Monday, August 31, 2009

Dick Cheney has a Lovely Chat With Fox's Chris Wallace

Former Vice President Dick Cheney was interviewed by Fox News' Chris Wallace over the weekend. If there is still any question remaining in your mind about the level of journalism displayed at Fox News, look no further than this interview:

Andrew Sullivan likened it to "a teenage girl interviewing the Jonas Brothers":

Now look: there are softball interviews; and then there are interviews like this. It cannot be described as journalism in any fashion. Even as propaganda, which is its point, it doesn't work - because it's far too cloying and supportive of Cheney to be convincing to anyone outside the true-believers. When it comes to Cheney, one of the most incompetent vice-presidents in the country's history, with a record of two grotesquely botched wars, war crimes and a crippling debt, Chris Wallace sounds like a teenage girl interviewing the Jonas Brothers.

My two favorite moments:

CHENEY: I am going to -- if I address that, I will address it in my book, Chris.

WALLACE: It is going to be a hell of a book.

CHENEY: It is going to be a great book.

And then the apology for asking the questions Cheney wanted asked:

WALLACE: Well, we want to thank you for talking with us and including in your private life putting up with an interview from the likes of me.

CHENEY: It's all right. I enjoy your show, Chris.

WALLACE: Thank you very much, and all the best sir.

When future historians ask how the United States came not only to practice torture but to celebrate it and treat torturers as heroes, a special place in hell among the journalists who embraced and justified it should be reserved for Chris Wallace.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

More Footage From the Second Cincinnati Townhall

Earlier, I posted a summary of the second town hall event that Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-OH) held yesterday at the Nathanael Green Lodge Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. This was a ticketed event as it was part of the Green Township Democratic Club's normal scheduled meeting. The club decided to issue tickets to the event once it was realized that a lot of people would be showing up to discuss the issue of health care.

While citizens showed up representing both sides of the health care debate, it was clear that those in favor of health care reform outnumbered those who are against the reforms that are currently being discussed before Congress. This was a big difference from the first town hall meeting during which those opposed to reforms greatly outnumbered those in favor.

I have uploaded another video from the event that you can view below. You will see part of a speech given by the Secretary Treasurer of the local chapter of the AFL-CIO and how that quickly degenerated into heated arguments throughout the crowd. This video culminates with a man who is opposed to health care reform threatening to kill a man who is in favor of health care reform. I am working on one more video from this event and hope to have it posted soon.

I also encourage you to visit my other post on this event which contains the video of a woman who continually shouted "Obamacare is America's Chappaquiddick". There is another town hall meeting scheduled for this upcoming Tuesday at the 20th Century Theater in Oakley during which Rep. Steve Driehaus will be speaking. I will be sure to have more video from that event.

Anti-Health Care Reformer Outside Cincinnati Townhall: "Obamacare is America's Chappaquiddick!"

Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-OH) held a second townhall meeting yesterday evening at the Nathanael Green Lodge in Cincinnati, Ohio that was sponsored by the Green Township Democratic Club. This was a ticketed event, so the majority of people, both for health care reform and against, gathered outside the venue prior to the event starting.

The last townhall meeting that Driehaus held was dominated by those who are opposed to health care reform. Driehaus was shouted down throughout the town hall meeting, had a hard time answering the questions that he was asked, and was chased down by a shouting crowd as he left the event.

This time there was a noticeable increase in citizens that came to the event in favor of health care reform. There was a strong union presence from the AFL-CIO and other local labor unions as well as organizations such as Planned Parenthood and Cincinnati Progressive Action. There was also a noticeable increase in people who were advocating for single-payer health insurance which is an option that has been off the table in Congress since the beginning of the drafting of legislation.

People from both sides of the debate gathered outside in order to hold their signs and make their voices heard. Things started out pretty calmly, but soon progressed into many shouting matches and even a death threat. The AFL-CIO had organized various speakers from around the Tri-State area to voice their support for health care reform, but as you can imagine, those who were opposed to health care reform didn't let this happen without shouting out various slogans.

I captured a lot of video from outside the event as I did not get a chance to go inside for the actual forum. I have video of various arguments and confrontations that happened within the crowd that I will be posting soon and I will soon post a confrontation where an anti-health care reformer threatens to kill a gentleman that he is arguing with.

As it is quite late as I am typing this, I will post one video this evening. This video centers around a woman who claims that she voted for Obama in November and is a registered Democrat. She claims that she has "seen the light" and was "duped" by Obama during the campaign. She came out in opposition to health care reform (and programs like Welfare as you will hear), but most striking is an analogy that she kept shouting. You will hear that she keeps shouting "Obamacare is America's Chappaquiddick". This is an obvious reference to the infamous incident which involved the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) back in 1969.

The odd thing about this is that the analogy makes no sense to me other than to assume that the only reason that this woman is shouting this phrase is to try and tie the death of Sen. Kennedy (which happened earlier yesterday) with her argument against health care. This is yet another example of ridiculous arguments and sayings that make no sense, yet are injected into the debate on health care. In this case, a totally unrelated incident is referenced for the sole purpose of trying to tie in Sen. Kennedy's death from earlier in the day and enrage supporters of health care reform, the same cause for which Kennedy fought for, for the majority of his life. Here is the video and be sure to check back as more will become available:

This piece is crossposted here.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sen. Ted Kennedy: 1932-2009

As many of you have already heard, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) has lost his battle with brain cancer. From the family statement:

"We've lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever," a family statement said. "We thank everyone who gave him care and support over this last year, and everyone who stood with him for so many years in his tireless march for progress toward justice."

Here is a look around the horn at some reactions that describe Kennedy better than I could.

Ken Blanchard:

I saw Ted Kennedy once, when I was sitting in the Senate Chamber gallery. I was listening to the conversation below when the speaker announced that Senator Kennedy was to speak. All around me the tourists suddenly took interest and leaned to see the man. That is what fame looks like.

President Obama:

"Michelle and I were heartbroken to learn this morning of the death of our dear friend, Senator Ted Kennedy," Obama says in his statement. "For five decades, virtually every major piece of legislation to advance the civil rights, health and economic well being of the American people bore his name and resulted from his efforts. I valued his wise counsel in the Senate, where, regardless of the swirl of events, he always had time for a new colleague. I cherished his confidence and momentous support in my race for the Presidency. And even as he waged a valiant struggle with a mortal illness, I've profited as President from his encouragement and wisdom."

"An important chapter in our history has come to an end. Our country has lost a great leader, who picked up the torch of his fallen brothers and became the greatest United States Senator of our time." "And the Kennedy family has lost their patriarch, a tower of strength and support through good times and bad."

"Our hearts and prayers go out to them today--to his wonderful wife, Vicki, his children Ted Jr., Patrick and Kara, his grandchildren and his extended family."


In the coming days and weeks, much will be written about Senator Kennedy and his impact on our nation, our policies, and our government. As we wage a bitter fight over healthcare reform and brace for a potential battle over education reforms, we must not forget the lessons offered by Senator Ted Kennedy. Nothing took priority over country and an unwavering commitment to improve the quality of life for every American. No challenge was too large, whether it be healthcare, fair wages, or education. Success came from building bridges, working with individuals of all persuasions, political parties, and points of view. But true leaders also stand by their convictions, never wavering from their commitment and their own beliefs. It is important to hear others, but it is just as important to stand, unwavering, for what we believe in.

My heart goes out to the entire Kennedy clan. Here is hoping that his commitment to the people of Massachusetts and the United States is repaid in future efforts to improve the health, education, and welfare of every American.

Kennedy at the 2008 Democratic National Convention:

Above photo is courtesy of here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Around the Horn on the Reappointment of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke

Let's go around the horn with the reactions to the announcement that President Obama has reappointed Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to a second term.

Jill Lawrence:

Obama's decision and his timing bear the marks of sound political and economic strategy. First, the news is big enough that, as I mention in my column on the federal deficit, it will at least temporarily draw attention away from the mammoth deficit projections released Tuesday by the White House and the Congressional Budget Office.

