Friday, July 31, 2009

Orly Taitz: Obama Should be in Jail - "We are in Nazi Germany"

Orly Taitz has been dubbed the "mastermind" behind the birther movement due to her legal attempts in trying to prove that President Obama is not really a U.S. citizen and should therefore not be legally allowed to hold the office of the Presidency.

Max Blumenthal has a new piece over at The Daily Beast highlighting a conversation he recently had with Taitz. Here are some of the highlights:

Almost as soon as Orly Taitz answered her cellphone, before I could even ask a single question, the leader of the movement determined to disprove President Obama’s American citizenship breathlessly told me the president was “connected” to 39 bogus Social Security numbers, including one for a deceased person born in 1890. “If Obama is not stopped, we will be in Nazi Germany!” Taitz, who has a thick Russian accent, shrieked. “Forgery is a criminal matter and he committed it. Obama should be in the Big House, not the White House!”


Among Taitz’s “biggest supporters,” she said, is CNN anchor Lou Dobbs. “I did Lou’s radio show for half an hour and he was very understanding,” she told me. “He became a supporter and since then he became a supporter of the whole [Obama eligibility] issue.” Indeed, during the July 15 broadcast of Dobbs’ radio show, he praised Taitz’s work, suggested Obama might be “undocumented,” and demanded the president “show the documents” to prove he was born in the United States.


“This is Nazi Germany! These are brownshirts in action!” Taitz exclaimed when asked about recent segments by Rachel Maddow, Keith Olbermann, and Jon Stewart mocking her campaign and questioning her credibility. “Anybody who does not take Obama’s word at face value will be harassed by brownshirts like Rachel Maddow.”


“I realized that Obama was another Stalin—it’s a cross between Stalinist USSR and Nazi Germany,” she said.


Taitz told me that Dobbs invited her on his nightly TV program to discuss the Cook case but wound up calling in sick. Instead, Dobbs’ fill-in, Kitty Pilgrim, covered the story. Pilgrim was visibly embarrassed by the topic, remarking, “CNN has investigated the issue, found no basis for the questions about the president’s birthplace… There is overwhelming evidence that proves the president’s birth certificate is real.”

Taitz told me Dobbs assured her after the broadcast that he would bring her back on his program for a sympathetic treatment. But Taitz’s appearance was canceled when CNN President Jon Klein declared Dobbs’ questioning of Obama’s citizenship a “dead story,” then told Variety’s Brian Lowry, “It would not be legitimate for Lou or anyone else at CNN to explore whether Barack Obama is an American citizen.”

How much traction are people like Taitz getting within the mainstream? According to a new Kos/Research 2000 poll that was just released, 28% of Republicans think that Obama wasn't born in the United States, 30% are not sure, and 42% believe that he was. That means 58% of those polled either outright endorse the viewpoint of Taitz or are not sure.

Couple that with the legitimacy that members of Congress are giving to this movement and you really have to wonder about the driving motivation behind this movement.

Canada's Health Care System

Sara Robinson is a writer and a Canadian and she has recently written two pieces attempting to dispel some myths about the Canadian health care system. You can read them both here and here. Robinson was recently on the radio program The Thom Hartman Show to discuss Canada's system of health care and I feel that it is important to note as the debate continues (h/t Heather):

UPDATE: On a related note, Jonathan Cohn has a good update on where things currently stand in both the House and the Senate.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Putting Current Discussions of Race, Into Context

I came across this video that digby posted earlier today of Joan Walsh on Hardball with Chris Matthews. I agree that the point that Walsh makes is a very important insight into the whole issue of race in America and how it permeates into other issues that are discussed:

and digby's usual quality insight:

Joan is right about this. I've written about it many times myself. There has to be a reason that the US, of all the industrialized nations, the richest country in the world, is so hostile to social welfare programs. There are a lot of contributing factors, not the least of which is our vaunted individualism. But one of the fundamental reasons America is so resistant to programs that provide for the common good is that there is a long tradition of rejecting any proposal that taxes white people to pay for programs that benefit non-whites.

Joan talked about all this in the context of a question Matthews asked about whether or not the GOP was using race to block Obama's agenda. As Joan, points out, that's fairly obvious. When you have the fatuous gasbag leadership all calling Obama a reverse racist (the new black in conservative circles) and even questioning his American identity, it's pretty clear that they are yanking the racist American id pretty hard.

But it really goes to their essential philosophy which says that the government is taking away "what's yours" and giving it to the undeserving (blacks and browns.) The fact that Obama himself is black only adds to the atmospherics, it doesn't create them. This tribalism is so deeply entrenched in American culture that its racial nature has long since been disguised in less obvious terms such as "liberalism." Obama's race simply makes it impossible for the hard core wingnuts to hide their real intent.

Also relevant is a post that digby wrote back in 2003, most notably the following:

Racism is the original sin of the American experiment and progress in expunging it is slow going, especially in its ground zero, the south. It may even be that some of our most cherished beliefs about ourselves --- individualism and self-sufficiency --- are partially grounded in an ugly reaction to slavery and the fallout from it. White Supremacists and neo-confederates are exactly what they appear to be and more subtle aspects of their philosophy play themselves out in the multitude of ways that people rationalize their beliefs about government social programs and many other things in American culture.


But if we think we can make any headway with working class whites (particularly in the south) who currently vote Republican by making an appeal to their class solidarity with blacks, we are going to be disappointed. Their resistance to that idea is one of the main reasons they reject government social programs in the first place. We don’t help blacks or whites by failing to understand that and we certainly won’t win any votes by ignoring it.

This cuts through the normal discussions that are typical of television debates about the issue of race and certainly cuts through all of the simplistic divisive nonsense that people like Glenn Beck continue to spew.

Health Care Compromises

In yesterday's developments on health care reform, the Blue Dog Democrats reached a compromise with Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) of the Energy and Commerce Committee on the Committee's version of a health care bill as well as delaying when the bill would be voted on. What concessions were made? Jeff Muskus of the Huffington Post explains:

For instance, rather than linking the public option to the rates enjoyed by Medicare, the new language would require a separate agreement without Medicare's bargaining power, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius would be responsible for negotiating deals with service providers from day one of the public plan's existence, rather than year three. States can also set up co-op insurance plans in addition to the public option, but not in its stead.

"The public option must go out and negotiate with providers, just like private health insurance companies do," Ross said. "It's strictly optional. It won't be mandated on anyone. It will not be based on Medicare rates."

In response to this compromise, Liberal members of the House, including members of the Progressive Caucus, have voiced their displeasure:

The Blue Dogs’ deal, which cut $100 billion from the healthcare reform price tag, was instantly denounced by Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), co-chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who said, “It’s unacceptable. We’re not going to vote for anything that doesn’t have a robust public plan.”

