Profile: Rachel Maddow
Rachel Maddow was a participant or observer in the following events:
Mark Denbeaux. [Source: Seton Hall University]Mark Denbeaux, the director of the Seton Hall Law School Center for Policy and Research, and the lawyer for two detainees at Guantanamo, describes how his research disproved the Pentagon’s recent claim that 61 former detainees have returned to terrorist activities (see January 13-14, 2009). Denbeaux, interviewed by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, says that his analysis of the information released by the government shows that the claim has changed over and over again, and has never been supported by evidence. “Our model is simply to look at what the government’s reports show and analyze them,” he says. “The government has given its 43rd attempt to describe the number of people who have left Guantanamo and returned to the battlefield. Forty-one times they have done it orally as they have this last time. And their numbers have changed from 20 to 12 to seven to more than five to two to a couple to a few—25, 29, 12 to 24. Every time, the number has been different. In fact, every time they give a number, they don’t identify a date, a place, a time, a name, or an incident to support their claim.” In June 2007, Denbeaux says, the Pentagon identified 15 detainees as having “returned to the battlefield.” Denbeaux analyzed the information about the 15 so-called “recidivist terrorists.” Three of the 15, the so-called “Tipton Three” (see November 28, 2001), were considered as having “returned to the battlefield” because of their appearance in a documentary, The Road to Guantanamo. Five others are Chinese Uighurs who were listed as having “returned to terrorism” because one of their number wrote an editorial criticizing Guantanamo detention policies (see September 17, 2006). Two others were never at Guantanamo. Two were Russians who were arrested in Russia but never prosecuted. Two were arrested in their home country of Morocco, and the last was arrested in his home country of Turkey. So of the 15 so-called “recidivists,” a maximum of three could even be considered as possibly “returning to the battlefield.” Denbeaux says that the current listing of 61 so-called “recidivists” includes the 15 on the 2007 list, and the remaining 46 names have similar issues with documenting actual acts of terrorism. [MSNBC, 1/16/2009]
Brandon Neely. [Source: Associated Press]A former Guantanamo guard, Specialist Brandon Neely, discusses his experiences with MSNBC talk show host Rachel Maddow. He also gives a lengthier interview to the Guantanamo Testimonials Project, run by the Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas at the University of California at Davis. Neely was at Guantanamo when the first prisoners arrived in January 2002, and stayed for some six months before being transferred. Later, he served in Iraq. Neely says he is still haunted by the memories of what he saw during his time at Guantanamo. Neely, who was honorably discharged from the Army in 2008, is the president of the Houston chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW).
'I Was Ready for Revenge' - When he learned that he was being assigned to Guantanamo, as he recalls, “We were told… these people would not fall under the Geneva Convention.” Neely says that from the outset, he and the other guards were trained to be very adversarial towards the detainees: “We were just told from the get-go that these were the guys who planned 9/11, that these are the worst people in the world.… I was ready for revenge. I was angry. I was ready to go to war.” He recalls the day that the first detainees arrived (see January 11, 2002-April 30, 2002). When they arrived, Neely was startled: “Most of them were small, underweight, very scared, and injured. I was expecting these people to come off that bus looking like vicious monsters.”
Fear of Execution Provoked Resistance - Neely recalls one physical incident between himself and an older prisoner that happened the first day. When the prisoner resisted being forced to his knees, Neely slammed him to the cement floor; other guards “went ahead and hog-tied him.” The next day, as Neely recalls: “I could see on the side of his—side of his face, he was all scraped up and bruised.… And I later learned from other detainees the reason that he moved and he jerked away from us was when we placed him on his knees, he thought we were going to execute him.” However, his fellow guards were pleased, saying, “Man, that was a good job; you got you some.” Neely witnessed other physical abuses, including one instance when a prisoner was beaten by a medic for refusing to drink a can of Ensure. Neely later learned that the prisoner believed the Ensure to have been poisoned. He also witnessed a detainee beaten unconscious for calling a female guard a “b_tch.” Guards sometimes called prisoners “sand n_ggers.” Guards sometimes told detainees that their villages or countries had been bombed and their families were all dead. Sometimes the guards told prisoners that they could be executed at any time.
Lack of Respect for Religious Beliefs - Neely knows of at least one incident where a guard, searching a prisoner’s cage, threw the prisoner’s Koran to the floor, provoking outrage among the detainees. Neely says the guard swore that he threw the Koran aside without thinking. Other incidents were more deliberately provocative: loud rock music or the national anthem would be played during the morning call to prayer; soldiers would mock and ridicule prisoners during their worship services, soldiers would blast praying detainees with water and call the incidents accidents; prisoners were fed pork, a proscribed food, without being informed of what they were eating.
David Hicks: Humanizing the 'Monsters' - Neely spent a good amount of time talking with Australian detainee David Hicks (see December 2000-December 2001). Hicks repeatedly insisted that he had been in Afghanistan fighting well before the Americans arrived, and that he would never fight Americans. He told Neely that he had been captured by Northern Alliance forces while trying to leave the country, and his captors sold him to the Americans for $1,500. Neely recalls: “Hicks did not come across as the cold-blooded killer that we were told all these guys were. He was a normal guy like me.… During these times is when I really started to look at the detainees as real people and not just monsters, as I had been told they were.”
'Trial and Error' - Neely says: “There was no standard operating procedures as far as how a detainee camp was supposed to be run. There was kind of like a trial-and-error period, if this didn’t work, we’ll try this way one day—you know, just everyday was something different until they thought it was right.” He tells The Independent: “As far as the Geneva Conventions, we touched very shortly on that in training. Most of what people knew about them was from their own readings.” [MSNBC, 2/17/2009; Independent, 2/18/2009]
Conclusion - Neely says: “I think everyone can agree that, at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, there are some really bad people. And there are a lot of good people there as well. But—innocent, guilty, black, white, Muslim, or Jew, no matter what you are—there is no excuse to treat people in the manner that I and other people did. It’s wrong and just downright criminal, and it goes against everything the United States of America stands for.” [Independent, 2/18/2009]
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, in an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, refuses to acknowledge his role in approving the torture of suspected terrorists. In 2008, ABC News named Powell as one of the members of the National Security Council’s principals committee who repeatedly authorized a variety of torture techniques to be used on detainees (see April 9, 2008). He also declines to affirm that several techniques, including waterboarding and sleep deprivation, qualify as torture. Powell says the torture of Abu Zubaida (see April - June 2002) and other al-Qaeda suspects “were not play-by-play discussed but there were conversations at a senior level with regard to what could be done with these types of interrogation. I cannot say further because I don’t have knowledge of all the meetings that took place or what was discussed at each of those meetings and I think it’s going to have to be in the written record of that meeting what will determine whether anything improper took place. But it is always the case that at least in the State Department’s standpoint, we should be consistent with the requirements of the Geneva Convention and that’s why this was such a controversial, controversial issue that you have to go—in due course I think we all will go to the written record. I’m not sure what memos were signed or not signed. I didn’t have access to all of that information.” Maddow asks, “If there was a meeting, though, at which senior officials were giving the approval for sleep deprivations, stress positions, waterboarding, were those officials committing crimes when they were getting their authorization?” Powell refuses to answer, saying, “I don’t know If any of these items would be considered criminal and I would wait for whatever investigation that the government or the Congress intends to pursue with this.” Maddow asks if he regrets his own participation in discussions about interrogations and torture, but Powell cuts her off to state: “There was no meeting on torture. It is constantly said that the meetings—I had an issue with this—we had meetings on what torture to administer. What I recall, the meetings I was in, I was not in all the meetings and I was not an author of many of the memos that have been written and some have come out and some have not come out. The only meetings I recall was where we talked about what is it we can do with respect to trying to get information from individuals who were in our custody. And I will just have to wait until the full written record is available and examined.… I don’t know where these things were being approved at a political level.” [MSNBC, 4/1/2009; Think Progress, 4/1/2009]
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]
MSNBC host Rachel Maddow interviews former State Department official Philip Zelikow. [Source: Crooks and Liars (.com)]Former State Department adviser Philip Zelikow (see February 28, 2005) reveals that in June 2005, he wrote a secret memo challenging the Bush administration’s legal reasoning behind its decision to authorize torture (see June 2005). Zelikow writes that until now he has never publicly discussed the memo, but with the recent release of four Office of Legal Counsel memos (see April 16, 2009), he feels he can now do so without fear of breaking the law. [Foreign Policy, 4/21/2009] The memos were ordered destroyed by someone in the White House. Zelikow later says that while he has no proof, his “supposition at the time” was that the office of Vice President Dick Cheney was behind the suppression. Cheney’s office had no authority to request that his memo be suppressed or destroyed, Zelikow will say: “They didn’t run the interagency process. Such a request would more likely have come from the White House counsel’s office or from NSC [National Security Council] staff.” Zelikow will say he never saw any written order pertaining to his memo being suppressed, but he knew of it: “It was conveyed to me, and I ignored it,” he will say. Zelikow will call his memo “a more direct assault on [the Bush Justice Department’s] own interpretation of American law.” [Mother Jones, 5/6/2009] Discussing his memo with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Zelikow recalls that when he first read the memos, he was struck by how “deeply unsound” the legal reasoning in them was. “I wasn’t sure that the president and his advisers understood just how potentially questionable and unreasonable many lawyers and judges would find this reasoning.… They [the memos’ authors] were using an interpretation of how to comply with that standard that I didn’t think any judges or lawyers outside of the administration would find plausible, and I wasn’t sure other folks realized just how implausible it was.” Maddow asks if Zelikow believes, as she does, that the White House wanted “to erase any evidence of the existence of a dissenting view within the administration because it would undercut the legal authority of the advice in those memos, the advice that those techniques would be legal”; Zelikow responds: “That is what I thought at the time. I had the same reaction you did. But I don’t know why they wanted to do it.” [MSNBC, 4/21/2009]
Rachel Maddow and Ron Suskind during their MSNBC interview. [Source: Huffington Post]MSNBC host Rachel Maddow interviews author Ron Suskind, who has written several books documenting the clandestine activities of the Bush administration. Maddow is most interested in the recent release of the Senate Armed Services Committee report documenting the use of torture against prisoners in US custody (see April 16, 2009 and April 21, 2009). Suskind notes that there were two separate but parallel tracks being followed in the administration, authorizing both the military and the CIA to torture prisoners. He believes the administration’s underlying motive was to find, or create through false confessions, a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda that would justify the invasion of Iraq. Suskind tells Maddow: “What’s fascinating here is that if you run the timelines side by side, you see for the first time… that the key thing being sent down by the policymakers, by the White House, is ‘Find a link between Saddam [Hussein] and al-Qaeda, so that we can essentially link Saddam to the 9/11 attacks and then march into Iraq with the anger of 9/11 behind us.’ That was the goal and was being passed down as the directive.… It’s often called ‘the requirement’ inside the CIA, for both agents with their sources and interrogators with their captives: ‘Here’s what we’re interested in, here’s what we, the duly elected leaders want to hear about. Tell us what you can find.’ What’s fascinating, is in the Senate report, is finally, clear confirmation that that specific thing was driving many of the activities, and, mind you, the frustration inside of the White House… as frustration built inside of the White House that there was no link that was established, because the CIA told the White House from the very start that there is no Saddam to al-Qaeda link—‘We checked it out, we did it every which way, sorry’—the White House simply wouldn’t take no for an answer, and it went with another method: torture was the method. ‘Get me a confession, I don’t care how you do it.’ And that bled all the way through the government, both on the CIA side and the Army side.” Suskind notes that the “impetus was not to foil potential al-Qaeda attacks. The impetus here was largely political and diplomatic. The White House had a political/diplomatic problem. It wanted it solved in the run up to the war.” [Huffington Post, 4/22/2009; MSNBC, 4/22/2009]
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
Rachel Maddow and Pat Buchanan, during their discussion of Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court. [Source: MSNBC / Crooks and Liars]As the Senate readies to vote for or against Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court (see August 6, 2009), conservative commentator and author Pat Buchanan attempts to explain why he feels Sotomayor should not be confirmed.
Affirmative Action Accusation - Buchanan, interviewed by MSNBC’s progressive host Rachel Maddow, has accused Sotomayor of being an “affirmative action” selection for the bench (see May 28, 2009, May 31, 2009, June 12, 2009, and June 20, 2009) who uses her position to “discriminate against white males.” As evidence of his claim, he says: “I do believe she’s an affirmative action appointment by the president of the United States. He eliminated everyone but four women and then he picked the Hispanic.” Maddow asks him to define affirmative action, and Buchanan replies, “Affirmative action is to increase diversity by discriminating against white males.” After citing four court cases, he adds: “[A]ffirmative action is basically reverse discrimination against white males and it’s as wrong as discrimination against black females and Hispanics and others. And that’s why I oppose it.”