Second, the choice of Bernanke -- a Republican named by former President George W. Bush -- is a reminder of Obama's promise to be bipartisan. Third, it avoids a confirmation battle in Congress. Fourth, it's hard to argue that there could be anyone more qualified or experienced at this moment in history than Bernanke, an expert on the Great Depression of the 1930s.

And fifth, it keeps intact the team that averted an economic and financial collapse and seems at this point to be leading the country out of recession. This is not to say that Congress won't have questions and warnings for the Fed chief, but while Bernanke has been faulted for not picking up on clear signals that the financial and housing sectors were headed for a meltdown, he's won praise for his performance since it happened.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT):

"As a result of the greed, irresponsibility and illegal behavior of Wall Street our country has experienced the worst economic decline since the Great Depression. Mr. Bernanke was head of the Fed and the nation's chief economist as this crisis, driven by reckless speculation, developed. Tragically, like the rest of the Bush administration, he was asleep at the wheel during this period and did nothing to move our financial system onto safer grounds. As the middle class of this country continues to shrink, we need a chairman of the Federal Reserve who is more concerned about expanding the productive economy – increasing decent-paying jobs for all Americans – than continuing to fan the flames of Wall Street greed and outrageous compensation packages.”

David Sirota:

Reappointing one of the key people A) who fell asleep at the regulatory wheel in the lead up to the financial meltdown B) who responded to the meltdown by handing over trillions of no-strings-attached taxpayer dollars to his bank industry friends and C) who has refused to let the public even know who is getting taxpayer bailout money is abominable. The idea that he showed some kind of "brilliance" or "smarts" in throwing trillions of dollars at the banking industry is positively absurd - as is the idea that his scheme has miraculously saved the economy (it ain't a shock that when you shovel trillions of dollars at banks, they will report temporary short-term profits - and those profits don't mean anything is saved for the long-term).

Paul Krugman:

Generally, I’m pleased. Bernanke has done a good job in the crisis — he’s been far more aggressive and creative than almost anyone else would have been in his place, partly because he’s a scholar of the Great Depression, partly because he took Japan’s lost decade seriously and was therefore intellectually prepared for a liquidity-trap world.


...Ben Bernanke’s performance over the past year deserves praise, and there’s nobody I’d rather have in his position. Congratulation, Ben.

More that has yet to be Revealed on Torture

Scott Horton has a great post in which he discusses seven of his observations surrounding the recent release of the 2004 Inspector General report. His whole post is worth a full read and you can find it here, but in the meantime, here are a few of his observations:

1. The worst is yet to come. Yesterday the CIA released a fresh copy of the report with roughly half of the “case study” discussion now unmasked. But context and placement suggest that the material that remains concealed contains some of the worst discussion of abuse in the report. The heavy redactions start around page 25, and the redactions cover discussion of the origins of the program and the approval process, as well as the discussion of specific prisoners, notably Abu Zubaydah, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, and Khalid Shaikh Mohammad. Although cases in which the guidelines provided by the Justice Department were exceeded have been discussed, it’s likely the case that the still blacked-out passages cover instances where Justice gave a green light but the conduct was so gruesome that CIA wants to keep it under wraps. That means we haven’t heard the last of the Helgerson report, and further disclosures are likely.

2. Opposition from within. For years the CIA has said that CIA personnel would be demoralized and the reputation of the agency would be damaged by disclosure of the contents of the report. But the report documents just the opposite. The Inspector General’s review was launched by complaints coming from valued senior employees who felt that the Bush Program (as John Yoo has dubbed it) was wrong. One of them actually expresses his worry that those involved will be hauled before the World Court at some point because of [and that’s redacted!] This makes clear that good employees of the agency opposed the Bush Program, were vocal in their opposition, and focused concern on the program’s illegality. The OLC memos were intended to silence these complaints, but they only accentuated the agency’s morale problems by enmeshing it in obviously illegal and immoral conduct. By contrast, the number of CIA personnel involved in pushing it through and supporting it is tiny—probably not many more than two dozen—though their voices are heard very loudly. It’s interesting that in a stream of appearances by CIA personnel on TV yesterday—Tyler Drumheller, Jack Rice, Bob Baer and others—all said that a criminal investigation was a good idea. The official spokesman of the CIA torture team remains, as for the last seven years, David Ignatius.


4. All trails lead to the Vice President’s office. At several points, redactions begin just when the discussion is headed toward the supervision or direction of the program and context suggests that some figure far up the Washington food chain is intervening. Moreover, as Jane Mayer recounts in Dark Side, Helgerson’s report was shut down when he was summoned, twice, to meet with Dick Cheney, who insisted that the report be stopped. Cheney had good reason to be concerned. This report shows that the vice president intervened directly in the process and ensured that the program was implemented. The OPR report likewise shows Cheney’s office commissioning the torture memos and carefully supervising the process. It is increasingly clear that torture was Dick Cheney’s special project and that he was personally and deeply involved in it. And the CIA report has some amazing nuggets that show Cheney’s hand. In 2003, after Jay Bybee departed OLC, Cheney struggled to have John Yoo installed as his successor, but ultimately John Ashcroft’s candidate, Jack Goldsmith, prevailed. Goldsmith quickly backtracked on the torture authorizations that Yoo and Bybee gave. The result? The CIA stopped taking its cue from OLC and instead turned to the White House for guidance. It is remarkably vague on the particulars, and blackouts emerge just as passages seem to be getting interesting. But there’s little doubt that Dick Cheney and his staff were pushing the process from behind the scenes.

Inspector General's Report Released - Detainees Threatened with Death and Rape

Yesterday the Justice Department released the long-awaited 2004 Inspector Generals Report on the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody. This is the largest single release of information that gives insight into the implementation of policies that were crafted by the Bush Administration and carried out by the CIA.

Some of the new revelations that have come to light in the release of this report are the following tactics:

- Threats of execution using guns and threats of the use of a power drill
- Threats to kill a detainees children
- Pressure points that were used to restrict blood flow via the carotid artery until the detainee faints, then shaking the detainee awake and repeating.
- Threats to rape the female members of the detainees family in front of the detainee.
- Striking a detainee in the chest with the butt of a rifle and kneeing a detainee in the chest.
- Blowing smoke into a detainees face for five minutes.
- Using waterboarding techniques with large quantities of water

Some conclusions that were issued in the IG Report:

250. The Agency's detention and interrogation of terrorists has provided intelligence that has enabled the identification and apprehension of other terrorists and warned of terrorist plots planned for the United States and around the world. The eTC Detention and Interrogation Program has resulted in the
issuance of thousands of individual intelligence reports and analytic
products supporting the counterterrorism efforts of U.S. policymakers and military commanders. The effectiveness of particular interrogation techniques in eliciting information that might not otherwise have been obtained cannot be so easily measured,


253.~The Dol legal opinion upon which the Agency relies is based upon technical definitions of t1severell treatment and the "intent" of the interrogators, and consists of finely detailed analysis to buttress the conclusion that Agency officers properly carrying out Errs would not violate the Torture Convention's
prohibition of torture, nor would they be subject to criminal prosecution under the u.s. torture statute. The opinion does not address the separate question of whether the application of standard or enhanced techniques by Agency officers is consistent with the undertaking, accepted conditionally by the United States regarcling
Article 16 of the Torture Convention, to prevent "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."

Another interesting note:

232. ~'One officer expressed concern that one day, Agency officers will wind up on some '~wanted list to appear before the World Court for war crimes stemming from activities [redacted] Another said, "Ten years from now we're going to be 'sorry
we're doing this ... [but] it has to be done." He expressed concern that the eTC Program will be exposed in the news media and cited particular concern about the possibility of being named in a leak.

The IG apparently had some recommendations, but they were all redacted in the report that was released.