Liberals aimed to win 50 signatures on a letter to their leaders opposing the deal to make it clear they could defeat the healthcare bill on the floor.

and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has targeted her anger not at the Blue Dogs, but at the Health Insurance companies:

"They are the villains in this. They have been part of the problem in a major way," Pelosi said of the insurance industry after her weekly press conference. "It's almost immoral, what they are doing," she said, referring to industry lobbying against a public insurance plan option. "Of course, they've been immoral all along. They are doing everything in their power to stop a public option from happening, and the public has to know about it."

Ezra Klein offers his analysis:

House liberals are afraid of the dynamic in which good bills face Blue Dog opposition in the final mile and are aggressively watered down. Senate liberals are afraid of the same. And throwing this final compromise with the Blue Dogs into doubt is a show of strength. After all, House liberals feel they've already compromised plenty: Coming down from single-payer is a compromise. Cordoning the public plan off on the Health Insurance Exchange is a compromise. The whole bill is one big compromise, and every subsequent iteration is a compromise stacked atop a compromise placed upon a compromise. At some point, the compromises have to stop. Or, better yet, they have to go in the other direction.

In the midst of all of this it is amazing to remember that all of this compromise is being done with a small number of members of a small conservative coalition inside each Chamber of Congress where the Democrats hold majorities. In the Senate, where the Democrats hold 60 seats, the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee Max Baucus (D-MT), has been holding closed door meetings with a few Blue Dogs to work on a bipartisan compromise but has yet to emerge with a bill.

It appears to me that the compromise is being done not only to push back voting on legislation, but also to tweak the public option so that the insurance companies will not feel too threatened. It is going to be crucial for citizens to contact their representatives and for organizations that still wish to see a strong and robust public option to stay very vocal while Congress is in recess. These lobbyists for the insurance industry are very powerful and what we may end up with is a mediocre bill with no guarantee of a public option. What kind of true reform would that be?

Iranians Mourn the Dead and Clash With Security Forces

Things in Iran appear to be heating up again. From The Huffington Post:

Iranian police fired tear gas and beat anti-government protesters with batons to disperse thousands attending a graveside memorial Thursday for victims of post-election violence, witnesses and state television said.

Police barred opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi from joining the crowd around the grave of Neda Agha Soltan, a young woman was shot to death at a June 20 to protest the disputed presidential election. The 27-year-old music student's dying moments on the pavement were filmed and circulated widely on the Web, and her name became a rallying cry for the opposition.

It is being reported that demonstrators were shouting "Neda is alive, Ahmadinejad is dead" and the LA Times is reporting that the demonstrators ended up overwhelming the security forces in the cemetery:

Thousands and possibly tens of thousands of mourners, many of them black-clad young women carrying roses, overwhelmed security forces today at Tehran's largest cemetery to gather around the grave of Neda Agha-Soltan, the young woman whose videotaped shooting at a June 20 demonstration stunned the world.


Among those arrested was award-winning director Jafar Panahi, whose movies "The Circle" and "Crimson Gold" have garnered international acclaim, along with his wife and daughter, a source close to the family told Agence France-Presse.

But as people poured out of the nearby subway station and taxis along the highway, security forces retreated. One witness said police released detainees and began cooperating with the mourners, directing them to Section 257 of the cemetery, where Agha-Soltan and others were buried.

Here is some video said to have been shot today in Iran:

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Interview with Democratic Candidate for Cincinnati City Council Nicholas Hollan

On this past Saturday, I covered the second rally held on Fountain Square in support of the people of Iran. Present at this rally was Democratic Candidate for Cincinnati City Council Nicholas Hollan. Hollan was present at the rally in order to both gather signatures on his petition for his candidacy and to show his support for the people of Iran.

From Hollan's website:

For our city to move forward, we must together and proactively address the root causes of the pressing issues we face.

* Let’s work closely with community councils to create a long term vision for each Cincinnati neighborhood.
* Let’s focus on ensuring that our children are born healthy and are ready to learn and succeed.
* Let’s elevate the quality of life in Cincinnati to encourage people to move in instead of out.

After the conclusion of the rally, I had an opportunity to speak with Hollan and ask him a few questions. That exchange is below.

(note: though the title lists July 26 as the date, the interview was conducted on July 25.)

This is crossposted here.

William Shatner Performs Sarah Palin's "Poetry"

Last night, on The Tonight Show, William Shatner performed a section of former Alaska Governor, Sarah Palin's farewell address:

Having only watched brief clips of Palin's resignation speech I thought to myself, there is no way that Shatner read that verbatim from her speech. I mean, her resignation announcement was a bit of a rambling mess, but what Shatner read was borderline nonsense.

Well, he did take that verbatim from Palin's speech. You can read the transcript here and I will post the videos to her speech below a few highlights from the transcript:

OK, today is a beautiful day and today as we swear in Sean Parnell, no one will be happier than I to witness by God's grace Alaskans with strength of character advancing our beloved state. Sean has that. Craig Campbell has that. I remember on that December day, we took the oath to uphold our state constitution, and it was written right here in Fairbanks by very wise pioneers. We shared the vision for government that they ground in that document. Our founders wrote "all political power is inherent in the people. All government originates with the people. It's founded upon their will only and it's instituted for the good of the people as a whole." Their remarkably succinct words guided us in all of our efforts in serving you and putting you first, and we have done our best to fulfill promises that I made on Alaska Day, 2005, when I first asked for the honor of serving you.


Alaskans will remember that years ago, remember we sported the old bumper sticker that said, "Alaska. We Don't Give a Darn How They Do It Outside?" Do you remember that? I remember that, and remember it was because we would be different. We'd roll up our sleeves, and we would diligently sow and reap, and we can still do this to carve wealth out of the wilderness and make our living on the water, with strong hands and innovative minds, now with smarter technology. It is what our first people and our parents did. It worked, because they worked. We must be prudent and persistent and press for the people's right to responsibly develop God-given resources for the maximum benefit of the people.

and her supporters eat this stuff up. Her speeches are a mix of barely intelligible random thoughts and carefully placed zingers that make the crowd go nuts.

Bill Kristol Admits that the Government Can Run a Quality Health Care System

If could only watch one interview from The Daily Show from the first half of 2009, I would recommend that you watch what happened last night between host Jon Stewart and Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard.

Yes, Stewart's interview with Jim Cramer from back in March was a pretty thorough skewering, but we almost saw that one coming in the weeks leading up to their climactic interview. This segment with Kristol came out of nowhere and resulted in a very revealing interview. Take a look:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Bill Kristol Extended Interview
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorJoke of the Day

The conversation about health care is the most revealing aspect of this interview as the first section is typical Kristol supporting Sarah Palin and other (neo)Conservatives and their talking points. It is interesting to look at what happens when we get into the discussion on health-care and Kristol's Republican talking points begin to run into each other and end up (once again) revealing him as an ideologue who refuses to view the world from outside of his politicized fantasy-land.

