heard out of the top layers of the Bush administration, what you really saw was—for a lot of these high-value detainees, you saw very amateurish investigation by people who knew nothing about al-Qaeda, who knew nothing about interrogation, who had familiarity with antique techniques that were used by brutal tyrant regimes for propaganda purposes not for intelligence gathering purposes, and were put for reasons that are still not adequately explained into high value interrogations. We know from testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee that at least one very productive investigation was interrupted and probably ruined by the intervention of these amateurish and brutal techniques into an investigation—an interrogation that was generating absolutely first-class interrogation for our country.” Whitehouse does not identify the subject of that “productive interrogation,” but he could be referring to the interrogation of Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002). [MSNBC, 8/25/2009]
Entity Tags: Alison Stewart, High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, David Ignatius, Tom Malinkowski, Sheldon Whitehouse, Jane Mayer, National Security Council, Paul Gimigliano, Obama administration
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
Opponents of health care reform lead the debate during a speech and followup session by Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY), one of the so-called “Gang of Six” who are helping to write the Senate Finance Committee’s health care reform proposal. Around 500 people attend the event, held in a high school gym in Gillette, Wyoming. Enzi lambasts Senate Democrats and the White House for not engaging in what he calls “bipartisan collaboration” on reform, and calls for “market-based” health care solutions. Enzi says he has no use for a so-called “public option,” which would mandate a government-run alternative to private health care. “A government option is a monopoly, and it’s no option,” Enzi says, earning a strong round of applause. State Representative Timothy Hallinan, a Gillette Republican, earns more applause when he urges Enzi to pull out of negotiations with Senate Democrats and oppose any reform bill. When urged to do so by an audience member who identifies himself as a Republican, Enzi claims: “If I hadn’t been involved in this process as long as I have and to the depth as I have, you would already have national health care.… Someone has to be at the table asking questions. If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.… It’s not where I get them to compromise, it’s what I get them to leave out.” Some pro-reform members of the audience note the large amounts of campaign contributions Enzi has taken, and argue for the public option. Enzi retorts by claiming two government-run medical programs, Medicare and Medicaid, are “going broke,” and a public option program would suffer the same fate. [Associated Press, 8/25/2009]
Cover of CIA OIG report, with redactions. [Source: CIA / New York Times]A 2004 report by the CIA’s inspector general (IG) on torture (see May 7, 2004) is released to the public, after months of speculation as to its contents. The CIA opposed the release of the report for years, arguing that the release would demoralize its personnel and make it more difficult for the agency to do its job. The report’s release is triggered by a federal judge’s ruling in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The report, authored by former Inspector General John Helgerson, is heavily redacted, but the portions released to the public include a number of illegal and ethically questionable tactics used by US interrogators against detainees. Some of those tactics include the use of handguns, power drills, threats, smoke, and mock executions. Many of the techniques used against detainees were carried out without authorization from higher officials, and the Justice Department is reopening investigations into a number of the most serious allegations (see First Half of August 2009). The report says that the CIA’s efforts to provide “systematic, clear, and timely guidance” to interrogators were “inadequate at first” and that that failure largely coincided with the most significant incidents involving the unauthorized coercion of detainees, but as guidelines from the Justice Department accumulated over several years, oversight “improved considerably.” In the words of the Washington Post, “the report pointed to ongoing tensions between interrogators in the field and officials at the CIA Counterterrorism Center as to when detainees were compliant and when the use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ was appropriate.” [MSNBC, 8/24/2009; Washington Post, 8/24/2009] In a statement, Helgerson says, “The most important findings of the review related to basic systemic issues: had management controls been established; were necessary laws, regulations, and guidelines in place and understood; had staff officers and contractors been adequately trained; and had they discharged their responsibilities properly?” [Washington Post, 8/24/2009] Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff says that the “report was generated at the beginning by agency officials within themselves who had deep concerns about what was going on. I was struck. One officer is quoted in this report saying that he’s concerned that he might one day—agency officers might one day end up on some ‘wanted list’ to appear before the world court for war crimes stemming from these activities. It was agents—it was the concerns about this came from within the agency. That’s what generated this report.”