Glenn Greenwald:

To those blithely dismissing all of this as things that don't seem particularly bothersome, I'd say two things:

(1) The fact that we are not really bothered any more by taking helpless detainees in our custody and (a) threatening to blow their brains out, torture them with drills, rape their mothers, and murder their children; (b) choking them until they pass out; (c) pouring water down their throats to drown them; (d) hanging them by their arms until their shoulders are dislocated; (e) blowing smoke in their face until they vomit; (f) putting them in diapers, dousing them with cold water, and leaving them on a concrete floor to induce hypothermia; and (g) beating them with the butt of a rifle -- all things that we have always condemend as "torture" and which our laws explicitly criminalize as felonies ("torture means. . . the threat of imminent death; or the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering . . .") -- reveals better than all the words in the world could how degraded, barbaric and depraved a society becomes when it lifts the taboo on torturing captives.

(2) As I wrote rather clearly, numerous detainees died in U.S. custody, often as a direct result of our "interrogation methods." Those who doubt that can read the details here and here. Those claiming there was no physical harm are simply lying -- death qualifies as "physical harm" -- and those who oppose prosecutions are advocating that the people responsible literally be allowed to get away with murder.

It simply can not become any clearer than this. If the United States expects to be a moral leader and a just leader in the global community there is simply no excuse for not investigating and prosecuting all those involved in the previous administration. A narrow investigation that focuses on the lower-level personnel who carried out these brutal acts of torture is meaningless unless there are also investigations that go straight to the top. As I have stated time and time again, if the United States wishes to never go down this road again, then the only deterrent is to hold those who are responsible for implementing these techniques to account. Anything less is criminal.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Daughter of Cincinnati City Councilman Gets Tased During Traffic Stop

Celeste Thomas, daughter of Cincinnati City Councilman Cecil Thomas, was tased last night by Cincinnati Police during a traffic stop. From the Cincinnati Enquirer:

The incident involving Celeste Thomas began unfolding just after midnight Saturday when Officer Stephanie Glueck and Jennifer Myers were driving on West McMillan in Clifton Heights when they saw a 2004 Toyota Corolla hit a city garbage truck at 73 West McMillan.

When it seemed the driver, Demetri Washington, was not going to stop, the officers initiated a traffic stop.

A video of the arrest of Washington, 33, on charges of resisting arrest, drunken driving, driving without a license and a burglary warrant and of Celeste Thomas, 26, on charges of obstructing official business and open container, shows what happened next.

Washington pulled over and Glueck walked up to the driver’s side window and asked Washington for his license and proof of insurance. He didn’t immediately comply. When officers found Washington was wanted on a warrant for burglary, he was arrested and handcuffed.

Here is video of the incident:

The officer who tased Thomas is Anthony Plummer who has had his police powers revoked and is currently being investigated for using excessive force. Police Chief Thomas Streicher has already stated publicly that Plummer did not follow proper police procedures and that improper force was used. In addition, it appears that Plummer has a past history of using excessive force. Again from the Enquirer:

Plummer joined the force in 2001 and his personnel file shows a suspension for use of force, two reprimands and an incident that led to his being fired.

Plummer was fired in August of 2006 for violating procedure during an arrest in which he used a Taser. An arbitrator reinstated Plummer in September of 2007.

If Plummer is found to have violated department policy in Celeste Thomas’ arrest, he will face a disciplinary hearing. A hearing officer will make a disciplinary recommendation to Streicher, who in turn will make one to Cincinnati City Manager Milton Dohoney.

If disciplinary action is taken, it cannot be based on that prior incident because as per police contract, incidents are cleared for an officer’s record after three years.

While the quick response and candid reaction of Chief Streicher is rare, it is has drawn praise from Christopher Smitherman, the local President of the NAACP:

“I give them an A-plus to this stage,” Smitherman said. “The collaborative agreement was about trying to change the police culture, and we’re seeing here that that’s happening.

“When the police chief feels comfortable enough at this early point in an investigation to say publicly that he thinks the officer was wrong and used excessive force, that shows me we’re getting closer to where we all want to be in terms of police-community relations,” Smitherman added.

This recent local situation is only one in a long series of police actions from across the country that have resulted in children, the elderly, and the handicapped being subdued by the use of tasers.

digby writes often about civil liberties and tasers and recently wrote the following:

Tasers were sold to the public as a tool for law enforcement to be used in lieu of deadly force. Presumably, this means situations in which officers would have previously had to use their firearms. It's hard to argue with that, and I can't think of a single civil libertarian who would say that this would be a truly civilized advance in policing. Nobody wants to see more death and if police have a weapon they can employ instead of a gun, in self defense or to stop someone from hurting others, I think we all can agree that's a good thing.

But that's not what's happening. Tasers are routinely used by police to torture innocent people who have not broken any law and whose only crime is being disrespectful toward their authority or failing to understand their "orders." There is ample evidence that police often take no more than 30 seconds to talk to citizens before employing the taser, they use them while people are already handcuffed and thus present no danger, and are used often against the mentally ill and handicapped. It is becoming a barbaric tool of authoritarian, social control.

This is a pattern that we have seen time and time again and in case after case. Tasers are not always substituted for the use of lethal force, but rather for the use of dialogue. People are tased not always for posing a danger to the safety of the police officer, but for mouthing off to the police or not fully complying with commands. This is a dangerous path to continue down with a device that has proven itself capable of causing death.

In this most recent local case, the police admit that Celeste Thomas was on her knees with her hands in the air when she was tased in the back. Regardless of the fact that she got out of the car against the commands of the police, she was not posing a danger to the officers who were on the scene as she was on her knees with her hands in the air. If tasers are to be used in place of lethal force, are we to believe that Officer Plummer would have shot Thomas? I have seen many comments on local news websites that have been posted by users suggesting that Thomas got what she had coming because one should expect these consequences if one does not comply with the commands of the police. I think we are better than that as a society.

We should expect citizens to have a certain level of earned respect for law enforcement officers, but we should also expect these same officers to use force sparingly when other tactics are exhausted. We should expect that tools of force should not be used simply because they are easier and create a sense of fear within the public, especially with a tool that has been known to have deadly effects. As a society we should continue to examine tools such as the taser as it is used more liberally during situations that once seemed routine and ask ourselves if this is truly an effective tool, or if it is exerting more authoritarian controls over the greater population.

This is crossposted here.

Holder Appoints Special Prosecutor to Invesigate Torture...Sort Of

Attorney General Eric Holder has announced that he is going to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate whether members of the CIA went too far while interrogating detainees in U.S. custody. Holder is going to name John Durham to lead this investigation, the scope of which will be quite narrow. From the Washington Post article that I linked to above (emphasis mine):

Durham's mandate, the sources added, will be relatively narrow: to look at whether there is enough evidence to launch a full-scale criminal investigation of current and former CIA personnel who may have broken the law in their dealings with detainees. Many of the harshest CIA interrogation techniques have not been employed against terrorism suspects for four years or more.

The attorney general selected Durham in part because the longtime prosecutor is familiar with the CIA and its past interrogation regime. For nearly two years, Durham has been probing whether laws against obstruction or false statements were violated in connection with the 2005 destruction of CIA videotapes. The tapes allegedly depicted brutal scenes including waterboarding of some of the agency's high value detainees. That inquiry is proceeding before a grand jury in Alexandria, although lawyers following the investigation have cast doubt on whether it will result in any criminal charges.


With Monday's looming public announcement, however, the attorney general and his national security team appear to be staking out a middle ground -- rejecting a broad inquiry that could result in possible prosecutions of Justice Department lawyers in the Bush years as well as cabinet officers who developed counterterrorism policy; but giving civil liberties advocates at least part of what they wanted without supporting a full, independent truth commission to examine a host of Bush national security practices.

In other words, this is a sham. Holder is opting to appoint a prosecutor (who is already involved in another investigation) to see if anyone in the CIA acted outside of the "legal" framework that was set up by the Bush Administration (and the OLC lawyers like John Yoo) but the investigation will not have a broad enough scope to examine the legality of the interrogation program itself. Remember when U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison were prosecuted and labeled a "few bad apples"? This may turn out similarly. The argument for prosecutions is not that officials went beyond what the Bush Administration claimed was legal, but that the Bush Administration's (in this case) interrogation policies need to be examined for criminal wrong-doing. The Attorney General apparently has no interest in doing the latter.