White People Built America, Buchanan Says - In her turn, Maddow asks, “Why do you think is that of the 110 Supreme Court justices we’ve had in this country, 108 of them have been white?” to which Buchanan responds: “Well, I think white men were 100 percent of the people that wrote the Constitution, 100 percent of the people that signed the Declaration of Independence, 100 percent of people who died at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. Probably close to 100 percent of the people who died at Normandy. This has been a country built basically by white folks in this country who are 90 percent of the entire nation—in 1960, when I was growing up, Rachel—and the other 10 percent were African-American who had been discriminated against. That’s why.” Maddow asks if he believes “there are 108 of 110 white Supreme Court justices because white people essentially deserve to have 99.5 percent of those positions? That there’s nothing—that doesn’t reflect any sort of barrier to those positions by people who aren’t white. You think that’s what they’ve—you think that’s just purely on the basis of what white people have deserved to get?”
Back to Affirmative Action - Buchanan shifts his argument and asserts that the Supreme Court should have the nine finest legal minds and scholars, regardless of race or gender. “But this one doesn’t have that. She was appointed because she’s a Latina, a Hispanic, and a woman.” Maddow counters with Sotomayor’s extensive experience, saying: “She is also the judicial nominee who has more judging experience than any judge has gone up in, say, in the past, I don’t know, what is it, 70 years? She has been an appellate court judge of some distinction for a lot longer than [Chief Justice John] Roberts was, [Justice Samuel] Alito was. I mean, it’s not like she was—she was picked out… she was like picked out of the minor leagues and brought up here, Pat.” Buchanan returns to his affirmative action argument, noting that Sotomayor agreed that she was granted admission to Princeton University because of the program. Buchanan goes farther, accusing her of receiving preferential treatment for all of her accomplishments, including her stint on the Yale Law Review and her appointment to the federal bench. Maddow, battling through Buchanan’s attempts to interrupt her, defends the affirmative action program, saying: “[W]hat our country needs is to be able to choose from the largest possible pool of talent in order to be able to pick the people who are going to have to function at the highest levels so that our country can compete and our country to do all the hard things we need do, I would hope that you would see that picking 108 out of 110 white justices… to the Supreme Court means that other people aren’t actually being appropriately considered. And the reason that you have affirmative action is that you recognize that the fact that people were discriminated against for hundreds of years in this country means that you sort of gained the system, unless you give other people a leg up.” She continues, “But, Pat, for you to argue that there’s no basis on which the United States benefits… from having Hispanics be among the people who we choose the best and brightest from defies belief.… The idea that you think we’ll best serve by only choosing among 99.9 percent white people.… [W]hen I look at the United States Supreme Court and I see 108 out of 110 white people, I see 108 out of 110 men. I’m—I don’t look at that and think, ‘God, white guys are naturally better at this type of work than other people who aren’t getting these jobs.’ I don’t think that way.… I want to hear you—I would love to hear your answer as to whether or not you think that is what explains it, too. Because, I think, what the more obvious explanation is, is that you have to be a white guy in order to get considered for these jobs and has been true since the dawn of time in this country.… That’s starting to break up now so that we can tap a bigger pool of talent. You should be happy about that for your country, Pat.” Buchanan counters that whites “are victims of this evil affirmative action policy which says in effect that everybody’s covered by the 14th Amendment and the civil rights laws unless you’re a white male and your parents and ancestors came from Europe. Then we can discriminate against you. That’s what I am against.”
Stirring 'Up Racial Animus' - Countering Buchanan’s accusations of reverse racism, Maddow says: “Pat, I couldn’t disagree with you more. I tribute—I credit you sticking to your gun. I think you’re absolutely wrong about this and I think that by advocating that the Republican Party try to stir up racial animus among white voters.… You’re dating yourself.” Buchanan says that the government should “defend the legitimate rights of white working-class folks who are the victims of discrimination, because that’s the right thing to do and because it’s the politically right thing to do.” Maddow concludes: “A lot of things divide us, Pat. Race is one of those. But there’s a lot of other ways in which we just gratify as a country, and for you to privilege race and say that what we really need to make sure we tap, politically, is white people’s racial grievances, you’re playing with fire and you’re dating yourself. You’re living in the 1950s, Pat.” [MSNBC, 7/17/2009]
Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele gives a very direct answer when asked if President Obama’s health care proposal constitutes socialism. During a presentation at the National Press Club, Steele is asked, “Does President Obama’s health care plan represent socialism?” He replies: “Yes. Next question.” MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow notes that Steele is “very sure that reforming health care is socialism even if he’s not actually all that sure what health care policy is,” and plays a video clip of Steele saying at a recent press conference: “I don’t do policy. I’m not—I’m not a legislator.” Steele acknowledges that Republicans made similar assessments of Medicare when it was proposed in 1965, and says: “I think that there’s a legitimate debate there about the impact that Medicare and Medicaid are having on the overall fabric of our economy. I think, though, in this case, unlike 1965, the level of spending, the level of government control and intrusion is far greater and much more expansive than anything we’ve ever seen.… So I think that what we’re talking about here is something far beyond anything we’ve seen in 1965 or since 1965. This is unprecedented government intrusion into the private sector, period. And you can sweeten that any way you want, but it still tastes bitter. And I think the American people know that.” According to Steele, Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and other Democrats are part of a “cabal” that wants to implement government-run health care. “Obama-Pelosi want to start building a colossal, closed health care system where Washington decides. Republicans want and support an open health care system where patients and doctors make the decisions,” he says. Adding Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) into his statement, Steele continues: “Many Democrats outside of the Obama-Pelosi-Reid-Waxman cabal know that voters won’t stand for these kinds of foolish prescriptions for our health care. We do too. That’s why Republicans will stop at nothing to remind voters about the risky experimentation going on in Washington.” Obama and Congressional Democrats are moving too fast to try to enact health care reform, Steele says. “So slow down, Mr. President. We can’t afford to get health care wrong. Your experiment proposes too much, too soon, too fast. Your experiment with our health care could change everything we like about our health care, and our economy as well.” When asked why Republicans are not advancing their own health care proposals, Steele responds: “Now, you know, the Republicans can get up tomorrow and introduce its own bill, but you and I know how Washington works. The bill that matters is the one that the leadership puts in place. The Democrats have the leadership.” [Wall Street Journal, 7/20/2009; Associated Press, 7/20/2009; MSNBC, 7/27/2009]
Entity Tags: Michael Steele, Harry Reid, Barack Obama, Henry A. Waxman, Medicare, Rachel Maddow, Medicaid, Nancy Pelosi, Republican National Committee
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]
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
Following up on arguments that Congressional Democrats’ health care reform proposal would encourage senior citizens 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, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, and July 24, 2009), conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh tells his listeners, “People at a certain age with certain diseases will be deemed not worth the investment, and they will just—as Obama said—they’ll give them some pain pills and let them loop out until they die and they don’t even know what’s happened.” During a phone-in town hall on health care the same day as Limbaugh’s broadcast, President Obama will say something quite different from Limbaugh’s characterization (see July 28, 2009). MSNBC host Rachel Maddow says of Limbaugh’s allegations later that evening: “‘Democrats want to reform health care because it’s a secret plan to kill people.’ This is the kind of thing that when it shows up on the floor of the House or in a town hall with the president, you get a little glimpse of crazy. But the nest for this kind of crazy, where this stuff is hatched, it’s among the conservative base and in the conservative media. Conservative talk radio is really where they let it all hang out.” [MSNBC, 7/29/2009]
Bernie Sanders. [Source: Down With Tyranny (.com)]Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), a progressive independent who caucuses with Senate Democrats, explains to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow why Democrats are having so much difficulty winning broad support for their health care reform proposal. “There seems to be a gap between the seriousness of what’s actually being fought over in Washington right now and the level of discourse about it,” Maddow asks (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, and July 27, 2009). “Why do you think it is that there’s so much sideshow craziness about this issue?” Sanders responds that Democrats “have not been as clear as we should be in what, in fact, we are fighting for.” Sanders, a proponent of government-led “single-payer” health care, which would in essence supplement private health care and health insurance, says that because single-payer “is off of the table because of the power of the insurance companies and the drug companies,” the resulting proposals have become “pretty complicated… [opening] up opportunities for the extreme right-wing to come up with their crazy ideas.” Maddow says, “They’re sort of filling the vacuum of the lack of details that people don’t understand with craziness that people are willing to [believe].” The health care crisis is real, Sanders says, with thousands of Americans dying every year because of lack of access to doctors, and 1 million American families predicted to go bankrupt over staggering health care bills. But the discussion has been derailed, he says, into discussing “killing Grandma” and “rationing health care.” Sanders believes that the insurance companies, and their Republican and Democratic allies in Congress, are battling the so-called “public option”—providing a government-run health care alternative for people who can’t afford health care from the private providers—because they “are very afraid and rightfully so, that if given the choice, the people would gravitate towards a public plan because a public plan will not have the administrative costs, the huge CEO compensation costs, and the general bureaucracy that a [private] plan will have.” Besides, Sanders notes, “if you want to do any kind of cost containment, you need to have the competition from a public plan because without that, the private insurance companies will be out there on their own, being able to raise rates as much as they have in the past.” Health care corporations are spending $1.3 million per day lobbying lawmakers and other influential government officials, Sanders says, and health insurance and drug companies are spending millions on negative advertising. That kind of money has a powerful impact. “[W]ith all of that money coming into Capitol Hill,” he says, “I’m afraid that too many of my colleagues look at the world from the perspective of the insurance companies, from the drug companies who are charging us the highest prices for medicine in the entire world, rather than from the needs of ordinary Americans.” [MSNBC, 7/29/2009]
Melissa Harris-Lacewell. [Source: Melissa Harris-Lacewell]Melissa Harris-Lacewell, professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton, attempts to explain the increasingly overt and virulent racism being promulgated by some conservative lawmakers, talk show hosts, and anti-health care protesters (see February 1, 2008, August 1, 2008 and After, August 4, 2008, August 19, 2008, November 18, 2008, February 24-26, 2009, April 7-8, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 25, 2009, and July 28, 2009). “[A]s a political scientist, you always want to start with the assumption that a political party, whatever choices it’s making are trying to seek office,” she says. She says one must assume that the racist rhetoric “is somehow a strategy of the right or strategy of an element of the GOP to somehow gain office either in the mid-term elections or more long term for the presidential race.” However, that is not the entirety of the reasons behind the rhetoric: “[T]he other part, I think, that I have maybe not been thinking about as carefully is that when we think about the history of race in America, sometimes we have to put aside the notion of strategy and just embrace the reality that race in this country has often brought out irrational anger, fear, anxiety, emotionalism. So it is possible that this is not actually a GOP or a conservative strategy but is instead really kind of an emotional tantrum on the part of some members of the conservative wing who really just are floundering as they look at a world that is changing so dramatically around questions of race.” MSNBC host Rachel Maddow expands on Harris-Lacewell’s point, saying: “I was with you on it being an irrational tantrum until I started to see the same very specific tactic used in very different venues about very different subjects, this idea of the person who is not white being the problem racist, being used against [Supreme Court nominee Sonia] Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 29, 2009, May 29, 2009, June 5, 2009, and June 12, 2009)… being used against the president now, inexplicably, unrelated to any policy issue but just as a free floating critique of the president. And it does make me wonder about this as an overt political strategy.” Harris-Lacewell replies: “President Obama paused in the middle of the primary race to speak in Philadelphia about the question of race in America. And he set up sort of two possibilities, black anger rooted in a history of African-American inequality and white resentment rooted in a sense of kind of a loss of racial privilege. Now, I think in many ways it’s a very accurate assessment of sort of the ways that blacks and whites, not completely and not perfectly, but often perceive things quite differently. So I spent the month in New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina is a perfect example of this. Everybody in the country was mad but African-Americans saw the failures of the federal government around Katrina as a race issue. White Americans who were still angry about the failures of the government saw it primarily as a bureaucratic issue rather than a race issue. So here, you have these two groups with very different perspectives. Now, that made all the difference in being able to make policy. So I think that they’re hoping that these differences in how blacks and whites often see the world can be a perfect kind of wedge to use on health care, to use on education, to use on a wide variety of issues that, in fact, really—if we don’t fix health care, it is bad for all Americans. But if we can somehow kind of suggest that the president is just trying to do things that are good for black people and bad for white people, then it opens up that kind of possibility of anxiety, distrust, and different perceptions.” [MSNBC, 7/30/2009]
