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An elderly protester outside the Raleigh, North Carolina, office of Representative Brad Miller (D-NC) ties together two popular claims of the anti-health care reform movement: the reform proposal will kill senior citizens, and the reformers are like Nazis. The unidentified protester tells a television interviewer: “Hitler got rid of his undesirable citizens through ovens. [President] Obama wants to get rid of people like me through hospice.… If [people] are a certain age, grim reapers calling themselves as counselors will go and tell them to take a pill and just die.” [New York Times, 8/13/2009]
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani tells a group of Republican state legislators in Illinois that “it is natural” to assume that the Democratic health care reform plan will lead to “death panels” making end-of-life decisions for seniors. “This is a real concern not made up by radio talk show hosts,” Giuliani claims. In recent weeks, the claim of so-called “death panels” has energized the conservative anti-reform movement even as it has been roundly debunked (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, Shortly Before August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 13, 2009, and August 12-13, 2009). Giuliani admits that there are no provisions for “death panels” in the Democratic legislation pending in Congress, but says that “simple economics” tells him the panels will happen. “President Obama says he will cover 30 to 40 to 50 million people who are not covered now—without it costing any money,” he says. “This is absurd. Health care—in case the Obama administration hasn’t noticed, is very expensive. They will have to cut other services, cut programs. They will have to be making decisions about people who are elderly.” He goes on to blame Obama and Congressional Democrats for creating the worry about “death panels” because of “the ambiguity of the legislation.” [Chicago Sun-Times, 8/13/2009]
Former President Bill Clinton accuses Republicans of trying to terrify Americans into opposing health care reform, and says the GOP is using those tactics because it lacks the political clout to fight it. Clinton, whose own health care reform efforts were derailed in 1994 (see December 2, 1993 and Mid-January - February 4, 1994), says the big difference between then and now is that Democrats have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate as well as control of the House of Representatives. He calls allegations that the Democrats’ reform proposals include so-called “death panels” (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, Shortly Before August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 13, 2009, August 12-13, 2009, and August 13, 2009) “crazy.” [Associated Press, 8/13/2009]
Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) denounces the comparisons of President Obama and Congressional Democrats to Nazis, comparisons made by conservative op-eds, radio and television hosts, bloggers, and anti-health care reform protesters (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 11, 2009, May 13, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 28, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 8, 2009, August 10-11, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 11, 2009, and August 13, 2009). Without naming names, McMorris Rodgers, the fifth-ranking Republican in the House, says: “I think the purpose of the town halls is for people to be able to express their views in an orderly and respectful manner, and that needs to take place on both sides. I certainly don’t condone violence, I don’t condone calling President Obama Hitler and painting swastikas on signs at town halls.” McMorris Rodgers is the first Congressional Republican to publicly decry the Nazi comparisons. [The Hill, 8/13/2009; Think Progress, 8/14/2009] Another Republican, Joseph Cao (R-LA), joins McMorris Rodgers in condemning the Nazi comparisons. He says: “I believe—you know, I respect the Constitution protecting our right of free speech, our right of expression. But I believe that when we go to extremes like that, it disrupts dialogue and it causes conflicts which, at the end of the day, impede us from reaching a solution to a pressing problem.” [MSNBC, 8/17/2009]
David Frum. [Source: Public Radio (.org)]David Frum, a conservative pundit and former speechwriter for George W. Bush, says that the potential for violence from anti-health care reformer protesters is too high, and protesters must restrain themselves. After noting the instances of protesters bringing guns to health care debates (see August 5, 2009 August 11, 2009) and the threats of gun violence against health care supporters (see August 7, 2009 and August 10, 2009), Frum notes: “[F]irearms and politics never mix well. They mix especially badly with a third ingredient: the increasingly angry tone of incitement being heard from right-of-center broadcasters.… All this hysterical and provocative talk invites, incites, and prepares a prefabricated justification for violence.” Frum goes farther, accusing “some conservative broadcasters” of “lovingly anticipating just such an outcome,” citing instances of Fox News hosts Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity openly advocating violence against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Obama (see August 8, 2009). Frum says: “Hyperbolic accusation and fantasy murder may well serve a talk radio industry facing a collapse in advertising revenues.… As revenues dwindle, hosts feel compelled to intensify the talk radio experience, hoping to win larger audience share with more extreme talk. It’s like the early days of the pornography industry: At first a naked woman is thrilling enough, but soon a jaded audience is demanding more and more, wilder and wilder. For the radio hosts, it’s all mostly a cynical marketing exercise. But the audience? Not all of them know better.… The guns are coming out. The risks are real.” Frum then gives his solution: “It’s not enough for conservatives to repudiate violence, as some are belatedly beginning to do. We have to tone down the militant and accusatory rhetoric. If Barack Obama really were a fascist, really were a Nazi, really did plan death panels to kill the old and infirm, really did contemplate overthrowing the American constitutional republic—if he were those things, somebody should shoot him. But he is not. He is an ambitious, liberal president who is spending too much money and emitting too much debt. His health care ideas are too over-reaching and his climate plans are too interventionist. The president can be met and bested on the field of reason—but only by people who are themselves reasonable.” [New Majority, 8/13/2009]
A conservative, anti-health care reform group called “The Pray In Jesus Name Project” e-mails a petition to members and others saying that the Democrats’ health care reform legislation will not only result in the death of American 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, and August 13, 2009), but also a takeover of the US health care system by gay and transgendered people. The petition claims in part: “Your tax dollars will pay for preferential hiring of homosexual hospital administrators, who distribute $50,000 grants to gender-confused activists for unneeded elective surgery to mutilate their own genitals (and force Christian doctors to perform it).” Apparently the organization is following up on specious claims by other groups that have claimed the reform proposal would mandate free sex-change operations (see August 4, 2009). The New Republic says that many of these claims originated with the Liberty Counsel, a group affiliated with the late Christian evangelist Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. The New Republic also notes that the section of the Senate bill cited by the organization requires the “participation in the institutions’ programs of individuals and groups from… different genders and sexual orientations,” and refers to government grants awarded to students doing research in mental and behavioral health. [New Republic, 8/13/2009]
In an op-ed for USA Today, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) takes the White House to task for “letting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi [D-CA] and Congress run health care reform into the ground,” and says that Republicans have always “stood ready to work with him to pass bipartisan health care reforms that reflect the priorities of struggling American families and small businesses.” Boehner says Pelosi and the Congressional Democrats have crafted a bill that “puts Washington in control of Americans’ health care—something most Americans staunchly oppose.” He then accuses President Obama of trying to “spin the American people” about what he calls the “hopelessly flawed bill.” He terms the bill “radical,” and claims, falsely, that Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer labeled opponents of the bill “un-American” (see August 10, 2009—Pelosi and Hoyer wrote that “[d]rowning out opposing views is simply un-American”). Boehner says that neither Republicans nor anyone else “condone… the actions of those who disrupt public events,” but decries those who claim the dissent against the bill is in any way “manufactured” (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-7, 2009, August 10, 2009, and August 12, 2009). He says Obama is lying about the portion of the bill that would allow Americans to keep their present health care, and cites the debunked study by the Lewin Group (see July 27, 2009) as evidence. He says the bill would add $239 billion to the deficit over the next decade, says Obama is lying about not cutting Medicare benefits, and says Obama is lying when he says the bill would not lead to health care “rationing.” Boehner concludes by claiming that “Republicans are offering better solutions that would make quality health care more affordable and accessible for every American,” and calls on Obama to “scrap this costly plan, start over, and work with Republicans on reforms that reflect the priorities of the American people.” [USA Today, 8/13/2009] Liberal news and advocacy Web site Think Progress notes that Boehner’s office has sent out messages promoting the town hall disruptions, and notes that Boehner’s claims of “rationing” are wrong. [Think Progress, 8/13/2009]
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]
President Obama appears at a “town hall” forum in Belgrade, Montana, where he promises to protect US citizens against health care insurers, and says those without health care insurance will benefit from his plans to reform the health care system. Unlike many other town halls (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-8, 2009, August 8, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, and August 11, 2009), no one heckles or attempts to shout down Obama during his speech and the subsequent question-and-answer period. Around 1,300 audience members take part in the rally, held at an airplane hanger; only two questioners ask anything remotely confrontational. Later, White House officials confirm that they had hoped Obama would get the chance to answer some difficult questions. One questioner accuses Obama of planning to raise taxes to pay for the reforms, and another says he is guilty of “vilifying” insurance companies. Obama gives detailed answers to both questioners, promising not to tax the middle class for his reforms, and saying that although some insurance companies have been “constructive,” others have fought against “any kind of reform proposals.” John Weaver, who helped Republican presidential candidate John McCain (R-AZ) organize often-confrontational town hall meetings, says Obama would do well to face more criticism. “He needs a confrontation to end some of this information,” Weaver says of the raft of false accusations and allegations surrounding the debate. “We don’t know if that’s his strength. But that’s his opportunity right now. If he really wants to turn the tide of the debate, he has to engage.” White House officials say that they are not attempting to “stack” the president’s crowds with supporters. [Washington Post, 8/15/2009]
Representative Steve Buyer (R-IN), the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, issues a press release claiming that the proposed health care reform legislation would hurt veterans’ health care. In his statement, Buyer says, “The current Democrat bill harms veterans.” He claims that under the legislation some veterans would be subjected to “penalty” taxes for failing to have “acceptable” health coverage. The White House Director of Veterans and Wounded Warrior Policy, Matt Flavin, himself a veteran of Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, quickly counters with a statement contradicting Buyer’s claims: “I’m here to tell you quite simply that if you are eligible for VA [Veterans Adminstration] health care, you will remain eligible. There is no impact on VA health care. So veterans, please be comforted in the fact that your health care will not change under health reform efforts. There is no effect.” Representative Joe Sestak (D-PA), a former Navy rear admiral, confirms Flavin’s rebuttal, and goes further, noting that the Obama administration’s budget restores VA care for some 500,000 veterans kicked out of the system during the Bush administration. “President Obama’s budget is going to also restore what we call the Priority 8 veterans to the VA system,” he says. “Back in 2003, the Bush administration kicked out over 265,000 veterans out of the Veterans Administration who happened to earn a bit over $34,000 for a family of two. Now, it’s 500,000 that are denied. And President Obama’s budget in the next four years brings them all back in. Not only does it preserve the system for our veterans, it enhances the system for our veterans.” Sestak adds: “I can absolutely confirm and the exact words are that the VA healthcare plan meets the minimal, acceptable requirements, which means it’s exempt from that 2.5 percent tax that they’re talking about. It states it just like that.” [US House of Representatives, 8/14/2009; MSNBC, 8/17/2009]
The press releases a confidential, “sensitive” memo from the American Petroleum Institute (API) detailing a plan to create “Astroturf” rallies at which industry employees posing as ordinary citizens will urge Congress to fight climate change legislation. The memo was obtained by the environmental group Greenpeace and sent to several reporters. It urges oil companies to recruit their employees for events that will “put a human face on the impacts of unsound energy policy,” and will urge senators to “avoid the mistakes embodied in the House climate bill.” The campaign is funded by a coalition of corporate and conservative groups called the “Energy Citizens” alliance, which includes the anti-health care reform group 60 Plus, the industry “grassroots” organization FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009), Grover Norquist’s Americans For Tax Reform, the American Conservative Union, and the National Taxpayers Union. API president Jack Gerard, who signed the memo, asks recipients to give API “the name of one central coordinator for your company’s involvement in the rallies.” And it warns, “Please treat this information as sensitive… we don’t want critics to know our game plan.” At least two major oil corporations, BP and Shell, are members of API and also belong to the US Climate Action Partnership, which supports the House legislation sponsored by Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Edward Markey (D-MA). API has spent over $3 million lobbying against that bill this year. API spokesman Bill Bush says his organization is not trying to deceive anyone. “I don’t think anyone’s hiding the ball about this,” he says. “I don’t think anyone’s trying to suggest that this doesn’t have anything to do with the oil and gas industry.” Greenpeace has asked API to reveal the member companies funding the Astroturf efforts. Shell Oil Company later informs reporters that it will not take part in the rallies. In a statement, the corporation says, “Shell’s position is not aligned with the consensus opinion of the API on Waxman-Markey, therefore Shell will not participate in the rallies.” [Gerard, 8/2009; TPM Muckraker, 8/14/2009]
Entity Tags: British Petroleum, American Conservative Union, 60 Plus Association, American Petroleum Institute, Bill Bush, Greenpeace, National Taxpayers Union, Energy Citizens, FreedomWorks, Royal Dutch/Shell, Americans for Tax Reform, Jack N. Gerard
Timeline Tags: Global Warming, Domestic Propaganda
Katie Couric. [Source: Stylelist (.com)]CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric denounces what she calls the “fear and frustration” being tapped in the sometimes-riotous demonstrations against health care reform. The anti-reform efforts have “stirred [up] a hornets nest,” she writes, and are uncovering “disturbing attitudes and emotions that have nothing to do with policy.” What, she asks, does bringing a handgun to a church where President Obama is speaking have to do with health care policy (see August 11, 2009)? “How does a swastika spray-painted on a congressman’s office further a discussion about Medicare (see August 11, 2009)?” Couric warns her readers that “we can’t let fear and frankly ignorance drown out the serious debate that needs to take place about an issue that affects the lives of millions of people. It’s time for everyone to take a deep breath and to focus on the task at hand before this sideshow drowns out the main event.” [CBS News, 8/14/2009]
John Stossel. [Source: Nashville Scene]The lobbying firm Americans for Prosperity (AFP), which is heavily involved in so-called “Astroturf” protests against health care reform (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-7, 2009, August 10, 2009, and August 12, 2009), announces it will hold three town-hall style meetings in Wisconsin on August 26 and 27. The meetings will take place in the districts of three House members, David Obey (D-WI), Ron Kind (D-WI), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), all of whom AFP feels might be open to pressure. ABC reporter John Stossel will moderate the sessions for AFP. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 8/14/2009] Progressive news watchdog Web site Media Matters questions the propriety of Stossel, a supposedly nonpartisan member of the media, moderating the sessions for AFP, an avowedly partisan organization. [Media Matters, 8/17/2009]
Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX), the head of the “astroturf” organization FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009), leaves his position as senior policy adviser for the Washington lobbying firm DLA Piper. Armey says he is leaving because of the negative press attention FreedomWorks is garnering, including “unwarranted” accusations that it is organizing “grassroots” citizen protests against health care reform on behalf of DLA Piper’s clients. In an interview, he says: “The firm [DLA Piper] is busy with its business, and shouldn’t be asked to take time out from their work, to defend themselves of spurious allegations. No client of this firm is going to be free to mind its own business without harassment as long as I’m associated with it.” DLA Piper chairman Frank Burch says that the decision for Armey to leave is mutual. In his statement, Armey adds: “It is painful and frustrating to see a good, decent, able, and effective partnership of honorable men and women and their clients attacked for things in which they are not involved simply because of their association with me. One would expect a higher degree of competence and professionalism from members of the media than spurious attacks on innocent bystanders.… Let me be perfectly clear about DLA Piper. It is a fine firm with good, competent people. It has been my privilege to be associated with them and I will miss them. I am leaving the firm with regret but also with anticipation of being more fully engaged in the nation’s struggle [against health care reform] and without having attacks on me being directed at others.” Armey says he will now focus all of his efforts on FreedomWorks: “It is imperative for me, within the context of my life’s work in the defense of personal liberty against the encroachments of big government, to give my undivided attention to the work we do at FreedomWorks. In short, the threat to personal liberty in America is so serious and imminent at this time that it requires the full commitment of my efforts. While I consider it a personal sacrifice to leave DLA Piper, it is a sacrifice I must make in light of the important work I am committed to at FreedomWorks.” [Politico, 8/14/2009; TPM Muckraker, 8/14/2009]
Bloomberg News counts up the number of lobbyists the health care industry is funding to pressure lawmakers to oppose or support the reform legislation proposed by Congressional Democrats and the White House. It finds that some 3,300 lobbyists—six for each of the 535 representatives and senators weighing the issue—are working to convince lawmakers to take their clients’ position on the health care reform package. Over 1,500 organizations, from pharmaceutical firms and medical providers to “grassroots” organizations and citizens’ groups, employ the lobbyists, with three new organizations signing up each day, and each of the 10 largest Washington lobbying firms is involved in the effort. The groups spent a combined amount of $263.4 million on lobbying Congress during the first six months of 2009, exceeding the $241.1 million spent during the same period in 2008. The Sunlight Foundation’s Bill Allison says, “Whenever you have a big piece of legislation like this, it’s like ringing the dinner bell for K Street,” referring to the Washington street where many lobbying firms have offices. “There’s a lot of money at stake and there are a lot of special interests who don’t want their ox gored.” Most lobbyists assume that health care reform is going to happen in some form or fashion, says John Jonas of the lobbying firm Patton Boggs LLP. “They assume health care reform is going to happen and they want to be protected,” he says. Jonas’s firm has three dozen clients in the debate, including Bristol-Myers Squibb and Wal-Mart. Many lawmakers, such as Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), the Senate Finance Committee chairman, see lobbyists every day. Baucus’s office rotates between different schools of lobbyists, seeing representatives of health care providers one week, purchasers the second, and consumers the third. Larry McNeely of the US Public Interest Research Group says, “The sheer quantity of money that’s sloshed around Washington is drowning out the voices of citizens and the groups that speak up for them.” [Bloomberg, 8/14/2009]
Entity Tags: Max Baucus, Bloomberg News, Bill Allison, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Larry McNeely, Senate Finance Committee, John Jonas, Wal-Mart, Sunlight Foundation, US Public Interest Research Group, Patton Boggs LLP
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda
Eric Bolling, a host on Fox Business Channel, appears as a guest on Fox News’s The Live Desk, where he attacks Social Security as a “Ponzi scheme.” Bolling explains that a lack of increase in July’s Consumer Price Index (CPI) means that Social Security benefits also fail to increase, but then shifts into a claim that Social Security is “underfunded or almost unfunded.… People are paying into Social Security. That money’s being used to pay for seniors right now, so, it’s kinda like a Ponzi scheme.… They should rename it the Madoff Social Security system, because down the road, there’s not going to be enough money.” Bolling is making reference to Wall Street financier Bernie Madoff, who stole billions of dollars from clients through a web of fraudulent schemes. [Media Matters, 8/14/2009; Media Matters, 9/7/2010] In February, the Wall Street Journal’s Stephen Moore made a similar claim (see February 2, 2009). And an Associated Press reporter made a similar claim two days before Bolling (see August 12-16, 2009).
A 1983 photo of Madelyn Dunham hugging her grandson, Barack Obama, on the occasion of his graduation from college. [Source: Daily Telegraph]Speaking to a crowd of largely pro-health care reform supporters in Colorado, President Obama cites the death of his grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, to debunk the widespread idea that his ideas for reform would include so-called “death panels” (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, Shortly Before August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 13, 2009, August 12-13, 2009, August 13, 2009). “I just lost my grandmother last year,” he says. “I know what it’s like to watch somebody you love, who’s aging, deteriorate and have to struggle with that.” He disputes “the notion that somehow I ran for public office or members of Congress are in this so they can go around pulling the plug on grandma.… When you start making arguments like that, that’s simply dishonest—especially when I hear the arguments coming from members of Congress in the other party who, turns out, sponsored similar provisions” (see August 12-13, 2009). Dunham died of cancer at the age of 86 (see November 10, 2008). “Health care is really hard,” Obama tells the crowd. “This is not easy. I’m a reasonably dedicated student to this issue. I’ve got a lot of really smart people around me who’ve been working on this for months now. There is no perfect painless silver bullet out there that solves every problem, gives everybody health care for free. There isn’t. I wish there was.” Continuing his push on his weekly Internet and radio address, Obama says, “I know there’s plenty of real concern and skepticism out there. I know that in a time of economic upheaval, the idea of change can be unsettling, and I know that there are folks who believe that government should have no role at all in solving our problems.” He says it is imperative for everyone to “lower our voices, listen to one another, and talk about differences that really exist.” [Associated Press, 8/15/2009]
Two Democratic House members say that the media should not “glorify” the contentious, sometimes-riotous anti-reform protests that have recently occurred at health care debates (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 6-8, 2009, August 8, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, and August 11, 2009). Alan Grayson (D-FL) cites the violence that occurred at a debate featuring Representative Kathy Castor (D-FL—see August 6, 2009), saying that the “disrepect” shown at the debate reflects badly not on Castor, but “on the people who show the disrespect for the democratic process.” He adds: “I think in any society, you’re always going to have a certain percentage of people who are nuts. But these are not people who deserve any special recognition, much less glorification. You don’t treat people the way those people treated Kathy Castor. It’s wrong.… I look for intelligent, well-founded criticism of any bill because that’s how you make the bill better. But if you have people running around saying this bill is going to kill every old person in the country (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, Shortly Before August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 13, 2009, August 12-13, 2009, and August 13, 2009), how could you possibly show any respect for that silly point of view? It makes no sense to me.” Patrick Murphy (D-PA) says that the contention that the reform proposal threatens Americans’ freedoms is simply wrong: “I had a guy yesterday try to say to me, ‘You know, I’m worried about my freedoms.’ I say, ‘Sir, I fought for your freedoms [Murphy is a veteran of the Iraq war]. I’m going to protect those freedoms. I took an oath to support and defend those freedoms. And I take that responsibility very seriously. But, you know, we need to understand that the current path for small business, for everday families, for seniors, is unsustainable.” [US House of Representatives, 2009; Think Progress, 8/15/2009]
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) issues a “fact check” press release attempting to debunk what it calls the “falsehoods” surrounding recent allegations that two of its members “savagely beat” tea party activist Kenneth Gladney during a recent town hall in St. Louis (see August 6-8, 2009 and August 8, 2009). According to the SEIU, Gladney was not the victim of any assault; instead, SEIU member Elston McCowan, a disabled minister, was assaulted, presumably by Gladney. The video documenting the incident begins with McCowan already on the ground and clutching his shoulder. McCowan suffered a chipped bone and dislocated shoulder during the assault. Gladney, who later claimed to have suffered injuries to most of his body, is only seen being pushed to the ground by another union member, presumably coming to the defense of McCowan. Allegations that Gladney was beaten and kicked by multiple union members are not supported by the video. Some media reports alleged that Gladney was “rushed to the hospital” after the attack; in reality, Gladney, who was pushed to the ground during the incident, leapt to his feet and began walking around the event talking to others and even conducting live television interviews. He also took part in a live television interview after the town hall. Gladney later took himself to the hospital, where he alleged he suffered injuries to his “knee, back, elbow, shoulder, and face.” Two days later, Gladney made television appearances while “confined” to a wheelchair and “under heavy medication,” according to his lawyer. Gladney told people at the event and afterwards that he had no health insurance and could not afford to have his “injuries” properly treated; that was a lie refuted by his own lawyer, David Brown, who later admitted Gladney has coverage through his wife. Gladney has repeatedly insisted that he has no ties to the tea party movement and that he was at the town hall selling anti-Obama buttons merely as a part-time job. However, Gladney and Brown are both tea party activists. In February, Brown formed an LLC in Missouri called “The Political Mint” that has publicized its efforts to raise funds for tea party groups. Gladney has also been involved in tea party activities. [Service Employees International Union, 8/2009] Misdemeanor assault charges will be filed against McCowan and another union member; both will be found innocent of any wrongdoing (see July 12, 2011).
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch corrects a statement made to its reporters by Roy Blunt (R-MO), the chairman of the House Republican Health Care Solutions Group. Recently, Blunt told Post-Dispatch reporters and editors that he couldn’t get hip replacement surgery in Canada or Great Britain—two havens of socialized medicine—because of his age. “I’m 59,” Blunt said. “In either Canada or Great Britain, if I broke my hip, I couldn’t get it replaced.” The Post-Dispatch checked his claim, and found: “At least 63 percent of hip replacements performed in Canada last year and two-thirds of those done in England were on patients age 65 or older. More than 1,200 in Canada were done on people older than 85.” Blunt promises to modify his rhetoric when confronted by the Post-Dispatch’s findings. “I didn’t just pull that number out of thin air,” he says. The figure came from testimony given to the House Subcommittee on Health by, Blunt notes, “some people who are supposed to be experts on Canadian health care.” He adds: “I had been given that example. I was told that 59 is the cutoff. I’m glad you pointed that out to me. I won’t use that example any more.” The Post-Dispatch writes that it takes Blunt at his word, but notes that he is “not the only Republican leader who has his facts wrong about British and Canadian health care. And some of his colleagues are a bit less contrite” (see August 5, 2009). Blunt has made other false claims, including the assertion that an uninsured American could get a hip replacement through emergency care: “If they go to the emergency room, I think they can get that done.” The Post-Dispatch corrects him, writing: “Emergency rooms don’t do hip replacements, which require both hospital care and weeks of rehabilitation. They do emergency surgery, necessary to save a life. St. Louis hospitals offer discounts to patients who are poor and uninsured. But patients often are asked to make substantial down payments before surgery; they don’t hobble through the ER door and get them done for free.” Blunt has also made untenable claims about the number of Americans without health insurance by falsely saying that nearly 12 million of the 45 million uninsured Americans are illegal immigrants, a claim disproven by research by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, which, according to the Post-Dispatch, “puts the number of uninsured who are immigrants—both legal and illegal—at about 9 million.” Blunt later reduces the number of illegal immigrants in his claims, though the Post-Dispatch notes he still inflates his figures. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 8/16/2009; Plum Line, 8/17/2009]
Author and historian Rick Perlstein reminds Washington Post readers that the kind of conservative-based outrage against health care reform is nothing new in American history. Asking whether the protests are orchestrated or spontaneous, Perlstein says they are both. “The quiver on the lips of the man pushing the wheelchair (see August 6, 2009), the crazed risk of carrying a pistol around a president (see August 11, 2009)—too heartfelt to be an act. The lockstep strangeness of the mad lies on the protesters’ signs—too uniform to be spontaneous. They are both. If you don’t understand that any moment of genuine political change always produces both, you can’t understand America, where the crazy tree blooms in every moment of liberal ascendancy, and where elites exploit the crazy for their own narrow interests.”