Besides Kristol's ludicrous claims that insurance companies don't get in the way of the decisions of health-care providers, that health care costs are going up primarily because of current government-run programs and the insistence that health-care reform needs to be killed (while offering no alternative solutions), I found the following exchange interesting:

STEWART: So, no public option - even though that's good enough for the military, not good enough for the people of America.

KRISTOL: Well, the military has a different system than the rest of Americans...

STEWART: It's a public system though, no?

KRISTOL: Yeah, they don't have an option, they are all enrolled in military health care.

STEWART: Why don't we go with that?

KRISTOL: I don't know, is military health care really what you...well first of all it's expensive and they deserve it, the military...I'm not sure...

STEWART: but the American public do not

KRISTOL: No, the American public do not deserve the same quality of health care as soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan deserve, and they need all sorts of things that the rest of us don't need.

STEWART: Well, no they can have that level of care, but are you saying that the American public shouldn't have access to the same quality health care that we give to our better citizens

KRISTOL: Yes. To our soldiers? Absolutely. American public...

STEWART: Really?


STEWART: So you just said, I just want to get this on the record, Bill Kristol just said that the government can run a first-class health care system...

KRISTOL: Sure it can

STEWART: ...and that a government-run health care system is better than the private health care system.

KRISTOL: I don't, I don't know if it's better...

STEWART: You just said that

KRISTOL: I don't know if it is better

STEWART: You just said it was better, you said it was the best that it's a little more expensive but it's better.

Whoops! Kristol's rampant support for the military and his "support the troops at all costs" line of thought just ran smack into his "government-run health care is bad for us all" talking point. The result? Kristol gets backed into a corner where he admits that the troops have a superior health-care system than do Americans and cannot justify why all Americans shouldn't be under such care except to say that normal Americans "don't deserve" as good of care as the military (and even this still acknowledges that the government-run system is better than one of private insurance). Stewart even pushes him and says that the military has the "best health care system money can buy" and Kristol responds by saying, "That could be, I hope they do...". "They are not going to let you back at the Weekly Standard" Stewart quips, "I feel like this is a way for people to bring down the Presidency than to do what is right for the American people."

Bingo! Stewart hits the nail on the head with that point toward the end of the interview. Kristol made obvious that this isn't about what is good for the American people, he is simply out to gain political points and oppose anything and everything that President Obama suggests without offering constructive revisions or criticism of the plan. Earlier in the interview Stewart even encourages Kristol to go to Washington and offer some ideas and suggestions instead of just killing the bill, but Kristol is insistent that you have to just "kill the bad idea" and then come up with something else. Translation: kill what is proposed by Obama, run on that opposition in 2010 and 2012, and then reform nothing so that the private insurance companies will keep funding the candidates that oppose limiting their profit-making capabilities.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Birthers, Birthers Everywhere!

I posted an entry last week about the resurgence of the "birther" movement and Jon Stewart's insightful and hilarious take on the topic.

Despite being repeatedly debunked, there are still a group of people in this country that insist on advancing the idea that Barack Obama was not born in the United States and therefore is illegally occupying the office of the Presidency. CNN host Lou Dobbs was one of the most visible members of the so-called mainstream media to raise questions surrounding President Obama's birth certificate:

Then, when Dobbs was criticized for advancing this argument even in lieu of evidence to the contrary, he lashed out at the "Limp-minded lily-livered lefties" who were "attacking" him:

CNN's President, Jonathan Klein, tried to reign in Dobbs:

"Since the show's mission is for Lou to be the explainer and enlightener, he should be sure to cite this during your segment tonite. And then it seems this story is dead - because anyone who still is not convinced doesn't really have a legitimate beef."

but apparently, in an interview with Greg Sargent, Klein appears to be backing off strong criticisms of Dobbs:

“Look, Lou’s his own show, and CNN in general has repeatedly and thoroughly reported on the facts behind this situation,” Klein said to me, adding that Lou had merely hosted “a few conversations with people representing a wide range of opinions.”

Klein said that Dobbs has repeatedly stated that he believes that Obama was born in Hawaii, and has simply been examining the “phenomenon that for some people this won’t go away.”

Hmmm, I wonder why this is a "phenomenon that for some people...won't go away", maybe because people like Lou Dobbs continue to host guests who raise these questions? By pretending that there is some sort of debate on this issue and continually hosting guests who baselessly give these claims, Dobbs only gives a kind of legitimacy to these arguments - regardless of whether he personally believes the claims or not. In the clip from Media Matters, Dobbs is even proud that he had the "temerity" to "actually raise a question of this great president."

Dobbs is not alone either. There are actually some members of Congress who either endorse the claims of the birther movement outright or will give you a vague statement like "I understand that some people are concerned about this issue and I will leave it to them to get to the bottom of it." Statements like these are nothing more than a wink and a nudge to a part of the conservative base of the Republican Party. Take a look at Politico's coverage of a statement made by Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) (emphasis mine):

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) has also tried to find the elusive middle ground.

"They have a point," he said of the birthers last week. "I don't discourage it. ... But I'm going to pursue defeating [Obama] on things that I think are very destructive to America."

Inhofe put out a statement Monday clarifying his comment:

"The point that they make is the Constitutional mandate that the U.S. president be a natural born citizen, and the White House has not done a very good job of dispelling the concerns of these citizens," he said. "My focus is on issues where I can make a difference to stop the liberal agenda being pushed by President Obama."

Two noteworthy items about the quote. The first is the obvious, that Sen. Inhofe doesn't discourage the birther movement from raising these questions. The second is the wording of Politico's coverage - "Sen. Inhofe has also tried to find the elusive middle ground...". What "middle ground" is there to find? How is there a middle ground between something that is true and something that is not?

Mike Stark has been making the rounds in Washington in recent days to speak with members of Congress on the issue of health care on behalf of Firedoglake. In his spare time he has been asking Republican members of Congress if they believe that Barack Obama was born in the United States. Watch the varied responses he gets (including one Congressman taking off in a sprint):

and Press Secretary Robert Gibbs' take on the issue today:

Sunday, July 26, 2009

United For Iran: Cincinnatians Hold Second Rally to Voice Support for Iranians

Yesterday, citizens of the Greater Cincinnati Area gathered on Fountain Square to rally in support of the people of Iran, the second such rally within the last month. The rally was entitled, "United for Iran: Global Day of Action" and included speeches by those who organized the event, chants, signs, a song, and the formation of a human chain to symbolize solidarity with those in Iran who have been protesting since the contested election on June 12, 2009. From the organizer's Facebook page:

Join us, all Iranians and Non-Iranians, in expressing solidarity with the freedom-seeking protesters in Iran. Many of our own friends and relatives are bravely marching on the streets, and we feel a duty to support them by keeping up the momentum and continuing to raise awareness of these important events in Iran.