Recommendations Redacted - Isikoff notes that at least half of the report is redacted, including the IG’s recommendations, and says, “I’m told the worst stuff is in those blacked out passages, which means we still don’t know the full story of this program.” [MSNBC, 8/25/2009] The report contains 10 recommendations for action on the CIA’s part, but all of them are redacted. [McClatchy, 8/24/2009] Helgerson states his regret that so much of the report is redacted. “The essence of the report is expressed in the Conclusions and Recommendations,” he says. “I am disappointed that the government did not release even a redacted version of the Recommendations, which described a number of corrective actions that needed to be taken.” [Washington Post, 8/24/2009] Isikoff’s Newsweek colleague, Mark Hosenball, says he believes much of the redacted information has to do with “renditions”: detainees transferred to foreign countries “and abused there.” [PBS, 8/24/2009]
Detailing 'Crime Scene[s]' - Author and reporter Jane Mayer says she believes the report, “in essence, [details] a crime scene. It’s very hard to get away from the fact that things like death threats and mock executions are specifically identified as torture under the Convention Against Torture and, therefore, are illegal, and they’re considered very major crimes. So the problem for the Obama administration, which inherited this report and the question about what to do about it, is that it’s a red flag to any prosecutor. It’s very hard to ignore this, when you’ve taken an oath of office that says you’re going to execute the laws and uphold the Constitution. So they’ve got to somehow do something with this. I was interviewing Larry [Laurence] Tribe, a law professor, who said, you know, it’s hard to do nothing about this when you see it.” Reporter David Ignatius notes that an earlier review by Justice Department prosecutors found that no one at the CIA could be prosecuted for crimes based on the findings of the report. However, that may no longer be true. “[I]t is interesting and troubling to people at the CIA that something that was already decided not prosecutable is now maybe prosecutable,” he says. Mayer notes that during the Bush administration, possible prosecutions were short-circuited by political appointees such as then-US Attorney Paul McNulty, “who was very much a political player, who actually wound up having to resign later in the Bush administration for other political problems.” [PBS, 8/24/2009]
Federal Prosecutor Appointed - In part as a result of reviewing the CIA report, Attorney General Eric Holder names a special prosecutor to determine if the CIA or its hired contractors broke any laws in interrogating detainees (see August 24, 2009).
Reactions - CIA Director Leon Panetta issues a statement that supports the agency’s efforts while avoiding defending torture or abuse. In his statement, Panetta writes that he is not “eager to enter the debate, already politicized, over the ultimate utility of the agency’s past detention and interrogation effort.” He says the program produced crucial intelligence but adds that use of the harsh methods “will remain a legitimate area of dispute.” Overall, Panetta says, the agency is committed to “moving forward” and not spending large amounts of time reflecting on past practices. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) calls the report, and the concurrent appointment of special prosecutor John Durham to investigate torture allegations (see August 24, 2009), “a great relief, a great moment for America as a country.” He continues: “We’ve finally seen the rule of law brought forward in a way that it is clear and direct on this situation, which has been so sort of poisoned with personalities and politics and propaganda. It’s a first kind of clear, bright light, and I couldn’t be happier, couldn’t be more relieved.” [New York Times, 8/24/2009; Central Intelligence Agency, 8/24/2009; MSNBC, 8/25/2009] The ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer says, “The report underscores the need for a comprehensive criminal investigation that reaches not just the interrogators who exceeded authority but the senior officials who authorized torture and the Justice Department lawyers who facilitated it.” [Washington Post, 8/24/2009] Joanne Mariner, the terrorism and counterterrorism program director at Human Rights Watch, says: “The CIA inspector general’s report provides compelling official confirmation that the CIA committed serious crimes. A full criminal investigation into these crimes, and who authorized them, is absolutely necessary.” [Human Rights Watch, 8/24/2009]
Entity Tags: Jane Mayer, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), John Durham, David Ignatius, Jameel Jaffer, Joanne Mariner, Eric Holder, US Department of Justice, American Civil Liberties Union, Paul J. McNulty, Sheldon Whitehouse, Laurence Tribe, John Helgerson, Mark Hosenball, Leon Panetta, National Counterterrorism Center, Obama administration, Michael Isikoff