Charges of Soviet-Inspired Treason - In the 1950s, Perlstein writes, Republicans referred to the presidencies of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman as “20 years of treason,” and accused the two of deliberately surrendering the world to communism. Some conservatives leveled the accusation that a new Bible translation was the work of Soviet agents. Then-Vice President Richard Nixon claimed, without proof, that Republicans entering the White House at the beginning of the Eisenhower administration “found in the files a blueprint for socializing America.” When President Kennedy proposed using intercontinental ballistic missiles to form the basis of America’s nuclear defense instead of the traditional long-range bombers, and floated the idea of opening relations with Eastern Bloc nations such as Yugoslavia, conservatives accused him of trying to disarm the US in secret collusion with the USSR.
'National Indignation Convention' - In 1961, thousands of angry conservatives packed a National Indignation Convention in Dallas, where the keynote speaker shouted that he wanted to hang Chief Justice Earl Warren. A Kennedy proposal to expand mental health services included a new facility in Alaska; right-wingers claimed it was actually an internment camp for political dissidents. During the Johnson administration, conservatives claimed that the civil rights movement was conceived and orchestrated in the Soviet Union; many of them claimed that the 1964 Civil Rights Act would “enslave” white Americans.
'Uncanny' Similarities between Then and Now - Perstein notes that the similarities between the protests then and now are “uncanny,” writing: “The various elements—the liberal earnestly confused when rational dialogue won’t hold sway; the anti-liberal rage at a world self-evidently out of joint; and, most of all, their mutual incomprehension—sound as fresh as yesterday’s news. (Internment camps for conservatives? That’s the latest theory of tea party favorite Michael Savage.) The orchestration of incivility happens, too, and it is evil. Liberal power of all sorts induces an organic and crazy-making panic in a considerable number of Americans, while people with no particular susceptibility to existential terror—powerful elites—find reason to stoke and exploit that fear.”
Now, More Success at Manipulating Media, Shaping Policy - Perlstein cites examples of fake “grassroots” letters to newspaper editors written by Nixon administration aides that defended the then-president from Watergate-related charges, and how successful they were in manipulating the discussion. Now, he writes, the “Conservatives have become adept at playing the media for suckers, getting inside the heads of editors and reporters, haunting them with the thought that maybe they are out-of-touch cosmopolitans and that their duty as tribunes of the people’s voices means they should treat Obama’s creation of ‘death panels’ as just another justiciable political claim.” In the 1960s, news anchors such as Walter Cronkite didn’t bother debunking claims about internment facilities for conservative critics, he writes. “The media didn’t adjudicate the ever-present underbrush of American paranoia as a set of ‘conservative claims’ to weigh, horse-race-style, against liberal claims. Back then, a more confident media unequivocally labeled the civic outrage represented by such discourse as ‘extremist’—out of bounds. The tree of crazy is an ever-present aspect of America’s flora. Only now, it’s being watered by misguided he-said-she-said reporting and taking over the forest. Latest word is that the enlightened and mild provision in the draft legislation to help elderly people who want living wills—the one hysterics turned into the ‘death panel’ canard—is losing favor, according to the Wall Street Journal, because of ‘complaints over the provision.’ Good thing our leaders weren’t so cowardly in 1964, or we would never have passed a civil rights bill—because of complaints over the provisions in it that would enslave whites.” [Washington Post, 8/16/2009]
The Office of the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), releases a fact sheet contradicting what it calls “a myth opponents of health insurance reform have been spreading: that people would be ‘forced’ to choose a public health insurance option, and falsely attributes it to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).” The claim has circulated throughout the media, Pelosi’s office notes, and says, “In fact, the public option in America’s Affordable Health Choices Act simply provides those using the Health Insurance Exchange a choice between various private plans and a public plan—with the choice being made by the individual, never an employer.” The fact sheet notes four instances of the claim being made on August 16 alone:
Representative Tom Price (R-GA) tells an Associated Press reporter that the Democrats’ reform bill would force citizens to abandon their private health care plans in favor of a government-run plan, and says the CBO supports his claim.
ABC reporter Jake Tapper, on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, asks, “How can the administration make the promise that if you like your insurance plan you can keep it, when CBO and other analysts estimate that some people will be switched from private to public?”
Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, on Fox News Sunday, tells his listeners of “a study by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office which found that by 2016, 9 million people will no longer have their employer-based plan under health care reform because businesses would decide in many cases that it’s cheaper simply to pay the penalty and push people into a public plan.”
David Gregory, the anchor of NBC’s flagship Sunday talk show Meet the Press, asks, “Does he [President Obama] undermine his credibility when he makes some claims like, if you like your insurance you can keep your insurance, when a lot of people have said not really; employers could drop people from insurance if they wanted to move people into a public plan, if that existed?”
Pelosi’s office states that, unlike the claims and questions advanced by Price, Tapper, Wallace, and Gregory, the CBO has noted that under all versions of reform legislation, US citizens would retain the choice of whether to keep their existing insurance or join the “public option” government program. [Speaker of the House, 8/17/2009]
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]
Dick Armey (R-TX), the former House Majority Leader who now heads the conservative lobbying firm FreedomWorks, predicts that the Obama administration will try to counter the “grassroots” protests with what he calls a “fear campaign” designed to frighten wavering lawmakers, whom he terms “bed-wetters.” The administration will use false claims of a “swine flu” epidemic in its efforts, Armey says in an interview with the Financial Times: “In September or October there will be a hyped-up outbreak of the swine flu which they’ll say is as bad as the bubonic plague to scare the bed-wetters to vote for health care reform. That is the only way they can push something on to the American people that the American people don’t want.” FreedomWorks reprints the original article, published in London’s Financial Times, on its Web site. [Financial Times, 8/17/2009]
Militia member Chris Broughton stands in front of a Phoenix VFW where President Obama is speaking. Broughton wears a pistol on his hip and an assault rifle strapped to his back. [Source: Arizona Republic]Twelve anti-health care reform protesters openly carry firearms outside an event in Phoenix featuring President Obama as the main speaker. One, a man initially identified only as “Chris,” carries an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle strapped to his back. Carrying such weapons is legal in Arizona if the bearer has a permit to carry. Obama is speaking at the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Outside the venue, people both supporting and opposing health care reform stage contentious, but peaceful, protests. [Arizona Republic, 8/17/2009; TPM LiveWire, 8/17/2009]
'Forcefully' Opposing Will of Majority - “Chris,” interviewed by fellow protester Ernest Hancock on a home video posted on YouTube, says, “We will forcefully resist people imposing their will on us through the strength of the majority with a vote.” He also speaks against taxation: “Just because you sic the government on people doesn’t make it morally okay to steal money from people. Taxation is theft.” Asked why he is carrying a weapon, “Chris” responds: “Because I can do it. In Arizona, I still have some freedoms.” He tells Hancock that “it would be insane” not to be armed, and says he wears a gun at all times. “Chris” is asked at the beginning of the video, “You gonna water the tree of liberty?” a reference to a Thomas Jefferson quote, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” He responds, “I hope not.” He also comes out “absolutely, totally against” health care reform, saying such a plan would amount to “stealing it from people.” The video is uploaded by two small Phoenix-area libertarian groups, Freedom’s Phoenix and 4409. [TPM LiveWire, 8/17/2009; TPM LiveWire, 8/18/2009]
Veteran: 'I Gave Them the Right' to Protest - Another anti-reform protester, Jim Mariman, identifies himself as a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and says protesters are simply “speaking their hearts and minds.… These people can protest because I gave them the right.” [Arizona Republic, 8/17/2009]
Interview Staged by Violent Militia Supporter - Hancock, who organized “Chris’s” trip to the Obama event and interviewed “Chris” with a 9mm pistol strapped to his leg, is later shown to have close ties to members of the violent Viper Militia group convicted and jailed for plotting to blow up at least seven federal buildings in 1996 (see July 1, 1996). Hancock tells CNN that the entire event, including the “interview,” was staged and planned well in advance. He has known “Chris” for two years because of their mutual work for 2008 presidential candidate Ron Paul (R-TX). Hancock had contacted the Phoenix police two days before the event to alert them to their intent to come armed to the event. He says he was partially motivated to display his weapon because of the controversy surrounding William Kostric, who brought a pistol to a previous Obama event in New Hampshire (see August 11, 2009). CNN’s Rick Sanchez tells Hancock, “A lot of people are going to look at this and say it was a publicity stunt,” and Hancock replies, “Absolutely—you guys are so easy.” Hancock says he, “Chris,” and the 10 other armed protesters all belong to local militia groups. [TPM LiveWire, 8/18/2009; TPM LiveWire, 8/18/2009; MSNBC, 8/20/2009] “Chris” will later be identified as Chris Broughton, a member of Tempe Baptist Church, whose pastor has repeatedly called for the divine assassination of Obama (see January 18, 2009). [Phoenix New Times, 8/29/2009]
Entity Tags: Rick Sanchez, Jim Mariman, Tempe Baptist Church, Freedom’s Phoenix, Barack Obama, Chris Broughton, Ernest Hancock, 4409, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Viper Militia
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism
A member of the LaRouche Youth Movement compares the Obama health care reform proposal to Nazi policies. [Source: Darren McCollester / Getty Images]A testy Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) loses patience with a raucous, shouting crowd of angry protesters at a two-hour town hall meeting in Dartmouth, Massachusetts. Frank, who strongly supports the Democrats’ health care reform proposals, attempts to answer the shouted questions and accusations from protesters, who often attempt to shout him down before he can complete his answers, and boo him from the moment he is introduced. Frank repeatedly asks, “You want me to talk about it or do you want to yell?” and asks, “Which one of you wants to yell next?” He also says frequently: “Disruption never helps your cause. It just looks like you’re afraid to have rational discussion.” Frank finally loses patience when Rachel Brown of the LaRouche Youth Movement tells him that President Obama’s health care policies are comparable to those of Nazi Germany, meanwhile waving a pamphlet depicting Obama with a Hitler mustache. “This policy is actually already on its way out,” Brown says. “It already has been defeated by LaRouche. My question to you is, why do you continue to support a Nazi policy as Obama has expressly supported this policy? Why are you supporting it?” Frank, a Jew, retorts: “When you ask me that question, I’m going to revert to my ethnic heritage and ask you a question: On what planet do you spend most of your time? You stand there with a picture of the president defaced to look like Hitler and compare the effort to increase health care to the Nazis.” He says her ability to deface an image of the president and express her views “is a tribute to the First Amendment that this kind of vile, contemptible nonsense is so freely propagated,” and concludes: “Trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with a dining room table. I have no interest in doing it.” During less contentious moments, Frank rebuts claims that the reform proposal would mandate free health care for illegal immigrants, and attempts to read the pertinent section of the bill through the shouts and catcalls. He asks why protesters demand for him to answer and then scream through his answers: “What’s the matter with you all? I don’t know if you get angrier when I answer the questions, or when you don’t think I do.” [Associated Press, 8/19/2009; CNN, 8/19/2009; Think Progress, 8/19/2009; Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 8/19/2009; Boston Globe, 8/20/2009]
'Look for the Mustache' - A representative of the Massachusetts Republican Party later says Brown and other LaRouche supporters were at the forum “to cause problems,” and denies any Republican involvement in the shouting or pamphleteering. A LaRouche spokeswoman, Nancy Spannaus, says, “LaRouche PAC members are giving leadership to these town hall meetings all around the country so we are being at any one that we possibly can.” The Obama “mustache poster” “symbolizes the fact that the president is attempting to implement a Hitler health care policy,” she adds. “At any town hall, you’ll know LaRouche people are there if you just look for the mustache.” [Washington Post, 8/20/2009]
Fox News: Frank's Remarks Proof that Democrats are 'Alienating Voters' - Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity and a Fox reporter, Griff Jenkins, say that Frank’s retorts to the protesters are proof that Democrats are “alienating voters” with their reform policies. Jenkins tells Hannity that Frank “talked down” to the protesters. Hannity calls Frank’s comments full of “arrogance [and] condescension.” Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN), Hannity’s guest, praises the LaRouche questioner and other protesters as evidence of American “democracy in action.” [Fox News, 8/18/2009]
Representative Wally Herger (R-CA) praises a constituent who describes himself as a “right-wing terrorist,” and tells listeners, “Our democracy has never been threatened as much as it is today” by the Obama administration’s policies. Herger holds a “town hall” meeting to discuss health care reform in Redding, California. The audience is largely made up of reform opponents who cheer when Herger calls the “public option” an “unacceptable” provision of reform. A local reporter writes, “Although Herger called several times for the audience to ‘respect each other’s opinions,’ those opposed to President Obama’s health care were greeted with cheers while the few in favor were interrupted with catcalls.” Two audience members are escorted out by police officers during the event, after arguing over the health care plan. One audience member says, “I am a proud right wing terrorist”; the audience largely cheers his declaration, and Herger beams: “Amen, God bless you. There is a great American.” Most of the audience members who ask questions denounce health care reform as a “socialist” idea. [Mount Shasta Herald, 8/21/2009; Think Progress, 8/22/2009; Daily Kos, 8/26/2009]
Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) tells Fox News viewers that health care reform is unconstitutional. She says: “It is not within our power as members of Congress, it’s not within the enumerated powers of the Constitution, for us to design and create a national takeover of health care. Nor is it within our ability to be able to delegate that responsibility to the executive.” Ian Millhiser of the progressive news and advocacy Web site Think Progress takes issue with Bachmann’s statement, writing that she “is wrong about both the contents of the health care plan and the requirements of the Constitution.” None of the versions of health care legislation being considered in Congress make any provision for a “national takeover of health care.” Bachmann may be referring to the “public option,” which would create a government-run health care plan that citizens could choose to participate in. Millhiser notes that Article I of the Constitution gives Congress the power to “lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises,” and to “provide for… the general welfare of the United States.” Millhiser writes, “Rather than itemizing specific subject matters, such as health care, which Congress is allowed to spend money on, the framers chose instead to give Congress a broad mandate to spend money in ways that promote the ‘general welfare.’” Millhiser writes that it is unclear what Bachmann means by “delegat[ing] that responsibility to the executive,” but notes that no one has proposed giving the White House anything approaching the authority to run or reconfigure the US health care system. He calls Bachmann’s view of the Constitution “radical,” and writes: “If Congress does not have the power to create a modest public option which competes with private health plans in the marketplace, then it certainly does not have the authority to create Medicare. Similarly, Congress’ power to spend money to benefit the general welfare is the basis for Social Security, federal education funding, Medicaid, and veterans’ benefits such as the VA health system and the GI Bill. All of these programs would cease to exist in Michele Bachmann’s America.” [Think Progress, 8/19/2009]
Charles Grassley (R-IA), a Republican senator considered a key element in the Obama administration’s push for bipartisan health care reform, says that the recent outpouring of anger and resistance at “town hall” forums has “fundamentally altered the nature of the debate and convinced him that lawmakers should consider drastically scaling back the scope of the effort.” Grassley says he believes the public is strongly against the Democrats’ ideas for health care reform, and considers the ideas a run-up to what he calls “a government takeover of health care.” Grassley is a member of the so-called “Gang of Six,” a group of three Republican and three conservative Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee primarily responsible for writing the committee’s reform proposal. In recent days, some Democrats have accused him of attempting to suborn any bipartisanship in the process by his advocacy of “death panels” (see August 12, 2009) and his misleading use of Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA)‘s terminal illness (see August 5, 2009) in his arguments against reform.
Obama Should Prove Commitment to Bipartisanship by Abandoning Public Option - Grassley says that if President Obama is serious about a bipartisan approach to reform, he should abandon his support for the so-called “public option” entirely. Such a statement, he says, is “pretty important… if you’re really interested in a bipartisan bill.” Grassley also says that a reform bill would not be truly bipartisan unless it received far more than a 51-vote majority, or even a 60-vote “supermajority,” enough votes to defeat a filibuster attempt. “It’s not about getting a lot of Republicans. It’s about getting a lot of Democrats and Republicans,” he says. “We ought to be focusing on getting 80 votes.” [Washington Post, 8/20/2009] Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent contrasts Grassley’s contentious position with the more accomodating overtures from the White House. He writes: “Grassley knows the White House is under tremendous pressure to contain a revolt on the left over the public option. It’s hard to imagine any reason for demanding Obama renounce the public option right now, before there’s even a bill out of the finance committee, other than to make life politically difficult for the president. How does that compare with the White House’s treatment of Grassley? When the Senator endorsed the ‘death panel’ claim, the White House reaffirmed its commitment to working with him. Dems quietly let Grassley claim a big victory by dropping the public option from the Senate bill he’s negotiating. And when Rahm Emanuel questioned the sincerity of GOP leaders yesterday, an apparent shot at Grassley, the White House rapidly walked it back. Grassley, meanwhile, has now raised the bar yet again for what will constitute true bipartisanship on the White House’s part. Pretty telling.” [Plum Line, 8/20/2009]
Bipartisanship Not Universally Desired - Other Republicans are less interested in bipartisanship. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) blames Obama for the increasingly strident tone of the debate, and accuses Obama officials of “reject[ing] our efforts to work together.” Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), considered a likely 2012 candidate for president, says flatly: “The Republicans should kill the bill. It’s a bad idea.” House Member James Clyburn (D-SC) says Democrats might do well to abandon any idea of bipartisanship and work on a bill without Republican input, especially since it is unlikely that Republicans will vote for any reform bill at all. But Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, says he remains committed to the idea of bipartisanship. [Washington Post, 8/20/2009]
On MSNBC’s Hardball, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) tells a harrowing tale of health care protests he weathered in the 1980s in which protesters “dumped” quadriplegics “on the floor” in front of him to make their point. Asked by host Chris Matthews about the “tea party” agitation and town hall disruptions surrounding the current health care debate, DeLay answers: “Chris, you shouldn’t be surprised about this. This has been going on forever. When I did my town hall meetings, I’ll never forget one back in the ‘80s—on health care, by the way. They brought in quadriplegics on gurneys and dumped them on the floor in front of my podium. I mean, this is not new. What’s new is, the people that came into disrupt my town meetings, we just let them go on because it usually turned off the people that were there. What’s happening here is the American people are on their side.” However, no sources can be found to validate DeLay’s claims. The progressive news Web site TPM Muckraker probes through a variety of news archives and finds a May 1996 article from the Houston Chronicle that reported on a number of protests by the disabilities advocacy group ADAPT. According to the Chronicle: “Groups of protesters, most of them in wheelchairs, barricaded two local political offices Tuesday to demand changes in the way disabled people receive care in America.… A second group of about 150 ADAPT supporters blockaded and occupied US Rep. Tom DeLay’s office in Sugar Land [Texas], until DeLay agreed to meet with them.… Tuesday’s protesters narrowly escaped arrest by Stafford police when DeLay, who is in Washington, DC, agreed to meet with them next month.” TPM Muckraker reporter Justin Elliott writes: “Is it possible that DeLay is thinking of the ADAPT episode—and just replacing ‘90s with ‘80s, district office with health care town hall, protesters in wheelchairs with quadriplegics dumped from gurneys, and not having been there at all with seeing it unfold in front of his podium?” Elliott also notes that “[t]wo reporters who’ve covered DeLay extensively over the years say the quadriplegic story is new to them.” [TPM Muckraker, 8/20/2009]
An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows that the misinformation permeating the debate over health care reform is having an effect. Forty-five percent believe that the reform legislation pending in Congress includes “death panels” (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, Shortly Before August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 13, 2009, August 12-13, 2009, August 13, 2009, and August 15, 2009), and 55 percent believe that illegal immigrants will receive government-funded coverage. These numbers are disproportionately higher among Fox News viewers: 72 percent believe the government will fund coverage of illegal immigrants, 75 percent believe in “death panels,” and 79 percent believe the reform bill will lead to a government takeover of the US health care system. Large minorities of other network viewers believe these same examples of misinformation. MSNBC’s Domenico Montanaro writes: “This is about credible messengers using the media to get some of this misinformation out there, not as much about the filter itself. These numbers should worry Democratic operatives, as well as the news media that have been covering this story.” [MSNBC, 8/19/2009; Think Progress, 8/19/2009] Another poll, from Public Policy Polling, shows that 39 percent of Americans want the government to “stay out of Medicare,” apparently unaware that the government funds, administers, and operates Medicare. The same poll shows that 38 percent of respondents do not believe President Obama is a natural-born American citizen; six percent don’t believe that Hawaii, Obama’s birth state, is part of the United States. The poll does not differentiate between Fox viewers and others. [Think Progress, 8/19/2009]
Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) says he regrets using Senator Edward Kennedy’s name in recent statements he made criticizing Democrats’ attempts to reform health care. Grassley had asserted, falsely, that Kennedy, who suffers from terminal brain cancer, would have been denied care under Great Britain’s national health care system (see August 5, 2009). “I regret using Sen. Kennedy’s name,” Grassley says. But he adds that he has no regrets about vilifying the British health care system, or about more recent remarks he made accusing Democrats of wanting to prematurely end the lives of senior citizens (see August 12, 2009). [National Public Radio, 8/20/2009]
MSNBC reports that FreedomWorks, the non-profit “grassroots” lobbying organization that has spearheaded anti-health care reform efforts (see April 14, 2009, June 26, 2009, August 6-7, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 14, 2009, and August 17, 2009), has recently raised the amount of money it charges organizations to take part in anti-reform protests. FreedomWorks used to charge groups $2,500 to distribute their materials at FreedomWorks-sponsored events; now the price is $10,000. However, the new price includes the opportunity for a group to have a speaker at a FreedomWorks rally. FreedomWorks says it is trying to offset costs for stages, equipment, and other operating costs. [MSNBC, 8/20/2009]
Representative Lynn Jenkins speaks at the August 19 forum in Hiawatha, Kansas. [Source: Topeka Capital-Journal]At a town hall in Hiawatha, Kansas, Representative Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) tells constituents that the Republican Party desires a “great white hope” to appear, capable of defeating the political agenda of President Obama and the Democrats who lead Congress. Jenkins later apologizes for what she calls her infelicitous word choice. Jenkins lists a number of white Republicans who could emerge to lead the Republican Party against Obama and the Democrats. “Republicans are struggling right now to find the great white hope,” she says. “I suggest to any of you who are concerned about that, who are Republican, there are some great young Republican minds in Washington.” Jenkins names three Republican House members—Eric Cantor (R-VA), Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), and Paul Ryan (R-WI)—as potential leaders. “So don’t, you know, lose faith if you are a conservative,” she says. Local reporters note that the phrase “great white hope” is often associated with racist attitudes in the US, centered around African-American boxer Jack Johnson, who became heavyweight boxing champion in the early 1900s. The reaction among white Americans was strong enough to create a campaign to find a white boxer—a “great white hope”—who could defeat Johnson and reclaim the title for whites. Kenny Johnston, executive director of the Kansas Democratic Party, finds Jenkins’s remarks unacceptable. “The congressman might have avoided this problem if she had stuck to discussing constructive solutions to the health care crisis instead of lamenting the Republican Party’s search for a leader,” he says. A spokeswoman for Jenkins, Mary Geiger, says Jenkins intended no racial overtones in her word choice. “There may be some misunderstanding there when she talked about the great white hope,” Geiger says. “What she meant by it is they have a bright future. They’re bright lights within the party.” [Topeka Capital-Journal, 8/26/2009] Reporting on the incident, the news Web site Raw Story notes that in 1910, white boxer James Jeffries, slated to fight Johnson, told reporters, “I am going into this fight for the sole purpose of proving that a white man is better than a Negro.” During the match, a ringside band played the song, “All Coons Look Alike to Me.” Johnson defeated Jeffries. [Raw Story, 8/27/2009]
Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) says the Senate should not pass a health care reform bill unless it garners “bipartisan” support. Hatch goes on to say that such a bill would not be bipartisan unless it could win “somewhere between 75 and 80 votes.” Two of Hatch’s colleagues, Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Mike Enzi (R-WY), have made similar statements, with Enzi demanding “a bill that 75 or 80 senators can support.” Progressive news and advocacy Web site Think Progress notes that all three senators have made very different claims in the past:
In 2001, all three boasted that then-President Bush’s $1.35 trillion tax-cut bill was “built upon bipartisanship” after it passed the Senate with 58 votes.