Governor Tim Kaine (D-VA), chairman of the Democratic Party, defends his party’s difficulties in moving its health care reform proposals through Congress. Interviewed by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Kaine says: “This is a heavy lift. Every president since President Truman has said, we need to find a health care future where we have a competitive insurance market and all Americans receive coverage. What we’ve seen happen in the last month or so is we now have bills that have passed through three different committees in the Senate and House. Two other committees are expected to take action very soon. We’re farther than we’ve ever been. It’s heavy lifting. It ain’t easy. We’re going to have to take the various bills and then make them into a workable plan.” Part of the reason why the legislation is moving so slowly is that Democrats are ideologically diverse, Kaine says. “[A]n awful lot of this debate is ultimately getting the Democrats to pull together and be results-focused rather than what has to be my plan or I’m not getting onboard.” The situation in the Republican Party is quite different, he continues: “What I’m looking for among Republicans is, you know, are there any Republicans who are going to stand up and say, ‘You’re right, this system needs fundamental reform and change?’ A system where 15 years ago, more than 60 percent of small businesses provided health insurance to their employees, and today, 38 percent do, and that number is dropping like a stone while the percentage of GDP that we spend on health care is going up. That system is broken. You don’t hear a single voice really among Republican leadership standing up and acknowledging that and saying we’ve got to make some changes.” [MSNBC, 7/30/2009]
Representative Anthony Weiner (D-NY), a progressive Democrat who favors single-payer (government-provided) health care and is one of the strongest voices from the Democratic left in favor of the “public option” in health care reform, introduces an amendment to the pending health care reform legislation, HR 3200, that would eliminate Medicare. Weiner has no intention of actually trying to eliminate Medicare, instead he wants to get Republicans, who have repeatedly said they don’t want “government health care” (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, and July 28, 2009) to go on record as supporting Medicare, a government-run health care provider. Weiner tells interviewer Rachel Maddow: “I guess Republicans don’t like publicly funded, publicly administered health plans except for Medicare, and, I guess, except for the Veterans Administration and except for the health care that our military gets from the Department of Defense. The fact of the matter is, what we’ve learned is that government administered health care works pretty darn well. It’s got lower overhead and people like it. So, when my Republican colleagues pound the drum and pound the podium about how they hate government-run health care, I guess they haven’t looked at what they get.” Weiner says he introduced the amendment in part to embarrass House Republicans whose rhetoric on public health care he thinks has become quite harsh. [MSNBC, 7/31/2009]
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
Progressive columnist Eugene Robinson, an associate editor for the Washington Post, calls the efforts by anti-health care reform protesters to disrupt and block debate “shocking.” Robinson tells interviewer Rachel Maddow: “This seems extreme, extraordinary—you could almost say shocking. It’s hard to be shocked in politics, but this is so clearly an organized campaign of intimidation, of theater. I mean, it’s not theater in ‘all the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players’ metaphorical sense, but theater in a, you know, ‘let’s put on a show’ kind of sense to, not just to shout down any individual congressman or congresswoman who happens to be holding a town meeting, but to create this videotape that gets posted on Web sites, that gets on television that creates this sort of atmosphere of health reform—the very idea of health reform being on the defensive. [T]his is something that strikes me as particularly noxious and out of bounds.” Robinson says that the original anti-tax, anti-Obama “tea parties” had little effect, partly because they were not focused on a single issue. Now that the “tea party” organizers have focused their groups on opposing health care, they are much more effective, Robinson says. “[T]here’s a definite aim here, which is to stop in its tracks the most serious attempt at actual health care reform that could make a difference in millions of people’s lives and also make a difference to the bottom lines of insurance companies and others that make money off the health care industry as it is.… [T]his is a tactic that’s sort of almost mob intimidation at these meetings—you never know where they’re going to pop up, when they’re going to pop up—that I don’t think anyone quite knows how to respond to at this point. I mean, do you bring in your own side to shout down the shouters down? Do you bring in the… police to enforce the disorderly conduct laws? I’m not quite sure what you do.” Maddow wonders if there may not be a political cost to the conservatives over “being associated with this kind of raw thuggishness,” and continues: “I’m all in favor of rabble rousers and people even being disruptive and using their First Amendment rights, even if it is an untoward, unfriendly way. But when it is part of a corporate strategy organized by lobbyists who are sort of astroturfed (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, and August 6-7, 2009), do they ultimately get in trouble when that is exposed?” Robinson says while that may well be the case, in the short term pro-reform advocates “have to find a way to go on the offense in this debate and not be caught on the defensive—and there is a sense that this new tactic has put health care reformers on the defensive or at least wondering exactly how to respond.” [MSNBC, 8/4/2009]
Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) appears on an MSNBC talk show hosted by progressive Rachel Maddow. Three days before, Doggett was accosted in a Texas grocery store by an angry, shouting mob of anti-health care reform protesters (see August 1, 2009). Doggett says opposition such as this just bolsters his commitment to battle for reform. He says that the anti-reform protests are “staged” (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, and August 6-7, 2009). “[M]y real complaint is not their cameras or their taunts or their silly signs saying I was a traitor to Texas and a devil to all people—my complaint is that when other neighbors show up, they should not be silenced. And that’s what this crowd did. After I listened to their taunts and questions and discussed the bill with them for an hour, they insisted on yelling, ‘just say no,’ any time anyone else wanted to speak.”
Countering the Anti-Reform Protesters - Doggett says that pro-reform advocates need to counter the anti-reform protesters: “[P]eople need to not sit back and think that President Obama and a Democratic Congress can solve all of these problems. They have to be engaged and involved. We cannot turn over the agenda to folks that really remind me, Rachel, like that crowd of Republican staffers that showed up for Bush against Gore down in Florida. It’s the same kind of approach.” Maddow reminds viewers that Doggett is referring to the “Brooks Brothers” mob riot from the 2000 presidential recounts in Florida, where the “spontaneous” riot was created by Republican aides and operatives brought down from Washington. She notes that House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and the National Republican Congressional Committee “have sent out the footage of what was done to you at this town hall meeting. They’re bragging about it. They’re publicizing it. They’re implicitly calling for more of this sort of thing.” Doggett says of his Republican colleagues: “No, nothing surprises me about these people. They’ll do anything they can to block health care reform just as they have for six decades.… [The protesters are inflating their numbers] because they’re under-numbered at the people that have been being abused by the health insurers come out [sic] and tell their story.” Doggett gives his fellow Democrats the folliwing advice: “Don’t give up or give in. This is too important. We have few more important issues in America today, and we need to be steadfast in our commitment to learn from those who have legitimate concerns and criticisms. But there’s no way you can rewrite this bill to satisfy this mob. We need to be firm and committed to a strong, public plan that will give that nudge to the insurers.”
Obama 'Judo' - After Doggett’s interview is completed, Maddow interviews Chris Hayes, an editor for The Nation magazine, who adds to Doggett’s statements by saying he believes the Obama administration and the Democratic Party are trying to use the excesses of the anti-reform rhetoric against reform opponents. Maddow says: “I think the lesson that the Obama folks took from the—this past year’s presidential campaign, where they didn’t try to organize people to go to McCain-Palin rallies, to shout down the ‘kill them all’ rhetoric that they were hearing from their crowds.… They publicized it, essentially… they used those displays of extremism to try to splinter the people who were on the right… who were either tolerating that stuff or denouncing it.” Hayes says he believes the same thing is beginning to happen now. “I mean, this is sort of signature Obama political strategy, which is a kind of judo, right? To kind of use the excesses of your enemy against them. And I think that you’re already seeing that DNC [Democratic National Committee] and other people sending the message out showing the signs of swastikas that are showing up at these rallies. The images of Stalin, the screaming, the sort of red-face spittle-flecked anger that is coming out in these town halls to show that, look, this is isn’t just, you know, some kind of middle-of-the-road, undecided independent voter who’s having some reservations about the possible cost of the health care bill. These are radicals. These are extremists. These are zealots.… They should just be called out for what they are.” [MSNBC, 8/5/2009]
Screenshot of the bottom of Recess Rally’s home page, taken August 22, 2009. [Source: Recess Rally (.com)]MSNBC host Rachel Maddow examines an organization called “Recess Rally,” which is promoting anti-health care protests over the Internet, providing information about upcoming “town hall” forums hosted by Democratic lawmakers, and proclaiming, “We the people say no to socialized health care.” Maddow gives some information on who is organizing Recess Rally. At the bottom of Recess Rally’s home page, a number of sponsors are listed, including conservative blogger and Fox News commentator Michelle Malkin, and conservative blogs such as RedState and Smart Girl Politics.
Funded by Corporate Lobbying Firms, Corporate Interests - Other sponsoring organizations are less easily identifiable as citizen organizations. American Majority is a lobbying organization headed by Ned Ryun, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush; many of the organization’s senior officials are veterans of the Bush-Cheney 2004 presidential campaign, former Republican lawmakers, and conservative lobbyists. American Majority is itself an offshoot of another organization, the Sam Adams Alliance. That organization is headed by a former executive director of the Illinois State Republican Party, and by a former Dow Chemicals engineer who also heads a large conservative think tank. Another sponsor of Recess Rally is a group called Let Freedom Ring, whose founder provided the funding for the 2008 Republican campaign ads that used footage of the 9/11 attacks to promote the Iraq war. Another sponsor was responsible for the 2004 “Swift Boat” campaign advertisements that besmirched then-presidential candidate Senator John Kerry (D-MA). Two other groups sponsor Recess Rally: Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, and August 1, 2009) and its subsidiary, Patients First (see July 23, 2009, July 27, 2009, and August 6, 2009). AFP runs Patients First, which is busing people around the country to demonstrate against health care reform, and another “grassroots” organization, Patients United Now (PUN). Maddow says that groups like these are “experts at fake grassroots campaigns that promote corporate interests.” (AFP president Tim Phillips will call the buses “really good props”—see August 6, 2009.)
Sincere Americans Protesting at Direction of Corporate Interests, PR Firms - Noting that AFP is headed by, among others, oil billionaire David Koch and longtime Republican fund-raiser Art Pope, Maddow says: “This oil industry and Republican operative millionaires’ club is, according to the Republican Party… just average, middle-class Americans—just regular American folks sitting around the kitchen table, thinking about whether they can get away with saying that the government continuing its long standing policy of encouraging living wills is really a secret plot to kill old people (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). Americans are showing up at these events to shout down the discussion and to chase their congressmen and they are enraged. And they’re enraged at least in part because they’re being riled up by over-the-top, fabricated conspiracy theories about health care. And they’re being directed and orchestrated by the corporate interests that do this for a living and do it very well. RecessRally.com is not some organic outgrowth of American anger. This is how corporate America creates the illusion of a grassroots movement to support their own interests. This is what they do. They are professionals. This is an industry. To talk about these town hall events as some organic outpouring of average American folks who have concerns about health care is to be willfully blind as to what is really going on—which is professional PR operatives generating exploitive, manufactured, strategically deployed outrage in order to line their own pockets. These PR spinmeisters get paid a lot of money for doing it. The corporations they work for get to kill legislation that would hurt their profits. And the real people who they launch into these town hall settings after they’re told that health care reform is a secret commie plot to kill old people and to mandate sex changes—those real people get more and more and more angry, and more and more and more alienated. And ultimately, they get left, like the rest of us, with a health care system that is broken and doesn’t work in the interests of the American people, but does work in the interests of the corporations that profit from the way the system is now. This is professional, corporate-funded, Republican staffed PR, and it should be reported as such.” [Recess Rally, 8/2009; MSNBC, 8/6/2009]
Entity Tags: Sam Adams Alliance, RedState (.com), Tim Phillips, Smart Girl Politics, Recess Rally, Patients First, Patients United Now, David Koch, Art Pope, Americans for Prosperity, Let Freedom Ring, Michelle Malkin, Rachel Maddow, American Majority, Ned Ryun, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections
An anti-health care reform protester carries a poster depicting President Obama as Adolf Hitler. [Source: The New Republic]An anti-health care reform organization, Patients First—a subsidiary of industry lobbyist group Americans for Prosperity (see May 29, 2009 and August 6, 2009)—holds an anti-reform rally in Pueblo, Colorado.