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
Attorney General Eric Holder announces he has appointed a federal prosecutor from Connecticut, John Durham, as a special prosecutor to investigate whether CIA interrogators broke any federal laws. [US Department of Justice, 8/24/2009; Washington Post, 8/25/2009]
Decision Stems from CIA IG Report - The investigation is preliminary in nature, and will decide whether a full investigation is warranted. Holder bases his decision in part on a just-released 2004 report on torture by the CIA’s inspector general (see August 24, 2009) and a Justice Department recommendation that there should be an investigation of about a dozen cases of possible abuse and torture from Iraq and Afghanistan (see First Half of August 2009). According to the conclusion of the CIA report: “The enhanced interrogation techniques used by the agency under the CTC [Counterterrorist Center] program are inconsistent with the public policy positions that the United States has taken regarding human rights. Unauthorized, improvised, inhumane, and undocumented detention and interrogation techniques were used.” [New York Times, 8/24/2009; MSNBC, 8/25/2009] The review is also prompted by a report by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) into memoranda drafted by the department’s Office of Legal Counsel related to “enhanced interrogation techniques.” The OPR report recommends the department re-examine previous decisions not to prosecute in some cases related to the interrogation of certain detainees. The aim of the preliminary review is to find whether federal offenses were committed in some detainee interrogations. [US Department of Justice, 8/24/2009] According to the Washington Post, the review will focus on “a very small number of cases,” including one in which a CIA officer named Zirbel caused Afghan prisoner Gul Rahman to freeze to death at the Salt Pit prison in Afghanistan (see November 20, 2002) and the intimidation of al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri by a CIA officer named “Albert” using a handgun and drill (see Between December 28, 2002 and January 1, 2003). These cases and the others were previously referred by the CIA inspector general to the Justice Department for examination, but the department decided not to prosecute (see (August 2004) and Mid-October 2005). [Washington Post, 9/19/2009; Associated Press, 9/7/2010]
Durham a Veteran Prosecutor - Durham has been investigating the CIA’s destruction of videotapes of interrogations that may have documented instances of torture (see January 2, 2008). Although Durham has a low public profile, he is a veteran of numerous high-level prosecutions, including cases against Boston-area organized crime figures, corrupt FBI agents, and former Governor John Rowland (R-CT). Durham is considered apolitical, and has worked closely with the Justice Department under both Democratic and Republican administrations. Connecticut defense lawyer Hugh Keefe calls him “the go-to guy for Justice whenever they get a hot case.” Former Connecticut prosecutor Mark Califano calls Durham’s approach to investigations “clinical,” and says he has “very rarely” concluded a case without bringing criminal charges. “He likes to make cases when there is evidence there,” Califano says. “You’ve got to balance whether that kind of information exists.… You can’t move forward if you don’t have the evidence.” [US Department of Justice, 8/24/2009; MSNBC, 8/25/2009; Washington Post, 8/25/2009] Boston prosecutors and defense attorneys have characterized Durham as “honest” and “tenacious.” Warren Bamford, who heads Boston’s FBI office, said Durham “kind of has blinders on in the sense that he doesn’t worry about the politics and all the other stuff that might be swirling around, and I think that’s really what makes him so successful.” [Boston Globe, 1/7/2008] In a statement, Holder says, “Mr. Durham, who is a career prosecutor with the Department of Justice and who has assembled a strong investigative team of experienced professionals, will recommend to me whether there is sufficient predication for a full investigation into whether the law was violated in connection with the interrogation of certain detainees.” [Think Progress, 8/24/2009]
Senator: Durham a 'First-Rate' Choice - Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) is enthusiastic about the choice of Durham. He says he has worked with Durham before, while Whitehouse was US Attorney for Rhode Island, and calls the prosecutor “very professional” and “a first-rate choice,” adding that Durham has “a very good grounding in this because he has been doing the investigation into the destruction of the torture tapes.” [MSNBC, 8/25/2009]