In November 2003, after the Senate passed a prescription drug plan for seniors that was heavily favored by pharmaceutical firms, Grassley praised himself as the “lead Senate architect of the bipartisan legislation.” The bill passed with 54 votes.
In 2005, Senate Republicans harshly criticized Senate Democrats for filibustering seven of President Bush’s 205 nominees to the federal judiciary. Hatch and Grassley argued strongly against those nominees needing to be confirmed by a 60-vote “supermajority.” Hatch called the filubuster “unconstitutional,” and Grassley described judicial filibusters as “an abuse of our function under the Constitution.” [Fox News, 8/20/2009; Think Progress, 8/20/2009]
Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC), during a “telephone town hall” discussion of health care reform, reiterates her opposition to Democratic reform initiatives. Foxx, who has previously claimed that elderly Americans will be “put to death” under Democratic reform proposals (see July 28, 2009), says that any reform attempts by the federal government would be unconstitutional. Moreover, discussions about government reform issues are little more than “distractions” from more important issues. Foxx says: “The Constitution doesn’t grant a right to health care, and most of us are living as much by the Constitution as we can. It also doesn’t give the federal government the authority to deal with health care. As you may know, the 10th amendment, it says if it isn’t mentioned in the Constitution to be done by the federal government, it’s left to the states or the people.… I think one of the problems we have in this country right now is the fact that the federal government is trying to do too much. We need to leave things to the states and the localities.… And unfortunately, we are distracting ourselves from looking after the defense of this nation because we are dealing with issues that should, by right, be the state and individual’s.” Foxx has also claimed that every American has access to health care (see September 17, 2009), and has supported Medicare in past votes. [Think Progress, 8/21/2009]
Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and a key player in the Democrats’ health care reform process, defends his insistence on a bipartisan process that will produce reform supported by both Democrats and Republicans. Yet Baucus admits that Senate Republicans are almost uniformly committed to killing reform outright. Baucus is a member of the Finance Committee’s “Gang of Six,” a group of three conservative Democrats and three Republicans who are working to craft a reform proposal. “I just think if it is bipartisan, it’s more sustainable, it’s more durable, long-lasting,” Baucus says. “There will be more buy-in around the country. We’re going to make some mistakes. If it’s bipartisan, it will be easier to fix the mistakes, work together to fix the mistakes. It’s just better for the country.” However, he says: “The Republican leadership in the Senate and in the House is doing its utmost to kill this bill. They are putting intense political pressure on Chuck Grassley, Olympia Snowe, and Mike Enzi [the three Republican members of the “Gang of Six”], to bow out, because they want to kill it. So I’ve got a challenge ahead of me to work out all this on policy as we go through these meetings. The other thing is the politics of it: ‘People, this is the right thing to do for America. I know you’re under intense political pressure, but do the right thing. I know it’s easy for me to say right now, because I’m getting beat up by both sides, but not nearly as much as you are by the Republican hierarchy.’” Baucus says it is important to craft a bill that can garner the 60 votes needed to defeat a filibuster, which the Republicans will almost certainly invoke to try to delay or kill any reform bill. He does not support the reconciliation process that would allow the bill to pass with a 51-vote majority. [Think Progress, 8/21/2009; Helena Independent, 8/21/2009]
Betsy McCaughey is interviewed by Jon Stewart of ‘The Daily Show.’ [Source: Media Matters]Health care reform opponent Betsy McCaughey (see February 9, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 23, 2009, and July 23-24, 2009) appears on Comedy Central’s satirical news/comedy broadcast, The Daily Show. Host Jon Stewart devotes twice the usual amount of air time to interviewing McCaughey, and even then the interview is not broadcast in its entirety; Comedy Central posts the entire interview on its Web site. Stewart’s main interview tactic is to challenge McCaughey to prove one claim or another, such as her assertion that the health care reform legislation pending in the House would mandate “death panels” or “end-of-life” review committees; McCaughey then tries and fails to find language in the bill itself, and Stewart chastises her for spreading falsehoods. Late in the interview, Stewart calls McCaughey’s rhetoric “hyperbolic” and “dangerous.” [Comedy Central, 8/20/2009; Comedy Central, 8/20/2009; Media Matters, 8/21/2009; Huffington Post, 8/21/2009] He concludes by telling her, “I like you—but I don’t understand how your brain works.” [Salon, 8/21/2009] In an analysis of the interview, The Atlantic’s James Fallows, who lambasted McCaughey’s 1994 arguments against the Clinton administration’s health care reform efforts (see Mid-January - February 4, 1994), says he realizes after watching the interview that “I have been far too soft on Betsy McCaughey. Even when conferring on her the title of ‘most destructive effect on public discourse by a single person’ for the 1990s. She is way less responsible and tethered to the world of ‘normal’ facts and discourse than I had imagined.” Fallows writes that McCaughey succeeds as well as she does in the interview by ignoring Stewart’s points and rebuttals, and echoing her assertions even after Stewart effectively rebuts or mocks them. [Atlantic Monthly, 8/21/2009] Days later, McCaughey will be removed from her position as a director of Cantel Medical Corporation, in part apparently due to her performance on Stewart’s show (see August 20-21, 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]
Health reform organizer Randall Terry pretends to stab an elderly lady in the neck as part of an anti-reform protest. A fellow protester wearing a Barack Obama mask looks on. [Source: Feministe (.us)]Randall Terry, the former head of the extremist anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, gleans headlines during health care protests in the Southeast. In Chattanooga, Tennessee, Terry is nearly arrested while standing outside the federal courthouse stabbing baby dolls. In Nashville, one of Terry’s supporters dons an Obama mask and pretends to assault passers-by. One Nashville resident who witnesses the activities tells a local reporter: “It’s an angry white man in a black man’s mask. They’re just trying to shock people. They’re trying to say, ‘Barack Obama doesn’t care about you, he doesn’t care about your kids, because he’s black.’” During the same protest, Terry and an elderly supporter put on a bit of street theater: the elderly lady mimes seeking medical advice from Terry, who is dressed in a doctor’s jacket, and he pretends to stab her in the neck with a needle and kill her. According to Salon reporter Alex Koppelman, Terry’s twin messages in the protests are his opposition to abortion and to euthanasia—neither of which are supported in any health care reform bills before Congress. Before the protests, Terry wrote his supporters an e-mail: “It is refreshing to see the rage expressed at ‘town hall meetings.’ However, much of this anger is not about child-killing. It’s about the cost of the bill, or rationing, or if we can keep our current plan, or about treatments for the elderly. Our goal is to keep child-killing and euthanasia in the center of this debate until any vestige of taxpayers paying for murder is gone.” [Salon, 8/24/2009] At a Virginia rally soon after, Terry’s group re-enacts slave beatings (see August 24, 2009).
According to ABC News, the Justice Department’s release of a 2004 report by the CIA’s inspector general (see May 7, 2004 and August 24, 2009) is preceded by a “profanity-laced screaming match” between CIA Director Leon Panetta and White House officials. This apparently produces disquiet among White House officials regarding Panetta. According to ABC News, some White House officials are “worrying about the direction of its newly-appoint[ed] intelligence team.” Some reports say that Panetta has already threatened to resign once, and White House officials are discussing “a possible shake-up of top national security officials.” According to one unnamed “senior adviser to [President] Obama on intelligence matters,” “You can expect a larger than normal turnover in the next year.” And another former senior intelligence official predicts, “Leon will be leaving.” But a White House spokesman, Denis McDonough, says the reports of Panetta’s threatened resignation and a potential “shake-up” of top intelligence and national security officials are “inaccurate.” Both Panetta and CIA spokesman George Little say reports of his threatened resignation are “absolutely untrue”; the spokesman says of the alleged tirade that Panetta is known to use “salty language.” Former counterterrorism specialist and current ABC News consultant Richard Clarke says: “It would be a shame if such as talented a Washington hand as Panetta were to leave after one year. It takes that long for any senior bureaucrat to begin to understand what needs to get done and how to do it. The CIA needs some stability.” [ABC News, 8/24/2009] Newsweek’s Mark Hosenball says that Panetta has been sending mixed messages. “Panetta had been kind of ambiguous, at least in terms of his public statements and even his private messages, as to whether he’s strongly opposed to release of documents like this or not,” he says. “Some cases it’s looked like he’s been in favor of releasing documents like this; in other cases, it’s looked like he’s been against it. I think he’s trying to straddle the issue here. I mean, certainly, previous CIA directors like General Mike Hayden and George Tenet have strongly expressed the view that this stuff shouldn’t have been released. Panetta hasn’t been quite as strong in saying that publicly, anyway.” [PBS, 8/24/2009]
Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), a key player in the Senate battle over health reform, tries to explain his earlier statements that Iowans were right to “fear” that the federal government would “pull the plug on Grandma” by encouraging American senior citizens to end their lives prematurely (see August 12, 2009). During his explanation, Grassley blames President Obama for his words. On CBS’s Face the Nation, he tells host Bob Schieffer that even though he is aware the House health reform bill “doesn’t intend to” kill senior citizens, he feels he has a responsibility to make such statements: “I said that because—two reasons. Number one, I was responding to a question at my town meetings. I let my constituents set the agenda. A person that asked me that question was reading from language that they got off of the Internet. It scared my constituents. And the specific language I used was language that the president had used at Portsmouth (see August 11, 2009), and I thought that it was—if he used the language, then if I responded exactly the same way, that I had an opposite concern about not using end-of-life counseling for saving money, then I was answering.… You would get into the issue of saving money, and put these three things together and you are scaring a lot of people when I know the Pelosi bill doesn’t intend to do that, but that’s where it leads people to.” Schieffer asks Grassley directly if the House legislation “would pull the plug on Grandma.” Grassley responds, “It won’t do that,” but then goes on to say that such claims are effective: “It just scares the devil out of people. So that [provision for end-of-life counseling] ought to be dropped.” The progressive news and advocacy Web site Think Progress notes that Obama did indeed use the phrase “pull the plug on Grandma,” but he “used it as an example of the lies his opponents were pushing around to scare the American public.” [Think Progress, 8/23/2009]
The cover of the VA booklet ‘Your Life, Your Choices.’ The cover text reads: ‘Planning for Future Medical Decisions’ and ‘How to Prepare a Personalized Living Will.’ [Source: American Veteran Magazine]Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace tells his viewers that the Veterans Administration (VA) has a secret “death book” that urges veterans to “pull the plug” and commit suicide. The 51-page booklet is called “Your Life, Your Choices,” and, Wallace says, was pulled for rewriting and reissuance in 2007, yet the VA under President Obama is still using it. In his Fox News blog, Wallace writes: “What makes the book controversial is that—according to critics—it seems to push veterans in the direction of ‘pulling the plug.’ For instance—page 21 is a worksheet in which the veteran is asked to consider various situations and then check—whether in each case, life would be ‘difficult, but acceptable’—‘worth living, but just barely’—or ‘not worth living.’ You might think that the scenarios would involve irreversible comas and the like. But no—they include: ‘I can no longer walk but get around in a wheelchair’—‘I live in a nursing home’—‘I am a severe financial burden on my family’—and ‘I cannot seem to “shake the blues”’.” Wallace’s guest, Wall Street Journal columnist James Towey, whom Wallace describes as helping to “end use of the book under President Bush, and was shocked to see it has now been reinstated,” tells viewers that the message of the book is simple: “hurry up and die.” (Wallace notes that he learned of the VA’s “death book” from Towey’s August 18 Journal column.) And, Wallace writes, quoting Towey, “he says—when government can steer vulnerable individuals to conclude that life is not worth living—‘who needs death panels?’” Wallace briefly notes that he also interviewed VA’s Assistant Secretary, Tammy Duckworth, who noted that the book is “just one of many reference tools the VA makes available—and that it is currently being revised.” [Veterans Administration, 1997 ; Wall Street Journal, 8/18/2009; Fox News, 8/23/2009]
Debunking the Claim - The story of the “death book” is quickly debunked. Richard Allen Smith of the veterans’ organization VetVoice notes that the VA booklet is actually aimed at helping veterans choose not to commit suicide, and provides them with methods and resources to battle depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other conditions which lead veterans to consider prematurely ending their lives. [Richard Allen Smith, 8/23/2009] Progressive media watchdog Web site Media Matters notes that the claim that the Bush administration “rescinded” the booklet in 2007 is false. While it was reviewed in 2007, the Bush administration actively promoted the use of the booklet throughout its tenure; an online document on the VA’s Web site labeled “Reviewed/Updated Date: December 29, 2008,” states, “To learn about a living will, read ‘Your Life, Your Choices.’” Wallace’s claim that the VA mandates all veterans receive the booklet is also false; it is considered an optional reference, not mandatory. [Media Matters, 8/24/2009]
Hidden Agenda? - Smith notes that Towey may have another reason for opposing the VA booklet. In 1996, Towey founded an organization called “Aging with Dignity.” In 1997, the organization released a 12-page pamphlet, “Five Wishes,” that it says does the same job as the VA’s booklet. It gives the ailing veteran a list of five questions that, it claims, when answered will guide your life decisions. For years, Towey has been trying to get the VA to stop distributing its own booklet and instead buy “Five Choices” to use with its veterans. In 2007, Towey did help force the VA to reassess and revise its booklet after complaining that it was biased against the anti-abortion viewpoint. Smith writes bluntly: “Astonishing. Jim Towey is one sick mother f_cker to argue that veterans should be presented with LESS information, not MORE, when it comes to making a living will, all so he can make a profit from peddling his end-of-life pamphlet that is shorter than the books my two-and-a-half-year-old reads.” [Huffington Post, 8/22/2009; Richard Allen Smith, 8/23/2009]
Claim Spread by Conservative Media - Even before Wallace’s August 23 broadcast, some conservative media outlets, having read Towey’s August 18 Wall Street Journal editorial, began spreading the story of the VA’s “death book.” The National Review printed editorials denouncing the booklet, and Fox News host Sean Hannity called it “the equivalent of a death panel.” Former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) used her Facebook blog to accuse the VA of “encourag[ing] veterans to forego care as they make end-of-life decisions.” And radio host Rush Limbaugh told his listeners: “This thing is obsessed with death. It’s obsessed with you deciding—or with some—maybe some influence—that your life isn’t worth living. It’s—there’s nothing positive in this.” [Media Matters, 8/24/2009]
Entity Tags: Chris Wallace, Media Matters, National Review, James Towey, Fox News, Obama administration, Bush administration (43), Tammy Duckworth, Richard Allen Smith, Rush Limbaugh, US Veterans Administration, Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity
Timeline Tags: US Health Care
BlueCross BlueShield logo. [Source: TopNews (.us)]Health insurers have mobilized tens of thousands of employees to fight against the Democrats’ health care reform initiative, according to reports by the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal. The insurance industry’s primary motive seems to be financial gain, according to the Times reporters. Many of the nation’s largest insurers, including UnitedHealth, have urged their employees to become involved in protesting health care reform, and provided advocacy “hot line” telephone numbers, printed “talking points,” sample “letters to the editor,” and other materials in almost every Congressional district throughout the nation. And many insurers, including BlueCross Blue Shield, have sponsored anti-reform television ads targeting conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats, many of whom are considered vulnerable to pressure from the industry. The insurance industry is paying for over 900 lobbyists, spending $35 million in the first half of 2009 lobbying Congress and the White House. AFL-CIO spokesman Gerald Shea says: “They have beaten us six ways to Sunday. Any time we want to make a small change to provide cost relief, they find a way to make it more profitable.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/24/2009; Wall Street Journal, 8/24/2009]
Jamming the 'Town Halls' - Insurers like UnitedHealth and others are sending their employees to “town hall” meetings to protest against reform. The Journal reports, “[T]he industry employees come armed with talking points about the need for bipartisan legislation and the unintended consequences of a government-run health plan to compete with private insurers.” But they are instructed not to become contentious and argumentative, according to a “Town Hall Tips” memo provided by the industry’s chief lobbying organization, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP—see Before August 6, 2009). The memo warns those attending the meetings to expect criticism, and to stay calm. “It is important not to take the bait,” the memo cautions. AHIP president Karen Ignagni says the town hall meetings are an opportunity “to strongly push back against charges that we have very high profits. It’s very important that our men and women… calmly provide the facts and for members of Congress to hear what these people do every day.” Larry Loew, who works for the insurance administration firm Cornerstone Group, says he attended a recent town hall meeting hosted by Representative Alan Mollohan (D-WV) because “my whole industry is being threatened.” Loew claims he was not coached by AHIP, but admits to preparing for the meeting by gathering talking points from hospital and insurance company Web sites. AHIP spokesman Robert Zirkelbach says about 50,000 employees have been engaged in writing letters and making phone calls to politicians or attending town hall meetings. [Wall Street Journal, 8/24/2009]
'Hallelujah!' - One industry proposal that is gaining traction among some in Congress is the so-called “individual mandate,” which would require all citizens to buy some form of health insurance. That provision would guarantee insurers tens of millions of new customers—many of which would receive government subsidies to help pay the premiums. Robert Laszewski, a former health insurance executive who now heads the consulting firm Health Policy and Strategy Associates, says of the provision, “It’s a bonanza.” The industry’s reaction to early negotiations can, Laszewski says, be summed up in a single word: “Hallelujah!” Linda Blumberg, a health policy analyst at the nonpartisan Urban Institute, says, “The insurers are going to do quite well” with health care reform. “They are going to have this very stable pool, they’re going to have people getting subsidies to help them buy coverage, and… they will be paid the full costs of the benefits that they provide—plus their administrative costs.” Aetna’s chief executive, Ron Williams, says: “We have to get everyone into the insurance market. That is a huge, big deal [and] everyone has coalesced around that.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/24/2009; Wall Street Journal, 8/24/2009]
Battling the Public Option, - Insurers have fought most strongly against the so-called “public option,” which would create a government-run, non-profit alternative to private health insurance. Some polls are showing public support for the public option has declined, and stock prices for the insurance corporations have tracked upwards. Other insurance industry proposals are gaining ground. The Senate Finance Committee is considering a proposal to lower the proposed mandatory reimbursement rate for insurers to policyholders from 76 percent to 65 percent, and the industry is pressuring Congress to lower the limit that insurers must meet to cover a policyholder’s medical bills, leaving more of the money it gleans from premiums as profits. “These are a bad deal for consumers,” says J. Robert Hunter, a former Texas insurance commissioner who works with the Consumer Federation of America. Insurance companies would reap huge profits by providing less insurance “per premium dollar,” he says. Former Cigna executive Wendell Potter says, “It would be quite a windfall” for the insurance industry. [Los Angeles Times, 8/24/2009]
Entity Tags: Consumer Federation of America, UnitedHealth Group, Urban Institute, Wall Street Journal, BlueCross Blue Shield, Alan Mollohan, Senate Finance Committee, AFL-CIO, Aetna, America’s Health Insurance Plans, Wendell Potter, Robert Laszewski, Health Policy and Strategy Associates, Gerald Shea, Cornerstone Group, J. Robert Hunter, Robert Zirkelbach, Ron Williams, Linda Blumberg, Karen Ignagni, Larry Loew, Los Angeles Times
Timeline Tags: US Health Care
Health care reform supporters pack a 2,700-seat high school gymnasium in Reston, Virginia, to hear former Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman Howard Dean and Representative James Moran (D-VA) discuss the Democrats’ reform proposals. Two pro-health care groups, Organizing for America and Change that Works, helped turn out the crowd, gathered signatures, and passed out signs, some of which resembled campaign signs for President Obama’s campaign, and some that were drawn in magic marker to appear homemade. One supporter says she goes because “I’ve heard these town hall meetings have been rude and out of control. I wanted to lend my support to the side that supports health care reform. I’m here to show my presence, wave my sign, and show that a good portion of Northern Virginia supports health care reform.”
Violent Street Theater - Anti-reform protesters gather outside the gym, and former Operation Rescue leader Randall Terry entertains the crowd with some street theater similar to what he has performed in recent days (see August 22-23, 2009). Terry and his supporters put on a skit with a man in an Obama mask pretending to whip a bloodied woman, who repeats the line: “Massa, don’t hit me no more. I got the money to kill the babies.” Terry also re-enacts his previous performance of a doctor pretending to stab an elderly woman to death. He explains his performance, saying, “There’s no way to pay for this thing without killing granny.” Two other protesters heckle supporters as they enter the gym; they wave signs and wear large flags around their shoulders adorned with a large machine gun and the words, “Come and take it.” (Guns are forbidden at the event because it takes place on school property.)
Police Remove Protesters - Inside, a small number of protesters try to shout down the rabbi who gives a preliminary invocation, but reform supporters drown out their boos and screams with cheers. Moran accepts only pre-screened questions, in an attempt to forestall raucous outbursts, but this process is disrupted when one protester pretends to be someone else who had been called upon to ask their question, and shouts out his objections to health care reform. In general, Moran is able to speak over the top of the near-constant heckling by using an amplifier and ignoring the taunts and jeers. However, when Dean takes the podium, the protesters erupt, and Moran orders some of them to leave. Police escort Terry and at least one other person out of the gym as the majority of the crowd chants, “Kick him out!” Although Dean is known as a fiery supporter of the government-run “public option,” his presentation is low-key and somewhat technical. [The Hill, 8/25/2009]
The Republican National Committee (RNC) releases a memo entitled “CIA IG Report Confirms Effectiveness of CIA Interrogation Program.” The memo is in response to the release of a 2004 CIA report detailing numerous instances of torture and abuse against detainees by CIA interrogators and contractors (see August 24, 2009). The RNC memo asserts that, far from detailing potential crimes and abuses, the report proves that the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program was effective in garnering critical intelligence from detainees. The memo reads in part: “Media coverage [of the report] seems to imply that CIA interrogators were constantly going beyond programmatic guidance, where the IG report found the reality to be that ‘there were few instances of deviations from approved procedures.‘… Additionally, the media today has latched on to the use of a gun in an interrogation, without usually reporting the other important element of that salacious story, which is that the interrogator was promptly disciplined for his actions.… Similarly going unreported today is that the release of the IG report should finally put to rest claims that the CIA interrogation program was not effective and did not produce actionable intelligence.” The memo notes that in the report, “[a]gency senior managers believe that lives have been saved as a result of the capture and interrogation of terrorists who were planning attacks, in particular, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaida, Hambali, and [Abd al-Rahim a]l-Nashiri.” In the report, an unidentified senior CIA official called the program “an absolute success.” [Weekly Standard, 8/24/2009] The RNC statement is contemporaneous with a similar statement from former Vice President Dick Cheney (see August 24, 2009).
Former Vice President Dick Cheney releases a statement that asserts the just-released CIA inspector general’s report (see August 24, 2009) proves that torture, which he refers to as “enhanced interrogation techniques,” works, and follows up with an attack on the Obama administration’s commitment to protecting the nation. Cheney writes: “The documents released Monday clearly demonstrate that the individuals subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques provided the bulk of intelligence we gained about al-Qaeda. This intelligence saved lives and prevented terrorist attacks. These detainees also, according to the documents, played a role in nearly every capture of al-Qaeda members and associates since 2002. The activities of the CIA in carrying out the policies of the Bush administration were directly responsible for defeating all efforts by al-Qaeda to launch further mass casualty attacks against the United States. The people involved deserve our gratitude. They do not deserve to be the targets of political investigations or prosecutions. President Obama’s decision to allow the Justice Department to investigate and possibly prosecute CIA personnel (see First Half of August 2009), and his decision to remove authority for interrogation from the CIA to the White House (see August 24, 2009), serves as a reminder, if any were needed, of why so many Americans have doubts about this administration’s ability to be responsible for our nation’s security.” [Weekly Standard, 8/24/2009; Washington Independent, 8/24/2009] Cheney’s statement is contemporaneous with a similar statement from the Republican National Committee (see August 24, 2009).