Obama's 'Final Solution' - The keynote speaker tells the assembled crowd that Democratic health care reform will mandate physician-assisted suicide: “If this new Obama-care program comes to fruition, when you reach 65 and every five years thereafter, you’re going to have a counseling session with some federal airhead. Part of this process is called end-of-life counseling and part of the end-of-life counseling can be an end-of-life order. Adolf Hitler issued six million end of life orders. He called his program the final solution. I kind of wonder what we’re going to call ours.” The speaker compares the Obama administration to the regimes of despots Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and Pol Pot, and then tells the audience to “go to offices of members of Congress and put the fear of God in them.” [TPMDC, 8/7/2009; ColoradoPols (.com), 8/7/2009; MSNBC, 8/10/2009]
Commentator Blasts Nazi Comparisons - MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow later says: “Put the fear of God in them—because what Obama is doing with killing all these people like Sarah Palin said, that’s like what Hitler did and you know what Hitler deserved. This is the rhetoric that corporate-funded, GOP-allied groups like Americans for Prosperity are funneling through which they set up to look like grassroots organizations to get people to go ‘put the fear of God’ into elected officials.… What has started as rowdy and rude and mean-spirited disruptions has turned, in some cases, into actual violence, with several hospitalizations for minor injuries and some arrests being reported at health care town halls last night (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, and August 6-8, 2009). What’s also evident is that the anti-reform rhetoric increasingly is invoking specific references to Nazis and specific comparison of President Obama to Adolf Hitler.… You know, there are people alive today who barely survived the Holocaust. And there are many people alive today whose whole families were killed in the Holocaust. Nazism is not a metaphor for a political policy you disagree with. Used deliberately as a strategy to characterize a political opponent, it has a very specific resonance with people looking to justify violence. The implication of conjuring up the Third Reich is that, in the case of someone who’s identified as a Nazi, as a modern day Hitler, violence against that person, even murder, would not only be seen as justified, it might be celebrated. This rhetorical strategy sets the stage for political violence that the perpetrator could hope would be praised. As such the idea of assassination, other kinds of political violence are always in the subtext. And you know, sometimes assassination isn’t even in the subtext. Sometimes it just bubbles right up to the surface.” [MSNBC, 8/10/2009]
Tim Phillips (r) being interviewed by Rachel Maddow (l). [Source: YouTube]Tim Phillips, the president of the corporate lobbying firm Americans for Prosperity (AFP), is interviewed by progressive MSNBC host Rachel Maddow. AFP, like FreedomWorks, Conservatives for Patients Rights (CPR), and other organizations, is responsible for what Maddow calls “astroturfing” the health care reform debate—creating “fake grassroots organizations” such as Patients First and Patients United Now that purport to represent ordinary citizens, but are in fact entities created and controlled by corporate and/or political interests (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, and August 6-7, 2009).
Representing 'Real Folks' - Phillips is jovial with Maddow, insisting that AFP merely represents the interests of “real folks.” When asked who funds AFP’s “grassroots” offshoot, Patients First, instead of answering, Phillips tells Maddow that the organization is made up of patients “just like us. I’m a patient. Rachel, you’re a parent. So I think we’re all patients in this issue. And we all have something at stake here.” Phillips even denies being a Washington lobbyist, but instead calls himself “a community organizer” similar to the position once held by President Obama. “What do you think about that?” he asks. “Maybe I’m qualified to be president.” He finally claims that AFP is funded by citizen donors, though he admits that the bulk of its money comes from foundations such as the Koch Industries Foundations, the grant-giving arm of Koch Industries, the largest privately held oil company in the US. Maddow says, “[I]t seems odd to just call yourself patients like us when you’re a huge recipient of funding from a big company, and you’re trying to distinguish yourself from lobbyists and big companies.” Phillips in turn says that to label groups like AFP anything but citizen organizations is “demeaning” to the ordinary citizens who turn out at the rallies and forums. Maddow responds: “I’m not calling anybody, any individual American, a front group. I’m calling Americans for Prosperity’s subgroups a front group for the corporate interest that funds you, guys. Honestly, I mean, that’s the allegation that we’re making here.”
'We Would Love to Have More Corporate Funding' - Phillips says: “[C]orporate interests are a minuscule part of our funding.… And by the way, we would love to have more corporate funding. So if there’s more corporations watching us, feel free to give to us. We’ll be happy to have their support as well. We will get the message out on this health care issue.” He denies ever taking money from Exxon, but says AFP would be more than happy to accept Exxon and other such funding. Maddow notes that Exxon has listed AFP as a recipient of large amounts of money, and Phillips qualifies his statement: “This year, we haven’t had any Exxon money.… But again, though, we’re happy to take corporate money.” Maddow says that she isn’t sure the protesters showing up at the town halls at the behest of AFP know that the organization is funded by oil and health care corporations.
'Gotcha Politics' - After Maddow notes Phillips’s involvement with several Republican political and lobbying campaigns, Phillips accuses her of playing “gotcha politics.” Maddow retorts that Americans “want to know who the players are in this fight and who’s organizing what are being maintained as if they’re just spontaneous efforts happening organically by Americans who are angry and they’re aren’t being coordinated by industry and by lobbyists and by political campaign groups associated with the Republican Party. And that’s why I want to talk about who you are, because you have such an important role in coordinating these events and I think the American people are curious.” In his turn, Phillips says that it is “gotcha politics” that is helping the anti-reform movement win the issue. Before Maddow ends the interview, Phillips invites her to join AFP on the bus tour “as my guest to see these real Americans. Would you do that?” Maddow replies, “I can’t bear the conflict of interest with your corporate funders.” [MSNBC, 8/7/2009]
Entity Tags: Koch Industries Foundations, Conservatives for Patients Rights, Americans for Prosperity, ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, Republican Party, FreedomWorks, Patients United Now, Patients First, Tim Phillips, Rachel Maddow
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda
MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow (l) interviews Frank Schaeffer (r). [Source: Crooks and Liars (.com)]Frank Schaeffer, who with his late father Francis Schaeffer helped shape the social and religious conservatism that currently dominates much of American politics, writes what he calls an “inside scoop” on “why conservatives are rampaging town halls” to disrupt discussions of health care reform (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, and August 6-8, 2009), and, ultimately, to deliberately foment political violence. Schaeffer was once a leader of the conservative evangelical movement who has now repudiated his former positions, and has written a book on the subject. [AlterNet (.org), 8/7/2009; MSNBC, 8/10/2009] Schaeffer’s father wrote a book, A Christian Manifesto, which compared pro-abortion policies to those of Adolf Hitler, and said that the use of force to roll back abortion law would be justified. Schaeffer himself has written a very different book, entitled Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elects, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All or Almost All of It Back. [MSNBC, 6/1/2009]
Comparing Pro-Abortion Activists to Nazis - He tells MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that his father used to compare pro-abortion activists to Nazis, and told his followers “that using violence or force to overthrow Nazi Germany would have been appropriate for Christians, including the assassination of [Adolf] Hitler.” It is a straight, short line, Schaeffer says, to go from the concept of justifiably assassinating Hitler to using violence against those who are compared to Nazis. “It’s really like playing Russian roulette,” he says. “You put a cartridge in the chamber, you spin, and once in a while it goes off. And we saw that happen with Dr. Tiller (see May 31, 2009). We’ve seen it happen numerous times in this country with the violence against political leaders, whether it’s Martin Luther King or whoever it might be. We have a history of being a well-armed, violent country.… There is a coded message here. And that is that you have a group of people who, like Rush Limbaugh (see July 21, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 28, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 6, 2009, and August 6, 2009) would rather see the president and the country fail, and their coded message to their own lunatic fringe is very simple—and that is go for broke. When you start comparing a democratically elected president, who is not only our first black president but a moderate progressive, to Adolf Hitler (see August 7, 2009), you have arrived at a point where you are literally leading—leaving a loaded gun on the table, saying the first person who wants to come along and use this, go ahead. Be our guest.” [MSNBC, 8/10/2009]
Conservative World View Shattered by Obama Election - In a separate op-ed, Schaeffer writes: “The Republican Old Guard are in the fix an atheist would be in if Jesus showed up and raised his mother from the dead: Their world view has just been shattered. Obama’s election has driven them over the edge.” Schaeffer says that when he worked with Dick Armey (R-TX), the former House Majority Leader and now lobbyist was “a decent guy, whatever his political views. How could he stoop so low as to be organizing what amounts to America’s Brown Shirts today?” He answers his own question: Armey, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), and others “can’t compute that their white man-led conservative revolution is dead. They can’t reconcile their idea of themselves with the fact that white men like them don’t run the country any more—and never will again. To them the black president is leading a column of the ‘other’ into their promised land. Gays, immigrants, blacks, progressives, even a female Hispanic appointed to the Supreme Court (see May 26, 2009)… for them this is the Apocalypse.… [N]ow all the the Republican gurus have left is what the defeated Germans of World War Two had: a scorched earth policy. If they can’t win then everyone must go down. Obama must fail! The country must fail!”
Using 70s-Era Anti-Abortion Protest Tactics - Schaeffer says conservative and industry lobbying firms orchestrating the anti-reform movement (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, May 29, 2009, and August 6-7, 2009) are using the same tactics he and his father helped create for anti-abortion clinic protesters in the 1970s. He notes one lobbying organization, Armey’s FreedomWorks. “FreedomWorks represents a top-down, corporate-friendly approach that’s been the norm for conservative organizations for years,” Schaeffer writes. “How do I know this is the norm? Because I used to have strategy meetings with the late Jack Kemp (R-NY) and Dick Armey and the rest of the Republican gang about using their business ties to help finance the pro-life movement to defeat Democrats. I know this script. I helped write it. Democratic members of Congress are being harassed by angry, sign-carrying mobs and disruptive behavior at local town halls. It’s the tactic we used to follow abortion providers around their neighborhoods. ‘Protesters’ surrounded Rep. Tim Bishop (see June 22, 2009) and forced police officers to have to escort him to his car for safety. We used to do the same to Dr. Tiller… until someone killed him.” [AlterNet (.org), 8/7/2009]
Aware of Potential for Violence - In a previous interview with Maddow, Schaeffer expounded on this same topic. “[W]hat we did is we talked one game to the large public and we talked another game amongst ourselves,” he told Maddow. “And amongst ourselves, we were very radical.… I know that this is the case because of the fact that I was part of the movement, but also understood very well what we were doing back then was to attack the political issue when we talked to people like Ronald Reagan and the Bush family and Jack Kemp—the late Jack Kemp that we were very close to in all this. But on a private side, we also were egging people on to first pick at abortion clinics, then chain themselves to fences, then go to jail. We knew full well that in a country that had seen the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, two Kennedy brothers, and others, that what we were also doing was opening a gate here. And I think there’s no way to duck this. We live in a country in which guns are all over the place. We have plenty of people with a screw loose, plenty of people on the edge. It only takes one.” [MSNBC, 6/1/2009]
Using Lies to Obscure Facts, Disrupt Debate - The health care reform opponents are using what Schaeffer calls “[a] barrage of outright lies, wherein the Democrats are being accused of wanting to launch a massive euthanasia program against the elderly, free abortions for everyone, and ‘a government takeover’ of health care” to disrupt informed debate. Some protesters have escalated to physical violence and intimidation. Schaeffer says that just as in the 1970s, the protesters engaging in the physical violence are often “plants sent to disrupt public forums on the health care issue.… [M]uch of these protests are coordinated by public relations firms and lobbyists who have a stake in opposing President Obama’s reforms. There is no daylight between the Republican Party, the health care insurance industry, far-right leaders like Dick Armey, the legion of insurance lobbyists, and now, a small army of thugs.… No, I don’t believe that these people are about to take over the country. No, the sky is not falling. But the Republican Party is. It is now profoundly anti-American. The health insurance industry is run by very smart and very greedy people who have sunk to a new low. So has the Republican Party’s leadership that will not stand up and denounce the likes of Dick Armey for helping organize roving bands of thugs trying to strip the rest of us of the ability to be heard when it comes to the popular will on reforming health care.”