No Acknowledged 'Break' with White House - Holder notes that he will be criticized for undermining the CIA, and may be going against abjurations by President Obama to “move forward” instead of focusing on past transgressions, but says the facts left him little choice. “As attorney general, my duty is to examine the facts and to follow the law,” he says in a statement. “Given all of the information currently available, it is clear to me that this review is the only responsible course of action for me to take.… I have concluded that the information known to me warrants opening a preliminary review into whether federal laws were violated in connection with the interrogation of specific detainees at overseas locations.” White House officials say Holder’s decision does not mark a break between the White House and the Justice Department on their policies toward interrogations. Deputy press secretary Bill Burton tells reporters that “ultimately, the decisions on who is investigated and who is prosecuted are up to the attorney general.… The president thinks that Eric Holder, who he appointed as a very independent attorney general, should make those decisions.” [New York Times, 8/24/2009; Washington Post, 8/24/2009; MSNBC, 8/25/2009] Justice Department spokespersons refuse to say who will, and who will not, be investigated. [TPM Muckraker, 8/25/2009]
Entity Tags: Mark Califano, John Durham, Warren Bamford, Office of Professional Responsibility, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Hugh Keefe, Obama administration, Eric Holder, Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), Matthew Zirbel, Central Intelligence Agency, “Albert”, Bill Burton, US Department of Justice, Sheldon Whitehouse
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
The response by media and public officials to the announcement of a preliminary investigation by the Justice Department into whether crimes were committed in the course of a small number of detention and interrogation cases by the CIA (see August 24, 2009) is mixed. The investigation is headed by special prosecutor John Durham. Reporter Michael Isikoff says that it will be “difficult to bring cases against agency operatives when you have the [former] attorney general of the United States [John Ashcroft] saying repetitive use of waterboarding is okay with him. He has no problem with it. The Justice Department has no problem with it—which is why some people say if we’re not going to have criminal investigations at the very top, the leadership that authorized these programs, at least have full disclosure so the American public can know the full story of what happened.” Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) criticizes the potential focus on interrogators and says the inquiry should focus on former Bush administration officials and Justice Department lawyers; he says the investigation could echo the Abu Ghraib investigation, where “lower ranking troops who committed abuses were hung out to dry.” Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, says the Justice Department inquiry risks disrupting current counterterrorism operations, and claims that abuse charges have already been “exhaustively reviewed.” [New York Times, 8/24/2009; MSNBC, 8/25/2009]
Lack of Accountability? - Joanne Mariner, the terrorism and counterterrorism program director at Human Rights Watch, says: “It’s heartening that the attorney general has opened a preliminary investigation of these crimes, but it’s crucial that its scope include senior officials who authorized torture. Lower-level CIA operatives—even if using so-called ‘unauthorized’ techniques—may still have relied on the letter or the spirit of high-level authorizations.” Human Rights Watch warns that if the investigation focuses solely on so-called “rogue” interrogators who acted without official authorization, but fails to investigate senior officials with responsibility for the interrogation program, it will lack credibility. The organization writes, “Such an approach would validate the Bush-era Justice Department memoranda that authorized torture.” It calls the US’s record on accountability for detainee abuse “abysmal.” [Human Rights Watch, 8/24/2009]
Focusing on 'Low-Level Operatives'? - The American Civil Liberties Union’s Jameel Jaffer later says that Durham’s investigation seems to be far too narrow in scope, focusing solely on CIA interrogators and ignoring Bush administration officials who authorized torture and other abusive actions. [TPM Muckraker, 8/31/2009] This position is echoed by the Center for Constitutional Rights, which states: “Responsibility for the torture program cannot be laid at the feet of a few low-level operatives. Some agents in the field may have gone further than the limits so ghoulishly laid out by the lawyers who twisted the law to create legal cover for the program, but it is the lawyers and the officials who oversaw and approved the program who must be investigated.” The center demands