Disputing Cheney's Assessment - A Democratic official disputes the assertions, saying that the report provides no basis to conclude that torture was effective in eliciting actionable intelligence, and cites caveats in the body of the report. [Politico, 8/25/2009] And the New York Times notes that the memos “do not refer to any specific interrogation methods and do not assess their effectiveness.” [New York Times, 8/24/2009]
'Silly Semantic Game' - Reporter and columnist Spencer Ackerman notes that the memos seem to suggest that the most useful intelligence came from traditional intelligence techniques. He writes, “Cheney’s public account of these documents have conflated the difference between information acquired from detainees, which the documents present, and information acquired from detainees through the enhanced interrogation program, which they don’t.” Human rights organizations take a similar line. Gitanjali Gutierrez of the Center for Constitutional Rights says the documents “don’t make the case for torture, they only show that the CIA is able to tailor documents to justify its actions after the fact.” Tom Parker of Amnesty International notes that the memos “are hardly the slam dunk we had been led to expect. There is little or no supporting evidence in either memo to give substance to the specific claims about impending attacks made by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in highly coercive circumstances.” [Washington Independent, 8/24/2009; TPM Muckraker, 8/25/2009] Reporter Zachary Roth calls Cheney’s claim a “silly semantic game.” While it is true that the US gained actionable intelligence from detainees who were tortured, Roth observes, “it’s totally different from Cheney’s earlier claim—that the documents would show it was the EITs themselves that elicited the information.” [TPM Muckraker, 8/25/2009]
Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), Obama administration, Central Intelligence Agency, New York Times, Gitanjali Gutierrez, Al-Qaeda, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Zachary Roth, Republican National Committee, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Tom Parker, Spencer Ackerman
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
Opponents of health care reform lead the debate during a speech and followup session by Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY), one of the so-called “Gang of Six” who are helping to write the Senate Finance Committee’s health care reform proposal. Around 500 people attend the event, held in a high school gym in Gillette, Wyoming. Enzi lambasts Senate Democrats and the White House for not engaging in what he calls “bipartisan collaboration” on reform, and calls for “market-based” health care solutions. Enzi says he has no use for a so-called “public option,” which would mandate a government-run alternative to private health care. “A government option is a monopoly, and it’s no option,” Enzi says, earning a strong round of applause. State Representative Timothy Hallinan, a Gillette Republican, earns more applause when he urges Enzi to pull out of negotiations with Senate Democrats and oppose any reform bill. When urged to do so by an audience member who identifies himself as a Republican, Enzi claims: “If I hadn’t been involved in this process as long as I have and to the depth as I have, you would already have national health care.… Someone has to be at the table asking questions. If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.… It’s not where I get them to compromise, it’s what I get them to leave out.” Some pro-reform members of the audience note the large amounts of campaign contributions Enzi has taken, and argue for the public option. Enzi retorts by claiming two government-run medical programs, Medicare and Medicaid, are “going broke,” and a public option program would suffer the same fate. [Associated Press, 8/25/2009]
Cover of CIA OIG report, with redactions. [Source: CIA / New York Times]A 2004 report by the CIA’s inspector general (IG) on torture (see May 7, 2004) is released to the public, after months of speculation as to its contents. The CIA opposed the release of the report for years, arguing that the release would demoralize its personnel and make it more difficult for the agency to do its job. The report’s release is triggered by a federal judge’s ruling in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The report, authored by former Inspector General John Helgerson, is heavily redacted, but the portions released to the public include a number of illegal and ethically questionable tactics used by US interrogators against detainees. Some of those tactics include the use of handguns, power drills, threats, smoke, and mock executions. Many of the techniques used against detainees were carried out without authorization from higher officials, and the Justice Department is reopening investigations into a number of the most serious allegations (see First Half of August 2009). The report says that the CIA’s efforts to provide “systematic, clear, and timely guidance” to interrogators were “inadequate at first” and that that failure largely coincided with the most significant incidents involving the unauthorized coercion of detainees, but as guidelines from the Justice Department accumulated over several years, oversight “improved considerably.” In the words of the Washington Post, “the report pointed to ongoing tensions between interrogators in the field and officials at the CIA Counterterrorism Center as to when detainees were compliant and when the use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ was appropriate.” [MSNBC, 8/24/2009; Washington Post, 8/24/2009] In a statement, Helgerson says, “The most important findings of the review related to basic systemic issues: had management controls been established; were necessary laws, regulations, and guidelines in place and understood; had staff officers and contractors been adequately trained; and had they discharged their responsibilities properly?” [Washington Post, 8/24/2009] Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff says that the “report was generated at the beginning by agency officials within themselves who had deep concerns about what was going on. I was struck. One officer is quoted in this report saying that he’s concerned that he might one day—agency officers might one day end up on some ‘wanted list’ to appear before the world court for war crimes stemming from these activities. It was agents—it was the concerns about this came from within the agency. That’s what generated this report.”
Recommendations Redacted - Isikoff notes that at least half of the report is redacted, including the IG’s recommendations, and says, “I’m told the worst stuff is in those blacked out passages, which means we still don’t know the full story of this program.” [MSNBC, 8/25/2009] The report contains 10 recommendations for action on the CIA’s part, but all of them are redacted. [McClatchy, 8/24/2009] Helgerson states his regret that so much of the report is redacted. “The essence of the report is expressed in the Conclusions and Recommendations,” he says. “I am disappointed that the government did not release even a redacted version of the Recommendations, which described a number of corrective actions that needed to be taken.” [Washington Post, 8/24/2009] Isikoff’s Newsweek colleague, Mark Hosenball, says he believes much of the redacted information has to do with “renditions”: detainees transferred to foreign countries “and abused there.” [PBS, 8/24/2009]
Detailing 'Crime Scene[s]' - Author and reporter Jane Mayer says she believes the report, “in essence, [details] a crime scene. It’s very hard to get away from the fact that things like death threats and mock executions are specifically identified as torture under the Convention Against Torture and, therefore, are illegal, and they’re considered very major crimes. So the problem for the Obama administration, which inherited this report and the question about what to do about it, is that it’s a red flag to any prosecutor. It’s very hard to ignore this, when you’ve taken an oath of office that says you’re going to execute the laws and uphold the Constitution. So they’ve got to somehow do something with this. I was interviewing Larry [Laurence] Tribe, a law professor, who said, you know, it’s hard to do nothing about this when you see it.” Reporter David Ignatius notes that an earlier review by Justice Department prosecutors found that no one at the CIA could be prosecuted for crimes based on the findings of the report. However, that may no longer be true. “[I]t is interesting and troubling to people at the CIA that something that was already decided not prosecutable is now maybe prosecutable,” he says. Mayer notes that during the Bush administration, possible prosecutions were short-circuited by political appointees such as then-US Attorney Paul McNulty, “who was very much a political player, who actually wound up having to resign later in the Bush administration for other political problems.” [PBS, 8/24/2009]
Federal Prosecutor Appointed - In part as a result of reviewing the CIA report, Attorney General Eric Holder names a special prosecutor to determine if the CIA or its hired contractors broke any laws in interrogating detainees (see August 24, 2009).
Reactions - CIA Director Leon Panetta issues a statement that supports the agency’s efforts while avoiding defending torture or abuse. In his statement, Panetta writes that he is not “eager to enter the debate, already politicized, over the ultimate utility of the agency’s past detention and interrogation effort.” He says the program produced crucial intelligence but adds that use of the harsh methods “will remain a legitimate area of dispute.” Overall, Panetta says, the agency is committed to “moving forward” and not spending large amounts of time reflecting on past practices. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) calls the report, and the concurrent appointment of special prosecutor John Durham to investigate torture allegations (see August 24, 2009), “a great relief, a great moment for America as a country.” He continues: “We’ve finally seen the rule of law brought forward in a way that it is clear and direct on this situation, which has been so sort of poisoned with personalities and politics and propaganda. It’s a first kind of clear, bright light, and I couldn’t be happier, couldn’t be more relieved.” [New York Times, 8/24/2009; Central Intelligence Agency, 8/24/2009; MSNBC, 8/25/2009] The ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer says, “The report underscores the need for a comprehensive criminal investigation that reaches not just the interrogators who exceeded authority but the senior officials who authorized torture and the Justice Department lawyers who facilitated it.” [Washington Post, 8/24/2009] Joanne Mariner, the terrorism and counterterrorism program director at Human Rights Watch, says: “The CIA inspector general’s report provides compelling official confirmation that the CIA committed serious crimes. A full criminal investigation into these crimes, and who authorized them, is absolutely necessary.” [Human Rights Watch, 8/24/2009]
Entity Tags: Jane Mayer, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), John Durham, David Ignatius, Jameel Jaffer, Joanne Mariner, Eric Holder, US Department of Justice, American Civil Liberties Union, Paul J. McNulty, Sheldon Whitehouse, Laurence Tribe, John Helgerson, Mark Hosenball, Leon Panetta, National Counterterrorism Center, Obama administration, Michael Isikoff
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
Attorney General Eric Holder announces he has appointed a federal prosecutor from Connecticut, John Durham, as a special prosecutor to investigate whether CIA interrogators broke any federal laws. [US Department of Justice, 8/24/2009; Washington Post, 8/25/2009]
Decision Stems from CIA IG Report - The investigation is preliminary in nature, and will decide whether a full investigation is warranted. Holder bases his decision in part on a just-released 2004 report on torture by the CIA’s inspector general (see August 24, 2009) and a Justice Department recommendation that there should be an investigation of about a dozen cases of possible abuse and torture from Iraq and Afghanistan (see First Half of August 2009). According to the conclusion of the CIA report: “The enhanced interrogation techniques used by the agency under the CTC [Counterterrorist Center] program are inconsistent with the public policy positions that the United States has taken regarding human rights. Unauthorized, improvised, inhumane, and undocumented detention and interrogation techniques were used.” [New York Times, 8/24/2009; MSNBC, 8/25/2009] The review is also prompted by a report by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) into memoranda drafted by the department’s Office of Legal Counsel related to “enhanced interrogation techniques.” The OPR report recommends the department re-examine previous decisions not to prosecute in some cases related to the interrogation of certain detainees. The aim of the preliminary review is to find whether federal offenses were committed in some detainee interrogations. [US Department of Justice, 8/24/2009] According to the Washington Post, the review will focus on “a very small number of cases,” including one in which a CIA officer named Zirbel caused Afghan prisoner Gul Rahman to freeze to death at the Salt Pit prison in Afghanistan (see November 20, 2002) and the intimidation of al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri by a CIA officer named “Albert” using a handgun and drill (see Between December 28, 2002 and January 1, 2003). These cases and the others were previously referred by the CIA inspector general to the Justice Department for examination, but the department decided not to prosecute (see (August 2004) and Mid-October 2005). [Washington Post, 9/19/2009; Associated Press, 9/7/2010]
Durham a Veteran Prosecutor - Durham has been investigating the CIA’s destruction of videotapes of interrogations that may have documented instances of torture (see January 2, 2008). Although Durham has a low public profile, he is a veteran of numerous high-level prosecutions, including cases against Boston-area organized crime figures, corrupt FBI agents, and former Governor John Rowland (R-CT). Durham is considered apolitical, and has worked closely with the Justice Department under both Democratic and Republican administrations. Connecticut defense lawyer Hugh Keefe calls him “the go-to guy for Justice whenever they get a hot case.” Former Connecticut prosecutor Mark Califano calls Durham’s approach to investigations “clinical,” and says he has “very rarely” concluded a case without bringing criminal charges. “He likes to make cases when there is evidence there,” Califano says. “You’ve got to balance whether that kind of information exists.… You can’t move forward if you don’t have the evidence.” [US Department of Justice, 8/24/2009; MSNBC, 8/25/2009; Washington Post, 8/25/2009] Boston prosecutors and defense attorneys have characterized Durham as “honest” and “tenacious.” Warren Bamford, who heads Boston’s FBI office, said Durham “kind of has blinders on in the sense that he doesn’t worry about the politics and all the other stuff that might be swirling around, and I think that’s really what makes him so successful.” [Boston Globe, 1/7/2008] In a statement, Holder says, “Mr. Durham, who is a career prosecutor with the Department of Justice and who has assembled a strong investigative team of experienced professionals, will recommend to me whether there is sufficient predication for a full investigation into whether the law was violated in connection with the interrogation of certain detainees.” [Think Progress, 8/24/2009]
Senator: Durham a 'First-Rate' Choice - Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) is enthusiastic about the choice of Durham. He says he has worked with Durham before, while Whitehouse was US Attorney for Rhode Island, and calls the prosecutor “very professional” and “a first-rate choice,” adding that Durham has “a very good grounding in this because he has been doing the investigation into the destruction of the torture tapes.” [MSNBC, 8/25/2009]
No Acknowledged 'Break' with White House - Holder notes that he will be criticized for undermining the CIA, and may be going against abjurations by President Obama to “move forward” instead of focusing on past transgressions, but says the facts left him little choice. “As attorney general, my duty is to examine the facts and to follow the law,” he says in a statement. “Given all of the information currently available, it is clear to me that this review is the only responsible course of action for me to take.… I have concluded that the information known to me warrants opening a preliminary review into whether federal laws were violated in connection with the interrogation of specific detainees at overseas locations.” White House officials say Holder’s decision does not mark a break between the White House and the Justice Department on their policies toward interrogations. Deputy press secretary Bill Burton tells reporters that “ultimately, the decisions on who is investigated and who is prosecuted are up to the attorney general.… The president thinks that Eric Holder, who he appointed as a very independent attorney general, should make those decisions.” [New York Times, 8/24/2009; Washington Post, 8/24/2009; MSNBC, 8/25/2009] Justice Department spokespersons refuse to say who will, and who will not, be investigated. [TPM Muckraker, 8/25/2009]
Entity Tags: Mark Califano, John Durham, Warren Bamford, Office of Professional Responsibility, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Hugh Keefe, Obama administration, Eric Holder, Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), Matthew Zirbel, Central Intelligence Agency, “Albert”, Bill Burton, US Department of Justice, Sheldon Whitehouse
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh tells his audience in two separate broadcasts that President Obama “wants to mandate circumcision” as part of the Democrats’ health care reform proposal. On August 24, Limbaugh says: “Not that I’m against circumcision, but it’s a family’s decision. Leave our penises alone, too, Obama!” On August 25, he says: “[I]t is President Obama who wants to mandate circumcision. We had that story yesterday; and that means if we need to save our penises from anybody, it’s Obama.” Limbaugh cites as his source a Fox News story based on an upcoming report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that may recommend circumcision for newborn boys in order to help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS (the procedure can, later in life, reduce transmission of the disease from women to men). The CDC has not yet decided whether to make the recommendation. It is also considering whether to recommend circumcision for adult men who are at high risk for HIV infection. CDC spokesman Scott Bryan tells the St. Petersburg Times that any such recommendations “will be completely voluntary,” both for parents and for adult males. The St. Petersburg Times’s PolitiFact investigative team researches what involvement Obama may have had in the CDC’s potential recommendation, and finds none. “From what we found, Obama has not used the word ‘circumcision’ in any public statement as a candidate or as president,” the reporters note. “We also found no evidence that he has recommended circumcusion to the CDC. The only link—and it’s an indirect one—that we could find between Obama and the CDC’s efforts was a press release on the White House Web site announcing a series of HIV/AIDS community discussions, the first one being held in conjunction with the National HIV Prevention Conference we mentioned earlier. But the release did not mention circumcision. It turns out that circumcision recommendations have been under discussion since 2007, when George W. Bush was president. Given the fact the CDC was pondering the idea back then, it is no more accurate to say Obama wants to mandate circumcision than to say Bush did.” The Times calls Limbaugh’s assertions “ridiculous.” [St. Petersburg Times, 8/27/2009]
The mainstream media shows little interest in reporting that the just-released CIA report on torture (see August 24, 2009) does not prove that torture works as a method of eliciting actionable intelligence from detainees, according to Washington Post columnist and blogger Greg Sargent, writing on the Post’s political blog “The Plum Line.” Sargent notes that when former Vice President Dick Cheney was asserting that the then-classified memos did indeed show that torture worked, “[t]he mainstream media trumpeted Cheney’s lies about what the documents show. But now that they’ve been made public and they contradict his claims, most reporters seem to have lost interest.” He also notes the coverage given to Cheney’s claim that the report proves torture was effective (see August 24, 2009). Sargent backs up his claim with analysis of the media coverage provided by the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Associated Press, and CNN; the Times was the only source to directly address Cheney’s claims, but, as Sargent observes, “this came in the 13th paragraph in an article not directly focused on Cheney’s claims.” He goes on to note that only ABC News and the Washington Independent devoted stand-alone stories to Cheney’s claims not being proven. [TPM Muckraker, 8/25/2009; Plum Line, 8/25/2009] CNN reported, “Cheney says documents show interrogations prevented attacks… and yielded crucial information about al-Qaeda.” Sargent notes that Cheney didn’t say that at all, but rather he said “that the same individuals who were tortured also happened to yield the most important evidence about al-Qaeda. He’s not saying that the docs proved torture was responsible for producing that info” (emphasis in the original). Sargent credits Cheney with “masterful obfuscation,” and says that CNN was “being played for chumps.” [Plum Line, 8/25/2009; CNN, 8/25/2009] Sargent observes: “To be fair, there was tons of news yesterday. Maybe the news orgs will get around to doing big takeouts on this. But come on, Cheney and his daughter Liz were granted tons of print space and air time to claim for weeks that these docs would prove torture worked. Seems fair to expect aggressive, stand-alone stories about what they do—and don’t—prove in the real world.” And reporter Zachary Roth concludes, “[N]o doubt, when Cheney or his daughter want to go public with their next set of self-justifying crap, they’ll be welcomed as authorities, as if none of this ever happened.” [Plum Line, 8/25/2009; TPM Muckraker, 8/25/2009]
Entity Tags: Greg Sargent, Associated Press, ABC News, CNN, Elizabeth (“Liz”) Cheney, Zachary Roth, Washington Post, Central Intelligence Agency, New York Times, Washington Independent, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Former CIA case officer Robert Baer, now an author and a columnist for Time.com, tells MSNBC host Alison Stewart that former Vice President Dick Cheney is wrong when he says just-released CIA documents prove that “enhanced interrogation techniques”—torture—works (see August 24, 2009). Baer says: “I’ve looked to the documents and there is no evidence that torture led to the disclosure of imminent attacks, ‘the ticking bomb,’ as they call it. There’s just no evidence there.… [W]hat Cheney said and what’s come out in these documents don’t prove anything at all.” Baer goes on to say that he has never seen torture work: “I’ve spent 21 years in the CIA. It isn’t—and watched other countries use torture and it never worked. In fact, there was a rule, a very fixed rule in the CIA—don’t accept tortured information because it’s unreliable. And that was across the board. It went from China to Zimbabwe to every country in the world. It’s unreliable.” The CIA was never equipped to perform torture, or what Baer “nicely” calls “hostile intelligence,” in the first place. The agency, Baer says, is “filled with liberal arts majors who go out and collect intelligence without coercion. So 9/11 comes along. The White House is desperate to do something. It turns to the CIA.… So, guys, like you and me, will go out and then all we know about torture is we watch “24”, and suddenly, these guys are put on the line and they improvise and they use mock executions. They threaten mothers and children and the rest of it. And it looks like the amateur hour because it is the amateur hour. This is not the role of the CIA to do abusive interrogations. I mean, if anybody should be doing them, it should be the military or the FBI.” Baer supports the release of the memos because, he says, “I’m afraid we’re going to be attacked again and everybody’s going to say, you know, under this administration, maybe and say, they do something, we have to start going back to torture. What we need to know is, was it really useful or wasn’t it? And no one’s answered that question in spite of what Vice President Cheney says.” [MSNBC, 8/26/2009]
In an interview with NPR, Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), finds it difficult to both support Medicare and attack government-run health care. Steele is interviewed by Steve Inskeep, and tells him that government-run health care is never a good option, but simultaneously demands that health care reformers protect Medicare and retain its funding.
Says Democrats Want to Cut Medicare, Then Advocates Cutting Medicare - Steele calls Medicare “a valuable program” that is “the last line of opportunity” for elderly Americans to receive health care. He accuses Democrats of wanting to “raid” the program to fund health care reform, and says accusations that he wants to cut Medicare spending is “a wonderful interpretation by the left” that he wants to reduce such funding. However, in response to the next question, Steele says he supports cutting Medicare spending; Inskeep asks, “[Y]ou would be in favor of certain Medicare cuts?” and Steele says: “Absolutely. You want to maximize the efficiencies of the program. I mean, anyone who’s in the program would want you to do that, and certainly those who manage it want you to that.”
Protecting and Attacking Medicare Simultaneously - Inskeep pins Steele down on the dichotomy by noting that he has previously written about the need to protect Medicare while attacking the idea of President Obama’s “plan for a government-run health care system.” Inskeep observes, “You’re aware that Medicare is a government-run health care program,” and Steele retorts: “Yeah, look how it’s run. And that’s my point. Take Medicare and make it writ large across the country, because here we’re now—how many times have we been to the precipice of bankruptcy for a government-run health care program?” In the following exchange, Steele, according to Think Progress reporter Amanda Terkel, “tie[s] himself into knots”:
Inskeep: “It sounds like you don’t like Medicare very much at all.”
Steele: “No, I’m not saying that. No, Medicare…”
Inskeep: “… But you write in this [Washington Post] op-ed that you want to protect Medicare because it’s politically popular. People like Medicare.”
Steele: “No, no, no, no, no. Please, don’t…”
Inskeep: “That’s why you’re writing to protect Medicare.”
Steele: “Well, people may like Medicare, and liking a program and having it run efficiently is sometimes two different things. And the reality of it is simply this: I’m not saying I like or dislike Medicare.… My only point is that, okay, Medicare is what it is. It’s not going anywhere. So let’s focus on fixing it so that we don’t every three, five, 10 years have discussions about bankruptcy and running out of money.”
'You're Doing a Wonderful Little Dance' - Inskeep continues to drill into Steele’s support for Medicare and his simultaneous opposition to government-run health care, leading Steele to note, “I want to protect something that’s already in place and make it run better and run efficiently for the senior citizens that are in that system does not mean that I want to automatically support, you know, nationalizing or creating a similar system for everybody else in the country who currently isn’t on Medicare.” When Steele says the government could regulate the private industry to make sure that private insurers don’t make decisions for citizens’ health care based on profit, Inskeep asks: “Wait a minute, wait, wait. You would trust the government to look into that?” After a brief, spluttering exchange, Steele says, “I’m talking about those who—well, who regulates the insurance markets?” Inskeep notes, “That would be the government, I believe.” Steele then accuses Inskeep of trying to manipulate the conversation: “Well, and so it—wait a minute, hold up. You know, you’re doing a wonderful little dance here and you’re trying to be cute, but the reality of this is very simple. I’m not saying the government doesn’t have a role to play. I’ve never said that. The government does have a role to play. The government has a very limited role to play.”
Insists that 'No One's Trying to Scare' Americans about Reform - Towards the end of the interview, Inskeep asks whether it is difficult to explain health care to Americans in a way that “doesn’t just kind of scare people with soundbites.” Steele replies: “No one’s trying to scare people with soundbites. I have not done that, and I don’t know any leaders in the House and the Senate that have done that.” [National Public Radio, 8/27/2009; Think Progress, 8/27/2009] Steele has called the Democrats’ health care reform plan “socialism” and accused Congressional Democrats of being in a “cabal” to enact government-controlled health care over the objections of the American populace (see July 20, 2009). And his RNC has sent out a survey suggesting that the Democrats’ reform proposal would discriminate against Republicans (see August 27, 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
Rex Rammell. [Source: Spokane Spokesman-Review]A Republican candidate for the Idaho gubernatorial nomination, Rex Rammell, says that he would like to hunt and kill President Obama. Rammell makes his remarks during a local Republican Party fundraiser. Criticizing Governor C. L. Otter for not buying a “wolf tag,” or a license to hunt gray wolves, Rammell responds to a shout from an audience member about “Obama tags” by saying: “The Obama tags? We’d buy some of those.” Rammell later says he was merely joking and, though he supports nothing Obama is doing as president, would never call for Obama’s assassination. [Magic Valley Times-News, 8/27/2009] While Rammell may have been joking, he also distributes his “humorous” remark to his press distribution list for statewide reporting. [Boise Weekly, 8/27/2009]
Extending the Joke; GOP Lawmakers Lambast Rammell - Within hours, Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) demands that Rammell apologize for the remarks. Crapo is also challenging Otter for the governor’s post in 2010. He says Rammell’s jokes undercut healthy debate over important issues. “Rex Rammell’s comments are in very poor taste and should not have been said,” Crapo says. “Remarks like these should not even be made jokingly. He should apologize for those remarks and for the perception they may have created.” Rammell refuses to apologize, noting that any hunting tags he might buy in Idaho would not be valid in Washington. He says, “Anyone who understands the law knows I was just joking, because Idaho has no jurisdiction to issue hunting tags in Washington, DC.” [Associated Press, 8/27/2009] Other Idaho Republicans, including Otter, Senator Jim Risch, Representative Mike Simpson, and former Governor Phil Batt, later join in Crapo’s condemnation of Rammell’s remarks. “Reckless and inflammatory statements like these gravely damage confidence in the political process and the good citizens who serve the public,” says Otter. “As governor, as an Idaho Republican, and as a citizen of our state, I reject and condemn this kind of rhetoric. There is no place for it in Idaho.” Simpson says, “It is absolutely irresponsible to say such inflammatory things, especially for someone who seeks to be a leader in Idaho.” Risch says: “I disgree often with the president and his policies. But the comment was totally unacceptable and should not have been made.” Batt says of Rammell’s two comments: “I think those are absolutely irresponsible statements. Totally irresponsible, maybe criminal. You’re not allowed to threaten the president, with good reason. We’ve had some tragic assassinations in our history and we don’t want to encourage them, even in a joking way.”