Also, take note of the final paragraph of the Washington Post piece that I quoted above. Notice the framing of the issue, that Eric Holder is "staking out a middle ground" on this issue as if the rule of law is some kind of political debate. While there very well could be potential political implications for appointing a special prosecutor with a broader mandate, this is not the same thing as taking a middle ground on whether to investigate potential violations of the law. After all, how does one take a centrist role and compromise on enforcing the rule of law?

Jeremy Scahill on "Real Time" and the Release of the Inspector General's Report

Real Time with Bill Maher had an interesting panel this past Friday night on HBO. Included in this panel were comedian Jay Leno, NBC political correspondent Chuck Todd, and investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill.

They get to talking about Blackwater, torture, and holding elected officials to account when Scahill calls out Chuck Todd for the media's role (and Todd's role) in framing this debate. Here is the video:

You may remember a recent interview that transpired between Chuck Todd and Glenn Greenwald where Greenwald made Todd's arguments against investigations look ridiculous. Here is an exchange:

GG: ...But let me ask you this question - and I just have a couple more questions, and I appreciate this time. You just referenced earlier that you think that this has become cable catnip because it's an entrenched partisan debate between the left and the right. And about a month ago you created a little controversy because you said about the question about whether there should be investigations, about the release of the OLC memos, you said, quote, "Frankly, this feels like a political food fight right now: the hard left, the hard right fighting over this in the blogosphere."

Some of the people who have called for investigations and prosecutions of Bush-era torture crimes include people like Jesse Ventura, the former independent governor of Minnesota; Philip Zelikow, the former aide to Condoleezza Rice; four-star general Barry McCaffrey, who said, on MSNBC, actually, that numerous detainees were, quote, "murdered" in custody, and that there's no way that we can not have criminal investigations. General Antonio Tabuga, who investigated the Abu Ghraib crimes, said: quote, "There is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes; the only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account." Same with Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief-of-staff to Colin Powell; Thomas Pickering and Williams Sessions, former Reagan administration officials, on and on, wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post calling for investigations.

The idea that this is something that, the idea that the rule of law, that holding our high government officials to accountability when they commit crimes, is a "hard left versus a hard right" or a partisan debate - isn't that really just an invention of cable news, for exactly the reason that you said, which is that's how cable news typically understands things, even when that's not really what the debate is?

CT: Well, look - and that is my frustration on this very issue, that I don't think - and this is why, when I said, how should this be handled, and how should this be investigated - if you could guarantee me that we could keep this debate off of television, and keep it off of being an ideological - because, this was an ideological, when you read those OLC memos, I was struck by this fact, and that is that the Bush White House was looking for a legal way to do this. They were trying to legally justify what they were doing, and what their policy was. Which then, if that is the case, then, things are going to have an ideological split, and frankly, you, you and I both know you're going find judges that end up falling on both sides of this issue.

Now, does that mean that there shouldn't be investigations as to how these detainees died in custody? Of course there should be investigations. That's what makes the American form of justice held to a higher standard.

GG: And what should be done about investigations that reveal that there were crimes that were committed?

CT: Well, look, that's up to the Justice Department. I know you have strong feelings about this. I am trying, honestly, very hard, not to put my personal feelings on this specific issue into it. I am trying to deal in the analysis of why, for instance, the Obama White House doesn't want this. They don't want to have this debate even if they passionately feel, as many do, about what might have happened.

Scahill's moment with Todd is the second instance where Todd has been forced to defend his views that prosecutions of the Bush Administration are not appropriate and should therefore not happen. Todd is not alone in his views, in fact, the Obama Administration has also adopted this "look forward not to the past" mantra when discussing the possibility of prosecuting Bush Administration officials.

The relevancy of this is also to be noted as the Justice Department is expected to release the internal investigation into torture by John L. Helgerson, or the Inspector General's report. The release of this investigation has been delayed on numerous occasions and should give us additional insight and provide for more disturbing details into the types of actions that were authorized under the Bush Administration. Scott Horton has more thoughts:

If the passages of the report describing in detail the practices used and comparing them to the OLC guidance are released, that would be significant. It would effectively set the stage for the appointment of a special prosecutor—and indeed, it looks to me that the Justice Department is now trying to build support for such a decision.

But in addition to the CIA inspector general’s report, another major document has been on hold for some time: the report of the department’s ethics office, the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). Now, its disclosure is another major issue. The New York Times reports this morning that OPR is advising Holder to “reopen nearly a dozen prisoner-abuse cases” based on its internal review of the torture memoranda and the process that led to their issuance.

This formulation suggests that these cases were investigated and dealt with by the Justice Department under Bush–but that plainly is not correct. The cases were funneled into the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Virginia, which served as a sort of “dead letter office” for politically sensitive cases on which the Bush team expected nothing to happen. And nothing did happen. The OPR report would set the stage for appointment of a special prosecutor to look at these cases. As a result of the passage of time and the failure to undertake an investigation while evidence is fresh, it will now be much more difficult to build a case for charges, but an effort will be made. Still, the real issue is whether the OPR report itself will be made public.


Release of the entire OPR report is critical. If it is not released, or released with key passages blacked out, that will suggest that the Attorney General wants to protect Justice Department figures from scrutiny. The public would be correct to cry foul about this and any other efforts to deflect attention from the Justice Department’s own role in the wrongdoing, which was enormous.

The disclosures made at the beginning of the week will provide a solid indication of how we can expect Eric Holder to act. Most likely he will be exercising discretion to disclose facts and information that reveal whatever conduct he has decided to investigate. That’s sensible enough. But we shouldn’t allow this to distract us from what he’s chosen to keep secret. That will be even more revealing.

UPDATE: Jeremy Scahill sent an email to Glenn Greenwald after his appearence on Real Time that said the following:

Right as we walked off stage, he said to me "that was a cheap shot." I said "what are you talking about?" and he said "you know it." I then said that I monitor msm coverage very closely and asked him what was not true that I said on the show. He then replied: "that's not the point. You sullied my reputation on TV."

So reporting the truth and pointing out the lack of independence in the media isn't the issue, it is about not hurting the feelings of Chuck Todd. This speaks volumes about real journalism in today's society.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Drawing a Line in the Sand

Former speechwriter for Rudy Giuliani and columnist for the New York Sun, John Avalon, has a new piece entitled "The Coming Liberal Suicide" over at The Daily Beast.

In this piece, Avalon attempts to give everyone a "wake-up call" on why it is an awful idea for liberals to demand that the public option be included in health care legislation (emphasis mine):

Time for a wake-up call. With all the hate-filled hyperbole festering around the summer’s health-care reform debate (Hitler references now seem to appear almost daily) it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that there is essentially one substantive sticking point separating the center from the left: the public option.
That’s the proposal that is acting as the thin-edge of the wedge in conservatives’ apparently effective argument that health-care reform represents a slippery slope toward socialism.

Remove that plank and replace it with a non-profit cooperative based on local models that have existed in the heartland for decades—as a bipartisan group of senators has proposed—and the reasonable edge of the opposition evaporates along with most of the cost

The problem with this is that Avalon suggests that it should be a rational response for the liberals to simply drop their demand for the public option because conservatives think it is a "slippery slope toward socialism". Why should any appeasement be made to the party that has opposed any of the reforms that have been proposed? Republicans have opposed single-payer, the public option, and have even hinted that they would oppose co-ops. It is quite clear that they are not interested in meaningful reforms to the health care system, so why does Avalon feel it necessary to concede even more of the legislation to accommodate the Republicans?