American Fascism - Schaeffer accuses the right of undermining American democracy and attempting to establish an almost-fascist control of society. “Here’s the emerging American version of the fascist’s formula,” he writes: “combine millions of dollars of lobbyists’ money with embittered troublemakers who have a small army of not terribly bright white angry people (collected over decades through pro-life mass mailing networks) at their beck and call, ever ready to believe any myth or lie circulated by the semi-literate and completely and routinely misinformed right wing—evangelical religious underground. Then put his little mob together with the insurance companies’ big bucks. That’s how it works—American Brown Shirts at the ready.” He notes that the murder of Tiller closed down his clinic, one of the few in the country that performed late-term abortions. So the murder of Tiller achieved the goal of the anti-abortion movement. “In this case a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to save our economy from going bankrupt because of spiraling health care costs may be lost, not because of a better argument, but because of lies backed up by anti-democratic embittered thuggery. The motive? Revenge on America by the Old White Guys of the far right, and greed by the insurance industry.” Schaeffer concludes, “It’s time to give this garbage a name: insurance industry funded fascism.” [AlterNet (.org), 8/7/2009]
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]
60+ logo. [Source: 60 Plus Association]An anti-health care reform television ad designed to frighten seniors into believing that so-called “death panels” will have government officials choosing to terminate them (see August 7, 2009, August 10, 2009, and August 10, 2009) is produced by a supposedly “non-partisan seniors advocacy group.” However, in fact the group is led, organized, and funded by senior Republican operatives. The ad says in part that health care reform will, for seniors, “mean long waits for care, cuts to MRIs, CAT Scans, and other vital tests. Seniors may lose their own doctors. The government, not doctors, will decide if older patients are worth the cost.” The organization that produced and released the ad is called the “60 Plus Association,” or “60+,” a registered non-profit organization that claims to be non-partisan. The president of 60+ is Jim Martin, a former official for the National Conservative Action Committee and another group, Americans Against Union Control of Government. The honorary chairman of 60+ is Roger Zion, a former Illinois Republican congressman whom the group’s site calls “one of Washington’s leading spokesman for the conservative cause.” When 60+ began running ads against prescription drug reform a few years ago, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) discovered that, in the organization’s words, “virtually all of their largest contributions in recent years have come from the same source—the nation’s pharmaceutical industry.” John Rother of AARP will confirm that 60+ is “funded primarily by corporate interests, especially pharmaceuticals.” Speaking to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, he says that 60+ and other anti-reform groups are specifically targeting seniors. “I don’t think you can look at those commercials and not conclude that seniors are the target of a very intentional scare campaign,” he says. “And many seniors, of course, are worried about change because they depend on Medicare. They are perhaps not in the greatest of health, and they definitely want to know that Medicare will be there, their doctor will be there when they need it. So, change can be a little scary.… It certainly makes me angry because, you know, there are real issues and people should be engaged in this debate. But to scare people, to raise these bogus issues, to intentionally mislead a big part of the population is—you know, it’s a subversion of democracy.” Rother adds: “[W]e’ve looked at this bill and we read every page, we’ve concluded that the bills proposed in the Congress would be good for seniors, would actually help them afford their medications better, make sure that doctors are there when they need them. So, we feel there’s nothing to be scared about in the actual legislation.” In 2003, the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer paid 60+ to organize opposition against prescription drug reform in Minnesota and New Mexico. 60+ in turn hired a PR firm, Bonner & Associates, which according to the AARP “specializes in ‘Astroturf lobbying’” (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, and August 6-7, 2009). Bonner paid employees to call residents of those states and, identifying themselves as volunteers for 60+, urge them to oppose the legislation. 60+ also has ties to former Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who directed Native American tribes to donate to 60+ in return for Republican support in Congress. 60+ has also lobbied in favor of approving the storage of nuclear waste at the infamous Yucca Mountain, Nevada, storage site. Maddow says: “[T]he campaign against health care reform in this country is being brought to you by professional, corporate-funded, Republican-staffed political PR operations. In this case, an organization that promotes itself as non-partisan but appears to be anything but. These are professional PR operatives that are scaring real Americans with increasingly paranoid and kooky lies about health care. And they’re getting rich in the process, thanks to the largess of extremely interested parties who are more than willing to pay for their services.” [MSNBC, 8/11/2009; MSNBC, 8/12/2009]
Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) does not withdraw her accusations that Congressional Democrats are planning to institute “death panels” for elderly Americans as part of their health care reform proposal (see August 7, 2009), but she does call for civility at town hall debates over the 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, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-8, 2009, and August 8, 2009). On her Facebook page, Palin writes: “There are many disturbing details in the current bill that Washington is trying to rush through Congress, but we must stick to a discussion of the issues and not get sidetracked by tactics that can be accused of leading to intimidation or harassment. Such tactics diminish our nation’s civil discourse which we need now more than ever because the fine print in this outrageous health care proposal must be understood clearly and not get lost in conscientious voters’ passion to want to make elected officials hear what we are saying. Let’s not give the proponents of nationalized health care any reason to criticize us.” Talking Points Memo correspondent Eric Kleefeld notes: “It would be incorrect to say that Palin is backing off. Rather, she is calling for civility in the manner of the debate, so as to focus effectively on how evil and disturbing her opponents are.” [Politico, 8/10/2009; TPMDC, 8/10/2009] MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow says of Palin’s apparent backtrack: “[I]n politics the price of cultivating the extremist fringe—the price of that is losing your support from absolutely everyone else who is not on the fringe. And that’s why politicians get caught saying, ‘Who me?’ They try to both cultivate the fringe and to deny that they are doing so. So you get Sarah Palin allying herself with the off-the-kook end fringe by denouncing mythical death panels in health care reform. And once those remarks draw wide attention, you get her trying to appear to be responsible by calling for civility.” [MSNBC, 8/11/2009]
Former health insurance executive Wendell Potter (see July 10, 2009), who formerly headed the PR division at Cigna, says that the skyrocketing profits of health care corporations and their executives are directly driving the industry’s opposition to health care reform. According to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the profits of the US’s 10 largest health insurance companies rose 428 percent between 2000 and 2007. In 2000, those 10 companies made a combined profit of $2.4 billion. In 2007, those numbers had risen to $12.9 billion. During that seven-year period, the number of Americans without health insurance rose 19 percent. The CEOs of those 10 firms made an average of $11.9 million in 2007 alone. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow notes that the health insurance industry “bankrolled efforts to kill the last effort at health care reform” in 1994 (see Mid-January - February 4, 1994). In an interview with Maddow, Potter blames the insurance industry for much of the recent spate of “town hall” disruptions that have helped derail debate over health care reform (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-8, 2009, August 8, 2009, and August 10, 2009) “and a lot of the deception that’s going on in terms of disinformation that many Americans apparently are believing.” Potter goes on to note that health insurance firms are making tremendous profits on the steady erosion of paid premiums going to fund medical claims. In 1993, the industry paid out roughly 95 percent of the premiums they took in to claims. In 2007, that number had dropped to 80 percent. Insurance firms also routinely “kick sick people off the rolls when they do get sick or when people get injured.… [A]nd also, they’re paying fewer claims.” The health insurance industry is dead set against the so-called “public option,” Potter says, for the simple reason that a publicly run alternative to private insurance would cost its members profits. [MSNBC, 8/11/2009]
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.
Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) tells progressive MSNBC host Rachel Maddow that, although he believes much of the dissent against health care reform is genuine and many of the protesters against reform are “legitimately angry,” he believes that much of that anger and concern “is based on the fear that—on the fears that people in Washington, that corporate lobbyists, the fears they play on to create fear among people. You know, frankly, Rachel, if we had had these kind of corporate groups in Washington, they were around—been around the country creating the fear that we just saw on television. If we had seen that 45 years ago, we probably never would have gotten Medicare (see 1962). That’s why it’s so important to patiently, one person at a time, explain what this health care bill is about. Be patient, even with the anger people show. Don’t let them show disrespect. But at least, stand your ground. Don’t get angry. Don’t fight back, but answer calmly and rationally, because we need to pass this health care bill the same way that some pretty gutsy people 44 years ago passed Medicare.” The people who are “screaming euthanasia, socialized medicine” are “the people that are the most fearful.” He recalls speaking with one elderly Ohio woman who told him: “I hate socialized medicine. I don’t want government in my health care.” Brown recalls: “I asked her if she’s on Medicare. She said, ‘Yes, and I’m really pleased with my Medicare.’ Those people need education instead of the fear-mongers playing up on their fears.” [MSNBC, 8/12/2009]
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
Progressive MSNBC host Rachel Maddow worries on the air about the possibility of physical violence, and perhaps even political assassinations, being perpetrated as a result of the escalating violent rhetoric surrounding the health care reform debate. In recent days, at least one Democratic lawmaker has been threatened with death (see August 11, 2009), an African-American congressman has been vilified with swastikas and racial slurs (see August 11, 2009 and August 12, 2009), and guns have been brought both openly and surreptitiously to town halls (see August 5, 2009), some with President Obama in attendance (see August 11, 2009). Maddow tells her listeners: “[O]pponents of health care reform have chosen to fight at this time with force and with threats of force. Not just fringe talk show hosts, but members of Congress telling their constituents that Barack Obama is like Hitler; members of the United States senate telling their constituents that they are right to be afraid, that health care reform really is a plot to kill 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 6, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, Shortly Before August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, and August 11, 2009). Corporate funded conservative PR operations promoting those lines of attack and then telling their activists to go put the fear of God into members of Congress (see August 6, 2009). Are we now operating in a political environment which is not just politics as usual, which is not just a rowdy debate? Has enough kerosene been poured on the flames that the possibility of violence—even assassination—is being posited as a real political tactic in the United States? It’s not a rhetorical question. It’s not even a question about rhetoric. Because there are people in this country—people in the health care field, in fact—who have faced the actual threat of assassination as a political tactic (see May 31, 2009).… As the anti-health reform protestors flirt with the same exultation of violence, that same excuses and purported justifications of violence, that echo in the extreme anti-abortion movement in this country, it is worth remembering that the possibility of American politics turning to violence and terrorism—at the fringe—is not all theoretical.” Maddow’s guest, abortion provider Dr. Warren Hern, himself a target of political assassins, tells her: “They have—the anti-abortion movement decided, more than 15 years ago, to use political assassination as a tactic, as a method of not only political expression but a way of organizing their followers and getting support and that’s what they’ve been doing. They’ve been assassinating doctors. And the question I have pointed out when they get through assassinating abortion doctors: who’s next?… [I]t’s very clear that there’s been a progression of violence increasingly toward individuals. And this is one of the frightening trends. And so, we have to be very concerned because the violent and the aggressive rhetoric and action or statements lead to more violent action and to assassination.” [MSNBC, 8/13/2009]
Malcolm Nance, the former master instructor and chief of training at the Navy’s Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) School who now serves as a consultant on counterterrorism and terrorism intelligence for the US government, makes a cogent point about “breaking” interrogation subjects. Nance is interviewed by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who asks: “One of the other things that I think is a term that sort of gets bandied around by civilians who don’t have experience in these things when we talk about, not only the politics of interrogation, but also the utility of interrogation, is this idea of somebody being broken, a prisoner, the subject of an interrogation being a broken person. And that was described by political actors about interrogation techniques as sort of the goal, about what the idea was to—what the object was of what we wanted to be doing to al-Qaeda prisoners. Does breaking a person in interrogation terms make sense if what you’re trying to do is get real information out of them?” Nance replies, “The process of ‘breaking,’ quote-unquote, a prisoner is not something interrogators do. Interrogators really don’t want to break you down as a human being and take away all of your ability to think and reason and give a coherent answer. That was something that was developed by totalitarian and hostile regimes who saw that a confession is what they wanted out of you. They didn’t care whether you had done it or not. A confession is what they needed out of you, and to get that confession, what they would do is break you physically, psychologically, and mentally so that you could get into a state of learned helplessness and you would comply no matter what they would say. Now, this killed hundreds, if not thousands, of American service members in Korea, World War II, and Vietnam. And this is not something which any real interrogator would want to try because, of course, at that point, you are not getting information. You are just getting compliance. And any idiot can comply and that makes no intelligence whatsoever.” Nance and Maddow note that former SERE psychologists Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, the two SERE psychologists who designed the US torture program (see Late 2001-Mid-March 2002, January 2002 and After, Late March through Early June, 2002, April - June 2002, Mid-April 2002, April 16, 2002, Between Mid-April and Mid-May 2002, Mid-May 2002 and After, June 2002, July 2002, April 2009, and April 30, 2009), were experienced in the methodologies of “breaking” prisoners and not in extracting useful information. [MSNBC, 8/13/2009]
Investigative journalists find that at least seven prominent Republicans who now denounce what they call “death panels” and claim that the Democrats’ health care legislation will lead to the untimely deaths of US 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, 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, and August 13, 2009) actually supported proposals similar to the legislation’s provision for government-funded “end-of-life counseling.”