Refusing to Apologize - Rammell again refuses to apologize, instead slamming Crapo for “giving away” two million acres of remote land “to the environmentalists,” and saying, “Phil Batt should go to jail for allowing the wolves to enter Idaho in the first place.” Rammell says they, not he, are the real criminals. Batt believes Rammell is trying to energize his long-shot campaign for governor. He also says he worries that Rammell’s remarks reinforce the national impression that Idaho is a haven for right-wing secessionists, militia members, and racists. “Even though Idaho has had a very minimal amount of overt racism and discrimination, it’s haunted us for years,” he says. “And each little indiscretion tends to magnify it. It’s really too bad.” [Idaho Statesman, 8/28/2009]
Not an Issue of Free Speech, but Incitement to Violence - Idaho columnist Jill Kuraitis notes: “What would Rammell’s mother say? Mine would have said: ‘Threatening the president is a felony, and you will never say anything like that again. Clear?’ What would Rammell’s father say? Mine would have said: ‘I expect you to take this matter seriously. And if you ever hear anyone make a statement threatening the president, you will loudly object and then call the police.’” She adds: “Tossing a serious matter like this off with a simple ‘Rammell, what part of ‘that’s not funny’ don’t you understand?’ isn’t good enough. Calling the remark ‘tasteless,’ ‘unfortunate,’ or ‘inappropriate’ isn’t good enough, either. This isn’t about silencing anybody’s voice. Standing up to threats, no matter the intention of the speaker, doesn’t mean the speaker’s opinions should be silenced. Rhetoric encouraging any sort of violence, especially toward the president—any president—is the issue.” [New West Boise, 8/27/2009]
Fox News television banner promoting its coverage of the ‘Tea Party Express’ bus tour. [Source: Media Matters]Fox News gives in-depth coverage to the “Tea Party Express,” a bus tour organized by the Republican political action committee Our Country Deserves Better (OCDBPAC), whose stated mission is to oppose the Obama administration’s policy initiatives. Fox has previously promoted and covered other “tea party” protests (see April 15, 2009 and May 13-14, 2009). The network covers the kickoff of the tour, after over a month of extensive promotion on Fox News, Fox Business, the “Fox Nation” Web site, and FoxNews.com (see October 13, 2009). OCDBPAC used Fox’s promotion of the tour in its own fundraising efforts. Fox has hosted OCDBPAC vice chairman and “Tea Party Express” organizer Mark Williams, who has publicly stated his disbelief that President Obama is an American citizen, has expressed his belief in the so-called “death panels” connected to the health care reform legislation being crafted in Congress (see August 7, 2009), and has compared Obama to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Fox News provides viewers with information telling them “how you can join” the tour by noting the dates and locations of 22 tour stops, with anchors encouraging viewers to “be a part” of the tour. Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity joins the tour for the day, and broadcasts “live updates” from the bus. Reporter Griff Jenkins is assigned to cover the tour for a number of days, and will provide segments for broadcast periodically throughout the tour. Another Fox reporter, William La Jeunesse, reports from the Sacramento kickoff, and tells his audience, “[H]opefully Washington will listen to [the protesters’] concerns.” In a kickoff-day interview, Williams tells La Jeunesse that the purpose of the tour is to revive the Republican Party, which he says is “right now in a coma.” [Media Matters, 8/28/2009]
An August 2009 sermon by Arizona pastor Steven Anderson calling for the immediate death of President Obama (see January 18, 2009) triggers an inquiry by the Secret Service. CNN anchor Rick Sanchez, after playing video excerpts of the sermon to his viewers, interviews ex-Secret Service agent Scott Alswang, who says that Anderson is treading very close to violating a federal law prohibiting threats against the president. “He is walking a fine line,” Alswang says. “The problem I have with it is that he seems to be inciting his congregation to go and act in a direction toward the president. And that, at least on a local level, would seem to me to be an inciting charge. And if someone in that congregation had mental disabilities or were prone toward violence or had a direction of interest toward the president or his family, there could be grave consequences.” CNN analyst Mike Brooks says that his sources confirm that Anderson has been interviewed by the Secret Service. [Phoenix New Times, 8/29/2009]
Denies Calls for Assassination - After his August sermon, titled “Why I Hate Barack Obama,” Anderson insisted he was not calling for anyone to actually assassinate Obama. “Nowhere in the sermon did I advocate vigilantism,” he said on August 27. “It’s a spiritual battle.… I’d rather have him die of natural causes anyway, that way he’s not some martyr. I’m praying for him to die just so he gets what he deserves.” [TPM Muckraker, 8/27/2009] Later, Anderson is more ambivalent, telling an ABC reporter: “I don’t care how God does it, I’m not going into further detail than that. It would be better now than later.” [ABC News, 9/1/2009]
Says Congregation Is Armed and 'Ready to Protect' Itself - Chris Broughton, who recently brought an AR-15 to an event featuring Obama (see August 17, 2009), is a member of Anderson’s church, and says he moved to Tempe to join that church. “I actually moved to the area because this church was preaching the message I believe in,” he says. Anderson says his congregation has received death threats over his sermons, and adds: “Guns are a great deterrent. We haven’t had any violence because people know if they come down here swinging a baseball bat, we’re ready to protect ourselves.” Anderson makes a practice of posting YouTube videos of his conflicts with law enforcement officials; in April 2009, he claimed he was beaten by Border Patrol and Arizona police officers after being stopped for speeding. Anderson is facing disorderly conduct charges. He has posted other videos from previous confrontations with Border Patrol authorities, and with a police officer at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport. [Arizona Republic, 8/29/2009; ABC News, 9/1/2009]
Newsweek publishes an extensive article detailing what it calls “the five biggest lies in the health care debate.” Despite the title, the article actually debunks seven.
The government will have electronic access to your bank accounts and steal citizens’ money (see (July 30, 2009) and After). The bill passed by the House Ways and Means Committee indeed calls for electronic fund transfers, but only from insurers to doctors and other providers. Patients are not involved in such transactions.
You’ll have no choice in what health benefits you receive. This story seems to originate from a blog, Flecks of Life, which features a picture of President Obama made up as the Joker from the Batman films. The House bill provides for a “health care exchange,” including a list of private insurers and a single government plan, allowing people without health insurance to choose from the list. The government will prevent insurers from refusing clients with “preexisting conditions,” and require them to offer at least minimum coverage. However, Newsweek observes, “The requirements will be floors, not ceilings, however, in that the feds will have no say in how generous private insurance can be.”
No chemo for older Medicare patients. Newsweek calls this a “vicious” rumor coming from the so-called “deather” camp (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, Shortly Before August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 13, 2009, August 12-13, 2009, August 13, 2009, August 15, 2009, August 18, 2009, and August 23-24, 2009). The claim is that Medicare will refuse cancer patients over 70 years of age anything other than end-of-life counseling, including chemotherapy and other life-extending treatments. The claim, Newsweek says, “has zero basis in fact. It’s just a vicious form of the rationing scare.”
[H]ealth-care reform will be financed through $500 billion in Medicare cuts. Again, nothing in the House bill or anything being considered in the Senate exists to back this claim. There are proposed decreases to increases in future Medicare funding, essentially reducing Medicare expenditures from the forecast of $803 billion by 2019. $560 billion would be removed from future Medicare increases over the next 10 years, and would not come from funds slated to provide actual care to seniors. And the House bill proposes increasing Medicare funding by $340 billion over the next 10 years. According to Medicare expert Tricia Newman of the Kaiser Family Foundation, the money would pay for office visits, eliminate copays and deductibles, and close the so-called “donut hole” in Medicare drug benefits.
Illegal immigrants will get free health insurance. While a 1986 law allows illegal immigrants to receive free emergency care through emergency room clinics like everyone else in America, the House bill does not give anyone free health care. Illegal immigrants will not be eligible for subsidies to buy health insurance. In July, the House defeated a Republican-sponsored amendment to require anyone enrolling in a public plan or seeking subsidies to purchase health insurance to provide proof of citizenship. After the amemdment was defeated, Representative Steve King (R-IA) began spreading the false claims that since proof of citizenship would not be mandated, illegal immigrants would indeed be able to obtain government-funded health insurance. Newsweek writes: “Can we say that none of the estimated 11.9 million illegal immigrants will ever wangle insurance subsidies through identity fraud, pretending to be a citizen? You can’t prove a negative, but experts say that Medicare—the closest thing to the proposals in the House bill—has no such problem.”
Death panels will decide who lives. So-called “death panels” form the heart of the “deather” claims that the government would mandate “end of life counseling sessions” that would encourage elderly and seriously ill patients to allow themselves to die. Newsweek calls the claim a “lie” that “springs from a provision in the House bill to have Medicare cover optional counseling on end-of-life care for any senior who requests it. This means that any patient, terminally ill or not, can request a special consultation with his or her physician about ventilators, feeding tubes, and other measures. Thus the House bill expands Medicare coverage, but without forcing anyone into end-of-life counseling.”
The government will set doctors’ wages. This is another claim that seems to have originated on the Flecks of Life blog. Like the earlier claim, it is false. The House bill, according to Newsweek, “says that physicians who choose to accept patients in the public insurance plan would receive five percent more than Medicare pays for a given service, [but] doctors can refuse to accept such patients, and, even if they participate in a public plan, they are not salaried employees of it any more than your doctor today is an employee of, say, Aetna.” Amitabh Chandra of Harvard University says, “Nobody is saying we want the doctors working for the government; that’s completely false.” [Newsweek, 8/29/2009]
Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) gives a speech to an audience at the conservative Independence Institute in Denver, Colorado. Bachmann tells the audience that “we… have to make a covenant, to slit our wrists, be blood brothers” to defeat health care reform. Bachmann, whose speech is frequently punctuated by cheers, says health care reform has “the strength to destroy this country forever.… Right now, we are looking at reaching down the throat and ripping the guts out of freedom. And we may never be able to restore it if we don’t man up and take this one on.” She continues: “Something is way crazy out there.… This cannot pass.… What we have to do today is make a covenant, to slit our wrists, be blood brothers on this thing. This will not pass. We will do whatever it takes to make sure this doesn’t pass.… You’re either for us or against us on this issue.” Calling her speech a “personal legislative briefing,” Bachmann tells the audience that many Americans pay half of their incomes in taxes, and thusly, “This is slavery. It’s nothing more than slavery.” The Colorado Independent characterizes Bachmann’s speech as “filled with urgent and violent rhetoric.” She proudly calls herself the nation’s “second-most hated Republican woman,” behind only former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), and calls herself first on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)‘s list of “top targets,” presumably for defeat in the 2010 elections. Bachmann provides her own proposal for health care reform: “Erase the boundaries around every single state when it comes to health care,” enabling consumers to purchase insurance across state lines; increase the use of health savings accounts and allow everyone to “take full deductibility of all medical expenses,” including insurance premiums; include tort reform; and, she concludes: “Do a few other tweaks and you’re there. Your whole crisis is gone.” [Colorado Independent, 8/31/2009; Think Progress, 9/1/2009]
Three Senate Republicans—Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), former presidential candidate John McCain (R-AZ), and Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-MO)—hold a “Health Care Reform Forum” at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. The event is closed to the public. The attendees were invited either by the senators or the hospital administration. McConnell tells the audience that he believes it is time to “step back and start over” on health care reform. McConnell and McCain intend to take part in two more health care forums, in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Hialeah, Florida, but both events will also be closed to the public. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), who has taken part in several contentious town hall audiences (see July 27, 2009 and August 11, 2009), criticizes the Republican senators for not allowing citizens to take part in the discussions, saying: “I’m disappointed that the Republican leader of the Senate is coming to Kansas City on Monday and participating in a forum, but they’re not opening it up to the public. It’s invitation-only. I think it might be helpful for the leadership in the Republican Party to have some of the experiences I’ve had over the last week, where some of the meetings are wildly in favor of reform, and other meetings are wildly against it. I think having that pulse is important, and I think the Republican leader would benefit from that.” [Think Progress, 8/31/2009; Charlotte Observer, 8/31/2009]
A ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’ poster featuring the name of a Charlotte-area abortion provider. [Source: Women's Rights (Change.org)]A women’s clinic in Charlotte, North Carolina, the Family Reproductive Health Clinic, is targeted with a series of “Wanted” posters naming the clinic’s doctors, and claiming they are “Wanted Dead or Alive” for the “crime” of abortion. The posters read in part: “We would like to introduce you to [two named doctors]. Their specialties are obstetrics, gynecology, and murder. Not only do these two men assist women and deliver babies, but they also harm women and kill babies.… You may contact them at their office or the clinic in which they perform the abortions.” The posters list the addresses of the named doctors’ private practices. The practice of anti-abortion organizations using such posters began as early as 1995 (see 1995 and After) and was ruled an illegal threat in 2002 (see May 16, 2002). The practice has allegedly resulted in the murders of three abortion doctors (see March 10, 1993, December 30, 1994 and After, and October 23, 1998), who were all named in similar “Wanted”-style posters. The practice has continued in spite of the court verdict (see January - April 2003). The clinic has been targeted for closure since 2002, when the Reverend Flip Benham, the head of Operation Save America (formerly Operation Rescue—see 1986), moved to the Charlotte area and vowed to shut it down. Since then, Benham and his group’s members have harassed and intimidated the clinic’s staffers and patrons; Benham has been videotaped screaming at patients that “Satan will drink the blood of your babies” and that the women will “go to your deaths” if they have abortions. Benham and his followers often use microphones amplified to what a clinic official calls “deafening levels” to speak to the patients, “swarm” patients’ cars as they enter the parking lot, and follow them up to the doors of the clinic, often stepping within inches of the patients as they harangue them. The clinic official says of the patients, “We try to prepare them for this when they make their appointment, but until you go through something like this, you can’t imagine what it’s like.” The police do little to curb the protesters’ actions, the official says. [Ms. Magazine, 9/2009]
Mark Williams, a conservative talk radio host in Sacramento and a prominent spokesman for the nationally based Tea Party Express (TPE), sends an email to colleagues defending himself against charges of racism and calling President Obama “our half white, racist president.” Williams writes: “CNN went over more than 7,000 articles on my site; likely they also listened to the shows archived there too. No doubt they did a Lexis Nexis on me and found 30 years of work by and about me. The best that they could do as a result was string together three quotes, out of context, and throw in a false allegation of me calling Obama a ‘Nazi.’ I was in the streets marching for civil rights while _sshole southern sheriffs were swinging nail-studded baseball bats at black’s heads, and stood between black kids and even more fucked up northern assholes were throwing rocks and gas bombs at school buses in my hometown during forced busing for deseg. Two things you can always count on: I will defend my record on race to no one [sic], under any circumstances and, I will call out any racist, any time, without regard to who they are… and that includes our half white, racist president.” Williams has called Obama “an Indonesian Muslim turned welfare thug and a racist in chief” (see September 14, 2009). Williams is considered a leader of the Tea Party Express, which was created by a Republican consulting firm in 2009. [TPM Muckraker, 2/23/2010]
McClatchy reports that economies in Latin America are beginning to improve following the global financial crisis. The signs of the recovery include a “booming” construction industry in Peru, strong property sales in Peru, and expanding software companies in Chile. However, McClatchy says that the recovery in Mexico and other Central American countries is lagging behind, due to the slow recovery in the US. Prior to the global financial crash, Latin America had experienced its best five years of prosperity since the 1950s. [McClatchy Newspapers, 9/28/2009]
Conservative radio and Fox News television host Glenn Beck exhorts his radio audience to take part in the “massive” demonstration planned for September 12 as part of his “9/12 Project” (see March 13, 2009 and After). “I’m telling you, they [liberals, Democrats, and the Obama administration] have their hands around the neck of the republic,” he warns his listeners. “They are much farther ahead. We are just figuring it out. They have their hands around the neck of this republic and they are about to snap it.” He tells his audience to “get on your knees and pray, turn the other cheek, never in anger, never in anger, pray for more time, stand up in your community, and speak without fear.… You are the guardian and protector of liberty. You may be the only thing that stands between freedom and slavery. And if you can, join those who are willing to take a stand, on Washington, DC, on 9/12. If not, stand together, somewhere in your community, on 9/12. Get involved. They’re very well organized in their communities. And I didn’t realize how many socialist communities there were.” [Media Matters, 9/1/2009]
Representative Anthony Weiner (D-NY), a vocal supporter of health care reform and an advocate of universal health care for all Americans (see July 30, 2009), engages in a contentious on-air debate on MSNBC with CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo. Weiner extolls the virtues of Medicare, a US-run health care system for all citizens 65 or older: “The United States of America, 40 percent of all tax dollars go through a public plan. Ask your parent or grandparent, ask your neighbor whether they’re satisfied with Medicare. Now, there’s a funding problem, but the quality of care is terrific. You get complete choice and go anywhere you want. Don’t look at—” Bartiromo interrupts Weiner by snapping: “How come you don’t use it? You don’t have it. How come you don’t have it?” Weiner replies: “Because I’m not 65. I would love it.” Bartiromo, seemingly unaware that Medicare is only for those aged 65 or older, and also that Weiner is 20 years too young for the system, retorts, “Yeah, come on.” Weiner says: “Medicare for someone age 45? I would take it in a heartbeat.” [Washington Post, 9/1/2009; Huffington Post, 9/1/2009]
Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), speaks to an audience of around 150 at Howard University in Washington. Steele’s speech is part of his outreach to historically African-American colleges and universities. Unfortunately for his outreach program, the first few rows in the auditorium are reserved for local Young Republicans; all of the attendees from that organization are white. Steele’s dialogue has few moments for the audience to contribute, as he delivers a long speech about providing for your own future, with all questions submitted in writing while he speaks. However, the dynamic changes when 23-year-old Amanda Duzak, a Towson University graduate, stands up against the rules of engagement and speaks out of turn. Steele had finished criticizing the idea of the “public option,” the proposed government-run alternative to private health insurance. Duzak says: “My mother died of cancer six months ago because she could only afford three of her six prescription chemotherapy medications. There are 50 million people in this country who could end up like my mom, suffering or dying because they do not have adequate health care (see September 17, 2009). Everyone in this room and everyone in this country should have access to good health care.” Duzak receives a solid round of applause, and Steele answers her. After saying he believes in mature, honest discussion, he says, “People are coming to these town meetings and they’re like [he then shakes].” Gesturing directly at Duzak, he adds: “It makes for great TV. You’ll probably make it tonight, enjoy it.” Steele then turns his back on Duzak as the crowd continues to applaud her. [Think Progress, 9/2/2009; Huffington Post, 9/2/2009; Washington Independent, 9/2/2009]
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
Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales defends Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to investigate allegations of prisoner abuse by the CIA (see August 24, 2009). Referring to Holder’s decision going against the apparent wishes of President Obama, Gonzales says, “As chief prosecutor of the United States, he should make the decision on his own, based on the facts, then inform the White House.” The attorney general has a “great deal of discretion” in such matters, he says. Gonzales also says that since Bush administration lawyers clearly defined what interrogation techniques were legal, the interrogators who went beyond those defined boundaries should be investigated. “We worked very hard to establish ground rules and parameters about how to deal with terrorists,” he says. “And if people go beyond that, I think it is legitimate to question and examine that conduct to ensure people are held accountable for their actions, even if it’s action in prosecuting the war on terror.” Holder, Gonzales says, is only concerned about the “one percent of actors” who went beyond the guidelines of Justice Department lawyers, and is not conducting a witch hunt. The other 99 percent “are heroes and and should be treated like heroes for the most part, not criminals,” he says. [Washington Times, 9/1/2009] Two days later, Gonzales backs down from his position. He tells a Washington Times reporter, “Contrary to press reporting and based on the information that’s available to me, I don’t support the investigation by the department because this is a matter that has already been reviewed thoroughly and because I believe that another investigation is going to harm our intelligence gathering capabilities, and that’s a concern that’s shared by career intelligence officials, and so for those reasons I respectfully disagree with the decision.” [Washington Times, 9/3/2009]
Michael Savage, a conservative radio host, tells his listeners that President Obama wants to have an “Obama Youth” program similar to the Nazi’s “Hitler Youth.” Referring to a speech Obama is preparing that is aimed at schoolchildren (which Savage falsely claims Obama “is going to force” children to listen to), Savage says “every dictator” such as Adolf Hitler, Cuba’s Raul and Fidel Castro, and others have routinely attempted to “brainwash” their young citizens by making speeches to them. “[Y]ou gotta hand it to dictators,” Savage says, “they see the future. That once they seize total power, they need a generation that loves them. Hitler had the Hitler Youth, and Obama would like to have the Obama Youth. Now he can’t create the Obama Youth Corps overnight, but he can certainly address the schoolchildren of America as a captive audience and sell them on fraudulent ideas such as global warming, health care for all, higher taxation for the pig rich, and things of this nature, and that’s what happens under a dictatorship, things of this nature.” [Media Matters, 9/3/2009] Obama will give the speech on September 8; it contains non-controversial reminders for schoolchildren to “stay in school” and “work hard,” and contains no references to “global warming,” “health care for all,” or taxing the “pig rich.” Schools are invited to broadcast the speech into classrooms or assemblies, but are not required to by either the White House or local school boards. After the speech, a Baltimore teacher will tell a reporter that she is disappointed that the country has “become so polarized that we believe that our president is an enemy and not our leader.” During George W. Bush’s presidency, she will say, “whether I disagreed or not, I still saw him as a leader.” [White House, 9/8/2009; CNN, 9/8/2009] Savage has called the landmark civil rights decision Brown v. Board “sickening” (see May 18, 2004), accused Obama of being educated in a radical Islamic madrassa (see January 10, 2008 and April 3, 2008) and being a potential “radical Muslim” (see February 21, 2008), called Obama’s presidential victory “the first affirmative-action election in American history” (see February 1, 2008), accused Obama of being sympathetic towards the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese of World War II (see March 13, 2008), said that homeless Americans should be put in “work camps” (see June 6, 2008), called Obama an “Afro-Leninist” (see June 6, 2008), said that welfare recipients should lose the right to vote (see October 22, 2008), accused Obama of using his grandmother’s death to conceal his “efforts” to falsify his Hawaiian birth certificate (see November 10, 2008), accused Obama of planning to fire all the “competent white men” in government once he became president (see November 18, 2008), and called Obama a “dictator” (see March 4-6, 2009).