Around 80 people attended this event which is down slightly from the attendance of over 100 at the first rally and the decrease was mainly attributed to a threat of thunderstorms as well as the diminishing media coverage. There was a noticeable increase in the attendance of non-Iranians at this rally as well as those who drove by Fountain Square while honking their horn and giving their "thumbs up" in support of the demonstrators. Also in attendance was Democratic candidate for Cincinnati City Council, Nicholas Hollan, who felt it important to show his support for not only those gathered in Cincinnati, but those who continue to raise their voice in Iran. I had an opportunity to ask him a few questions at the conclusion of the rally and that interview will be available within the next few days.

Demonstrators young and old holding signs of support and handing out fliers to passers-by gathered around the bullhorn at a little after 4PM as the rally kicked off:

After the introduction and as more people joined the rally, attendees began chanting their support for the people of Iran:

"Natarseed, natarseed ma hameh baham hasteem" (Don't be afraid, Don't be afraid, we are all in this together)

"An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere"

and "Basiji Basiji stop the violence now" were just some of slogans that echoed throughout Fountain Square and attracted new people to join the rally. A flier that was being passed out by organizers stated:

"The Iranian government is in clear violation of the Iranian people's human rights. We are here to stand with the people of Iran in their fight for civil and human rights. We urge all of you to take action with us. We cannot let all those that gave up their lives demanding freedom to be forgotten. We want to let our Iranian brothers and sisters know that we hear their voices and they are not alone!"

Demonstrator Jay Sardinia then took the microphone and spoke about the spontaneity of the protests taking place in Iran as well as the struggles that the face the Iranian youth:

Following Sardinia's speech, attendees at the demonstration formed a human chain around the perimeter of Fountain Square's corner of Fifth Street and Vine while continuing to chant and sing to show their support for Democracy and against the violations of human rights in Iran.

Once the two-hour rally concluded, I was able to once-again speak with organizer Nazanin Tork about the her goals for these demonstrations, the media coverage of the continued unrest in Iran, and what is next:

This piece is crossposted here.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Stephen Colbert on Health Care Reform

It has been a good week for political satire. Stephen Colbert on Health care reform:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Health Care Hell-Scare - Die-agnosis: Mur-DR
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorMark Sanford

Thursday, July 23, 2009

What is Motivating Sen. Max Baucus?

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) is starting to drive some people insane with his role in the health care reform legislative process.

In recent days, Baucus seems to be slowing down the Finance Committee's process of getting a health care bill on the table and Baucus has been insistent that a bill be crafted with a goal of getting bipartisan support. All of this as President Obama's August 7th deadline looms in the distance.

There is a detail that needs to be included in the discussion about the role of Sen. Baucus and his enthusiasm to help craft a bill that will include substantive reform. This detail is money, more specifically, the top ten campaign contributors to Baucus' campaign committee and leadership PAC from 2005-present (h/t tremayne)(emphasis mine):

1. Schering-Plough Corp - $86,200 Pharmaceuticals
2. Amgen Inc - $65,250 Biotechnology
3. Blue Cross/Blue Shield - $62,350 Health Insurance
4. UST Inc - $61,950 Chewing tobacco/alcohol
5. New York Life Insurance - $59,150 Life & Health Insurance
6. JPMorgan Chase & Co - $58,100 Banking/Insurance
7. American International Group - $51,750 Insurance/Fin. Services
8. Aetna Inc - $51,250 Health Insurance
9. Goldman Sachs - $47,900 Financial Services
10. DaVita Inc - $47,850 Health Care

numbers courtesy of

Call me pessimistic, but these are not numbers or contributors that give me good feelings about meaningful health care reform from the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

Jon Stewart on the Resurgence of the "Birther" Movement

Remember during the Presidential election campaign when some people began advancing the notion that Barack Obama wasn't born in the United States? Well, they are back and the "birther" movement is madder than ever:

Notice how Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE) gets booed when he defends the fact that President Obama is an American citizen? I also enjoyed how the crowd erupted into a spontaneous recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance after Castle wouldn't agree with them that Obama isn't an American citizen. Sometimes real life is stranger than fiction.

Jon Stewart, fresh off a victory as "America's Most Trusted Newscaster" in a TIME magazine online poll, devoted a segment to the birther movement last night on The Daily Show. While a debate over what the TIME magazine poll means for journalism in America is a topic for another entry, the underlying points below the birther segment are kind of sad if think about it. tristero put in nicely over at Hullabaloo:

Until the so-called news media stops providing access to jokers like the birthers, then the best news reports in America will be produced by a professional comedian.

and as you can see by the following clip, not only is the so-called news media providing access to the birther movement, some (like Lou Dobbs) are actively advancing their claims. It should be no surprise that a media who is having problems establishing if the President was born in this country, is the same media that helped lead this country into a war.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Born Identity
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorJoke of the Day

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Few Items on the Issue of Health Care Reform

President Obama is slated to give a televised press conference tonight on the topic of health care reform. The debate over this issue has been heating up over the last few weeks and I feel that it is necessary to address a few items prior to Obama's press conference.

First it important to remind everyone that the House did pass the America's Affordable Health Choices Act last week. While this bill did not include any aspect of single-payer coverage (this option has been said to be "off the table" for some time now) it did include a strong public option. This essentially means that if this bill were to pass as is, Americans would be afforded a choice in their health care. Citizens could either keep the coverage that they currently have or decide to go with a kind of plan that is more government based. Jonathan Cohn also pointed out some of elements within this bill:

Once fully implemented, this reform plan will accomplish most of the goals on my mental checklist:

- Generous subsidies, available to people making up to 400 percent of the poverty line
- Expansion of Medicaid to cover people making less than 133 percent of the poverty line
- Guarantees of solid benefits for everybody, with limits on out-of-pocket spending
- Strong regulation of insurers, including requirements that insurers provide insurance to people with pre-existing conditions without higher rates
- An individual mandate, so that everybody (or what passes for everybody in these discussions) gets into the system and assumes some financial responsibility
- A public plan, one that appears to be strong, although I'll reserve judgment on that until I hear from the experts
- Choice of public and private plan, at first just for individuals and small businesses, but later for larger businesses and--possibly--eventually for everybody
Efforts at payment reform, if not necessarily as strong as they could be
- Investment in primary care and prevention, which is not sexy but potentially important for general health .