Palin, Gingrich Supported 'Advance Directives' - In August 2008, Sarah Palin (R-AK), then the governor of Alaska, proclaimed “Healthcare Decisions Day.” She urged public health care facilities to provide more information about so-called “advance directives,” and said that seniors must be informed of all their options as the end of their lives draw near. The proclamation has recently been deleted from the Alaska governor’s Web site. Reporter Matt Taibbi notes that in late 2008 and early 2009, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) endorsed an aggressive “end of life” program from a Wisconsin health care provider, Gundersen Lutheran Health System, and wrote, “If Gundersen’s approach was used to care for the approximately 4.5 million Medicare beneficiaries who die every year, Medicare could save more than $33 billion a year.” Taibbi accuses Gingrich of “lying [about death panels] in order to scare a bunch of old people.” [Matt Taibbi, 8/12/2009; Think Progress, 8/13/2009]
Five Others Voted for End-of-Life Counseling - In 2003, five Republicans who now oppose the supposed “death panels” voted in favor of an almost-identical provision in that year’s Medicare reform legislation. Representatives John Boehner (R-OH), Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), and John Mica (R-FL), and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) all voted for the bill, which provided coverage for “counseling the beneficiary with respect to end-of-life issues and care options, and advising the beneficiary regarding advanced care planning.” Boehner, McCotter, and Mica have claimed that the current attempt at health care reform would lead to “government-encouraged euthanasia.” Isakson opposes the House legislation because it allows the “government to incentivize doctors by offering them money to conduct end-of-life counseling.” And Grassley told constituents that they are “right to fear” that government could “decide when to pull the plug on Grandma” (see August 12, 2009). [Plum Line, 8/14/2009]
Widespread Republican Support in 2003 - In all, 202 House Republicans and 42 Republican Senators voted for the Medicare bill. MSNBC host Rachel Maddow will say: “And there was not a peep about then-President Bush having a secret plan to kill old people. Bottom line? Either Republicans like Chuck Grassley and John Boehner and John Mica have totally changed their minds about whether living wills are really a secret plot to kill old people, or they voted for something just a few years ago that they actually thought was a secret plot to kill old people. Take your choice.” [MSNBC, 8/17/2009]
Entity Tags: Matt Taibbi, Gundersen Lutheran Health System, Charles Grassley, John Boehner, Johnny Isakson, Thaddeus McCotter, John Mica, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Medicare, Rachel Maddow
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda
Attorney George Felos, who represented Michael Schiavo in the Terri Schiavo end-of-life case, says it is ironic to have the same politicians who insisted on becoming involved in the Schiavo decision in 2005 now saying it is not politicians’ place to become involved in end-of-life decisions as part of their opposition to health care reform (see July 10, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 13, 2009, August 12-13, 2009, and August 13, 2009). (Terri Schiavo had been in a coma for years; her husband wanted to have her feeding tube removed and allow her to die. Republican politicians, including then-President George W. Bush, attempted to block the move.) MSNBC host Rachel Maddow notes: “When Terri Schiavo’s next of kin, her husband, Michael Schiavo, tried to carry out what he said were his wife’s end-of-life wishes, it was the Republican Party who decided that actually the government knew better—actually the politicians understood this better than that family and the government should intervene. And now, many of the very same people who interfered in Michael and Terri Schiavo’s health care decisions at the end of Terri Schiavo’s life, the politicians who brought that end-of-life decisions to floor of the US Capitol, they are arguing against health care reform now on the grounds that they don’t want the government to interfere an end-of-life decisions.” One of the Republicans involved in the Schiavo case, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), says that the health care reform legislation pending in the House will no longer include a provision for government funding of end-of-life counseling. Felos tells Maddow that there are “some similarities” to the Schiavo case: “[E]nd-of-life decision-making for patients is a very sensitive issue. People have legitimate fears. They have legitimate concerns about that. And in the Schiavo case, those legitimate fears and concerns were exploited for political and ideological reasons. And I think that’s what we’re seeing now done in an opposite way.” [MSNBC, 8/14/2009]
After today’s media reports that a man armed with an automatic rifle patrolled back and forth in front of the venue where President Obama gave a speech on health care reform (see August 17, 2009), MSNBC progressive host Rachel Maddow interviews former Secret Service agent Joseph Petro, a 23-year veteran of the force. Maddow notes that aside from the man with the automatic weapon, about a dozen armed people were outside the venue in Phoenix today. Petro says the Secret Service does not routinely plan for this kind of situation, because “it’s not something the Secret Service often encounters.” He adds: “You know, the Secret Service is protecting [sic] presidents for a long time. And there are a whole series of processes and procedures that they go through to create perimeters. And each of those perimeters become more and more difficult to penetrate, up right to the end where the agents are actually around the president. But I think this is less a Secret Service issue and more as an issue for all of us. You know, you said a few days ago that the possibility of American politics turning to violence or terrorism at the fringe is not all that theoretical. I would argue that the vitriolic political rhetoric we’re hearing from some seemingly responsible people is stimulating a lot of these foolish stunts, and they’re not very helpful. And I think they’re dangerous actually. And I think they’re dangerous for two reasons. One is, it’s hard enough to protect the president. The Secret Service and the local police are being distracted from that—from that duty to keep our president safe. And I think the second reason, and maybe even more serious, is the fact that it could incite or encourage one of those individuals at the fringe that you mentioned, from doing something really dangerous and perhaps violent against the president or some other person. So, I think it’s—this is not a helpful situation and maybe the politicians should look at lowering some of the rhetoric to try to create a more positive atmosphere.” Petro again calls the display of firearms at a presidential event a “stunt” and “irresponsible.” Maddow goes further, calling it “an implied threat of force.” Petro notes: “It’s not in the Secret Service’s interest to have this kind of these theatrics going on around. Clearly, those people are not dangerous to the president at that moment. You know, they’re outside the building. They’re a block away or, you know, they’re not going to—they’re not an immediate danger to the president. But what they’re creating is an atmosphere that is—that could become dangerous for the president. And that’s what would concern me, and I’m sure it concerns the Secret Service.” [MSNBC, 8/18/2009]
Health care opponent Betsy McCaughey either resigns, or is fired, from her post as a director of Cantel Medical Corporation. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow announces that McCaughey is fired; other sources report that she resigned voluntarily. Many media observers believe that part of the reason behind her departure is her poor performance on a recent interview with The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart (see August 20, 2009). McCaughey retains her position as an adjunct fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute, where she has consistently lobbied against health care reform and promoted issues favorable to health care and health insurance firms. In a press statement, Cantel says that “on August 20, 2009 it received a letter of resignation from Ms. Elizabeth McCaughey as a director of the company. Ms. McCaughey, who had served as a director since 2005, stated that she was resigning to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest during the national debate over health care reform.” [Yahoo! Finance, 8/21/2009; Stock Market Today, 8/22/2009]
The question from the RNC survey asking about possible discrimination against Republicans. [Source: Washington Independent]The Republican National Committee (RNC) mails a survey to thousands of recipients that implies the Democrats’ health care reform efforts will use voter registration information to ration health care, and to deny care to Republicans. A question in the survey asks: “It has been suggested that the government could use voter registration to determine a person’s political affiliation, prompting fears that GOP voters might be discriminated against for medical treatment in a Democrat-imposed health care rationing system. Does this possibility concern you?”
'Inartfully' Worded - Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine retorts, “Even we can’t believe the latest in the RNC’s effort to scare voters, lie to the public, and ‘kill’ health insurance reform.” RNC spokeswoman Katie Wright says the question might have been “inartfully” written, but reflects legitimate concerns about confidentiality: “Americans have reason to be concerned about the failure of the Democrats’ health care experiment to adequately protect the privacy of Americans’ personal information.” Politico’s Glenn Thrush says of Wright’s wording, “‘Inartfully’ seems to fall short of a loaded question which seems to have little basis in reality.” He notes that though the House bill gives the government the right to glean “point of service” data about someone’s health care payments or remittances through the use of an electronic benefits card, “nowhere in the proposed bill is any reference to tapping voter registration information.” [Politico, 8/27/2009; Republican National Committee, 8/27/2009 ]
AMA Criticizes Survey - The American Medical Association (AMA) denounces the survey’s implication, writing, “Patients should rest assured that the health care legislation under consideration in the House does not ration medical care or discriminate based on political affiliation.” [TPMDC, 8/27/2009] Progressive television host Rachel Maddow says of the survey, “In the horrible Hobbesian, no rules, no shame, free-for-all of lies, overstatements, and outrageous mischaracterizations that has been the health care debate this summer thus far, this one—this health reform is a secret plot to kill Republicans lie offered up by the Republican Party itself—was so bad that the Republican Party actually had to apologize for it today.” [MSNBC, 8/28/2009]
'Fundraising Appeal' Designed to 'Inflam[e] the Republican Base' - Retired insurance underwriter Raymond Denny, who received the survey, equates the question to the classic “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?” He says: “It’s so blatantly lopsided. I called them [the RNC] up and said, ‘This is ridiculous!’ They just said, ‘All right.’” Denny tells a reporter he is concerned that such baseless insinuations—that the Obama administration would deny health care to Republicans—would become yet another talking point for anti-reform proponents. Another question asks: “Rationing of health care in countries with socialized medicine has led to patients dying because they were forced to wait too long for treatment.… Are you concerned that this would be inevitable in the US under the Democrats’ plan?” Denny says: “I wrote insurance policies. I know how words can be used to make people do what you want them to do. The law allows a lot of latitude with politicians. That I understand. Some of these techniques are used by both parties. But this to me seems way over the edge of normal politics.” Pollster Mike Riley says the survey is not, apparently, a legitimate information-gathering device, but rather a means of inflaming the Republican base and garnering donations. Such “surveys” are standard practice, he notes. “It’s common, trying to stir the pot to see what kinds of issues get attention. Both parties do that. They are using some of the hot-button issues to see what activates the voters. It’s politics as usual within the party faithful. No one that I know puts any credibility in these types of polls.” Another pollster, Bob Moore, calls the “survey” little more than “a fundraising appeal.” If such tactics “weren’t effective, they wouldn’t be using them,” he says. [The Columbian, 8/27/2009; Washington Independent, 8/27/2009; Washington Independent, 8/27/2009]
Entity Tags: American Medical Association, Bob Moore, Brandi Hoffine, Democratic National Committee, Glenn Thrush, Katie Wright, Republican National Committee, Mike Riley, Rachel Maddow, Raymond Denny, Republican Party
Timeline Tags: US Health Care
Tom Ridge and Rachel Maddow. [Source: Armchair Generalist]Former Homeland Security head Tom Ridge is interviewed by progressive television host Rachel Maddow. Ridge has authored a book, The Test of Our Times, a memoir of his tenure in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from October 2001 through the end of President Bush’s first term. Maddow notes that 22 federal agencies were incorporated under the leadership of DHS, from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Border Patrol to the Coast Guard and the Secret Service, “the biggest change in what we pay federal tax dollars for since we got a unified Defense Department in 1947.” She goes on to note that one of the new agency’s biggest failures was its lackadaisical and incompetent response to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, though the Coast Guard, one of DHS’s daughter agencies, did eventually deliver what she calls “belated but frankly relatively competent aid,” and Ridge was not DHS secretary when Katrina struck.
Raising the Threat Level - Maddow’s primary focus during much of the interview is the Bush administration’s raising of the so-called “threat level” during 2004, as the presidential elections heated up (see July 8, 2004, for example). In his book, Ridge noted that he wasn’t sure events justified the raising of the threat level.
October 2004 Threat Level Escalation 'Not Political,' Ridge Says - In his book, Ridge wrote that the administration tried to raise the threat level to “orange” just days before the presidential election, on October 29, 2004 (see October 29, 2004). However, when pressed on the subject, Ridge backs away from the implications he raised in his book that politics, not national security, prompted the escalation. “Well, that’s not quite the argument that I put in here,” he tells Maddow. “That passage has generated a lot of heat, so I would like to generate a little light on it.… Further in the book, I remind everybody that the system we designed to raise the threat level could not be manipulated, could not be orchestrated, directed, or pressured by any single individual. Regardless of what anybody says, the system was designed by the president to include the homeland security cabinet group sitting around from time to time when the intelligence warranted that group discussion. If you had a YouTube video of it, you would see the secretary of defense, the attorney general, the secretary of state, and others, having a conversation as to whether the intelligence generates enough concern that we want to raise the threat level. That happened many, many times. This is a particularly dramatic moment, because it is the weekend before the election.… We don’t see anything in the department that generates it, and certainly other people agreed with us. But Secretary Rumsfeld and Attorney General Ashcroft, very strong in their opinions, as everybody had expressed opinions on any other occasions that you never heard about because we never—we never raised the threat level. At the end of the day, I am using in the book, is there more intelligence, is there something—that is new.… [A]t no time—at no time—at no time did politics enter in my judgment, anybody’s equation. These are tough judgment calls. We made them on a series of occasions throughout two years. Rarely did we make those decisions to go up. Politics was not involved.” Ridge says flatly, “I was not pressured” to raise the threat level. Maddow reads from the fly leaf of Ridge’s book, “He recounts episodes such as the pressure that the DHS received to raise the security alert on the eve of the ‘04 presidential election,” to which Ridge retorts: “Those aren’t my words.… It’s the dust jacket.”