More from Avalon:

In the run to the ramparts, Cong. Maxine Waters went on with CNN’s Campbell Brown in the first wave of the push back, arguing that liberals had already compromised and wouldn’t go any further even at the president’s request. “No one can say that we're not willing to compromise. …We did that on single-payer.”
But that’s a concession to reality, not to Republicans or Blue Dog Democrats. The single payer plan may be the fondest wish for the far-left but it’s a non-starter in the rest of the nation. That’s why the RNC is already at work trying to paint even the co-op as government-run healthcare. Republicans want to keep the bogeyman of socialized medicine alive as long as they can. They want to run against the public option because they know it is a fight they can win. If Obama embraced a proposal like medical malpractice reform, performing a bit of political judo, they wouldn’t know what to do.

Compromising on single payer by embracing the public option is not a "concession to reality", it was most certainly a compromise with the Republicans, Blue Dog Democrats, and centrist Democrats like the President. Single-payer specifically wasnt't considered because these very interests took it off the table. This was a political decision that was advanced and something that progressives in Congress decided that they could compromise on. This was compromised on because Barack Obama campaigned on promoting a public option to compete with private insurance and progressives felt that this would be a feasible alternative to their desire for a single-payer system.

Avalon acknowledges that Republicans are trying to paint any type of reform (even co-ops) as socialized medicine and says that they are doing it because they can win the fight. First, Republicans cannot win this fight in the House if you look at the numbers and with talk of splitting the bill into two parts in the Senate, it is looking more and more like the public option may have a legitimate shot of getting passed.

Second, I like how Avalon frames the compromise on single-payer as a "concession to reality" but when Republicans display an absence of reality, it is viewed as a legitimate position that must be taken seriously. Just because Republicans are painting the public option and co-ops as a "government takeover" of health care, doesn't make that true. I have an idea, why don't we operate on a foundation that is based upon factual information and then have a rational discussion? If Republicans continue to misrepresent what a public option entails, then that is not a reason for progressives to concede what Obama promised in his campaign and what they have already compromised on. Just the opposite, it is a reason for progressives in Congress to draw the line in the sand and declare they will not water down the legislation in order to accommodate those who wish to not see any reforms.


President Obama needs to depolarize the health care debate. He got off-message because he got off-center. Embracing a bipartisan bill that replaces the public-option with a non-profit co-op will not “muddy” the debate but help clarify it. It will not be a retreat but a way forward.

Lyndon Johnson once joked that “the difference between liberals and cannibals is that cannibals don’t eat their friends and family members.” In half-century long history of failed healthcare reforms from Harry Truman on down, liberal cannibalism has been as much to blame for defeats as fear-mongering from the far-right.

This is just nonsense. Single-payer is what progressive liberals wanted from the very beginning. Obama explicitly stated that this was off the table which led progressives to compromise on the public option that Obama campaigned on. The polarization has come from those on the right who have been showing up to town hall meetings, shouting down the opposition, and advancing claims that have no basis in reality or in the legislation that is being proposed. Obama, Democrats, and progressives have spent a good portion of time just correcting these falsities to get the debate back to discussing what the policy actually contains. This is still ongoing.

President Obama has played a very central role in this debate throughout all of this. He has not pressured the Blue Dogs to back down and is actually letting their small coalition steer the Senate Finance Committee's debate. The White House has even recently started talking about dropping the public option in favor of co-ops. If this is "getting off center" then I wonder what John Avalon views as the so-called "center" in this debate. If Avalon thinks that "liberal cannibalism" has had more to do with the failure of health care reform over the last twenty years than the fear-mongering on the right, then I would have to borrow a line from Rep. Barney Frank and ask him on which planet he has been residing. Who has been controlling this current debate...those who are arguing that nationalized health care is the only way to cover all Americans or the people who are bringing guns to town hall meetings and yelling about "death panels"?

If we are to pass meaningful health care reform in this country, progressives must draw the line in the sand on the public option. There is simply no rationale for continuing to give up parts of this legislation in order to make those who advocate for the status quo happy. That is not "moving to the center" it is deliberately weakening the legislation. There is nothing "bipartisan" about continued concessions from only one side of the aisle in order to achieve a watered down bill that isn't in the best public interest. Progressives actually have a chance to stand up to the status quo on this issue and it is imperative that they refuse the continued calls to "move to the center". Americans want a public option, what they are tired of is the continuation of political discussions that result in more of the same.

Barney Frank Asks Woman What Planet She is Living On

I am sure that many of you have seen this by now as I am a little late in posting this, but in case you haven't, here is the response that Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) gave at a town hall to a question about Obama's "Nazi policies":

Continued Revelations About the Past

It is being reported that in the soon-to-be-released book by former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, he is states that he was pressured to raise the warning level on the color-coded terrorism scale prior to the 2004 election for political reasons. Marc Ambinder at the Atlantic:

The news this morning that former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge believed that President Bush and his top advisers manipulated the terror threat alert system for their political gain is really -- and it ought to be -- a major story. Ridge was in a position to know, for certain, whether this was the case. And though he's hinted at it before, he now says, in his soon-to-be-released book, that he was pressured into raising the alert level before the 2004 election. Let's see what Ridge actually writes before making too many conclusions.

Ben Smith at Politico adds:

An abuse so gross -- if Ridge is right -- shows, among other things, what a powerful influence on the all-important tracking polls terror alerts must have had. And it suggests that Obama's efforts to keep terror arrests out of the national news are good politics too.

I am sure this is not surprising news to many people, especially those who were claiming that this was happening at the time, but it is still worthy of note.

Another interesting piece of information that has come out, is that the CIA apparently hired the private mercenary firm Blackwater (now Xe) to help carry out political assassinations. From Democracy Now:

The New York Times is reporting the CIA hired the private military firm Blackwater as part of a secret program to assassinate top operatives of al-Qaeda. Executives from Blackwater helped the spy agency with planning, training and surveillance. The CIA spent several million dollars on the program, which the Times claims did not successfully capture or kill any terrorist suspects.

I, for one, am hoping that Jeremy Scahill can get some more details on Blackwater's involvement in this program.

Reaching the Tipping Point

As we are hearing new reports that members of Congress are considering splitting health care reform into two bills via a "reconciliation" process, Chris Bowers makes the observation:

1. If health care reform without a robust public option cannot pass the House;

2. If not passing a health care reform is considered politically unacceptable by both the White House and the Democratic Congressional leadership;

3. And if we have the 50 Senators needed to pass health care through reconciliation;

If we have all three of those things, then passing a public option--either through reconciliation or by convincing all Democrats to not filibuster--becomes by far the easiest move for the White House and Congressional leadership to make. Once we reach that tipping point, we will win this campaign.

I think this observation is right on. Momentum is in favor of those who wish to keep the public option in the legislation and frankly, as long as the progressives in Congress stick to their pledge, there is a good chance that we will see the reform legislation include a public option.

Ezra Klien makes some additional observations about the process of reconciliation:

The Wall Street Journal reports that Senate leadership is considering a two-bill strategy for health-care reform. The first bill would include reform's more difficult and controversial elements. The public option would be there, and the subsidies, and the revenues, and the Medicare and Medicaid cuts. This bill would be passed through the budget reconciliation process, which requires only 51 votes for passage. The second bill would follow the normal order, and include health-care reform's least controversial elements, which also happen to be the elements that aren't really related to the federal budget and so aren't permitted in the reconciliation process: the insurance market regulations, the health insurance exchanges and so forth.

The idea is that the first bill could get 51 votes with little problem but might not clear 60, so it needs to travel through reconciliation. The second bill could clear 60 easily, so it can be pursued outside reconciliation, which is a good thing, given that it's probably ineligible for the reconciliation process.

My initial reaction to reading this was puzzling. If this strategy was meant to subvert Republican opposition then I don't really see why it would be necessary, but Klein makes this point which I find interesting:

The one potential answer is that reconciliation isn't about bypassing the GOP at all. It's about bypassing a handful of centrist Democrats. Angry Republicans won't support a consensus-oriented second bill after being cut out of the important work of the first. But Democrats like Kent Conrad might, as reconciliation won't specifically have hurt them, even as its real point was to take the process out of their hands and put it back in the hand of the Democratic Senate Leadership.