The cost of this bill is estimated at around $1 trillion dollars which Paul Krugman calls a "bargain" in contrasting it with leaving the system alone. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) also concluded that this bill would be "deficit neutral" over the 10 year budget window and would even produce a $6 billion surplus. It was also released today in a report by the Commonwealth Fund Commission on a High Performance Health System that a bill which includes a choice in public and private care could save the nation $265 billion dollars in administrative costs over the next ten years.

The Senate is currently working on their own version of a health care reform bill which will likely look vastly different than the House version. The bills will then be debated on in committee and some type of compromise will likely emerge for Congressional vote.

It is important to note that despite very vocal opposition of the Republicans and some of the Blue Dog Democrats, the Republicans have not put forth their own version of a health care reform bill or offered much constructive suggestions to the existing legislative process. Republicans have repeatedly gone on television and utilized many of the same arguments against reform that they used to quash the health care legislation in 1994. Republicans also continue to claim that Obama is simply trying to "ram through" health care reform without giving them ample time to consider the proposals.

In recent days however it has become clear that the basis for these scare tactics and for the strategy of delaying passage of reform is rooted in the Republican quest to bring down President Obama by any means necessary. Republican talking points on the issue of health care reform, were leaked the other day and confirmed that they view this as a political opportunity. Here were the talking points:

* President Obama and Democrats are conducting a grand experiment with our economy, our country, and now our health care.

* President Obama's massive spending experiments have created more debt than at any other time in our nation's history.

* The President experimented with a $780 billion dollar budget-busting stimulus plan and unemployment is still rising. The President experimented with banks and auto companies, and now we're on the hook for tens of billions of dollars with no exit plan.

* Now the President is proposing more debt and more risk through a trillion dollar experiment with our health care.

* Democrats are proposing a government controlled health insurance system, which will control care, treatments, medicines and even what doctors a patient may see.

* This health care experiment will have consequences for generations, but President Obama and Democrats want to ram this legislation through Congress in two months.

* President Obama's health care experiment is too much, too fast, too soon. Our country cannot afford to fix health care through a rushed experiment.

* Americans want health care reform that addresses, not increases, cost or debt.

* Government takeover is the wrong way to go -- health care decisions should remain between the doctor and the patient.

digby does a good job of taking on these talking points one by one, but the goal here is clear. Republicans are not contributing any constructive ideas to this debate and their primary goal is to defeat Obama which they feel they can do in this debate on health care reform.

Separate from the official Republican Party opposition to the proposed reforms, I have heard from a few different conservatives a reference to the health care reform that Massachusetts passed in 2006 under the leadership of then Gov. Mitt Romney (R). The argument that is being advanced is the claim that the Massachusetts model of "government run health care" does not work. I find this argument odd because the Massachusetts Health Reform Law of 2006 did not implement a single-payer "government run" system. According to a study done by three Harvard Medical School Professors entitled "Massachusetts' Plan: A Failed Model for Health Care Reform":

Under the reform, the state committed to providing subsidized medical coverage to an expanded set of eligible individuals through the Medicaid program (called MassHealth in Massachusetts)and through a new insurance program, Commonwealth Care. A unique feature of the reform is the statutory “individual mandate” that requires most non-poor adults to purchase private(unsubsidized) health insurance policies or pay a fine.

Massachusetts simply made it a requirement that individuals (whose income exceeded 300% of the poverty rate) buy private health insurance coverage and fined people if they didn't. Massachusetts gave exemptions to individuals who did not meet this 300% threshold (about 79,000 according to the report), but all that meant is that not only did these individuals not get fined, but it also left them uninsured. The Massachusetts plan did very little to bring down costs and actually made it harder for the poor to receive medical care by forcing them to pay previously non-existent premiums and co-pays. In addition the report sites the following shortcomings of this reform:

- The reform did not achieve universal coverage
- The reform was more expensive than anticipated and because of this money is now being drained from public hospitals and community clinics.
- While access to health insurance increased under this reform, access to affordable care actually decreased.
- The reform reinforced the power of insurance companies due to the mandate on individuals buying private insurance plans.

The report concludes:

The nation must not look to Massachusetts’ health reform as a model. If we truly want to provide comprehensive health care for all of us at a price we can afford, we must adopt a single-payer plan.

So why on Earth am I hearing the argument from some conservatives that the system in Massachusetts is evidence that single-payer, government health-care doesn't work? It doesn't make one bit of sense and completely misrepresents why the reforms in Massachusetts did fail.

Lastly, since we are on the topic of single-payer, it needs to be noted that this option was been labeled as "off the table" by the Obama Administration and most members of Congress from the very beginning of this debate. The public option that is contained in the House bill is not the same thing as a single-payer option, so when you hear people running around yelling about the "government taking over health care", it is simply inaccurate.

Now this is not to say that a single-payer option should not be seriously considered. There have been a couple of very good conversations on this topic on recent editions of the independent news program Democracy Now!. Host Amy Goodman and co-host Juan Gonzalez recently sat down for a conversation with Howard Dean on the topic of health care and they asked him about the single-payer option:

HOWARD DEAN: Yeah, look, I don’t position myself against single payer, but I position myself for giving the American people a choice. I think what the President understands is the country is a conservative country with a small “c.” That is, they want change, but like most human beings, they don’t want so much that they’re uncomfortable. And so, the genius of the Obama healthcare plan is it’s not the healthcare plan that an academic would write in the ivory tower, but it starts from where we are, not where we would have been.

The Europeans all have single payer, because essential their healthcare systems were destroyed during World War II. And they went to a single payer during the war as a necessity, and then it turned out they loved it and didn’t want to get away from it afterwards. Winston Churchill was the person who put in single payer, essentially, in Britain, who was a conservative prime minister.

In this country, we didn’t have—we had exactly the opposite. Not only was our healthcare system not destroyed, but it was driven towards a private sector system, because it was the only way that you could give your employees wage increase in the price control and anti-inflation atmosphere around World War II. So here we are.

and then today Amy Goodman spoke with President Obama's longtime personal doctor for the last 22 years who has come out in support for a single-payer option:

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you look—tell us about the plan that is presented by the House and whether or not you support it?

DR. DAVID SCHEINER: The problem, overwhelmingly, is the issue, in my mind, of the private insurance companies being a part of the program. Their record has been so abominable that to have them in the program just doesn’t make sense. The cost—Ezekiel Emanuel, Rahm’s brother, made a comment in the Journal of the AMA that just the administration costs of employers’ health is over $300 billion a year. And that money will still be wasted. There will probably be even more advertising. The huge CEO salaries will continue to be made. I think the head of Aetna makes $23 million a year.