the appointment of “an independent special prosecutor with a full mandate to investigate those responsible for torture and war crimes, especially the high ranking officials who designed, justified, and orchestrated the torture program.” Another organization, Physicians for Human Rights, says that it “urges the administration to pursue any investigation up the chain of command to those officials who authorized and supervised the use of illegal techniques.” [TPM Muckraker, 8/24/2009] Several Democrats, including Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and two members of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and John Conyers (D-MI), issue statements urging the investigation to go beyond looking into the actions of CIA interrogators, and investigate the officials who authorized those actions. [TPM Muckraker, 8/24/2009]
Entity Tags: Eric Holder, Ron Wyden, Russell D. Feingold, US Department of Justice, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Peter Hoekstra, Center for Constitutional Rights, Patrick J. Leahy, Michael Isikoff, Jameel Jaffer, Jerrold Nadler, Joanne Mariner, John Conyers, John Ashcroft, Obama administration, John Durham
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
Newsweek publishes an extensive article detailing what it calls “the five biggest lies in the health care debate.” Despite the title, the article actually debunks seven.
The government will have electronic access to your bank accounts and steal citizens’ money (see (July 30, 2009) and After). The bill passed by the House Ways and Means Committee indeed calls for electronic fund transfers, but only from insurers to doctors and other providers. Patients are not involved in such transactions.
You’ll have no choice in what health benefits you receive. This story seems to originate from a blog, Flecks of Life, which features a picture of President Obama made up as the Joker from the Batman films. The House bill provides for a “health care exchange,” including a list of private insurers and a single government plan, allowing people without health insurance to choose from the list. The government will prevent insurers from refusing clients with “preexisting conditions,” and require them to offer at least minimum coverage. However, Newsweek observes, “The requirements will be floors, not ceilings, however, in that the feds will have no say in how generous private insurance can be.”
No chemo for older Medicare patients. Newsweek calls this a “vicious” rumor coming from the so-called “deather” camp (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, Shortly Before August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 13, 2009, August 12-13, 2009, August 13, 2009, August 15, 2009, August 18, 2009, and August 23-24, 2009). The claim is that Medicare will refuse cancer patients over 70 years of age anything other than end-of-life counseling, including chemotherapy and other life-extending treatments. The claim, Newsweek says, “has zero basis in fact. It’s just a vicious form of the rationing scare.”
[H]ealth-care reform will be financed through $500 billion in Medicare cuts. Again, nothing in the House bill or anything being considered in the Senate exists to back this claim. There are proposed decreases to increases in future Medicare funding, essentially reducing Medicare expenditures from the forecast of $803 billion by 2019. $560 billion would be removed from future Medicare increases over the next 10 years, and would not come from funds slated to provide actual care to seniors. And the House bill proposes increasing Medicare funding by $340 billion over the next 10 years. According to Medicare expert Tricia Newman of the Kaiser Family Foundation, the money would pay for office visits, eliminate copays and deductibles, and close the so-called “donut hole” in Medicare drug benefits.
Illegal immigrants will get free health insurance. While a 1986 law allows illegal immigrants to receive free emergency care through emergency room clinics like everyone else in America, the House bill does not give anyone free health care. Illegal immigrants will not be eligible for subsidies to buy health insurance. In July, the House defeated a Republican-sponsored amendment to require anyone enrolling in a public plan or seeking subsidies to purchase health insurance to provide proof of citizenship. After the amemdment was defeated, Representative Steve King (R-IA) began spreading the false claims that since proof of citizenship would not be mandated, illegal immigrants would indeed be able to obtain government-funded health insurance. Newsweek writes: “Can we say that none of the estimated 11.9 million illegal immigrants will ever wangle insurance subsidies through identity fraud, pretending to be a citizen? You can’t prove a negative, but experts say that Medicare—the closest thing to the proposals in the House bill—has no such problem.”