I think this makes some sense, but I am interested to see more information on the benefits of a two-bill strategy.

Also, just as a note...I will be traveling tomorrow through Sunday so blogging will be minimal to non-existent over that period of time.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Republicans Don't Want Health Care Reform Yet the White House Still Strives for Bipartisan Support

From Karen Travers of ABC News (emphasis mine):

Health care dominated the morning briefing with White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, who denied reports that the White House and Democrats are giving up on a bipartisan reform bill.

“Absolutely not,” Gibbs said. “We continue to be hopeful that we can get bipartisan support and will continue to work with those that are interested in doing that.”

“Our goal is to get this done in a bipartisan way,” he said. “There are several more weeks to go in potential negotiations between Republicans and Democrats. I don’t know why we would short circuit any of that now.”

Is it insane to think that there will be any productive negotiations that will lead to getting health care done in a "bipartisan way"? I tend to think that when you have the Republicans on one side, obviously opposed to any type of health care reform, it is crazy to think that any type of negotiation will result in a health care bill that is the best piece of legislation that can be crafted for the good of the American people.

Glenn Greenwald has some thoughts on those who think it is insane:

That's obviously true. In fact, it's so obviously true that no matter how dumb one might think Democrats are, they're certainly not so dumb that they failed to realize that the GOP was highly unlikely to help Obama pass health care reform no matter what the bill contained. From the start, it's been obvious to everyone -- the Obama White House and Senate Democrats included -- that the GOP would not help Obama pass health care reform. Why would the GOP want to help Obama achieve one of his most important and politically profitable goals? Of course they were going to try to sabotage the entire project and would oppose health care reform no matter what form it took.

So the question practically begs itself. If President Obama and the White House are looking for robust reform and the Republicans have indicated that they are going to vote against any reform that is proposed, then why doesn't the White House exclude the Republicans and put pressure on the Blue Dogs in order to get the legislation passed?

Again, Glenn Greenwald:

The attempt to attract GOP support was the pretext which Democrats used to compromise continuously and water down the bill. But -- given the impossibility of achieving that goal -- isn't it fairly obvious that a desire for GOP support wasn't really the reason the Democrats were constantly watering down their own bill? Given the White House's central role in negotiating a secret deal with the pharmaceutical industry, its betrayal of Obama's clear promise to conduct negotiations out in the open (on C-SPAN no less), Rahm's protection of Blue Dogs and accompanying attacks on progressives, and the complete lack of any pressure exerted on allegedly obstructionists "centrists," it seems rather clear that the bill has been watered down, and the "public option" jettisoned, because that's the bill they want -- this was the plan all along.

This is precisely why the Progressives drawing the proverbial "line in the sand" is so important. They have the numbers to defeat the Blue Dog Coalition's influence on watering-down and "compromising" on this legislation. The key is that the Progressive Coalition needs to continue hold their ground on the public option and force the Democratic Party to stand up to the interests that are hell-bent on protecting the status quo.

Can We Stop Calling Co-ops a Compromise?

As the Republicans continue to resist any type of public option, we are now seeing revived talk of replacing a robust public option with co-ops. This has led the language of the debate to shift and reference these co-ops as a "compromise" (emphasis all mine below).

Ezra Klein:

This is a dynamic we saw in 1994. A compromise is offered, and after great anguish and infighting, Democrats grudgingly move toward it. Then the compromise is yanked away. The famous example of this is Bob Dole voting against two bills that had the name "Dole" in the title. We'll see the same sort of thing this year. The end-of-life counseling hubbub, where Democrats got attacked for approving an amendment that Republicans had frequently offered, is another example. It's one more reminder that the likeliest compromise will be between liberal Democrats and centrist Democrats, along with Olympia Snow and Susan Collins.

The Washington Independent:

Republicans and conservative activists are mining other statements in that vein to build the case that co-ops would be no compromise at all, and they’re doing it quickly.

“Three months ago, I think you could have had a compromise on co-ops,” another Senate GOP aide told TWI. “Today? No, forget about it. I think both parties have gotten wise to how things work, and Republicans see this for the fig leaf that it really is.”

A Headline from The Faster Times:

Republicans Capitalize on Democratic Disarray as Hopes of Health Care Compromise Fade

The compromise is not negotiating away the public option in favor of a (yet to be detailed) co-op plan. As Jane Hamsher has stated, The compromise IS the public option. Progressive activists have long maintained and continue to assert that the public option must be included because it was the compromise that was settled on once single-payer was taken off of the table.

More importantly, this initial compromise was primarily between progressives and more conservative members of the Democratic Party who didn't want to include the public option in the first place...not between Democrats and Republicans. Republicans have long been opposed to anything that has been proposed, from the public option to their new resistance to even the mention of co-ops.

It is quite clear that the Republicans do not want health care reform, they want a political defeat of President Obama and the Democrats. "Compromising" the public option out of the bill would simply be a move to appease those who will be opposed to any measure of meaningful reform. This is why progressives are so adamant on keeping the public option in a final version of the health care bill and why they are drawing a line in the sand around this issue. It is what Obama campaigned on and it is already a compromise down from single-payer.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Here is Another Shocker...

It turns out that Ernest Hancock, who I mentioned earlier today in this post, has quite the colorful background. From Talking Points Memo (emphasis mine):

Ernest Hancock, the online radio host who staged an interview with an assault rifle-wielding cohort at the Obama event in Arizona yesterday -- and was himself armed with a 9 millimeter pistol -- was a vocal supporter and friend of right-wing anti-government militia members who were convicted of conspiracy and weapons charges in the 90s.

The federal government initially accused the Arizona Viper Militia of plotting to blow up federal buildings, which the twelve-member group cased on videotape.


Hancock, who in recent years designed the famous "Ron Paul rEVOLution" graphic, was an oft-quoted defender of the militia members. The tapes of the government buildings, he said at the time, were purely "educational."

"They don't have criminal records," another press account quoted Hancock, who knew all twelve militia members, as saying. "They just like their guns. And in Arizona, gosh darn it, that's normal."

and this is the same guy who posted a picture of Obama as a Nazi brown-shirt on the website for which he is a producer, along with footage of Nazis marching in Germany under the heading "We know what we are up against".

Here is Hancock today on CNN talking about all of this:

Woman Yells "Heil Hitler" at a Jewish Man at a Health Care Town Hall

I came across this video clip (h/t Amanda Terkel) that was shot in Las Vegas during a town hall meeting that was sponsored by radio station KDWN AM720. In this clip you can see an Israeli man being interviewed by local media in Las Vegas about his health care system in Israel. This man is describing how fantastic his government-run care has been over the course of his life when you can hear a woman yell out "Heil Hitler!".

The man is shocked and then confronts the woman. Here is the video:

There are several things that don't make sense regarding what point this woman is trying to make. First, if she is opposed to health care reform and is upset that this man is defending his country's government-run health care system, then why yell out a phrase that is so offensive in support of the leader of the Nazi's?

Secondly, when challenged, this woman states "you ought to be the most against Obama, you ought to be the most scared." Why does she state this? Does she believe that Obama is Hitler and will therefore target Jews (like the gentleman speaking)? If this is the case then why would she have yelled "Heil Hitler" at this man to provoke him?

Third, the gentleman in this clip states that he isn't talking about being "for Obama" or "against Obama", but wants to talk about health care. He then states that he had to go to the emergency room (apparently locally in Nevada), had to wait two hours, and then was billed $8,000 because he didn't have insurance. The woman then responds by making crying noises in order to mock this man.

One can only conclude that this woman not willing to have a rational discussion about this issue, but is one of the many who are so ill-informed that it is painful to watch them interact with anyone who tries to have an actual conversation about health care reform. In the mind of this woman and many like her, Obama = Hitler, health care reform is evil, and anyone who thinks otherwise should be mocked and shouted down. How can anyone hope to have a rational conversation when this happens? It seems even more ridiculous if I were to take out the hyperbole and emotion of the conversation:

Man: Our government-run system in Israel is great!