Insurance companies repeatedly interfere with the care of patients. The opponents of health reform keep saying that if the government gets into medicine, you won’t have a choice of your doctor, you won’t have a choice of your hospital, your care will be restricted. I don’t know where they got that. Medicare, if anything, is too permissive. Medicare never gets in my way. But insurance companies—I have to use special labs. I have to—I can use certain hospitals for one person; I can’t use them for another. I’m repeatedly getting responses from the insurance company disallowing certain procedures, disallowing certain medications. The insurance company is in the room every time I see a patient. And somehow, the patients think they have free choice. Medicare gives them free choice. They will have their choice of doctor. They will have their choice of treatment. With private insurance, that will not be the case. It’s an extraordinary waste of money.

And the public—if I had a single point to make about what is going wrong with this health reform is that the public is so uniformed. They think somehow that they get the best care in the world. We know by health statistics we’re thirty-seventh. Even people with good health insurance don’t realize that the healthcare they get is often not appropriate. Sometimes they get unnecessary treatment. The whole issue, for example, of prostate cancer, which is an extraordinary industry today, and there’s no proof that doing anything is of any value. But, you know, if I have a patient with prostate cancer, there’s no way I would sit back, because I know the trial lawyer is also in the room watching me. That’s another issue, which—there’s no way you’re going to control costs, if you don’t get that under control also.

As President Obama prepares to give his press conference this evening and as the debates and discussions continue, it is going to be necessary to recognize all the different layers that are involved when speaking about health care reform. Criticisms of the public option as a "government takeover" or as an abolition of private coverage are just accurate. No one in Congress is arguing for this even though there are many (like Dr. Scheiner and even myself) who feel that this option deserves to be considered and discussed.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Rachel Maddow Fact Checks Pat Buchanan in a Follow-Up Segment

Last week I posted the video of a debate from The Rachel Maddow Show between host Rachel Maddow and MSNBC contributor Pat Buchanan. The debate focused on the Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor by President Obama. Buchanan claims that Sotomayor was simply an unqualified "affirmative action candidate" for this job and that since her education relied on affirmative action, there are more qualified candidates that Obama could have picked. The debate spilled over to discuss affirmative action in a broader sense which Buchanan states is an "evil" program of which the primary goal is to discriminate against white males.

Last night Rachel Maddow did a follow-up segment during which she examined some of the statements that Pat Buchanan made and just how truthful they are. The clip is below:

Monday, July 20, 2009

Walter Cronkite's Passing and the Erosion of Journalistic Standards

Given that I am of a younger generation, I never had the experience of watching Walter Cronkite report the news for CBS. Instead, I have relied upon clips that can be found on the Internet and old documentaries as well as written studies and documentation throughout my ever continuing education over the years. His impact and status as an iconic figure of television news cannot be disputed and his role as an important and critical journalist should be championed.

Given that news can be reported and analyzed instantly in the age of the Internet and through blogs such as this one, it turns out that many have already weighed in on Cronkite's importance and legacy. For me, Cronkite reminded me of days that preceded rampant media consolidation and a time when reporting truth did not get slapped down with the phrase "liberal media bias". Cronkite was a journalist who cut through the political spin, wartime propaganda, and used his voice to report the facts.

Today, if we are looking for this type of coverage, we are forced to seek out independent media sources that have not been tainted by consolidation or beltway political ideology. Our so-called "mainstream media" (with the exception of a few individuals) has fallen prey to corporate interests and instead of reporting the truth about war, helped to blindly lead us into one. We have indeed fallen a long way since the days when Walter Cronkite's sober and tempered tone was broadcast into the homes of millions of Americans and I fear that the passing of Cronkite was preceded years ago by a media that was dedicated to truth and accountability.

In his piece today, Robert Parry wrote of what he calls "Cronkite's Unintended Legacy":

Cronkite personified the notion that TV news was a public service, not just a revenue stream or an opportunity to place ads around feel-good features. Yet, in that way, Cronkite contributed to complacency among many mainstream and liberal Americans who believed that the U.S. news media, though flawed, would continue to serve as an early-warning system for the Republic – and that they could focus on other concerns.

Parry goes on to analyze how the political Right in the U.S. viewed Cronkite as responsible for the loss of the Vietnam War (due to his on-air criticism of what the public was being fed from Washington) and also how the Right began to organize their own media while attacking mainstream journalists for their "liberal" views. It was during this time period when the label "liberal media" began to emerge and as time went on, you could see the growth of the right through various mediums such as books, magazines, talk radio, and television. News media began to take on a different shape, one that had eroded the quality of journalism and too often relied on uncritical reporting. I am not sure if this is the "unintended legacy" of Cronkite, or the intended outcome of the political Right and made possible by the Left. Again from Parry:

Walter Cronkite was surely not to blame for this ongoing distortion of the American media-political process. It was the failure of CBS and other mainstream news outlets to live up to Cronkite's standards that enabled the Right to take the United States down this destructive path.

The blame also must be shared by the American Left, especially liberals with deep pockets, for not backing honest journalists who told the truth despite threats of career retribution - and for not investing in a media infrastructure that could defend the principles that Cronkite left behind.

These final two paragraphs of Parry's piece align perfectly with Cronkite's own biggest regret (h/t GG):

What do I regret? Well, I regret that in our attempt to establish some standards, we didn't make them stick. We couldn't find a way to pass them on to another generation.

In voicing his biggest regret, there is an acknowledgement that the mainstream media's basic journalistic standards have eroded and as a result the way in which we see issues of great importance presented, is misleading. Is it any surprise then that the coverage of Cronkite's own death would been seen through a particular frame? It wasn't a surprise to Glenn Greenwald:

(emphasis mine)

Tellingly, his most celebrated and significant moment -- Greg Mitchell says "this broadcast would help save many thousands of lives, U.S. and Vietnamese, perhaps even a million" -- was when he stood up and announced that Americans shouldn't trust the statements being made about the war by the U.S. Government and military, and that the specific claims they were making were almost certainly false. In other words, Cronkite's best moment was when he did exactly that which the modern journalist today insists they must not ever do -- directly contradict claims from government and military officials and suggest that such claims should not be believed. These days, our leading media outlets won't even use words that are disapproved of by the Government.

Despite that, media stars will spend ample time flamboyantly commemorating Cronkite's death as though he reflects well on what they do (though probably not nearly as much time as they spent dwelling on the death of Tim Russert, whose sycophantic servitude to Beltway power and "accommodating head waiter"-like, mindless stenography did indeed represent quite accurately what today's media stars actually do). In fact, within Cronkite's most important moments one finds the essence of journalism that today's modern media stars not only fail to exhibit, but explicitly disclaim as their responsibility.