Raising the Threat Level for Political Reasons - Maddow reminds Ridge that both in interviews and his book, he has frequently asked the question of whether the decision to raise the threat level during his tenure was made for political reasons, and notes: “I think that I am persuaded by the argument that I think you make in the book, and you may not have intended it from what you said earlier, that it is a pernicious thing for the American people to perceive that the parts of our government responsible for ensuring our security are actually making decisions that aren’t about our security at all. They’re telling us it’s about security and it’s not.” In 2005, she notes, “you said at a forum about the terror alert level, you said there were times when some people were really aggressive about raising it, and we said, ‘for that?’ (see May 10, 2005) Were there times—were there times when you felt like people were wanting to raise it for reasons that weren’t about the country’s safety?” Ridge denies ever raising the question, and explains: “I do admit, there were some times when we took a look at the intelligence. Some of my colleagues said, ‘Yes, I think we better go up.’ But none of those colleagues had the responsibility of dealing with the consequences of taking the country to a higher level. And so we were always very modest.… I don’t doubt for a moment that any of my colleagues who were involved in those discussions felt the reason we should either go up or not go up, add more security or reduce the security, was based on what they thought was in the best interest of the security of the country, period.… When I said, ‘for what?’ I must tell you, a couple of times I would come back to the office and say, ‘I don’t get it.‘… I don’t think that’s enough to go up. And part of that is yours truly saying to his leadership team who has responsibilities to oversee what’s going to go on, there’s not enough here to tell the governors and the mayors and the security professionals, you have got to raise another level, you have got to increase expenses, you have got to call in personnel. In my judgment, it wasn’t enough. And by the way, at the time we made the right decision, I believe.” Maddow reminds Ridge that in his book he wrote: “[I]t seemed possible to me that something could be afoot. I wondered, is this about security or politics?” She asks, “You’re saying now that you wondered that and you shouldn’t have?” Ridge replies: “No. I mused at the time, ‘Is there something else here?’ I said, ‘Is it politics? Is it security?‘… But there wasn’t anything there.”
Praising the President in 2004 - After a brief discussion of DHS’s response to Hurricane Katrina, Maddow asks about an incident in August 2004, when Ridge praised President Bush’s leadership in the Middle East. As Maddow describes it, Ridge was asked to praise Bush’s leadership. During a subsequent press conference, Ridge said that Bush’s leadership “was causing us to better target our defensive measures here and away from home. And the implication was that going to war in Iraq was a defensive measure like homeland security stuff that we do here at home.” She asks if he regrets making that statement. Ridge says he agrees with his 2004 assessment, and says he merely “threw the sentence into the press conference.” He says his comment became a “sideshow” that “marginalized the process” and caused people to question his objectivity. Ridge tries to deny that he was specifically talking about the war effort in Iraq, though, as Maddow notes, “[W]hen you said ‘targeting our defensive measures away from home,’ this is August ‘04, so we are more than a year into the war in Iraq with the implication there was that you were talking about Iraq.” Ridge now says that he meant the general war against terrorism. “I should have never mentioned the president’s name,” he says, “because it, again, created a perception—we talked about this earlier—that somehow politics were involved, but and politics was not involved in that decision. It was driven by intelligence.”
Making the Case for War with Iraq - Maddow segues into a statement Ridge made in February 2003, when he said on ABC: “I agree that as the president has said, the world community has said this is a rogue regime that has chemical biological weapons, trying to develop nuclear weapons, has means of delivery. That’s the reason this individual needs to be disarmed. The point in fact is that the world community has known for 12 years he’s got chemical biological weapons, means of delivery, and that’s precisely the reason of the United States and its partners are trying to disarm Saddam Hussein. He’s a threat to his region, he’s a threat to our allies. He’s a threat to us.” Maddow notes: “You were a crucial authoritative part of making what turned out to be a false case to the American people about Iraq being a threat, and us needing to attack them.… You made that case on national television a month before we started invading. Do you regret that?” Ridge replies: “No.… At the time, I think [sic] it’s true, and subsequent to that, the president’s leadership and the things we have done have kept America safe.” Ridge goes on to note that “everyone” believed the intelligence showed Iraq was an imminent threat to the US at the time the invasion was being considered. “You believed it at the time,” Maddow confirms, and then asks, “You don’t still believe it, do you?” Ridge replies: “Well, it’s pretty clear that the intelligence communities of several countries who had assessed his—who claimed that he had weapons of mass destruction, we haven’t found them.… But there were other reasons to go in. That was the one that was—that everybody focused on, and everyone who has been critical of the president for going into Iraq said we never found them. But I think the president made the decisions based on the facts and the intelligence as he knew it at the time, and I think it was the right decision at the time.” He denies that anyone in the administration did anything to “skew” or politicize the intelligence on Iraq’s WMD programs. “There’s no way that anybody in that group—I just—they would commit our blood and our treasure to a cause if they didn’t think it was necessary to commit our blood and treasure to a cause to keep America safe. The intelligence may have proven to be false, but there was no doubt in my mind that they were motivated to keep America safe. In retrospect, we can say that the intelligence was faulty.”
Maddow: No Credibility on National Security until GOP Admits Fault - Maddow tells Ridge: “I think you making that argument right now is why Republicans after the Bush and Cheney administration are not going to get back the country’s trust on national security. To look back at that decision and say, we got it wrong but it was in good faith and not acknowledge the foregone conclusion that we are going to invade Iraq that pervaded every decision that was made about intelligence—looking back at that decision-making process, it sounds like you’re making the argument you would have made the same decision again. Americans need to believe that our government would not make that wrong a decision, that would not make such a foregone conclusion—take such a foregone conclusion to such an important issue, that the intelligence that proved the opposite point was all discounted, that the intelligence was combed through for any bit that would support the foregone conclusion of the policy makers. The system was broken. And if you don’t see that the system was broken and you think it was just that the intel was wrong, I think that you’re one of the most trusted voices on national security for the Republican Party, and I think that’s the elephant in the room. I don’t think you guys get back your credibility on national security until you realize that was a wrong decision made by policy makers. It wasn’t the spies’ fault.” Ridge says any suggestion that anyone would have deliberately skewed or misinterpreted the intelligence on Iraq is “radical.… Later on, it may have proven that some of the information was inaccurate, but there were plenty of reasons to go into Iraq at the time; the foremost was weapons of mass destruction. That obviously proven [sic] to be faulty. But the fact of the matter is, at that time, given what they knew—and they knew more than you and I did—it seemed to be the right thing to do, and the decision was made in what they considered to be the best interests of our country.” When democracy in Iraq is finally established, Ridge says, “the notion that we went in improperly will be obviously reversed, and the history has yet to be written.” Maddow replies: “If you can go back in time and sell the American people on the idea that 4,000 Americans ought to lose their lives and we ought to lose those trillions of dollars for democracy in Iraq, you have a wilder imagination than I do. We were sold that war because of 9/11. We were sold that war because of the threat of weapons of mass destruction from this guy who didn’t have them, and our government should have known it. And, frankly, a lot of people believe that our government did know it, and that it was a cynical decision. And maybe everybody wasn’t in on it, maybe that is a radical thing to conclude, but I think that…” Ridge interjects: “I don’t share that point of view. You do.” [MSNBC, 9/2/2009]
Reactions - Reactions to the interview are predictably split, with progressives noting how much Ridge backpedals on questions he himself raised, and conservatives declaring victory for Ridge. Talking Points Memo notes the irony in Ridge’s claim that while his words should be trusted, the words on the dust jacket of his book should not be. [TPM LiveWire, 9/2/2009] Posters on the conservative blog Free Republic write that Ridge “pwned” Maddow, video game slang for dominating or “owning” someone. [Free Republic, 9/1/2009]
Entity Tags: Federal Emergency Management Agency, Free Republic, Talking Points Memo, George W. Bush, US Secret Service, John Ashcroft, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), Republican Party, Tom Ridge, Rachel Maddow, US Border Patrol, US Department of Homeland Security, US Coast Guard
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
The documentary uses an actor and computer effects to simulate McVeigh’s actions during the interviews, which were recorded on audio tape, and of his carrying out the bombing. [Source: MSNBC]MSNBC airs a documentary about convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997), who before his execution (see 7:14 a.m. June 11, 2001) confessed to bombing the Murrah Federal Building (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) to Buffalo News reporters Lou Michel and Dan Herbeck. Michel and Herbeck went on to write a 2001 biography of McVeigh, American Terrorist: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing, based on their interviews with McVeigh. The MSNBC documentary, The McVeigh Tapes: Confessions of an American Terrorist, features excerpts drawn from the 45 hours of audio recordings made by Michel. The documentary will be broadcast on April 19, the 15th anniversary of the bombing, and features film of the bombing and its aftermath; computer-generated recreations to augment the actual audio recordings (with an actor playing McVeigh); and interviews with survivors of the bombing and family members of the slain. McVeigh told of his childhood in upstate New York (see 1987-1988), his experiences in the 1991 Gulf War (see January - March 1991 and After), his relationship with convicted co-conspirator Terry Nichols (see March 24, 1988 - Late 1990, December 23, 1997, and June 4, 1998), and of the meticulous planning and execution of the bombing. [MSNBC, 4/15/1995; MSNBC, 4/15/1995] One of the few moments when McVeigh’s voice became animated was when he described the moments before the bomb went off, saying, “I lit the two-minute fuse at the stoplight, and I swear to God that was the longest stoplight I’ve ever sat at in my life.” [New York Times, 4/18/1995] The documentary is narrated by MSNBC talk show host Rachel Maddow. Herbeck says he understands that the documentary will evoke strong feelings. “Some people will say they don’t want to hear anything about Timothy McVeigh and we respect their feelings on that,” he says. “But others are interested in hearing what made a terrorist tick.” Michel says, “[It’s an] oral blueprint of what turned one young man into one of the worst mass-murderers and terrorists in American history.” Herbeck says their book drew similar mixed reactions: “A few of the victims were outraged by our book, and they went public with their feelings. They felt it was wrong to tell the story of a terrorist.” Maddow says she is not worried that the documentary will somehow glamorize McVeigh or make him into a martyr figure: “McVeigh is profoundly unsympathetic—even repugnant—on his own terms, you don’t need to work to make him seem that way. There’s a huge distance between the hero he is in his own mind, and how basely unheroic he seems to anyone hearing the tapes now. I personally am not a supporter of the death penalty… but hearing him talk, it’s hard not to wish him gone.” In the documentary, Jannie Coverdale, who lost her two young grandchildren in the blast, says: “I was glad when he died. I will never forgive Timothy McVeigh.” Oklahoma City Police Department official Jennifer Rodgers, one of the first responders to the bombing (see 9:02 a.m. - 10:35 a.m. April 19, 1995), says her feelings are “still raw.… It just doesn’t seem like it was really that long ago.” Maddow says the story is important even 15 years later: “The Murrah Building bombing is the worst incident of domestic terrorism we’ve ever experienced as a nation. We owe pure remembrance of the date, and commemoration of the lives lost and changed. I think it’s also an appropriate occasion to talk about the threat of domestic terrorism. How strong is the threat now, 15 years after McVeigh? Are we heeding warning signs that may be out there now?” Former President Clinton, who oversaw the federal efforts to respond to the bombing, has recently warned that ugly and frightening parallels exist between the current political tensions and the anti-government rage that preceded McVeigh’s attack, saying: “We can disagree with them [elected officials], we can harshly criticize them. But when we turn them into an object of demonization, we increase the number of threats.” Michel says: “There’s no question that the militia movement is on the rise again. Some of the same factors that caused McVeigh to believe he had become disenfranchised from mainstream society are again in the mix: growing government regulations, lack of employment. Those are things McVeigh would cite if he were alive.” [MSNBC, 4/15/1995; MSNBC, 4/15/1995] In the documentary, Maddow says of the date of the airing: “On this date, which holds great meaning for the anti-government movement, the McVeigh tapes are a can’t-turn-away, riveting reminder.” Washington Post reviewer Hank Steuver calls the documentary “chilling” and McVeigh’s demeanor “arrogan[t]” and unrepentant. “Maddow and company wisely decline to draw too straight a line from 1995 to 2010, but, as she indicates, it might be helpful in crazy times to study this sort of crazy head-on,” he writes. “Watching this, it’s easy to feel like that fuse is still lit.” [Washington Post, 4/18/2010] New York Times reviewer Alessandra Stanley says the use of an actor and computer effects “blunts its impact by relying on stagy computer graphics.… Scenes of this domestic terrorist in shackles during a prison interview or lighting a fuse inside a rented Ryder truck look neither real nor completely fake, but certainly cheesy: a violent video game with McVeigh as a methodical, murderous avatar.” [New York Times, 4/18/1995] The documentary is later made available on YouTube. [911Blogger (.com), 4/20/2010]