Van Jones. [Source: Politico]White House official Van Jones, the Obama administration’s special advisor for environmental jobs, resigns after a barrage of criticism from conservative critics and Republican officials. Jones is an author, community organizer, and “green jobs” expert from the San Francisco area; before his resignation, he was in charge of a small White House program advocating for jobs in energy-efficient industries. Indications are that Jones was asked by White House officials to resign, in part because administration officials wanted to “move beyond” the criticism of him as Obama prepares to address Congress on the subject of health care reform (see September 9, 2009). In 2004, Jones signed a petition asking for an investigation into whether the Bush administration had allowed the 9/11 terrorist attacks in order to provide a pretext for war in the Middle East, though he has always said he does not support the so-called “truther” movement that features allegations of Bush officials’ involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Shortly before joining the administration, Jones used the term “_ssholes” to characterize Republicans. He is a public supporter of Mumia Abu-Jamal, convicted of murdering a Philadelphia police officer. Conservatives have termed him a “radical Communist” for his affiliation with some left-wing protest movements. The New York Times calls the controversy around Jones a “significant distraction” to Obama’s health care agenda. Critics have attacked Jones specifically as well as administration officials such as him, sometimes called “czars,” who are appointed to positions of some influence in the White House without having to be approved by Congress. White House officials say that they were unaware of Jones’s more controversial statements and positions because his position was not considered senior enough to warrant complete vetting. Press secretary Robert Gibbs says that Obama does not endorse Jones’s views and did not hesitate to accept his resignation: “Well, what Van Jones decided was that the agenda of this president was bigger than any one individual. The president thanks Van Jones for his service in the first eight months, helping to coordinate renewable energy jobs and lay the foundation for our future economic growth.” [New York Times, 9/6/2009; Politico, 9/7/2009] The online news site Politico writes: “Jones’ departure from the position is the first real scalp claimed by the Republican right, which stoked much of the criticism of Jones.… Jones’ controversial statements fit snugly into the narrative woven by some conservative critics of Obama as a dangerous leftist, a critique that goes back to the campaign and was based as much on his past work as a community organizer and associations with the likes of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and William Ayers as on his policies. Jones’ roots in radical politics, and a spate of newly surfaced links Saturday documenting his advocacy for convicted cop killer and former Black Panther Mumia Abu Jamal—a death row prisoner who many in the activist left view as an unjustly convicted political prisoner—threatened to play into that narrative.” [Politico, 9/7/2009] One of Jones’s loudest critics was Fox News’s Glenn Beck, who has repeatedly targeted Jones on his show since July 2009. Beck regularly calls Jones a “Communist-anarchist radical.” Some speculate that Beck began attacking Jones because an organization co-founded by Jones, Color of Change, began a movement to force Beck’s resignation after Beck called Obama a “racist” (see July 28-29, 2009). The influential conservative news blog World Net Daily (WND) has attacked Jones since at least April 2009, calling him “an admitted radical communist and black nationalist leader” who “sees [the] environment as [a] racial issue.” Beck has used much of WND’s rhetoric in his attacks on Jones. [WorldNetDaily, 4/12/2009; Washington Independent, 9/4/2009; New York Times, 9/6/2009] In recent days, Representative Mike Pence (R-IN) called on Jones to resign, and Senator Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-MO) called for an investigation into Jones’s appointment, labeling Jones as “erratic and unstable” in a letter to Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the chairman of the Green Jobs and New Economy Subcommittee. Former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean defends Jones, saying he was being penalized for not realizing what the petition he signed in 2004 was: “This guy’s a Yale-educated lawyer. He’s a best-selling author about his specialty. I think he was brought down, and I think it’s too bad. Washington’s a tough place that way, and I think it’s a loss for the country.” In his resignation letter, Jones writes: “On the eve of historic fights for health care and clean energy, opponents of reform have mounted a vicious smear campaign against me. They are using lies and distortions to distract and divide.” However, he writes, though many have advised him to stay and fight for his position: “I cannot in good conscience ask my colleagues to expend precious time and energy defending or explaining my past. We need all hands on deck, fighting for our future.” [New York Times, 9/6/2009; Politico, 9/7/2009]
Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Glenn Beck, Bush administration (43), Howard Dean, New York Times, Mike Pence, WorldNetDaily, Obama administration, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Politico, Van Jones, Robert Gibbs, Christopher (“Kit”) Bond
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Health insurance corporations defend their use of “rescissions,” or denials of care due to what they term “pre-existing conditions” among their customers. Washington Post reporters interview Los Angeles businesswoman Sally Marrari, who in 2006 had her coverage canceled by Blue Cross & Blue Shield after the firm claimed she had withheld information from them about a back problem. Marrari was undergoing treatment for a thyroid disorder, a heart problem, and lupus. After her coverage was canceled, Marrari was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and quickly racked up over $200,000 in medical bills. She says she had no idea at the time that she had any back issues. She is currently suing the company, and is getting health care by trading office visits for work on her doctor’s 1969 Porsche at the garage she owns with her husband. Marrari’s tale is one of many cited by the Post as illustrative of the insurance industry’s unpopular practice. The Post writes, “Tales of cancellations have fueled outrage among regulators, analysts, doctors, and, not least, plaintiffs’ lawyers, who describe insurers as too eager to shed patients to widen profits.” Insurance company spokespersons claim to have little knowledge of just how and why particular patients are subjected to rescission, and Congressional investigators point to a patchwork of state laws and policies which lead to confusion. Since 2008, California’s five largest insurers have paid almost $19 million in fines for unfairly canceling policyholders’ insurance after those clients filed claims. One insurer, Health Net, has admitted to offering bonuses to employees for finding reasons to cancel policies. Gerald Kominski of the Center for Health Policy says: “This is probably the most egregious of examples of health insurers using their power and their resources to deny benefits to people who are most in need of care. It’s really a horrendous activity on the part of the insurers.” But insurers say the rescissions are necessary to combat fraud among policyholders. An Anthem Blue Cross spokeswoman says: “We do not rescind a policyholder’s coverage because someone on the policy gets sick. We have put in place a thorough process with multiple steps to ensure that we are as fair and as accurate as we can be in making these difficult decisions.” Blue Cross has been fined $11 million over the last two years by California state overseers, and required to reinstate dozens of canceled policies. Officials from three insurance companies recently told a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee they had saved $300 million by canceling about 20,000 policies over five years. [Washington Post, 9/8/2009]
Joe Wilson attempting to shout down President Obama. [Source: Politics Daily]President Obama gives a speech touting his administration’s health care reform efforts to a joint session of Congress. The speech, at times forceful and other times attempting to reach across party lines for a bipartisan reform effort, is primarly designed to unify Democrats against a near-unified Republican opposition. Obama denounces some of the most egregious misrepresentations about the health care reform effort, including the so-called “death panel” claim (see August 7, 2009, August 15, 2009, and August 23-24, 2009), in which he calls the people who spread the tale “liars.” He warns Republicans that he will brook no more gamesmanship from them in the effort to craft a reform bill. “What we have also seen in these last months is the same partisan spectacle that only hardens the disdain many Americans have toward their own government,” he says. “Too many have used this as an opportunity to score short-term political points, even if it robs the country of our opportunity to solve a long-term challenge. And out of this blizzard of charges and counter-charges, confusion has reigned. Well, the time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed.” Democrats roundly cheer Obama’s words; Republicans generally do not. [Politico, 9/9/2009; Washington Post, 9/9/2009; Salon, 9/9/2009] The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza later notes that the speech is stronger on rhetoric than it is on specifics. [Washington Post, 9/9/2009] Salon’s Joan Walsh, an avowed progressive, calls the speech “great” and writes: “What was most important about Obama’s address was his declaration that he won’t tolerate any more ‘lies’ or ‘bogus claims’ from the GOP. Yes, he used those terms.… My only real criticism is I wish he’d found a way to do this two months ago. Obama has never before been so lucid in explaining why reform is crucial.” [Salon, 9/9/2009]
Health Care an Economic Issue - Obama insists that reforming health care is critical to managing America’s continuing economic crisis, and key to shrinking the huge deficit. He says: “Put simply, our health care problem is our deficit problem. Nothing else even comes close.” However, as Walsh writes: “I was not crazy about his firm promise, ‘I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficit.’ I’m not sure he can keep that promise, for one thing, and it’s not a pledge he makes when asking for more money for Afghanistan, or for the not terribly stimulative tax cut he included in the stimulus bill.” [Salon, 9/9/2009; Salon, 9/9/2009]
No Commitment to the Public Option - While Obama’s rhetoric is at times tough, he does not directly embrace the idea of a “public option,” the proposed government-run, non-profit alternative to private health insurance. Many Democrats, particularly those in the progressive wing of the party, are strongly in favor of such a measure. “It is only one part of my plan,” Obama says of the option. “To my progressive friends, I would remind you that for decades, the driving idea behind reform has been to end insurance company abuses and make coverage affordable for those without it. The public option is only a means to that end—and we should remain open to other ideas that accomplish our ultimate goal.” [Politico, 9/9/2009; Salon, 9/9/2009] He notes that he has no interest in punishing the health care insurance industry, saying, “I don’t want to put insurance companies out of business, I just want to hold them accountable.” [Salon, 9/9/2009]
Evoking Senator Kennedy - Near the end of the speech, Obama evokes the memory of former Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), who died recently of brain cancer. Kennedy characterized health care reform as the centerpiece of his political agenda, and fought for it throughout his lengthy stay in the Senate. Obama reveals that Kennedy sent the White House a letter in his last days (see May 12, 2009), asking Obama and his fellow members of Congress to keep fighting for health care reform for the betterment of all Americans. Referring to Kennedy’s message, Obama closes with the line: “We did not come here to fear the future. We came here to shape it.” [Washington Post, 9/9/2009] Walsh says of the letter, “It let Obama return to his theme that health care in this wealthy nation is a moral issue and a matter of social justice.” [Washington Post, 9/9/2009]
'You Lie!' - During the speech, when Obama says that the health care legislation being crafted by Congressional Democrats does not offer free health care to illegal immigrants, Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC) shouts, “You lie!” Many lawmakers gasp at Wilson’s outburst, but Obama merely points an admonishing finger in the direction of the shout and continues his address. (It takes some time to identify Wilson as the shouter, as he quickly sinks back into his seat among his fellow Republican House members.) The Associated Press writes, “The nastiness of August reached from the nation’s town halls” in Wilson’s outburst; Politico’s Glenn Thrush later calls Wilson’s shout “boorish,” and notes that his outburst “enraged audience members on both sides of the aisle.” Wilson’s disruptive behavior is only one of a number of displays of disagreement from Republicans during the address; many spend time during the speech texting on their Blackberries or waving copies of GOP reform proposals. After the speech, Wilson is chastised by, among others, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), and he offers an apology to Obama through the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel (see September 9-10, 2009). [Politico, 9/9/2009; Associated Press, 9/9/2009] Cillizza later writes that the image of Republicans shouting at the president or showing their contempt for his message by texting during the speech gives a poor impression of them. “The more Republicans look like they are opposing the Democratic plan for partisan reasons, the more danger they are in politically,” he writes. [Washington Post, 9/9/2009]
Responses - Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE), considered a possible opponent to many reform provisions, says he came away from the speech impressed. “I think it was a bit of a game-changer,” he says. Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, says, “The speech galvanized support along the Democratic Caucus across the political spectrum, from the progressive caucus to the Blue Dogs, and everybody left determined to get something done this year.” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has a different response, ignoring the behavior of his own party members to accuse Obama of behaving in an undignified manner. “I was incredibly disappointed in the tone of his speech,” he says. “At times, I found his tone to be overly combative and believe he behaved in a manner beneath the dignity of the office. I fear his speech tonight has made it more difficult—not less—to find common ground. He appeared to be angry at his critics and disappointed the American people were not buying the proposals he has been selling.… If the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats go down this path and push a bill on the American people they do not want, it could be the beginning of the end of the Obama presidency.” Representative Mark Kirk (R-IL), who is running for the Illinois Senate seat once occupied by Obama, says: “He talked at us. He didn’t listen to us.… It was a missed opportunity.” However, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), one of the Obama administration’s most consistent critics, calls the speech “good,” and says: “I’m willing to compromise to get things fixed. But I’m not willing to put the government in charge because we don’t have a good track record.” [Politico, 9/9/2009] Political scientist Morris Fiorina calls Wilson’s outburst “a new low for the contemporary era,” and adds, “Some politicians seem to be adopting radio talk show hosts and cable TV commentators as their role models.” [USA Today, 9/10/2009]
Armed Man Attempted to Get to Capitol before Speech - Shortly before Obama’s speech, Capitol Police arrested a man trying to enter the Capitol grounds with a shotgun and a rifle (see September 9, 2009).
Entity Tags: Glenn Thrush, Tom Coburn, Barack Obama, Chris Van Hollen, Chris Cillizza, Rahm Emanuel, Ben Nelson, Mark Steven Kirk, Joan Walsh, Morris Fiorina, Joe Wilson, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, John McCain, Lindsey Graham
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda
Joshua Bowman, a resident of Falls Church, Virginia, is arrested by US Capitol Police after attempting to gain access to the Capitol grounds as President Obama begins addressing a joint session of Congress on health care reform (see September 9, 2009). Bowman attempts to bypass a barricade impeding access to the Capitol building, asking officers if he can park in a secure lot. The lot requires a permit and a vehicle search. The officers, suspicious of Bowman’s timing, search his Honda Civic, and find a shotgun, a rifle, and ammunition in the trunk. Bowman is arrested for carrying two unregistered firearms. His intentions are unclear, according to police spokeswoman Sergeant Kimberly Schneider. The Capitol Police and Secret Service are on high alert during Obama’s speech, which features several members of the White House and almost the entire body of Congress present in a single location. [The Hill, 9/10/2009; Associated Press, 9/10/2009]
Charles Boustany. [Source: US House of Representatives / Wonkette (.com)]Representative Charles Boustany (R-LA), a cardiac surgeon, gives the Republican rebuttal to President Obama’s speech on health care reform (see September 9, 2009). [Politico, 9/9/2009] Boustany tells his listeners that Americans “want health care reform,” but wanted to hear Obama “tell Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi, Majority Leader [Harry] Reid and the rest of Congress that it’s time to start over on a common-sense, bipartisan plan focused on lowering the cost of health care while improving quality.” Boustany acknowledged in an interview that the Republicans had done almost nothing themselves to address the health care crisis, but says in his speech that the Democrats’ reform proposals are too big, too expensive, and too ineffective. [Wall Street Journal, 9/9/2009]
Large Campaign Donations from Health Care Corporations - Boustany is an unusual choice for the response, as the Center for Responsive Politics notes that he has received $1,256,056 from health and health insurance interests in his five-year political career. Such donations make up over 20 percent of his total fundraising. David Donnelly of Public Campaign Actions Fund notes: “There is a conflict of interest when members of Congress stand before the public and recite the same talking points put forth by lobbyists and the heads of insurance and HMO giants opposing health care legislation. Rep. Boustany has taken more than $160,000 in campaign contributions from insurance and HMO interests alone. Do you think he’ll disclose that to his national audience tonight?” Boustany makes no such mention during his response. [US Newswire, 10/9/2009]
Voted against Children's Health Care, Flu Vaccination Funding - The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) notes that Boustany voted against the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP), did not support a supplemental appropriations bill that included an increase in flu vaccination funding, and voted against an expansion of COBRA funding, a government program designed to supplement working Americans’ health coverage. DCCC spokeswoman Jessica Santillo says: “Congressman Boustany’s no votes on issues ranging from providing health insurance for children, to fighting pandemic flu, to keeping the doors open at community health centers makes him a credible voice for special interests, but not for hardworking Louisianians who struggle with health insurance companies.” Boustany has explained that his vote against S-CHIP funding was to encourage a different way to expand the program: “I proudly support S-CHIP, so we must ensure our children are getting the quality health care they need. A massive increase of S-CHIP further neglects those children who already slipped through the cracks. These children need to see a doctor to receive care.” [The Hill, 9/9/2009]
Other Details of Boustany's Life and Career Brought Up - Politico notes that Boustany had three malpractice suits filed against him while he was a practicing doctor. Two of the cases were ruled against Boustany, and the third was settled out of court for an undisclosed monetary amount. [Politico, 9/9/2009] Boustany has previously indicated his doubts that Obama is actually an American citizen, aligning him with the “birther” movement [Daily Kingfish, 9/9/2009] , a position he later recanted. [Huffington Post, 9/9/2009] And several progressive blogs delight in recounting his 2004 attempt to purchase an English lordship from a British con artist. [Daily Kos, 9/9/2009]
The second round of arguments in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case (see January 10-16, 2008, March 24, 2008, March 15, 2009, and June 29, 2009) is heard by the US Supreme Court. The first round of arguments, which unexpectedly focused on an unplanned examination of government censorship, ended in a 5-4 split, with the majority of conservative justices readying a decision to essentially gut the entire body of federal campaign finance law in the name of the First Amendment (see March 27, 1990, March 27, 2002, and December 10, 2003), but an angry dissent by Justice David Souter that accused Chief Justice John Roberts of failing to follow the procedures of the Court in rendering the opinion prompted Roberts to temporarily withdraw the opinion and offer a rare second argument (see May 14, 2012). Newly appointed Solicitor General Elena Kagan argues her first case before the Court. Citizens United, the plaintiff, is represented by former Bush administration Solicitor General Theodore Olson. Olson, a veteran of Court arguments, quickly discerns from the new round of “Questions Presented” that the Court is prepared to not only find in the plaintiff’s favor, but to use the case to render a broad verdict against campaign finance law as a whole. Olson argues cautiously, not wanting to extend the case farther than the Court may desire. The four minority liberal justices, knowing the case is lost, try their best in their questioning to raise awareness in the public once news reports of the arguments are made public. One of those justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, asks: “Mr. Olson, are you taking the position that there is no difference” between the First Amendment rights of a corporation and those of an individual? “A corporation, after all, is not endowed by its creator with inalienable rights. So is there any distinction that Congress could draw between corporations and natural human beings for purposes of campaign finance?” Olson replies, “What the Court has said in the First Amendment context… over and over again is that corporations are persons entitled to protection under the First Amendment” (see January 30, 1976, April 26, 1978, June 25, 2007, and June 26, 2008). Ginsburg follows up by asking, “Would that include today’s mega-corporations, where many of the investors may be foreign individuals or entities?” Olson replies, “The Court in the past has made no distinction based upon the nature of the entity that might own a share of a corporation.” Kagan then takes her turn, and begins: “Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, I have three very quick points to make about the government position. The first is that this issue has a long history. For over a hundred years, Congress has made a judgment that corporations must be subject to special rules when they participate in elections, and this Court has never questioned that judgment.” She begins to make her second point before Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the conservative majority, interrupts her. In 2012, author and reporter Jeffrey Toobin will write that Kagan almost certainly knows hers is a legal “suicide mission,” and can only hope that her arguments may sway the Court to narrow its decision and leave some of the existing body of campaign finance law intact. She tells Roberts later in the questioning period, “Mr. Chief Justice, as to whether the government has a preference as to the way in which it loses, if it has to lose, the answer is yes.” Justice John Paul Stevens, the most senior of the liberal minority, attempts to assist Kagan in making her argument, suggesting that the Court should content itself with a narrow ruling, perhaps creating an exception in the McCain-Feingold law (see March 27, 2002) for the plaintiff’s documentary (see January 10-16, 2008) or for “ads that are financed exclusively by individuals even though they are sponsored by a corporation.” Kagan agrees with Stevens’s proposal. Stevens then says: “Nobody has explained why that wouldn’t be a proper solution, not nearly as drastic. Why is that not the wisest narrow solution of the problem before us?” Kagan, with help from Ginsburg, undoes some of the damage done by Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart during the first argument, where he inadvertently gave the conservative justices the “censorship” argument by which they could justify a broader verdict. Ginsburg asks: “May I ask you one question that was highlighted in the prior argument, and that was if Congress could say no TV and radio ads, could it also say no newspaper ads, no campaign biographies? Last time, the answer was yes, Congress could, but it didn’t. Is that still the government’s answer?” Kagan replies: “The government’s answer has changed, Justice Ginsburg. We took the Court’s own reaction to some of those other hypotheticals very seriously. We went back, we considered the matter carefully.” Unlike Stewart, Kagan specifically says that the government cannot ban books. But the censorship argument remains. After the arguments, the justices render the same verdict: a 5-4 split favoring Citizens United. Roberts, Scalia, and Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, and Clarence Thomas vote in the majority, while Ginsburg, Stevens, and Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor vote in the minority. The second round of questioning, with its much broader scope, gives Roberts and his conservative colleagues the justification they need to render a broad verdict that would gut existing campaign finance law (see January 21, 2010). [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Entity Tags: Elena Kagan, US Supreme Court, Citizens United, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, David Souter, Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, John G. Roberts, Jr, Jeffrey Toobin, Federal Election Commission, Sonia Sotomayor, John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Malcolm Stewart, Clarence Thomas
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
A T-shirt being marketed in support of Joe Wilson’s re-election campaign. [Source: Palmetto Scoop]Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC), who shouted “You lie!” at President Obama during his speech to a joint session of Congress earlier in the evening (see September 9, 2009), apologizes publicly for his behavior during the speech. In an e-mail to reporters, he writes: “This evening, I let my emotions get the best of me when listening to the president’s remarks regarding the coverage of illegal immigrants in the health care bill. While I disagree with the president’s statement, my comments were inappropriate and regrettable. I extend sincere apologies to the president for this lack of civility.” He also apologizes to White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. [Politico, 9/9/2009; Politico, 9/9/2009]
Slammed by Republicans and Democrats - Before Wilson makes his apologies, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) calls his actions “totally disrespectful,” and adds, “There is no place for it in that setting, or any other, and he should apologize for it immediately.” Vice President Joe Biden, a longtime senator, says the next morning: “I was embarrassed for the chamber and a Congress I love. It demeaned the institution.” Representative Eric Cantor (R-VA) says after the speech: “Obviously, the president of the United States is always welcome on Capitol Hill. He deserves respect and decorum. I know that Congressman Wilson has issued an apology and made his thoughts known to the White House, which was the appropriate thing to do.” Cantor spent much of the speech ostentatiously texting on his Blackberry, and later claimed to be taking notes on the proceedings. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says angrily upon leaving the House chambers: “I’ve been here for 35 years. I’ve been here for seven presidents. I’ve never heard anything like that.… It strengthens the president, because it demonstrates what he is facing. Most people have respect for the president.” Wilson’s fellow South Carolinian James Clyburn (D-SC) says the outburst is just another in a long line of political attacks by Wilson. “Joe Wilson took our state’s reputation to a new low,” he says. “I thought [Governor] Mark Sanford had taken it as low as it could go, but this is beyond the pale.” (Sanford is under fire for having a long-term affair and spending state tax monies on visiting his paramour in Argentina.) “To heckle is bad enough, but to use that one word, the one three-letter word that was not allowed to be used in my house while I was growing up, is beyond the pale.” Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) says of Wilson’s outburst: “It was just something that nobody had ever witnessed before. We all felt embarrassed.” Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) predicts Wilson’s outburst will have political consequences: “The person who said it will pay a price. I think the average American thinks that the president and the office deserve respect, and that was a disrespectful comment. They’ll pay a price in the court of public opinion.” [Politico, 9/9/2009; Associated Press, 9/10/2009; Associated Press, 9/10/2009; Time, 9/10/2009]
Acceptance - The White House quickly accepts Wilson’s apology. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi agrees, saying, “It’s time for us to talk about health care, not Mr. Wilson.” [USA Today, 9/10/2009]
Resolution of Disapproval - House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) says the House may call for a rebuke of some sort against Wilson. “There’ll be time enough to consider whether or not we ought to make it clear that that action is unacceptable in the House of Representatives,” he says after the speech. “I’ve talked to Republican members who share that view.” [Associated Press, 9/10/2009] On September 15, the House will pass a “resolution of disapproval” against Wilson, with only six Republicans voting for the resolution. [McClatchy News, 10/4/2009] The resolution is brought in part due to Wilson’s refusal to apologize to either Obama or to the House of Representatives on the floor of the House. [USA Today, 9/10/2009]
Using Wilson's Outburst against the GOP - The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent writes that Democratic strategists will use Wilson’s outburst to portray the Republican opposition to reform “as obstinate, angry, and irrevocally hostile towards Obama and his agenda.” [Plum Line, 9/10/2009] In the weeks after the speech, the Republican Party will use Wilson’s outburst as the centerpiece of a fundraising effort around the nation. The National Republican Congressional Committee will call Wilson a “national figure” who is raising important concerns about health care reform. The House Democratic campaign organization will respond, saying of Wilson and his Republican supporters, “[T]he very liars who heckled President Obama for calling them out are raising millions of dollars off of their rude, dishonest attack.” [Fox News, 9/26/2009] Salon’s Joan Walsh asks: “How is it that Obama hasn’t faced a single heckler in his own health care town halls, but he’s not safe from the angry, uninformed mob when he speaks to Congress? The next time you see an important Republican leader claim the town-hell hecklers are just fringe elements and bad apples, remind them of Rep. Wilson.” [Salon, 9/9/2009]
Raising Millions - In the days after the speech, Wilson will send e-mails to his supporters claiming to be the target of “liberals who want to give health care to illegals” for his outburst, and asking for donations. Wilson’s campaign will claim that it raises over $1 million in donations in the first 48 hours after the speech. [CNN, 9/12/2009] By the time the September 30 deadline passes, Wilson and the challenger for his House seat, Rob Miller (D-SC), a retired Marine, will have raised over $4 million between them. Wilson will attend fundraisers as far afield as Michigan and Missouri. When Wilson boasts of being given “hundreds of invitations” to appear with Republicans in other states, Miller will retort: “He’s out there on his ‘thank you tour.’ He should be doing an apology tour. He should be apologizing to every teacher, every law enforcement official, every man, woman, and child in South Carolina for being disrespectful to the president.” [McClatchy News, 10/4/2009]