Greenwald's last sentence is perhaps the most telling and important when discussing just how far backward the so-called "mainstream" media has slipped over the years. Members of the media do not even view it as their responsibility to critically report, they merely provide a voice to the Democrats and to the Republicans, (often filtering out any other views) call it objectivity and then call it a day. This allows for the facts to be subjective and for lies and misrepresentations to hold the same weight as facts. One need look no further than the comments that David Gregory made on MSNBC on May 28, 2008 in defending the job that the media did prior to the Iraq War:

"I think there are a lot of critics who think that [in the run-up to the Iraq War] . . . . if we did not stand up and say this is bogus, and you're a liar, and why are you doing this, that we didn't do our job. I respectfully disagree. It's not our role"

Compare Gregory's quote with this quote from Cronkite on the CBS Evening News on February 27, 1968:

"The Vietcong did not win by a knockout [in the Tet Offensive], but neither did we. The referees of history may make it a draw. . . . We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds. . . .

"For it seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate. . . . To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past"

Is it any wonder why Cronkite's biggest regret was the failure of passing his generation's standards of journalism down to the next?

This piece is crossposted here.

Insurance Industry Set to Launch a Seven-Figure Ad Campaign Regarding Health Care Reform

As the debate over health care reform continues to heat up, there is a good chance that you may see this ad (or one that is similar) on your television screen:

and why are the chances quite high that you will be seeing an ad from AHIP? It is because they are spending over a million dollars on a new ad campaign. From Politico:

For the first time since Harry and Louise helped sink health care reform in 1994, the insurance industry is back on the airwaves Monday with a seven-figure, national cable television ad campaign.


The insurers' television ad, which could also run in targeted markets, will be supported by a complementary print campaign that is also set to launch this week. The industry intends to tap into its national network of 500,000 employees to help spread the message.

As the article goes on to say, there was a conscious decision on the part of the Insurance industry to not go negative in these ads, but instead to position themselves as proponents of health care reform. There is no doubt that this was done because a majority of Americans favor some type of health care reform, but it is important to keep in mind that the Insurance Industry is vehemently opposed to the inclusion of a single-payer option in the reform debate. Even though they are opposed to a single-payer option, most Americans are not.

It is apparent that what this massive ad campaign is about, is image. In the view of AHIP, running ads that tout an "American Option" and actually appearing as if they are in favor of health care reform will probably influence the public more than attacking those who are in favor of a single-payer or public option. I agree with Christy Harden Smith at Firedoglake when she says that the Insurance Industry is typically perceived as a heartless profit-driven industry and is thus trying to change their image of being "...greedy, grasping, concerned with profits and the bottom line at the expense of the people they insure."

Friday, July 17, 2009

More Reaction to Yoo's Defense of Warrantless Wiretapping

I wrote my initial observations yesterday. Here are more reactions to John Yoo's Wall Street Journal editorial defending the authorization of the warrantless wiretapping program.


Not surprisingly, Yoo begins the op-ed with a collosal straw man. He points out how important it is to intercept al Qaeda communications and writes: "Evidently, none of the inspectors general of the five leading national security agencies would approve." Of course, the issue is not whether intercepting communications is a good idea, but whether the program violated the law. Yoo was not a policy maker. He was a lawyer. His job was to state what the law was, not what it should be.


Yoo is not even trying to make honest arguments here. He would be laughed out of court if he ever made any of these claims before an actual judge. But for some reason he continues to be given valuable op-ed space (and a professorship at Berkeley!) to make these completely disingenuous and unsupportable claims.

Socratic Gadfly:

Ignorance = need for lawlessness, says Yoo...Yep, that’s John Yoo’s latest argument —since we didn’t know what al Qaeda would do after 9/11 we had to break the law to find out!


Saying that FDR did the same thing or that every administration has ignored a law is like my kid telling me not to discipline them for cheating on a test because Johnny cheated, too. Nor did the government in Hamilton’s time have the technological capabilities that it has today.

But while civil libertarians and liberals seem to love to hate Yoo and point the finger at him, the spotlight needs to remain on the men who handpicked him, used him for their own purposes, and who ignored the rule of law.

and Scott Horton was on Countdown with Keith Olbermann last night with fill-in host David Schuster to discuss Yoo's latest defense:

Pat Buchanan Sees the Republicans as a Big-Tent Party (Full of Whites Who are Being Discriminated Against)

After President Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor to become the next Supreme Court justice, the issue of race has been discussed on Conservative talk-radio and by some Republican members of Congress. As Sotomayor was questioned this past week during her confirmation hearings, some pundits even referred to her as a "reverse racist" and undeserving of the nomination because she was an "affirmative action" nominee. One of these individuals was Pat Buchanan. Last night Rachel Maddow had him on to discuss his position on Sotomayor and ended up exposing Buchanan as a bigot...again:

Maddow is right when she says that Buchanan is dating himself and stuck in the 1950's. Republicans should be running far, far away from Buchanan and other bigots who are advancing arguments like this.

Glenn Beck Loses His Mind on His Radio Show

It has been a little while since I have posted anything about Glenn Beck. On a recent edition of Beck's radio program a caller called in and challenged him on the issue of health care. Beck then proceeded to go absolutely ballistic. The segment builds until the climax at about 3:14. It really has to be heard to be believed:

Thursday, July 16, 2009

John Yoo Defends His Position on Warrantless Wiretaps

Former Justice Department Official and infamous author of the "torture memos", John Yoo, has written an editorial in today's Wall Street Journal in defense of his endorsement of warrantless wiretaps.

Yoo's piece defiantly speaks out against critics (including the Inspector General's report) who fault Yoo for providing legal advice that was not in good faith and worked to achieve the political goals of the Bush Administration.

Yoo sights the attacks of 9/11 as the catalyst for the warrantless wiretapping program and justifies it on the grounds of the need to protect America from another attack:

Suppose an al Qaeda cell in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles was planning a second attack using small arms, conventional explosives or even biological, chemical or nuclear weapons. Our intelligence and law enforcement agencies faced a near impossible task locating them. Now suppose the National Security Agency (NSA), which collects signals intelligence, threw up a virtual net to intercept all electronic communications leaving and entering Osama bin Laden's Afghanistan headquarters. What better way of detecting follow-up attacks? And what president -- of either political party -- wouldn't immediately order the NSA to start, so as to find and stop the attackers?

Similar to the justification for the torture of detainees in U.S. custody, Yoo sights the supposed unprecedented timeframe immediately following 9/11 and the need to adopt means that were unconventional (or in Yoo's eyes, very conventional) due to this "new" and threatening enemy. Yoo continues:

It is absurd to think that a law like FISA should restrict live military operations against potential attacks on the United States. Congress enacted FISA during the waning days of the Cold War. As the 9/11 Commission found, FISA's wall between domestic law enforcement and foreign intelligence proved dysfunctional and contributed to our government's failure to prevent the 9/11 attacks.