Woman: Heil Hitler!

Man: Why are you yelling Heil Hitler at a Jew? I am Jewish and you think it is appropriate to yell "Heil Hitler"?

Woman: You should be the most against Obama and the most scared!

Man: I am not talking about being "for" or "against" Obama, I am talking about health care. I recently had to go to a local emergency room and I don't have insurance. On top of waiting for 2 hours, guess how much they charged me? $8,000!

Woman: Boo-hoo you baby!

Is this really the level of discourse that we have been reduced to?

Assault Rifle Brought to Obama's Town Hall in Arizona

Yesterday, President Obama made a stop in Phoenix, Arizona for another town hall meeting on health care reform. On this leg of his cross-country travels, as has been the case on his previous stops, protestors showed up to the event carrying firearms. From Bloomberg:

Armed protesters asserting their right to bear arms, including a man with a rifle slung over his shoulder, gathered yesterday near a Phoenix convention hall where President Barack Obama spoke, a police spokesman said.

The protesters were taking advantage of an Arizona law that allows people to carry unconcealed guns, Phoenix Police Department spokesman Andy Hill said. Police made no arrests.


The incident marks the third occasion in a week when guns have been linked to an Obama event. On Aug. 11, police arrested a man for having a loaded, unlicensed gun in his car near a New Hampshire school where Obama later held a health-care forum, USA Today reported. In a separate incident, another man outside that event displayed a gun in a holster on his leg, the paper said.

One of the men who was carrying an assault rifle to the event, has now been featured in a YouTube video (h/t TPM) from the group "Freedom's Phoenix" and "4409".

From Freedom's Phoenix website:

We recognize that Freedom was taken from us the moment the ink was drying on the Constitution. Today's governmental structure is imploding under its own weight, and its death rattles aren’t going to be pretty. At Freedom’s Phoenix we observe, comment and try to stay out of the way. We know Freedom will rise from the ashes, and we want to make sure that everyone's Freedom is never signed away again by those who believe they have the power to do so.

Ernest Hancock is the mind behind the "Freedom's Phoenix" website and on Sunday posted the following picture under the caption: "r3VOLutionaries go Head Up with "The Man" Monday Morning here in Phoenix" "We know what we are up against":

Below this picture and the words "We know what we are up against" is this video:

Here is the YouTube video that was posted highlighting the man who brought the assault rifle:

Monday, August 17, 2009

Can House Democrats Force the Inclusion of a Public Option?

After yesterday when Kathleen Sebelius stated that the public option was not "essential" to passing health care legislation, the Obama Administration has now come out with the message that President Obama still "favors" a public plan. As I mentioned earlier, just because Obama favors this option doesn't necessarily mean that he would draw a line in the sand by vetoing legislation that didn't contain a public option. These are two very different things.

While my tone earlier today was one of frustrated inevitability, Jane Hamsher makes a valid point about the basic math of the situation. As she points out, there are not enough votes for a health care bill without a public option in the House:

There are 435 seats on the House. Of those, 257 are filled by Democrats and 178 by Republicans. Which means a majority is 218. The Republicans have vowed to vote against health care, period. The Democrats can pass health care on their own, but if they lose 40 of their own, they only have 217 votes.

There are 57 Democrats who signed the July 30 letter saying that they "simply cannot vote" for a bill that "at minimum" does not have a public plan (PDF). There are 7 more not listed on the letter who have pledged to vote against any bill that does not have a robust public plan. That makes 64 Democrats who won't vote for the "co-ops" that both Kathleen Sibelius and Robert Gibbs say the White House is "open" to.

Do the math: 257 - 64 = 193. They need 218 to pass the bill.

So thanks to the progressive members of the House who have pledged to vote against any health care bill that does not have a public plan. They represent 76% of Americans who want a public plan, and coming from heavily Democratic-leaning districts as they do, an even greater percentage of their own constituents.

UPDATE: Hamsher was on MSNBC this afternoon discussing health care:

Obama Administration Hints That the Public Option is Not Essential

In my post last night I mentioned the comments that were made by Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. Sebelius stated that the public option was not "essential" to the passage of health care reform legislation which shows that the Obama Administration may be sending the signal that they would not be pushing for the presence of such an option in the final version of a bill.

While this morning's top story at The Huffington Post states that the White House is sending "mixed messages" on the issue of health care reform, I think that the indications are troubling. Sebelius has stated that the public plan is not "essential" to the passage of legislation, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs continues to say that the White House supports the public option, and health care reform spokesperson Linda Douglass also indicated that the President is supportive of the public option.

In this instance it is important to remember that while President Obama may offer his support for the public option, it doesn't necessarily mean that he would veto legislation that did not contain such a provision. The Administration is looking for a win on this issue and I think it is pretty clear that if a political win can be obtained through passing a bill that doesn't have the public option attached, then Obama will probably sign such a bill. We have seen this type of behavior from Obama throughout his political career and it is what led many to emphasize (pre-2008 election) that Obama is a centrist Democrat who is more willing to adapt to existing institutions than fundamentally fight to change them.

This is the very reason why I found Rachel Maddow's comments so on point yesterday during her appearance on Meet the Press. If Obama chooses to spend his political capital by signing a bill that does not fundamentally change the health care system and is a watered-down version that contains mild reforms, then it is almost certainly going to be a failure. It will be a failure for the millions of Americans who are in need of health care, it will be a failure for progressives who voted for Obama last November, and it will be a failure for true reform. On the flip side of this equation it would certainly be considered a victory for the health care lobbyists (who have been pushing for meaningless "reforms" from the very beginning), it would be considered a victory for Republicans, and it would be considered a victory for the type of behavior that we have seen from the Republican's right-wing base who have been showing up at these town hall meetings. The only thing that would have been accomplished is that the Obama Administration got a lot of very angry Conservatives riled up over moderate to conservative reforms to a system that is in need of a radical overhaul.

Here are some other voices that are beginning to weigh in on the reports that the Administration is not married to the public option:

Matt Taibbi:

Now, obviously (and this is will be explored in more detail in the forthcoming piece, which will be out this week), the public option was not a cure-all. In fact, the Democrats had in reality already managed to kill the public option by watering it down to the point of near-meaninglessness. But the notion that our president not only does not have any use anymore for a public option, but in fact “will be satisfied” if there is merely “choice and competition” in the market is, well, disgusting.

Paul Krugman:

If we were starting from scratch we probably wouldn’t have chosen this route. True “socialized medicine” would undoubtedly cost less, and a straightforward extension of Medicare-type coverage to all Americans would probably be cheaper than a Swiss-style system. That’s why I and others believe that a true public option competing with private insurers is extremely important: otherwise, rising costs could all too easily undermine the whole effort.

But a Swiss-style system of universal coverage would be a vast improvement on what we have now. And we already know that such systems work.

So we can do this. At this point, all that stands in the way of universal health care in America are the greed of the medical-industrial complex, the lies of the right-wing propaganda machine, and the gullibility of voters who believe those lies.


What it all comes down to is yet one more politician that happens to be the President selling out the millions of people that fought so hard for him to get elected. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were the only ones with workable plans for a public option for health care during the election and that is why it was basically a battle of the super stars of politics right down to the actual vote in the presidential primary. And a public health care option is why so many people worked to elect a Democratic party lead congress in both houses.

As a Democrat, and now somewhat progressive in thought person, I feel like I just got stabbed in the back. If President Obama wanted the full healthcare bill passed then he could have simply negotiated with his own political party to get the job done.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Health Care Debate on "Meet the Press"

I decided to watch Meet the Press this morning because the panel of guests was quite intriguing. The full hour, save a tribute to Eunice Kennedy Shriver at the end, was devoted to discussing the issue of the health care with the following guests:

Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD)
Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK)
Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX)
Host of MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show, Rachel Maddow

The conversation ended up being pretty even-keel and brought up many of the same points that are often advanced in this debate. Host David Gregory tried to focus on the more "contentious" issues, like the anti-health care reform protests and the inclusion of a "public" option and there were some good exchanges between panel members which you will see in the video clip that I have posted below. One of the most important responses came from Rachel Maddow and is below (emphasis mine):

MR. GREGORY: Rachel, let me ask you this question. What will progressives, what will liberals, the president’s base accept as reform? Do the independent voters he’s courting out in Colorado and Montana need to be placated, a big part of his base, or not?