Infowars (.com) logo. [Source: The Jeenyus Corner (.com]Kurt Nimmo, writing for the right-wing conspiracy Web site Infowars (.com), calls the recent MSNBC documentary featuring the confession of convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see April 15-18, 2010) a “fairy tale.” Nimmo writes: “On the fifteenth anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, MSNBC ran a documentary supposedly detailing Timothy McVeigh’s death row ‘confession.’ The documentary—actually a fairy tale of easily debunked government propaganda hosted by the ‘progressive’ Rachel Maddow—employs alleged tape recordings of McVeigh coupled with cheesy computer simulations intended to dredge up the government version of events and thus rekindle hysteria manufactured in the 1990s concerning the threat posed by militias and patriot groups.” Nimmo says the documentary “omits a large amount of evidence that seriously undermines the government version repeated and amplified by the corporate media (see (see 1983, January 23, 1993 - Early 1994, April 1993, October 12, 1993 - January 1994, August 1994 - March 1995, August - September 1994, September 12, 1994 and After, September 13, 1994 and After, November 1994, December 1994, February 1995, March 1995, (April 1) - April 18, 1995, April 5, 1995, April 8, 1995, and Before 9:00 A.M. April 19, 1995), and recounts a number of oddities surrounding the bombing that have not yet been explained, such as the “inexplicable” absence of FBI and BATF agents in the Murrah Building the day of the bombing (eight federal agents were killed in the blast—see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), allegations that judicial and FBI officials were warned about the bombing ahead of time, and a raft of unexplained information about other possible conspirators (see April 15, 1995, 9:00 p.m. April 17, 1995, 3:00 p.m. April 17, 1995, April 18, 1995, April 20, 1995, April 21, 1995, April 29, 1995, and June 14, 1995). Nimmo calls the documentary “crude propaganda” designed to conceal what he calls the likelihood that the bombing was a government operation designed to demonize militia and anti-government organizations. He says the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an anti-hate organization that tracks violent anti-government organizations, is one of the organizations behind the documentary, and calls the SPLC’s Mark Potok, who appears in the documentary, the organization’s “propaganda minister.” He concludes: “The OK City bombing was a false flag attack perpetuated by the government ‘to gain a political end’ and that end was to demonize political opposition. It is an effort that continues today and will expand as the political opposition gains popular support.” [Kurt Nimmo, 4/25/2010]
Bruce Caswell. [Source: Hillsdale County GOP]Michigan State Senator Bruce Caswell (R-Hillsdale) suggests legislation that would force foster children to use their state-funded clothing allowance only in thrift stores. Caswell says that foster children should get “gift cards” to be used only at Salvation Army, Goodwill, or other thrift stores. He explains: “I never had anything new. I got all the hand-me-downs. And my dad, he did a lot of shopping at the Salvation Army, and his comment was—and quite frankly it’s true—once you’re out of the store and you walk down the street, nobody knows where you bought your clothes.” Gilda Jacobs of the Michigan League for Human Services says, “Honestly, I was flabbergasted” to hear of Caswell’s proposal. “I really couldn’t believe this. Because I think, gosh, is this where we’ve gone in this state? I think that there’s the whole issue of dignity. You’re saying to somebody, you don’t deserve to go in and buy a new pair of gym shoes. You know, for a lot of foster kids, they already have so much stacked against them.” Caswell initially admits his proposal would not save Michigan any money, but later says that the proposal would save money. He insists he has no interest in stigmatizing foster children. [Hillsdale County GOP, 2011; Michigan Radio 91.7 FM, 4/15/2011; Michigan Messenger, 4/22/2011] Jessica Pieklo of the humanitarian organization Care2 writes that the proposal is another example of what she calls “the single-focused attack on the poor and politically powerless” being carried out by Michigan’s Republican leadership. “Reasonable checks and transparency in the administration of public benefits is one thing, but Caswell’s proposal is hardly that. It is a pronouncement on the value of these kids, poor and almost homeless usually through no fault their own.” [Care2 (.org), 4/24/2011] In a post on Twitter, MSNBC talk show host Rachel Maddow says: “This is cartoon evil, right? This can’t be real. This cannot be a real thing. Gotta be performance art.” [Talksy, 4/24/2011]
Eric Bolling, the host of the Fox Business Channel talk show Follow The Money, reads a list of people his viewers say they want waterboarded. The list includes President Obama. Bolling is doing a segment on his viewers’ reaction to the death of Osama bin Laden (see May 2, 2011), and insists, despite claims from Obama administration members and informed outsiders, that bin Laden was located “through waterboarding, simple as that” (see Autumn 2003, August 6, 2007, December 2-4, 2008, December 11, 2008, and March 29, 2009). (Later in the segment, some of his guests dispute that claim.) Bolling says he asked viewers who they wanted to see waterboarded. The respondents, through Facebook, named, among others: “Senate Dems… and then Obama… then the kooks on [the ABC morning talk show] ‘The View,’ starting with Joy” Behar; “Alan Colmes… [t]he secrets of the left-wing cabal will come pouring out of that boy”; “[m]y ex-wife!”; progressive talk show hosts Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow; and the far-right, virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church. Bolling concludes the segment with some jocularity with his guests, and jokingly offers to be waterboarded himself. [Media Matters, 5/5/2011]
Entity Tags: Keith Olbermann, Barack Obama, Alan Colmes, Eric Bolling, Obama administration, Fox Business Channel, Westboro Baptist Church, Rachel Maddow, Osama bin Laden, Joy Behar
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Domestic Propaganda
Graphic of Frank VanderSloot, appearing on Fox News. [Source: Fox News Insider]Salon’s Glenn Greenwald reports that Idaho billionaire Frank VanderSloot, the CEO of Melaleuca, Inc. and a prominent donor for the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney (R-MA), apparently objects to media reports about his financial and corporate practices, issuing threats against those who report on him and his company. VanderSloot is the national finance co-chair of the Romney campaign and a longtime Republican donor. Like Romney, he is a devout Mormon and an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Accusations of Wrongdoing - VanderSloot and Melaleuca have donated at least $1 million to the “independent” super PAC supporting Romney, Restore Our Future (ROF—see June 23, 2011). Melaleuca, which manufactures and distributes dietary supplements and cleaning products, was described by Forbes magazine in 2004 as “a pyramid selling organization” comparable to Amway and Herbalife. Melaleuca has been sanctioned by Michigan regulatory agencies, and agreed to refrain from “engag[ing] in the marketing and promotion of an illegal pyramid” in that state. It entered into a separate agreement with the Idaho attorney general’s office after that office found that some Melaleuca executives had broken Idaho law. And the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has accused Melaleuca of deceiving customers about its supplements.
Threats of Lawsuits - VanderSloot counters media reports of Melaleuca’s alleged wrongdoing with what Greenwald calls “chronic bullying threats to bring patently frivolous lawsuits against his political critics—magazines, journalists, and bloggers—that makes him particularly pernicious and worthy of more attention.” His threats have forced Forbes, Mother Jones, and a gay blogger in Idaho to remove material that was critical of his political and business practices, though Mother Jones reposted its article after revisions were made. Greenwald reports: “He has been using this abusive tactic in Idaho for years: suppressing legitimate political speech by threatening or even commencing lawsuits against even the most obscure critics (he has even sued local bloggers for ‘copyright infringement’ after they published a threatening letter sent by his lawyers, and demanded the public outing of some bloggers’ identities). This tactic almost always succeeds in silencing its targets, because even journalists and their employers who have done nothing wrong are afraid of the potentially ruinous costs they will incur when sued by a litigious billionaire.” Greenwald reports that VanderSloot’s tactics have had a chilling effect on Idaho journalists and bloggers, who routinely refuse to write critically about VanderSloot’s fundraising for conservative causes. And now that VanderSloot is a senior official in the Romney campaign, Greenwald writes, he is expanding his tactics beyond Idaho. “To allow this scheme to continue—whereby billionaires can use their bottomless wealth to intimidate ordinary citizens and media outlets out of writing about them—is to permit the wealthiest in America to thuggishly shield themselves from legitimate criticism and scrutiny,” he writes. “It’s almost impossible to imagine any more thuggish attempts to intimidate people from speaking out and criticizing VanderSloot,” he adds. “The effect, if not the intent, of these frivolous threats, pure and simple, is to intimidate those who cannot afford to defend themselves from criticizing the very public, politicized acts of Frank VanderSloot and his company. That’s why one no longer can even read most of the criticisms that prompted these warnings.”
Anti-Gay Activism - Greenwald writes that VanderSloot has a history of anti-gay activism, citing his funding of a billboard campaign that condemned Idaho Public Television for showing a documentary that reported on the effects of addressing lesbian and gay issues inside elementary classrooms. Though the documentary reported that working with such issues in an age-appropriate fashion was generally positive, VanderSloot accused IPT of promoting a threat to children, saying, “[I]f this isn’t stopped… little lives are going to be damaged permanently.” His wife Belinda donated $100,000 to California’s anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 campaign in 2008. And when the Idaho Falls Post Register reported on a pedophile preying on local Boy Scouts, a Mormon bishop’s alleged complicity in the matter, and the network of pedophiles that was behind the original allegations, VanderSloot attacked the newspaper and the principal reporter, Peter Zuckerman. (The six-part series won the Scripps Howard Award for Distinguished Service to the First Amendment.) VanderSloot bought full-page ads in the Post Register attacking the story and outing Zuckerman as “a homosexual,” a fact that Zuckerman had not advertised since moving to Idaho years before. VanderSloot’s ads asked if Zuckerman’s sexual orientation made him hostile to the Boy Scouts and the Mormon Church. The damage to Zuckerman’s professional and personal life was severe, including physical threats and his longtime partner being fired from his job. [Salon, 2/17/2012]
Response - VanderSloot responds in a subsequent interview with local Idaho reporter Marissa Bodnar. After the Greenwald report, MSNBC talk show host Rachel Maddow devotes a segment to VanderSloot based largely on Greenwald’s article. According to VanderSloot, Greenwald “quotes what others have wrongfully said about us and then taunts us to do something about the fact that he repeats it.” Idaho independent journalist and blogger Jody May-Chang, who has also been threatened with lawsuits by VanderSloot’s lawyers, says in response: “Mr. VanderSloot is a public political figure. They’re fair game… especially when you’re talking about behaviors and actions and things done in public light that are well known.” VanderSloot denies harboring an anti-gay agenda, saying, “I have never spoken out against gays or against gay rights,” though Bodnar notes, “[S]ome said money speaks louder than words.” VanderSloot admitted to contributing money to a group that challenged a pro-gay marriage documentary aired on Idaho public television in 1999; May-Chang says, “I’m not sure how anyone else could not characterize those as anti-gay.” For his part, VanderSloot says, “I believe that gay people should have the same freedoms and rights as any other individual.” His main objection to the Idaho Public Television program about addressing gay issues in schools, he says, was that it was being aired during prime time, “when it would attract the most children,” and the use of tax dollars to fund the program. He contends that his status as a “billionaire” is “greatly exaggerated,” and though he owns a controlling interest in Melaleuca, he is not “cash-rich.” He defends his attacks on the Idaho Falls Post Register, saying that he deplores the pedophiles who were preying on children but found the story to be “unfair” in its coverage. He was merely defending people who had been unfairly portrayed as being involved in the affair, he says, and notes that he “would use a much different approach were this to happen again.” He denies outing Zuckerman as a gay man, claiming that Zuckerman’s sexual orientation was public knowledge, and saying that contrary to Greenwald’s reporting, he defended Zuckerman in the Post Register advertisements. He denies that Melaleuca’s business model is anything like those used by Amway or Herbalife, and says Melaleuca does not employ a “pyramid scheme” to make its profits. VanderSloot says Melaleuca “will continue to use whatever legal means are available to us to defend the truth and to request corrections where false allegations have been made.” He is strongly critical of Greenwald’s article, and accuses Greenwald of deliberately repeating “the original false allegations” against him and Melaleuca. He concludes: “We can disagree on issues and argue those issues in honest and open debate. You can count on us to not smear or attack the messenger. We will defend their right to disagree. But we do ask even those who disagree with us to tell the truth about who we are and what we do. We will continue to ask that of people. That is not going to change.” [KIFI Local News 8, 3/1/2012]
Entity Tags: Idaho Public Television, Idaho Falls Post Register, Frank VanderSloot, Forbes magazine, Food and Drug Administration, Willard Mitt Romney, Restore Our Future, Rachel Maddow, Peter Zuckerman, Melaleuca, Inc., Mitt Romney presidential campaign (2012), Marissa Bodnar, Jody May-Chang, Mother Jones, Glenn Greenwald
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
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