Entity Tags: Steny Hoyer, Barack Obama, Rob Miller, Eric Cantor, James Clyburn, Joan Walsh, Greg Sargent, Richard (“Dick”) Durbin, Joe Wilson, Patrick J. Leahy, John McCain, Rahm Emanuel, Marshall Clement (“Mark”) Sanford, Jr, Joseph Biden, Nancy Pelosi, National Republican Congressional Committee, Maxine Waters
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh applauds Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC) for shouting “You lie!” at President Obama during the president’s address to Congress (see September 9, 2009), and tells his listeners he wished Wilson had not apologized for his outburst (see September 9-10, 2009). Limbaugh calls Obama’s assertion that health care reform would not include free care for illegal immigrants “a blatant lie,” and says he is disgusted that so many Republicans called on Wilson to apologize for his behavior. The Obama administration, Limbaugh claims, “is trying to totally tear down the institutions and traditions that have made this country great,” and he says Wilson is merely speaking the truth. Obama “is lying… from the moment he opens his mouth until he ends the speech. I was shouting ‘You’re lying!’ throughout the speech, at the television. ‘You’re lying!’ ‘That’s a lie!’ Joe Wilson simply articulated what millions of Americans were saying.” [Media Matters, 9/10/2009] Time’s Michael Scherer notes that the Senate Finance Committee’s working draft contains the line, “No illegal immigrants will benefit from the health care tax credits.” HR 3200, the House reform bill, contains Section 246, which is titled “NO FEDERAL PAYMENT FOR UNDOCUMENTED ALIENS.” [Time, 9/10/2009]
Mark McKinnon. [Source: Houston Chronicle]Mark McKinnon, a Republican political strategist who worked on both the George W. Bush and John McCain presidential campaigns, says Republican Joe Wilson (R-SC), who shouted at President Obama during his recent speech (see September 9, 2009), should pay by being voted out of office. “Make Joe Wilson pay,” McKinnon writes for the online news source The Daily Beast. “And by pay, I mean beat his sorry _ss at the polls and send him to the private sector. That is the only way to change the political discourse in America today. Because as long as louts like Joe Wilson can spout off and call the president a liar and get rewarded with re-election, then louts will continue to spout off. And we [the Republican Party] will continue to claw our way to the very bottom of the political swamp.” McKinnon says the Republican Party will never rebuild itself and become a serious contender for national leadership until it “get[s] rid of the partisans like Joe Wilson.” He finds Wilson’s shout reprehensible, both because of the blatant disrespect it showed to the president and to Congress and because of his error—Wilson wrongly asserts that Obama is lying about the Democrats’ health care reform not funding free health care for illegal immigrants. McKinnon says Wilson’s apology to Obama (see September 9-10, 2009) lacks “class,” and writes: “He made it clear he was saying ‘sorry’ only because he’d been forced to by the Republican House leadership: ‘Well, I, uh, last night I heard from the leadership that they wanted me to contact the White House and, uh, say that, uh, my statements, uh, were inappropriate. I did.’ Apologies should extract some moral or material cost.… Now, proving he has no real remorse or character, Wilson has created a YouTube video and is trying to raise money off his transgression.” McKinnon concludes: “There’s only one way we’re going to change our political climate and ensure we establish some respect in our discourse. And that is to show there is a real price to pay for being a disrespectful partisan idiot.” [Daily Beast, 9/11/2009]
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) acknowledges it has funded a series of television advertisements in support of legislation primarily written by Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, to reform US health care. The television ads are part of an agreement between the Obama administration, Baucus, and PhRMA in June, where the organization agreed to various givebacks and discounts designed to reduce America’s pharmaceutical spending by $80 billion over 10 years. PhRMA then set aside $150 million for advertising to support health care legislation. More progressive House Democrats such as Henry Waxman (D-CA) are pushing for stiffer drug industry givebacks than covered in the deal. PhRMA is led by Billy Tauzin, a former Republican congressman. Until recently, the organization spent some $12 million on ads by an offshoot coalition called Americans for Stable Quality Care, and aired television ads such as “Eight Ways Reform Matters to You.” PhRMA’s new ads will specifically support the Baucus bill. Many are critical of the deal, with James Love of the progressive research group Knowledge Ecology charging, “Essentially what the US got was not $80 billion, but $150 million in Obama campaign contributions.” [New York Times, 9/12/2009] Investigative reporter Matt Taibbi agrees with Love, accusing the White House of colluding with Baucus and Tauzin’s PhRMA to orchestrate a “big bribe” in exchange for the Democrats’ dropping of drug-pricing reform in the Baucus bill. Taibbi writes that in June, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel met with representatives from PhRMA and drug companies such as Abbott Laboratories, Merck, and Pfizer to cut their deal. Tauzer later told reporters that the White House had “blessed” a plan involving the $150 million in return for the White House’s agreement to no longer back government negotiations for bulk-rate pharmaceuticals for Medicare, and to no longer support the importation of inexpensive drugs from Canada. Taibbi writes that the White House worked with Baucus and PhRMA to undercut Waxman’s attempts to give the government the ability to negotiate lower rates for Medicare drugs. PhRMA’s ads are being aired primarily in the districts of freshmen Democrats who are expected to face tough re-election campaigns, and in the districts of conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats, who have sided with Baucus, Obama, and PhRMA to oppose the Waxman provision in favor of PhRMA’s own provision, which would ban the government from negotiating lower rates for Medicare recipients. [True/Slant, 9/14/2009]
Entity Tags: James Love, Henry A. Waxman, Americans for Stable Quality Care, Abbott Laboratories, Rahm Emanuel, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, Senate Finance Committee, Obama administration, Medicare, Max Baucus, Matt Taibbi, Pfizer, Merck, W.J. (“Billy”) Tauzin
Timeline Tags: US Health Care
Fox News producer Heidi Noonan exhorting a 9/12 rally crowd. [Source: Huffington Post]Fox News footage taken at the 9/12 rally in Washington (see September 12, 2009) shows a Fox News producer exhorting a crowd to shout, cheer, and show enthusiasm while Fox cameras film them. Fox producer Heidi Noonan stands behind reporter Griff Jenkins exhorting the crowd during Jenkins’s on-air segment. Fox News bureau chief Bryan Boughton later says, “The employee [Noonan] is a young, relatively inexperienced associate producer who realizes she made a mistake and has been disciplined.” Noonan is also seen standing near a rally participant who is holding a poster reading, “I’m A Foxaholic” (see October 13, 2009). [Huffington Post, 9/19/2009; Mediaite, 9/20/2009] On September 21, 2009, Fox News vice president Bill Sammon sends an internal e-mail reminding Fox staffers that they report the news, not create it. He writes in part: “For those of us who have only been at Fox for a relatively short period of time, it’s useful to remind ourselves that, as journalists, we must always be careful to cover the story without becoming part of the story. At news events, we’re supposed to function as dispassionate observers, not active participants. We are there to chronicle the news, not create it.… We do not cheerlead for one cause or another. We do not rile up a crowd. If a crowd happens to be boisterous when we show it on TV, so be it. If it happens to be quiet, that’s fine, too. It’s not our job to affect the crowd’s behavior one way or the other. Again, we’re journalists, not participants—and certainly not performers. Indeed, any effort to affect the crowd’s behavior only serves to undermine our legitimate journalistic role as detached eyewitnesses. Remember, our viewers are counting on us to be honest brokers when it comes to reporting—not altering—the important events of the day. That is nothing less than a sacred trust. We must always take pains to preserve that trust.” [Mediaite, 9/21/2009]
One of many signs held by protesters at the 9/12 rally in Washington. [Source: Daily Kos]An organization called the “9/12 Project” (see March 13, 2009 and After), sponsored by Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck, holds a protest rally on the Capitol Mall in Washington. Other sponsors include lobbying firm FreedomWorks (see February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, February 27, 2009, March 2, 2009, March 13, 2009 and After, April 14, 2009, and April 15, 2009), ResistNet (see August 10, 2009) and Tea Party Patriots (see July 17, 2009 and Late July, 2009). Many protesters credit Beck for inspiring them to come to the protest, though Beck himself does not attend. [Talking Points Memo, 9/12/2009; Washington Post, 9/12/2009] Many of the signs praise Beck and Fox News, while others celebrate former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), Representative Ron Paul (R-TX), and other conservative figures. Still others further the claim that health care reform will “kill Grandma” (see August 12, 2009) and “kill babies.” One sign, referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), reads, “I need my health care… Pelosi makes me sick!” Many signs depict President Obama as a Communist or socialist; one claims, “I work hard so Obama voters don’t have to!” and another refers to “Comrade Obama.” One sign, declaring “Yes! We are a Christian nation!” is signed by one of the rally speakers, Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC). [John Lewandowski, 9/12/2009]
Inflating the Numbers - Reports by local police and fire officials estimate the crowd at between 60,000 and 70,000, which columnist Josh Marshall calls “smallish by big DC protest/event standards but definitely respectable.” The Washington Post reports, “Tens of thousands protest Obama initiatives and government spending.” However, estimates by conservative radio hosts, bloggers, and media commentators put the numbers far higher, at up to two million. (TPMDC’s Brian Beutler notes that expectations were inflated the day before by a Democratic House staffer, who sent out an e-mail predicting a turnout “ranging from hundreds of thousands to two million people.” Beutler writes: “For reference, two million is just a hair under four times the total population of Washington, DC, and approximately the number of people who showed up to the history-making inauguration of President Barack Obama. Sound like a bit of an exaggeration? It probably is.” He also notes, “A source at a major liberal organization in Washington says, ‘one of the things we decided to do was try to raise expectations for turnout.’” When the initial figures are published in the media, protest organizers and various participants begin claiming that the actual turnout was somewhere between one and two million, but the numbers are being suppressed by pro-Obama media outlets. [TPMDC, 9/11/2009; Talking Points Memo, 9/12/2009] One conservative blogger writes: “‘Media’ estimates range from 60,000 to 500,000 to around two million (yes, 2,000,000). Those estimates, the language employed, and the visuals chosen for use in reporting the rally and representing the people gathered, vary greatly based solely on bias.” [St. Petersburg Times, 9/14/2009] Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin initially reports third-hand claims that ABC News is reporting turnouts between 1.2 and two million, then updates her report to note ABC denies making any such claim. She quotes another conservative blogger who writes, “However big it was, it was bigger than expected.” By day’s end, Malkin notes an ABC report that the wildly inflated crowd estimate came from FreedomWorks: “Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, the group that organized the event, said on stage at the rally Saturday that ABC News was reporting that one million to 1.5 million people were in attendance. At no time did ABC News, or its affiliates, report a number anywhere near as large. ABCNews.com reported an approximate figure of 60,000 to 70,000 protesters, attributed to the Washington, DC, fire department. In its reports, ABC News Radio described the crowd as ‘tens of thousands.’ Brendan Steinhauser, spokesman for FreedomWorks, said he did not know why Kibbe cited ABC News as a source.” Malkin then writes, “The Left, of course, has seized on the error to discredit the undeniably massive turnout today.” [Michelle Malkin, 9/12/2009; ABC News, 9/13/2009] The next day, unidentified people circulate a photo from 1997 to ‘prove’ that the rally actually attracted over a million protesters (see September 13-14, 2009). Two days after the event, London’s Daily Mail reports “up to two million” at the rally. [London Daily Mail, 9/14/2009]
Fears of Socialism - The Post reports that many protesters wave signs and tell reporters about their fears of a “socialist America” under Obama, and warn that the Democrats’ attempts to reform US health care are undermining the Constitution. One protester bellows into a bullhorn: “You want socialism? Go to Russia!” “Hell hath no fury like a taxpayer ignored,” Andrew Moylan, head of government affairs for the National Taxpayers Union, tells the crowd, which responds with lusty cheers. One speaker, Representative Tom Price (R-GA), tells the crowd: “You will not spend the money of our children and our grandchildren to feed an overstuffed government. Our history is decorated by those who endured the burden of defending freedom. Now a new generation of patriots has emerged. You are those patriots.” Many of the signs support Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC), who days before accused Obama of lying during the president’s appearance before Congress (see September 9, 2009). [Washington Post, 9/12/2009]
Exhortations to Violence? - Some of the signs and slogans chanted by the protesters strike observers as perhaps calling for violence against elected officials or citizens who disagree with the protesters’ views, or are racist and/or personally slanderous. One sign depicts an assault rifle and the words, “We came unarmed from Montana and Utah… this time!” Another reads, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time… Pennsylvanians are armed and ready!” Another, referencing proposed “triggers” that would launch a government program to provide health insurance, depicts a rifle with the caption, “I got your ‘trigger’ right here… it’s called the Second Amendment!” A number of protesters hold professionally printed signs referencing the recent death of Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), reading, “Bury ObamaCare with Kennedy.” Another, referencing the Cleveland Zoo and the discredited “birther” theory, asks: “What’s the difference between Cleveland and the White House? One has an African lion and another a lyin’ African!” A related sign calls Obama the “president of Kenya.” Another, purporting to speak in “ghetto slang,” asks, “Where my white privilege males at?” A protester waves a sign reading, “Fascist are [sic] now in control they [sic] are like a cancer slowly killing America WAKE UP.” The now-familiar signs of Obama with a Hitler mustache, and of “socialist” Obama made up like the Joker from Batman comics and movies, are also in evidence. One speaker calls Obama the “parasite-in-chief.” [Washington Post, 9/12/2009; London Daily Mail, 9/14/2009]
Reaction from Democrats - The reaction from Congressional Democrats is tepid. Doug Thornell, an adviser to Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), tells reporters, “There is a lot of intensity on the far right to defeat the president’s agenda, but I am not sure that holding up signs that say we have to bury health reform with Senator Kennedy will go over well with moderates and independent voters.” [Washington Post, 9/12/2009]
Entity Tags: Michelle Malkin, Matt Kibbe, Nancy Pelosi, Joshua Micah Marshall, Tom Price, Sarah Palin, Ron Paul, Washington Post, Tea Party Patriots, Joe Wilson, National Taxpayers Union, Jim DeMint, ResistNet, FreedomWorks, 9/12 Project, ABC News, Barack Obama, Andrew Moylan, Brian Beutler, Brendan Steinhauser, Fox News, Glenn Beck, Doug Thornell
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda
This 1997 photograph was circulated as ‘proof’ that the September 12, 2009 rally had millions in attendance. [Source: St. Petersburg Times]Conservative bloggers attempting to give credence to discredited claims that the “9/12 rally” held in Washington attracted up to two million participants (see September 12, 2009) circulate a photo which they say proves the size of the crowd. The photo shows a crowd packing the National Mall and spilling into the streets beyond. Unfortunately, the photo is quickly shown to have been taken at least five years before the rally took place. The St. Petersburg Times asks Pete Piringer, public affairs officer for the DC Fire and Emergency Department, if the rally had been big enough to fill that area. Piringer says it had not, and notes that the photo being circulated could not have been taken in 2009. He says the crowd “only filled the Capitol grounds, maybe up to Third Street.” Moreover, the photo does not include the National Museum of the American Indian, a building located at the corner of Fourth Street and Independence Avenue that opened on September 14, 2004. The museum should be in the upper right corner of the National Mall, next to the Air and Space Museum. The Times says the photo was likely taken in 1997. A Democratic media strategist says of the false photo: “I’ve seen bigger crowds at Montreal Expos games, but I still wouldn’t fake a photo just to justify your predictions of millions descending on Washington. This is grade-A stupid and just plays into the argument that these were astroturf protests to begin with. They’ve always brought the noise, but the question that was supposed to be answered this weekend was, could they bring the numbers? In that respect this was an unmitigated disaster.” By September 14, many of the conservative blogs that had originally posted the photo have taken them down, though some are claiming that the picture is a result of a liberal conspiracy to discredit the event. Many conservatives still argue that over a million people attended the rally. [Huffington Post, 9/14/2009; St. Petersburg Times, 9/14/2009]
The lawyer for Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi, jailed in December 2008 for throwing shoes at President Bush (see December 14, 2008), announces that his client will be freed from prison on September 15. Many Iraqis and other Middle Eastern citizens have called for al-Zaidi’s release since his conviction and incarceration, and consider the journalist a hero for expressing his anger and contempt for the former president, though others consider the act a violation of the tradition of honoring the guest. Al-Zaidi is completing a one-year prison sentence for “assaulting a foreign head of state on an official visit to Iraq”; his term was reduced from the original three-year sentence, and he is being released early for good behavior. “We are happy, like any detainee’s family would be happy for the release of its son after the bitter time he spent in jail,” says the journalist’s brother, Dhirgham al-Zaidi. [CNN, 9/14/2009]
Mark Williams, speaking on Anderson Cooper’s CNN broadcast. [Source: TPM Muckraker]Mark Williams, a conservative talk radio host in Sacramento and a prominent spokesman for the nationally based Tea Party Express (TPE), appears on a CNN panel during that network’s Anderson Cooper 360° and, while defending his organization against charges of racism, himself uses racist allegations against President Obama. Williams denounces those who carry openly racist signs against Obama during tea party events (see June 30, 2009, July 28, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 11, 2009, September 11, 2010), and September 12, 2010), calling them “no more part of the mainstream of America than the hippies who wear nipple clips and feather boas in San Francisco streets during so-called peace demonstrations.” Cooper informs Williams, “What you’re saying makes sense to me here when I’m hearing what you say but then I read on your blog, you say, you call the president an Indonesian Muslim turned welfare thug and a racist in chief.” Williams shrugs and answers, “Yeah, that’s the way he’s behaving.” Cooper asks Williams if he really believes Obama is an Indonesian Muslim and a welfare thug, to which Williams responds: “He’s certainly acting like it. Until he embraces the whole country what else can I conclude.” [Huffington Post, 9/15/2009] TPE is one of the most “establishment” of the various tea party organizations. It was founded and run by Republican operatives and lobbyists, in a similar fashion to the Washington conservative lobbying firm FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009). Williams is a key element in making TPE a large and influential organization, and has publicly associated the organization with conservative Republican 2010 candidates such as Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle and Alaska Senate candidate Joe Miller. [TPM Muckraker, 7/19/2010]
The Public Campaign Action Fund (PCAF), a campaign finance watchdog organization, finds that insurance and health management organizations (HMOs) have spent over $700,000 a day during the first half of 2009 to defeat health care reform. It also notes that health care and insurance interests, which include organizations outside of the HMOs and insurance companies, have spent roughly $1.4 million a day during the first quarter of 2009 to defeat reform efforts. During the first six months of 2009, the companies spent $126,430,438, mostly on hired lobbyists, to oppose the health care reform legislation working its way through Congress. Since 2007, the companies have spent around $585 million to defeat health care reform. “The insurance and HMO interests are fighting health care reform with hundreds of millions of dollars,” says PCAF’s David Donnelly. “Why are so many in Congress willing to listen to an industry that is spending tens of millions every month on politics rather than on lowering their premiums or helping to address the costs of health care? They need the cash to pay for their campaigns.” The HMO and insurance companies have 1,795 lobbyists registered in Washington to represent their concerns to Congress and members of the Obama administration; the same firms hired almost 2,000 lobbyists in 2008. PCAF says it compiled its data from information provided by the Center for Responsive Politics and the Senate lobbying disclosure Web sites. [Public Campaign Action Fund, 9/15/2009]
Jimmy Carter speaks at Emory University. [Source: CNN]Former President Jimmy Carter says that he believes much of the opposition to President Barack Obama is fueled by racism. “When a radical fringe element of demonstrators and others begin to attack the president of the United States as an animal or as a reincarnation of Adolf Hitler or when they wave signs in the air that said we should have buried Obama with Kennedy, those kinds of things are beyond the bounds,” he tells a group of students at Emory University in Atlanta. Carter, a native Georgian, has taught at Emory since 1982. “I think people who are guilty of that kind of personal attack against Obama have been influenced to a major degree by a belief that he should not be president because he happens to be African-American. It’s a racist attitude, and my hope is and my expectation is that in the future both Democratic leaders and Republican leaders will take the initiative in condemning that kind of unprecedented attack on the president of the United States.” Carter adds: “I live in the south, and I’ve seen the south come a long way, and I’ve seen the rest of the country that shared the south’s attitude toward minority groups at that time, particularly African-Americans. And that racism inclination still exists. And I think it’s bubbled up to the surface because of the belief among many white people, not just in the south but around the country, that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country. It’s an abominable circumstance, and it grieves me and concerns me very deeply.” Carter said the day before that he believes the “You lie!” shout at Obama by Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC) during Obama’s address to Congress (see September 9, 2009) may have been racially motivated. Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee and the first African-American to hold that position, disagrees. “President Carter is flat-out wrong,” he says. “This isn’t about race. It is about policy.” Instead, Steele says Democrats are just trying to divert attention from what he calls Obama’s “wildly unpopular government-run health care plan.… Playing the race card shows that Democrats are willing to deal from the bottom of the deck.” Congressman Henry Johnson (D-GA), an African-American and a fellow Georgian, predicts that racial tensions will rise throughout the nation, saying, “I guess we’ll probably have folks putting on white hoods and white uniforms again and riding through the countryside.” Comedian Bill Cosby also agrees with Carter, calling Wilson’s shout and other displays of aggression towards Obama “public display[s] of disrespect.” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs refuses to comment on Carter’s statements [CNN, 9/15/2009; Guardian, 9/16/2009] other than noting, “I don’t believe the president agrees with [Carter].” He adds: “I don’t think the president believes that people are upset because of the color of his skin. I think people are upset because on Monday we celebrate the anniversary of the Lehman Brothers collapse that caused a financial catastrophe unlike anything we’ve ever seen.” [Christian Science Monitor, 9/16/2009] Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which tracks American hate groups, says Carter is correct in his assessment: “I think what President Carter said is precisely what is going on. I am not saying that everyone involved in opposing healthcare reform is a Klansman in disguise, but it is the elephant in the room.” Potok says the SPLC is tracking a sharp rise in the number of right-wing hate groups, violent plots, and racist incidents since Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for president in 2008. [Guardian, 9/16/2009]
Max Baucus (D-MT), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, releases his committee’s final version of health care reform, a version known as the “chairman’s mark.” None of the Republicans on the committee support the bill (known as the “America’s Healthy Future Act,” or AHFA), and some Democrats, including John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), have serious questions about it as well. Baucus says: “The $856 billion dollar package will not add to the federal deficit. The Finance Committee will meet to begin voting on the chairman’s mark next week.” An analysis by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) shows that the bill will actually “result in a net reduction in federal budget deficits of $49 billion over the 2010-2019 period.” Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Mike Enzi (D-WY) have said that they want a much smaller bill that imposes no fees on health insurance companies, prevents legal immigrants from gaining coverage for five years, and bans any federal coverage for abortions. The Baucus bill does not allow for federal monies to be used for abortions, as Republicans have insisted upon, with the exception of situations involving rape or incest. Illegal immigrants are not provided coverage through the bill; legal immigrants cannot get government subsidies and must wait five years before qualifying for Medicaid. Immigrants’ citizenship status will be verified, as Republicans have requested. Another Republican provision, “tort reform” (efforts to reduce legal claims against doctors and HMOs), is part of the bill. There is no “public option” for government-financed health care for uninsured citizens, as Republicans and conservative Democrats have demanded. The bill allows for the purchasing of insurance across state lines, for “high-deductible” policies, and for so-called “high-risk pools,” three provisions Republicans have demanded. And, beginning in 2014, federal monies will be made available “to all states to defray the costs of covering newly-eligible beneficiaries.” [111th Congress, 1st Session, 9/16/2009; Think Progress, 9/16/2009; Think Progress, 9/17/2009] Even after seeing a bill with so many inclusions they have asked for, Senate Republicans continue to insist that there is nothing in the bill they can support. [Think Progress, 9/17/2009]
Judge Clay Land. [Source: TruTV (.com)]US District Court Judge Clay Land throws out a complaint questioning President Obama’s birth, and seeking to halt the deployment of Army Captain Connie Rhodes to Iraq on the grounds that Obama is not the legitimate commander in chief. Rhodes is represented by “birther” lawyer Orly Taitz (see November 12, 2008 and After, March 13, 2009, and August 1-4, 2009). In the complaint, Taitz writes on behalf of Rhodes: “This plaintiff cannot in good conscience obey orders originating from a chain of command from this merely de facto president. This plaintiff cannot be lawfully compelled to obey this de facto president’s orders.” Land, clearly angered by the complaint, says Taitz will face sanctions if she ever files a similar “frivolous” complaint or lawsuit in his court again. Rhodes, Land rules, “has presented no credible evidence and has made no reliable factual allegations to support her unsubstantiated, conclusory allegations and conjecture that President Obama is ineligible to serve as president of the United States. Instead, she uses her complaint as a platform for spouting political rhetoric, such as her claims that the president is ‘an illegal usurper, an unlawful pretender, [and] an unqualified imposter.’” The evidence presented by Taitz in the complaint is groundless, Land rules, noting allegations that Obama might have used 149 addresses and 39 Social Security numbers before becoming president and the existence of what Taitz claims is Obama’s Kenyan birth certificate. “Finally, in a remarkable shifting of the traditional legal burden of proof,” he writes, “plaintiff unashamedly alleges that defendant has the burden to prove his ‘natural born’ status. Any middle school civics student would readily recognize the irony of abandoning fundamental principles upon which our country was founded in order to purportedly ‘protect and preserve’ those very principles. Unlike in ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ simply saying something is so does not make it so.” Land orders that Rhodes pay any costs incurred by the defendants, who include President Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Colonel Thomas Manning, a garrison commander at Fort Benning, Georgia. Taitz says she believes Land is guilty of treason by dismissing her complaint, saying, “Judge Land is a typical puppet of the regime—just like in the Soviet Union.” She adds that she intends to keep fighting for Rhodes if Rhodes desires her to, telling one reporter, “Listen, Nelson Mandela stayed in prison for years in order to get to the truth and justice.” Three days later, Rhodes renounces Taitz as her lawyer, and informs Land that she did not authorize the emergency request for stay of deployment that Taitz filed on her behalf. “I did not authorize it and do not wish to proceed,” Rhodes writes in a letter to Land. “Ms. Taitz never requested my permission nor did I give it.” She adds: “I do not wish for Ms. Taitz to file any future motions or represent me in any way in this court. It is my plan to file a complaint with the California State Bar due to her reprehensible and unprofessional actions.” Rhodes is deployed days later; an Ohio lawyer files a separate complaint with the California State Bar (see September 17, 2009). [Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, 9/16/2009; Huffington Post, 9/16/2009; TPM Muckraker, 9/16/2009; Washington Independent, 9/19/2009] Taitz responds by telling a reporter she believes Rhodes’s letter is a forgery. “I don’t know if this letter came from her,” Taitz writes in an email, “since she is in Iraq now and the Office Max store from where it came, states that they don’t send faxes for customers. The signature on her notarized letter from Kansas and this letter looks different.” An Office Max clerk confirms that he faxed the letter on behalf of Rhodes, and the letter itself notes that she would fax it to Judge Land. Taitz goes on to claim that she believes Rhodes “was pressured by the military” to renounce her and consider filing a complaint with the California State Bar. “It appear to be a concerted effort to quash all free speech, particularly any legal challenges to Obama’s legitimacy.” [TPM Muckraker, 9/21/2009] In October, Land will sanction Taitz, fining her $20,000 for professional misconduct (see October 13-16, 2009). Land recently dismissed another, similar lawsuit filed by Taitz on behalf of Army Major Stefan Cook (see July 8-16, 2009).