I, I, I mean, I don’t, I don’t think liberals monolithically feel one thing about this. I think most liberals would probably prefer a single payer system, honestly. But ultimately, if the president decides that he’s going to go with a reform effort that doesn’t include a public option, what he will have done is spent a ton of political capital, riled up an incredibly angry right wing base who’s been told that this is a plot to kill grandma, grandma, and he will have achieved something that doesn’t change health care very much and that doesn’t save us very much money and won’t do very much for the American people. It’s not a very good thing to spend a lot of political capital on.

I certainly agree that most liberals would like to see a single payer system and I also think that Maddow's point about political capital is spot on. Her point is especially poignant considering today's report that the Obama Administration is not considering the public option as vital to the passage of health care legislation. If Obama decides to compromise with Republicans and with the health care industry in order to simply pass a bill to claim a legislative victory, what he will actually accomplish is revitalizing the right-wing Republican base while advancing watered-down reforms that would not create the change that our health care system needs.

Also worthy of mentioning was a comment by Maddow in the Meet the Press: Take Two webcast that you can find here. Gregory asks Maddow the following:

GREGORY: Do liberals think he (Obama) has lived up to his promise?

MADDOW: I don't think liberals thought he had much liberal promise. I mean, I think that he was a very good candidate and I think that he did get a lot of liberal support but I don't think that liberals believed that he wasn't...that he was anything other than a centrist. He's a centrist Democrat, and so I think that liberals least liberals that I know, knew that coming into it.

GREGORY: No different than Bill Clinton?

MADDOW: Not really no, I wouldn't say that. I mean the way that he said he would be different than Bill Clinton were matters of style not substance.

Maddow went on to say that during the campaign, when Obama was campaigning against the Clintonian legacy in Washington, he talked about how to be more effective. This difference doesn't differentiate what he would like to see done however and this is an important distinction to make. This is what many have been saying this entire time, Obama is not some staunch liberal politician who is reigning in a new era of socialism. Obama is a centrist Democrat and this is what makes the protests and labeling of Obama as a socialist even more amazing.

Here is a clip from Meet the Press:

Friday, August 14, 2009

Harnessing Progressive Outrage

Author and Journalist Dave Lindorff has an interesting piece that is posted over at Counter Punch regarding the debate over health care reform. The main point of his piece is that the right-wing protesters are not really the main story:

What they are conveniently forgetting is that these are not really "town meetings" at all, at least in the sense of the town meetings I grew up with, and started out covering as a young journalist in Connecticut--that is, meetings called and run democratically, with leaders elected from the floor, open to all residents of a community.

These "town meetings" are really nothing but propaganda sessions run by members of Congress who are trying to burnish their fraudulent credentials as public servants, and trying to perpetrate a huge fraud of a health care bill that purports to be a progressive "reform" of the US health care system, but that actually further entrenches the control of that system by the insurance industry, and to a lesser extent, the hospital and drug industry.


Any mention of a system that works--single payer--the system we already have in the form of Medicare for the elderly and disabled, and the system that has proved successful for almost four decades in Canada-- has been systematically blocked and censored out of the discussion. Every effort has been made to bury an excellent bill, HR 676, offered up by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), which would cover every American by simply expanding Medicare to cover everyone.

The only proper response at this point is obstruction, and the more militant and boisterous that obstruction, the better.

Instead of opposing the right-wing hecklers at these events, progressives should be making common cause with them. Instead of calling them fascists, we should be working to turn them, by showing them that the enemy is not the left; it is the corporations that own both Democrats and Republicans alike.

A couple of notes on this post that are worth mentioning. Lindorff is correct to observe that all the focus on the right-wing disruptions of the town hall meetings have lent a certain brand of sympathy from progressives to the Obama Administration and the currently proposed bills that are before Congress. With so much time needing to be spent correcting the ridiculous claims (euthanizing the elderly via "death panels", government control of which doctors that you can see, etc.) it takes away from the time that could be spent having a real conversation about options, like single-payer, that are not even being considered or discussed.

Lindorff also has a valid point that what is actually being advanced as a truly progressive reform of the health care system, is actually turning out to be a giant compromise between those who wish to reform the system and the lobbyists of the health care industry. Yesterday, The Huffington Post got their hands on a White House memo that outlines a compromise that was reached between the Obama Administration and the pharmaceutical lobby. Bloomberg is also reporting that there are six lobbyists for each member of Congress that are working to shape the terms on which health care will be reformed. These lobbyists have one thing on their side that constituents of members of Congress don't...large sums of money which too often translate into the power to influence critical decisions that we are told are in the public interest.

The issue I take with Lindorff, is his prescription for progressives to advance their calls for a single-payer system. His advice is two-fold; first, to disrupt these town hall meetings by being both "militant" and "boisterous". Second, to join the protesters on the right by finding common cause with them and trying to "turn" them by focusing their anger on corporate interests.

Lindorff's first point, that progressives should adopt the very tactics that they have been denouncing all this time, would simply be counterproductive. What good would being "militant" and "boisterous" be considering we have seen first-hand how ridiculous and anti-democratic this has been when displayed by the protesters on the right over the last few weeks? One of the very criticisms of the right has been that their tactics of disruption have resulted in the suppression of views from progressives who also may oppose the health care reforms. What good would be brought to the views of progressives if they also engaged in the shout-down tactics? I would argue that little to no good would be served by adopting these tactics.

Lindorff's second point is that progressives should be finding common cause with the right and should work to "turn them" by showing them that the common enemy are the corporate interests. While this may seem like moving a mountain, it could be a worthy long-term goal. This is not a good strategy for this current issue nor would much success come from even beginning to attempt to "turn" people who currently believe that moderate reforms to the system will result in the United States turning into Nazi Germany. Call me crazy, but I can't imagine the following scenario:

Conservative: "Down with Government control of health care decisions! We are turning into Nazi Germany! Obama is a socialist! You are going to kill my elderly parents!"

Progressive: "But what is being proposed isn't a government takeover of the health care system."

Conservative: "Really?"

Progressive: "Nope, but let me tell you why you should support a true government-run system and how the corporate interests are screwing us both."

Conservative: "Okay, I will listen calmly to your viewpoint, consider all the merits of each system, and then be open to changing my mind."

Please excuse my oversimplification in this example, but "turning" conservatives in order to unite with them to fight for a common cause is not a feasible strategy in my mind, especially in the short-term and especially when discussing health care reform given the current political climate.

Should progressives be angered and outraged at the insistence by Congress that the single-payer option be kept off the table? Most certainly.

Should tough questions be asked at these town hall meetings about this topic? Definitely.

Should progressives continue to fight for a health care system that would cover all Americans while not sacrificing the quality of care? Absolutely.

Should this be done by adopting the same disruptive tactics at town hall meetings and joining with Conservatives to attempt an approach as a "united front"? I don't think this is a good idea.

There are other ways with which to affect change and to use activism in order get Congress to take the option of "Medicare for all" seriously. Before all this outrage began, Jane Hamsher was (and still is) doing a commendable job at organizing and I think that progress can be achieved with both grassroots and coordinated efforts from progressive organizations. These voices are (unfortunately) being drowned out by all the screaming and all of the misinformation that is trying to be corrected. While it may seem like an easy step to sympathize with the Administration in lieu of all crazy rhetoric being spewed from the right, progressives should not sacrifice their own voices. We can do better in this debate over health care reform and in order to get health care widely recognized as a human right and in order to get every person covered, we must do better.