Death panels will decide who lives. So-called “death panels” form the heart of the “deather” claims that the government would mandate “end of life counseling sessions” that would encourage elderly and seriously ill patients to allow themselves to die. Newsweek calls the claim a “lie” that “springs from a provision in the House bill to have Medicare cover optional counseling on end-of-life care for any senior who requests it. This means that any patient, terminally ill or not, can request a special consultation with his or her physician about ventilators, feeding tubes, and other measures. Thus the House bill expands Medicare coverage, but without forcing anyone into end-of-life counseling.”
The government will set doctors’ wages. This is another claim that seems to have originated on the Flecks of Life blog. Like the earlier claim, it is false. The House bill, according to Newsweek, “says that physicians who choose to accept patients in the public insurance plan would receive five percent more than Medicare pays for a given service, [but] doctors can refuse to accept such patients, and, even if they participate in a public plan, they are not salaried employees of it any more than your doctor today is an employee of, say, Aetna.” Amitabh Chandra of Harvard University says, “Nobody is saying we want the doctors working for the government; that’s completely false.” [Newsweek, 8/29/2009]
Van Jones. [Source: Politico]White House official Van Jones, the Obama administration’s special advisor for environmental jobs, resigns after a barrage of criticism from conservative critics and Republican officials. Jones is an author, community organizer, and “green jobs” expert from the San Francisco area; before his resignation, he was in charge of a small White House program advocating for jobs in energy-efficient industries. Indications are that Jones was asked by White House officials to resign, in part because administration officials wanted to “move beyond” the criticism of him as Obama prepares to address Congress on the subject of health care reform (see September 9, 2009). In 2004, Jones signed a petition asking for an investigation into whether the Bush administration had allowed the 9/11 terrorist attacks in order to provide a pretext for war in the Middle East, though he has always said he does not support the so-called “truther” movement that features allegations of Bush officials’ involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Shortly before joining the administration, Jones used the term “_ssholes” to characterize Republicans. He is a public supporter of Mumia Abu-Jamal, convicted of murdering a Philadelphia police officer. Conservatives have termed him a “radical Communist” for his affiliation with some left-wing protest movements. The New York Times calls the controversy around Jones a “significant distraction” to Obama’s health care agenda. Critics have attacked Jones specifically as well as administration officials such as him, sometimes called “czars,” who are appointed to positions of some influence in the White House without having to be approved by Congress. White House officials say that they were unaware of Jones’s more controversial statements and positions because his position was not considered senior enough to warrant complete vetting. Press secretary Robert Gibbs says that Obama does not endorse Jones’s views and did not hesitate to accept his resignation: “Well, what Van Jones decided was that the agenda of this president was bigger than any one individual. The president thanks Van Jones for his service in the first eight months, helping to coordinate renewable energy jobs and lay the foundation for our future economic growth.” [New York Times, 9/6/2009; Politico, 9/7/2009] The online news site Politico writes: “Jones’ departure from the position is the first real scalp claimed by the Republican right, which stoked much of the criticism of Jones.… Jones’ controversial statements fit snugly into the narrative woven by some conservative critics of Obama as a dangerous leftist, a critique that goes back to the campaign and was based as much on his past work as a community organizer and associations with the likes of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and William Ayers as on his policies. Jones’ roots in radical politics, and a spate of newly surfaced links Saturday documenting his advocacy for convicted cop killer and former Black Panther Mumia Abu Jamal—a death row prisoner who many in the activist left view as an unjustly convicted political prisoner—threatened to play into that narrative.” [Politico, 9/7/2009] One of Jones’s loudest critics was Fox News’s Glenn Beck, who has repeatedly targeted Jones on his show since July 2009. Beck regularly calls Jones a “Communist-anarchist radical.” Some speculate that Beck began attacking Jones because an organization co-founded by Jones, Color of Change, began a movement to force Beck’s resignation after Beck called