Former Bush administration official Ellen Sauerbrey (see October 11, 2005) tells a group of Maryland Republicans that President Obama is advancing socialist and fascist policies. Sauerbrey addresses a group of local Republicans in Callaway, Maryland. According to Sauerbrey, Obama has surrounded himself with cult-like, fanatical followers much as Adolf Hitler or Argentina’s Juan Peron did when they ruled their countries. While she says she is not comparing Obama to either of those leaders, she says that conditions in America make the time ripe for Obama to usurp dictator-like powers. Obama is advancing “fascist, socialist ideals,” she says, and adds: “I’m really afraid for the future of our country. Our Constitution is indeed being dismantled.” In an interview shortly after her address, Sauerbrey says she had issues with some of the Bush administration’s economic policies as well: “[W]hen you start down this road of these kinds of policies, you are on the road to destroying what has made this a great country.” As for the comparisons to Hitler and Peron, she later tells an interviewer: “I never mentioned Hitler’s name other than when the reporter came up to me afterwards. And I said, look, I am not making a direct comparison Obama and Hitler. I’m making a comparison between policies in countries, and that history has a way of repeating itself.” To the interviewer, Sauerbrey denies accusing Obama of being a fascist, though in her address she did accuse him of advancing “fascist, socialist ideals.” Instead, she says: “I’m saying, if you said ideals—yes I do believe, when you look at the definition of fascism. Fascism is not government ownership of business, it is government control of business.… I think that the definition of what the Obama administration is doing, from an economic definition standpoint, is much more closely described as fascism than socialism, because the government is not owning, it is directing and controlling the elements of the economy. Would you disagree with it?” [TPMDC, 9/17/2009; Think Progress, 9/18/2009]
Seven former directors of the CIA urge President Obama to end the investigation of claims that the CIA tortured detainees to obtain intelligence (see August 24, 2009). The investigation was triggered by the release of an internal CIA report from 2004 (see August 24, 2009). The directors say that all the cases in the 2004 report have already been adequately investigated, and to reopen those investigations would make it difficult for intelligence agents to believe they can safely follow legal guidance. In a letter signed by the seven former directors, they write: “Attorney General Holder’s decision to re-open the criminal investigation creates an atmosphere of continuous jeopardy for those whose cases the Department of Justice had previously declined to prosecute. Those men and women who undertake difficult intelligence assignments in the aftermath of an attack such as September 11 must believe there is permanence in the legal rules that govern their actions.… [T]his approach will seriously damage the willingness of many other intelligence officers to take risks to protect the country.” The letter is signed by former CIA directors Michael Hayden, Porter Goss, George Tenet, John Deutch, James Woolsey, William Webster, and James Schlesinger. Current CIA Director Leon Panetta opposed the investigation, but says that he will cooperate with it (see Before August 24, 2009). [Fox News, 9/18/2009]
ACLU: Letter 'Self-Serving' and Wrong - The American Civil Liberties Union’s Jameel Jaffer calls the letter “self-serving,” writing: “Attorney General Holder initiated a criminal investigation because the available evidence shows that prisoners were abused and tortured in CIA custody. The suggestion that President Obama should order Attorney General Holder to abort the investigation betrays a misunderstanding of the role of the attorney general as well as the relationship between the attorney general and the president. Where there is evidence of criminal conduct, the attorney general has not just the authority but the duty to investigate. The attorney general is the people’s lawyer, not the president’s lawyer, and it would be profoundly inappropriate for President Obama to interfere with his work. The attorney general’s investigation should be allowed to proceed without interference, and it certainly should not be derailed by the self-serving protests of former CIA officials who oversaw the very crimes that are being investigated. If there is a problem with the unfolding criminal investigation, it is that its focus is too narrow. There is abundant evidence that torture was authorized at the highest levels of the Bush administration, and the Justice Department’s investigation should be broad enough to encompass Bush administration lawyers and senior officials—including the CIA officials—who authorized torture.” [TPM Muckraker, 9/18/2009]
Justice Department Responds - The Justice Department counters the letter with its own statement: “The attorney general works closely with the men and the women of intelligence community to keep the American people safe and he does not believe their commitment to conduct that important work will waver in any way. Given the recommendation from the Office of Professional Responsibility as well as other available information, he believed the appropriate course of action was to ask John Durham to conduct a preliminary review. That review will be narrowly focused and will be conducted by a career prosecutor who has shown an ability to handle cases involving classified information. Durham has not been appointed as a special prosecutor; he will be supervised by senior managers at the [Justice] Department. The attorney general’s decision to order a preliminary review into this matter was made in line with his duty to examine the facts and to follow the law. As he has made clear, the Department of Justice will not prosecute anyone who acted in good faith and within the scope of the legal guidance given by the Office of Legal Counsel regarding the interrogation of detainees.” [Washington Independent, 9/18/2009]
Entity Tags: Jameel Jaffer, George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency, Barack Obama, William H. Webster, US Department of Justice, Office of Professional Responsibility, Eric Holder, Porter J. Goss, John Deutch, James R. Schlesinger, Leon Panetta, Michael Hayden, James Woolsey
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
Portion of Fox News ad asking why other networks ‘missed’ the story of the 9/12 rally. [Source: Huffington Post]Fox News takes out a full-page ad in the Washington Post demanding why other news networks did not cover the 9/12 rally (see September 12, 2009). “How did, ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, and CNN miss this story?” the text reads. Huffington Post columnist Jason Linkins writes that it took him “all of 30 seconds” to find coverage on CNN and MSNBC. He writes that on September 12, “CNN ran no less than 14 reports on the Tea Party rally, beginning at approximately 7:00 a.m. During the same time period, MSNBC offered viewers four reports on the Tea Parties.” NBC, CBS, and ABC also covered the rally. “No one missed the story,” Linkins concludes. He goes on to note that ABC was the news network that debunked attempts to inflate the crowd numbers to make the rally seem larger than it really was (see September 13-14, 2009). [Huffington Post, 9/18/2009] This afternoon, CNN anchor Rick Sanchez declares of the ad, “You lie!” Fox News defends the ad, with its vice president Michael Tammero issuing a statement that says in part, “Generally speaking, it’s fair to say that from the tea party movement… to the march on 9/12, the networks either ignored the story, marginalized it, or misrepresented the significance of it altogether.” A Fox News executive calls Sanchez a “sucker” and “a gift that keeps on giving” for his on-air reaction. CNN retorts in its own statement: “Fox News’ ad today is blatantly false regarding CNN’s coverage of the 9/12 rally. CNN provided live coverage of the rally in Washington throughout the day Saturday, Sept. 12. CNN dispatched more than a dozen personnel and multiple camera crews, including the CNN Express, to cover the event. CNN’s deputy political director Paul Steinhauser was live at Freedom Plaza, CNN correspondent Kate Bolduan live from the West Front of the Capitol and roved the crowd, CNN’s Jim Spellman provided live hits all day after traveling for weeks on the actual Tea Party Express, and CNN’s Lisa Desjardins was live from the National Mall.” [Mediaite, 9/18/2009]
Entity Tags: Jason Linkins, Washington Post, CBS News, ABC News, Fox News, Rick Sanchez, Tea Party Express, NBC, Lisa Desjardins, Kate Bolduan, Jim Spellman, Paul Steinhauser, MSNBC, CNN, Michael Tammero
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
President Obama makes the rounds of the Sunday morning network news talk shows to discuss health care reform, in what ABC News calls “an unprecedented presidential blitz of media appearances.” Obama appears for interviews on Sunday morning shows from ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and Univision. In recent days, he has also appeared on CBS’s 60 Minutes, and will soon appear on CBS’s Late Night with David Letterman. However, the White House refuses to include Fox News in Obama’s appearances. When asked about the apparent snub, White House spokesman Josh Earnest replies, “We figured Fox would rather show ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ than broadcast an honest discussion about health insurance reform,” referring to the Fox network’s decision not to air Obama’s September 9 speech to a joint session of Congress on its regular broadcasting stations (see September 9, 2009). Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace says of the Obama White House, “They are the biggest bunch of crybabies I have dealt with in my 30 years in Washington.” Earnest responds that Wallace’s Fox News is not a legitimate news outlet, saying: “Fox is an ideological outlet where the president has been interviewed before and will likely be interviewed again. Not that the whining particularly strengthens their case for participation any time soon.” [Media Matters, 9/18/2009; ABC News, 9/19/2009]
The tasks before the forthcoming Group of 20 (G-20) summit to be hosted by President Barack Obama in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, are rolled out in the media. The number one agenda item for global leaders will be restraining financial institutions’ compensation and forcing them to clean their balance sheets to avert a duplicate of the near-meltdown of global financial systems. They will also attempt to find new methods for controlling over-the-counter derivatives markets, which are said to have augmented the global crash. The leaders are also scheduled to “increase oversight of hedge funds, credit rating agencies, and debt securitization.” Most leaders agree that it is essential to find a resolution for the huge financial imbalances in trade, savings, and consumption, all of which played a role in the global financial crisis, and ultimately may leave global economies vulnerable to future financial shocks. Christine Lagarde, the French Finance Minister, says that signs of economic recovery should not act as an excuse to avoid economic reforms. Officials of France and Germany are recommending stringent financial sector regulations, which incorporate limits on executive pay. The mandate of the G-20 is to “promote open and constructive discussion between industrial and emerging-market countries on key issues related to global economic stability.” The G-20 is comprised of finance ministers and central bank governors from 19 countries: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union, which is represented by the rotating council presidency and the European Central Bank. [Reuters, 9/22/2009; New York Times, 9/22/2009; Voice of America, 9/22/2009; G-20.org, 9/22/2009]
Following a reassessment by top US Army Allied Commander General Stanley A. McChrystal, and on the advice of Vice President Joe Biden and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, President Obama reconsiders the military endeavor that might modify US strategy in Afghanistan. The result is a scaling back of political and economic development reforms in the strife-torn zone. During recent television news program appearances, Obama seemed to question the primary assertion that the current US approach is the proper means for achieving the US goal of hunting down al-Qaeda and its close allies.
Scaling Back Military Operations - In what White House officials call a “strategic assessment,” Obama seems to be favoring scaled-down attacks utilizing small Special Operations teams and armed Predator drones, thus averting the need for additional troops, according to US officials and experts. The renewed debate is said to have shocked some, while leaving military officials scrambling to estimate how drastic the changes could be. The shift in the White House position is said to have also come about after Obama ordered 21,000 additional US troops to help with last month’s Afghan national election, a ballot broadly seen as counterfeit. However, Obama has also questioned McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy, asking whether it is worth committing extra troops. Reports indicate that the administration might opt for a narrower objective that primarily focuses on disrupting al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other extremist groups, a strategy that would require fewer than the 68,000 troops presently approved for the war. During a recent appearance on CNN, Obama asked, “Are we pursuing the right strategy?” while on NBC’s Meet the Press, he stated he would only expand the counterinsurgency endeavor if it aided the goal of defeating al-Qaeda. “I’m not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan… or sending a message that America is here for the duration,” Obama said. It is unclear how many additional troops McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy would require, and the dissenting view advocating a more limited Afghanistan mission not only has been strengthened by Afghan election irregularities but also growing doubts about the war among Congressional Democrats as well as the US citizenry.
'Buyer's Remorse' - During a recent meeting with the Canadian prime minister, Obama signaled that a deeper administration review was in progress. “It’s important that we also do an assessment on the civilian side, the diplomatic side, the development side, that we analyze the results of the election and then make further decisions moving forward,” he said. A defense analyst and regular military adviser speaking on condition of anonymity says the Obama administration is suffering from “buyer’s remorse for this war.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/22/2009]
Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, makes several revisions to the “final” draft of the Chairman’s Mark of the America’s Healthy Future Act (AHFA, the name for health care reform legislation—see September 16-17, 2009). The “chairman’s mark” is a recommendation by a committee or subcommittee chair of measures to be considered in a markup, and is usually drafted as a bill. Baucus says in a statement: “The modifications focus largely on making care more affordable for low and middle income Americans by increasing the Health Care Affordability Tax Credit, lowering the penalties for people who fail to meet the individual requirement to have health insurance, and increasing the High Cost Insurance Excise Tax threshold for people whose basic health care is more expensive… and effectively slows the growth of skyrocketing health care costs.… This modification incorporates important ideas from my colleagues on both sides of the aisle.” According to Baucus, AHFA as it now stands will make it easier for families and small businesses to buy health care coverage, ensure Americans can choose to keep the health care coverage they have if they like, and slow the growth of health care costs over time. “It will bar insurance companies from discriminating against people based on health status, denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions, or imposing annual caps or lifetime limits on coverage.” Baucus continues to assert that AHFA will not add to the federal deficit. Some of the new provisions include:
Lowering the amount that insurance companies can vary premiums based on age, ensuring that these companies cannot charge elderly clients far more than younger ones. The provision was first submitted by Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR).
Providing $5 billion in additional assistance to small businesses attempting to provide coverage for their workers. The provision was first submitted by Senators Kerry and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).
Including more senior citizens in the Medicare Advantage program.
Making prescription drugs more affordable for senior citizens by reducing co-payments. This provision was first submitted by Senators John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), and Ben Nelson (D-NE).
Improving Medicare beneficiary access to bone density tests, a provision first submitted by Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR).
Creation of a three-year Medicare Hospice Concurrent Care (HCC) demonstration program that would provide Medicare patients eligible for hospice care with all other Medicare-covered services during the same period of time. This provision was first submitted by Senator Wyden.
Improving access to Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) for low income individuals in Medicaid who are in need of long-term care, a provision first submitted by Senator Kerry.
Creating nursing home alternatives for patients in need of long-term care, a provision first submitted by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA).
Provide alternatives to nursing home care for disabled individuals on Medicaid, a provision first submitted by Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY).
Improving access to mental health care for Medicaid patients, a provision first submitted by Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME).
Financial assistance for “high-need” states having difficulty paying for their Medicaid obligations, and use of surplus Medicaid funds to improve the program.
Create an exemption to encourage health care beneficiaries to use generic prescription drugs by waiving co-payments, a provision first submitted by Senator Stabenow.
Remove the mandate that would require states to cover all prescription drugs for Medicaid beneficiaries.
Direct the secretary of health and human services to implement programs to reduce waste in the way drugs are dispensed to seniors in long term care facilities. [Senior Journal, 9/22/2009; New York Times, 9/22/2009; The Capitol (.net), 2011]
Entity Tags: Blanche Lincoln, Ben Nelson, Debbie Stabenow, Jeff Bingaman, Charles Schumer, John D. Rockefeller, America’s Healthy Future Act, Maria Cantwell, Max Baucus, Olympia Snowe, Ron Wyden, Senate Finance Committee, John Kerry
Timeline Tags: US Health Care
With unemployment rates for American Indians at 27 percent, African-Americans logging jobless rates of 15 percent, and Hispanics at 13 percent, experts say that for these ethnic groups, the economic recession is more of a “Great Depression.” The foreclosure crisis is equally ominous, having worsened with increasing joblessness, unduly impacting minority groups at a staggering rate. Dr. James Carr, chief operating officer of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, explains: “The crisis is now fueled by unemployment and loss of income. In 2009, nearly 60 percent of foreclosures are triggered by unemployment.… The Obama administration’s endeavors to curtail foreclosures aren’t working.” He emphasizes that the loan modification program has “plenty of carrots” for the banks, “but no meaningful sticks to compel more responsible actions.” On average, lenders lose 10 times as much on foreclosures than loan modifications, or about $144,000 as opposed to a loan modification tax write-off of $14,000. Because they can, banks are choosing to deduct the greater loss on their current tax bill by foreclosing rather than modifying the loan. Consequently, only 12 percent of homeowners eligible for modification have received such through voluntary Making Home Affordable program set up by the Obama administration. According to Raymond Skinner, Maryland’s secretary of housing and community development: “Foreclosures are taking on a different face. As of the second quarter of 2009, the majority of the nation’s foreclosures are now on prime loans.”
Bankruptcy Law Reform, Homeowners Loan Corporation - What is needed, says Carr, is bankruptcy reform to allow judges to modify mortgages using the same methods they use to modify yacht and investment property payments; at least 30 percent of loans on the way to foreclosure could be helped by reformation of bankruptcy laws. Still, experts agree that even loan modifications won’t help many unemployed persons. Carr is calling for “a new version of the Great Depression-era Homeowners Loan Corporation” (HOLC) to allow the use of eminent domain to purchase loans between current market value and face value cost. The discount could then be used to modify the loans so that the unemployed homeowner could enter into rental agreements to stay in their homes, or even obtain emergency grants or loans to continue paying their mortgages. HOLC, however, is not under consideration by either Congress or the Obama administration.
Insufficient American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Resources - Some argue that the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act did not provide the resources needed by those hardest hit by the recession, which was supposedly the goal of the bill. As a result, there is now an immediate need for a targeted stimulus for job creation and unemployment benefits extension. “Channeling dollars to the individuals and communities that need them most will immediately stimulate the economy and save and create jobs for both the neediest households and the US population generally,” Carr says. “Families that live on the edge of survival will pour these recovery dollars immediately back into the economy through spending on groceries, medicine, clothing, childcare, energy, transportation, and other basic necessities. That spending would support multiple sectors of the economy and have positive impacts far outside of the communities where dollars are immediately spent.” Additionally, racial barriers and continuing discrimination need to be addressed to guarantee access to affordable housing alternative, transportation, education, and economic opportunity. [Nation, 9/25/2009; NPR, 9/28/2009]
Aaron Goldstein of the conservative American Spectator writes that President Obama’s announced attempt to persuade the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to award the 2016 Olympics to Chicago is little more than a political ploy. Goldstein notes that the Olympics will be held in the summer of 2016. If Obama wins a second term as president in 2012, the Olympics would, Goldstein asserts, become “a celebration of Obama.” He adds: “His local political base plus his legion of admirers from throughout the United States and the world would descend upon Chicago for the Obama love fest to end all Obama love fests. It will make the Roman columns used for his Democratic National Convention acceptance speech last August look modest by comparison. Think of the ostentatious style of the Obama Inaugural only in much warmer weather.” However, Goldstein continues, if Obama is defeated for re-election in 2012, the Olympics might serve as a springboard for an Obama comeback: “Well, let us remember there will be a presidential election in 2016. Obama would be 55 years old and undoubtedly eager to pull a Grover Cleveland. He would still have the same legion of admirers who would treat him as their leader in exile (albeit a very comfortable exile). The Chicago Olympics would be the perfect backdrop for a political comeback.” [American Spectator, 9/25/2009] Chicago will lose its Olympic bid, and conservative critics will blame Obama for the loss (see October 2, 2009 and October 2, 2009).
The Group of 20 (G20)‘s pledge to return balance to the world economy may place the US dollar in a precarious position in the long run, experts feel. Over recent weeks, the dollar has fallen 4.3 percent this quarter because of equity market weakness as well as emerging major currencies as other countries begin their recovery from the worst economic downturn since the 1930s. Some G20 meeting attendees see the dollar as susceptible to damage while questioning its stability as well as its status as the global reserve currency, although the recent weakness of the dollar is not being blamed on the weakness of the US economy. Analysts say that short-term effects to the G20 meeting of other wealthy, developing economies will be subdued; however, they say that over a longer period, bank stocks and energy prices as well as the dollar may be harmed by G20 economic balancing actions. World leaders have expressed concern that the US economy’s recovery cannot be sustained because its rebound is due to government stimulus and increased borrowing. During the meeting in Pittsburgh, the leaders agree that to balance the global economy, the US needs to save more while the massive exporter China needs to consume more to support its growth. David Gilmore, partner at FX Analytics in Essex, Connecticut, explains, “The real problem is the world needs a huge consumer and the US has been basically doing it for decades, and now it’s spent.”
US Dollar as Reserve Currency - Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank, says the US should not take the dollar’s status as the key global reserve currency for granted now that other options are emerging. Zoellick says that shifting global economic forces reveal that it is time to prepare for growth to come from multiple global sources. Although the world’s largest economies also agree to phase out subsidies on oil and other fossil fuels over the “medium term” to combat global warming, they acknowledge that the phase-out probably will not affect energy markets in the short term. In the long term, they say, the move could weigh on energy markets, cutting fuel demand in emerging markets. As for emergency economic support, G20 leaders promise to continue support until recovery is “at hand,” thus providing some relief for foreign currencies.
Economic Rebalancing Equals Shift from Dollar as Reserve Currency? - Global economic balancing is a two-edged sword for the dollar because the currency has been damaged by extremely low interest rates and the glut of dollars in the international monetary system. But the recession already has triggered partial rebalancing as US consumers cut spending while China spends $600 billion to stimulate its economy while making itself less dependent on exports. Analysts quickly note that minus tangible steps, the pledge only serves as lip service. The analysts also say it is improbable that countries would bend to G20 rules on how to run their economies. Nonetheless, the plan would be a clear shift, signaling a move away from the dollar. Currency strategist Kevin Chau of New York’s IDEAglobal says: “In the long run, I think they want another reserve currency, whether it’s the Special Drawing Rights or the Chinese yuan. For any country’s currency to gain that kind of credibility and trust, it would take years of development.” Still, last week, the dollar fell to a new low against the euro and even dropped below the key 90 yen-per-dollar level. [Reuters, 9/27/2009]
A September 30 headline on Fox News’s Web site Fox Nation, inaccurately claiming that an Obama official ‘covered up’ the crime of statutory rape. [Source: Media Matters]Conservative media outlets actively target Education Department official Kevin Jennings over charges that he once facilitated the molestation of a child. Jennings, who is openly gay, is said to have covered up the statutory rape of a male teenager by an older gay male. The charge has been disproven, but conservative media figures have painted Jennings as a “radical” gay activist and a proponent of child molestation with an “agenda” of “promoting homosexuality in schools.” [Media Matters, 9/30/2009] In 2004, Jennings’s attorney disclosed evidence that the youth was in fact 16 at the time, which is the legal age of consent in the state; therefore, no crime was committed. [Media Matters, 10/1/2009] The attack on Jennings, who runs the Education Department’s Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools and is one of the White House’s so-called “czars,” is led by Fox News commentators Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck and columnists at the Washington Times, who all claim that in 1988, Jennings, then a public school teacher, “covered up” the statutory rape of a 15-year-old gay teenager by an older gay man in Massachusetts. Both Fox News and the Times have failed to report the proof of Jennings’s innocence. Hannity and Beck have called on Jennings to be fired. [Washington Times, 9/28/2009; Media Matters, 10/1/2009] The claim is not limited to Fox News’s commentary shows. News anchor Bill Hemmer, who anchors part of what the network claims is its “non-partisan” news coverage (see October 11, 2009 and October 13, 2009), states as fact that Jennings knew of a “statutory rape” case involving a student but “never reported it.” Hemmer fails to report the evidence showing no such crime was committed. Another Fox News correspondent, Mike Emanuel, says on Hemmer’s broadcast, “And so a lot of people suggesting [sic] that should have thrown up all sorts of red flags for this teacher.” [Media Matters, 10/1/2009] Influential conservative blogger Jim Hoft accuses Jennings of “hid[ing] pedophilia from authorities.” [Jim Hoft, 9/30/2009] “Fox News’ allegations about Kevin Jennings covering up a statutory rape are wholly unsupported by the facts,” says Eric Burns, president of the progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters. “But Fox has already proven that facts don’t matter in its campaign against Jennings. Who needs facts when your reports are built on made-up charges and anti-gay bigotry?” [Media Matters, 10/1/2009]
Entity Tags: Fox News, Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools, Glenn Beck, Jim Hoft, Eric Burns, Kevin Jennings, Bill Hemmer, Mike Emanuel, Sean Hannity, Washington Times, US Department of Education
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
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