In FISA, President Bush and his advisers faced an obsolete law not written with live war with an international terrorist organization in mind. It was to meet such emergency circumstances that the Founders designed the presidency. As John Locke first observed, foreign threats "are much less capable to be directed by antecedent, standing, positive laws." Legislatures are too slow and their members too numerous to respond effectively to unforeseen situations. Only the executive can act to protect the "security and interest of the public."

Here we have the crux of Yoo's defense. He claims that the FISA law was not created during wartime and was an obsolete law that was not up-to-date for the threats that we are currently facing in the so-called "War on Terror". He also claims that the process of changing the law is too slow, so it makes sense that the executive branch is the only branch that can make these decisions to "protect the 'security and interest of the public.'"

To address the claim that FISA is in fact an "obsolete law" that was "not written with live emergency circumstances" in mind, I find it helpful to review an analysis from May 21, 2007 written by Glenn Greenwald. Greenwald has written extensively on the issue of warrantless wiretapping over the last few years and in this entry he addressed the claims made by Mike McConnell in an op-ed that the FISA bill was, in fact, obsolete.

From that entry:

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration demanded a whole slew of changes to FISA which expanded the President's eavesdropping powers and which the administration claimed were necessary in order to bring FISA into the 21st Century by allowing surveillance of modern communication methods. Congress, needless to say, complied in full, and in October of 2001 -- contrary to McConnell's misleading Op-Ed -- it enacted, and the President signed, sweeping "modernizing" changes to FISA.

and what did President Bush say at the signing ceremony in October, 2001?:

The changes, effective today, will help counter a threat like no other our Nation has ever faced. . . .

We're dealing with terrorists who operate by highly sophisticated methods and technologies, some of which were not even available when our existing laws were written. The bill before me takes account of the new realities and dangers posed by modern terrorists. It will help law enforcement to identify, to dismantle, to disrupt, and to punish terrorists before they strike. . . .

Surveillance of communications is another essential tool to pursue and stop terrorists. The existing law was written in the era of rotary telephones. This new law I sign today will allow surveillance of all communications used by terrorists, including e-mails, the Internet, and cell phones. As of today, we'll be able to better meet the technological challenges posed by this proliferation of communications technology. . .

Yoo's claim, that the FISA legislation was "obsolete" and not "written with an international terrorist organization in mind", is simply not accurate. As shown above, the FISA legislation was amended shortly after 9/11 in order to give President Bush the tools to (in Bush's words) "meet the technological challenges posed by this proliferation of communications technology". Yoo is simply advancing the false claim that the FISA legislation had not been amended since 1978.

Also important to point out is that Congress explicitly proposed amendments to the FISA legislation in order to expand its scope and make in easier for warrants to be obtained, in 2002. The Bush Administration rejected them. Greenwald again: is also critical to recall that the administration had multiple opportunities since those post-9/11 changes to expand the scope of FISA, and it was the administration which refused those changes on the ground that they were unnecessary. In 2002, multiple Senators sought to make it easier to obtain FISA warrants, and the Bush administration opposed those changes, insisting that it already had sufficient eavesdropping powers. And all throughout last year, Senators such as Diane Feinstein and Arlen Specter proposed endless FISA amendments to expand the scope of government eavesdropping (in response to claims that FISA was too narrow), and the Bush administration was completely uninterested in all of them.

It is clear that the Administration was not simply trying to protect the public from these "new" and never before seen threats, but their goal was to expand executive power and authority no matter what the law stated. Not only were they undertaking these actions, but they were doing it in secret and lying about it. To take one example, in April, 2004 Bush stated:

Secondly, there are such things as roving wiretaps. Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires — a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we’re talking about chasing down terrorists, we’re talking about getting a court order before we do so. It’s important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you think Patriot Act, constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because we value the Constitution.

The above can be interpreted in no other way, except that it is a lie.

In his piece, Yoo goes on to cite FDR eavesdropping on domestic and foreign communications (before Pearl Harbor and with a lack of Congressional authority) to justify the actions of President Bush. Interesting how Yoo does not address that the FISA legislation was passed over thirty years after this took place and was passed in order to protect people from being spied upon without just cause. Yoo's underlying point in citing the FDR example, as well as other examples that he references, is to make the point that during wartime the Presidential responsibility to protect the population Constitutionally supersedes all else. In his concluding paragraph Yoo states:

Our Constitution created a presidency whose function is to protect the nation from attack. Gathering intelligence -- including intercepting enemy communications -- has long been a key aspect of war. Our military and intelligence agencies cannot attack or defend the nation unless they know where to aim. As we confront terrorists who remain intent on attacking the U.S., using weapons we cannot anticipate, we should be skeptical of those who insist that we radically change the way this country has always made war.

Yoo's argument essentially boils down to that during wartime, Presidential authority is supreme and the decisions that the President makes to protect the population, are protected even if his actions would break the law during times of peace...after all, FDR did it. Yoo's response does not clear things up or provide any kind of more rational explanation on this issue. Yoo's continued defense of unchecked executive power (especially during wartime) only continues to enforce the criticisms that he gave opinions to meet political goals and that relied on a warped sense of the law. I will be interested to see how his Wall Street Journal piece is perceived around the media and blogosphere.

This piece is crossposted here.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Panetta's Reaction to Finding Out About Cheney's Secret Program

Rachel Maddow had a good point last night regarding the revelation that former Vice President Dick Cheney apparently ordered that his "secret assassination program" be kept from Congress.

If this was a program that was designed to secretly use the CIA to go around the world in an attempt to target, capture, or kill terrorists - then explains the reaction of CIA Director Leon Panetta? After all, the United States has a long history of targeting "terrorists" around the world with the goal of "capturing" or "killing" them, so it seems a little odd that Panetta acted the way that he did once he found out about this program. Panetta ordered that the program be stopped on the very day that he found out about it and he also went to Congress to disclose that this program had been hidden from them. Something tells me that we haven't learned all that there is to know about the nature of Cheney's secret program. Rachel Maddow explains:

TIME magazine floats another possible idea:

CIA officials tell TIME there's another, somewhat less dramatic, possibility: a plan to conduct domestic surveillance. Spying on Americans is outside the CIA's purview and would be highly controversial — good enough reason for Cheney to want it kept under wraps.

but then the article quotes officials who claim that Panetta wasn't informed because the program wasn't "operational" and so it was "no big deal". If this program was "no big deal" and was a program designed to do what is essentially done every day in the so-called "War on Terror", then it makes no sense that Panetta would have such a severe reaction when finding out about this program. More details are almost certainly yet to be revealed.