Obama a “racist” (see July 28-29, 2009). The influential conservative news blog World Net Daily (WND) has attacked Jones since at least April 2009, calling him “an admitted radical communist and black nationalist leader” who “sees [the] environment as [a] racial issue.” Beck has used much of WND’s rhetoric in his attacks on Jones. [WorldNetDaily, 4/12/2009; Washington Independent, 9/4/2009; New York Times, 9/6/2009] In recent days, Representative Mike Pence (R-IN) called on Jones to resign, and Senator Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-MO) called for an investigation into Jones’s appointment, labeling Jones as “erratic and unstable” in a letter to Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the chairman of the Green Jobs and New Economy Subcommittee. Former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean defends Jones, saying he was being penalized for not realizing what the petition he signed in 2004 was: “This guy’s a Yale-educated lawyer. He’s a best-selling author about his specialty. I think he was brought down, and I think it’s too bad. Washington’s a tough place that way, and I think it’s a loss for the country.” In his resignation letter, Jones writes: “On the eve of historic fights for health care and clean energy, opponents of reform have mounted a vicious smear campaign against me. They are using lies and distortions to distract and divide.” However, he writes, though many have advised him to stay and fight for his position: “I cannot in good conscience ask my colleagues to expend precious time and energy defending or explaining my past. We need all hands on deck, fighting for our future.” [New York Times, 9/6/2009; Politico, 9/7/2009]
Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Glenn Beck, Bush administration (43), Howard Dean, New York Times, Mike Pence, WorldNetDaily, Obama administration, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Politico, Van Jones, Robert Gibbs, Christopher (“Kit”) Bond
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) acknowledges it has funded a series of television advertisements in support of legislation primarily written by Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, to reform US health care. The television ads are part of an agreement between the Obama administration, Baucus, and PhRMA in June, where the organization agreed to various givebacks and discounts designed to reduce America’s pharmaceutical spending by $80 billion over 10 years. PhRMA then set aside $150 million for advertising to support health care legislation. More progressive House Democrats such as Henry Waxman (D-CA) are pushing for stiffer drug industry givebacks than covered in the deal. PhRMA is led by Billy Tauzin, a former Republican congressman. Until recently, the organization spent some $12 million on ads by an offshoot coalition called Americans for Stable Quality Care, and aired television ads such as “Eight Ways Reform Matters to You.” PhRMA’s new ads will specifically support the Baucus bill. Many are critical of the deal, with James Love of the progressive research group Knowledge Ecology charging, “Essentially what the US got was not $80 billion, but $150 million in Obama campaign contributions.” [New York Times, 9/12/2009] Investigative reporter Matt Taibbi agrees with Love, accusing the White House of colluding with Baucus and Tauzin’s PhRMA to orchestrate a “big bribe” in exchange for the Democrats’ dropping of drug-pricing reform in the Baucus bill. Taibbi writes that in June, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel met with representatives from PhRMA and drug companies such as Abbott Laboratories, Merck, and Pfizer to cut their deal. Tauzer later told reporters that the White House had “blessed” a plan involving the $150 million in return for the White House’s agreement to no longer back government negotiations for bulk-rate pharmaceuticals for Medicare, and to no longer support the importation of inexpensive drugs from Canada. Taibbi writes that the White House worked with Baucus and PhRMA to undercut Waxman’s attempts to give the government the ability to negotiate lower rates for Medicare drugs. PhRMA’s ads are being aired primarily in the districts of freshmen Democrats who are expected to face tough re-election campaigns, and in the districts of conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats, who have sided with Baucus, Obama, and PhRMA to oppose the Waxman provision in favor of PhRMA’s own provision, which would ban the government from negotiating lower rates for Medicare recipients. [True/Slant, 9/14/2009]
Entity Tags: James Love, Henry A. Waxman, Americans for Stable Quality Care, Abbott Laboratories, Rahm Emanuel, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, Senate Finance Committee, Obama administration, Medicare, Max Baucus, Matt Taibbi, Pfizer, Merck, W.J. (“Billy”) Tauzin
Timeline Tags: US Health Care
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