Saturday, March 27, 2010

AFP State Director on Apologizing to Man with Parkinson's: "It's not Something that I've Considered"

On March 21, 2010, the Health Care Reform legislation was signed into law after a contentious and heated year of debate that gave way to the rise of the Tea Party movement.

As health care reform became the primary target of this movement, we saw Fox News and the Republican Party latch onto this rage and harness it into a well promoted and corporate sponsored Conservative machine. This machine rolled through the country, turning out large crowds who carried signs declaring that we were being taken over by Communists and who showed up to health care town hall meetings to shout down members of Congress who supported any and all versions of proposed health care legislation.

During the past year, this Tea Party movement has continually claimed that they are a grassroots movement of concerned patriots, but as has been highlighted on this blog as well as in other media outlets, Republican backed corporate dollars have played a large role in assuring that the Tea Party momentum continues to build.

This momentum and this outrage that has been primarily directed at the Obama Administration and at progressives in general, has also been adopted by Republican politicians for reasons that are self-explanatory. The result of so many interests trying to work within the same movement has resulted in a brand of schizophrenic conservatism that mixes (what started out as) a primarily Libertarian movement and the politics of traditional Republican Party from the last few decades.

After a year of promotion by a major news channel and lots of Republican money being pumped into this cause, it is clear that those traditional Republican interests appear to be having an impact. Locally, members of the Cincinnati Tea Party have held rallies at which former Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) spoke. Many members of the tea party that I have talked to are advocating voting to put the long-time Republican Party member back into Congress in order to get Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-OH) out. I have also talked with members of the tea party who feel that it is not a viable strategy to back more Libertarian-based third party candidates. Instead, it is clear that getting Democrats out of Congress is the priority, even if it means putting familiar Republican faces back into power.

While the confusion and internal struggles of the Tea Party movement are sometimes disguised, what has been most noticeable over this past year has been the anger and sometimes violent rhetoric. Locally, I documented some of the behavior that was evident at local town hall meetings and nationally we have seen racist, homophobic and violent rhetoric directed at those with who this movement disagrees. This behavior continued right up until (and ever since) the passage of this bill.

The Saturday before the House of Representative passed the legislation, there was a "Hands off my Healthcare" rally in Columbus, Ohio that was organized by Americans for Prosperity. Americans for Prosperity (AFP) has been one of the groups that has been instrumental in keeping the tea party momentum rolling by using their corporate funds and expert PR personnel to whip up the anger. Rachel Maddow:

This is what these groups do. They're experts at fake grass roots campaigns that promote corporate interests. Americans for Prosperity is the group that ginned up anti-stimulus rallies earlier this year. They also organized what they called the "Hot Air Tour" to campaign against the whole idea of global warming. They were the ones who sent Joe the Plumber around the country to rail against the Employee Free Choice Act, which is pro-labor legislation.

This oil industry and Republican operative billionaires club is according to the Republican party spokesman today, just average middle class Americans. Just regular American folks sitting around the kitchen table thinking about whether they can get away with saying that the government, continuing its long standing policy of encouraging living wills, is really a secret plot to kill old people.


These guys are the pros. This is an industry. Americans are showing up at these events to shout down the discussion, to chase their Congressmen, and they are enraged. And they're enraged at least in part because they're being riled up by over the top, fabricated conspiracy theories about health care. And they're being directed and orchestrated by the corporate interests that do this for a living and do it very well.

At this "Hands off my Health Care" rally in Columbus, an incident transpired that has been widely circulated. Bob Letcher, a 60-year-old man with Parkinson's Disease, was mocked, yelled at and had dollar bills thrown at him by anti-reformers as he sat quietly with his sign advocating his support for health care reform. Video from The Columbus Dispatch captured the scene:

Following this event, the State Director for AFP Rebecca Heimlich, told Talking Points Memo:

"I have seen the video and found the man's behavior completely inappropriate. Americans for Prosperity certainly does not encourage or condone harassing behavior. Our goal is to send a message to Rep. Kilroy that we oppose this health care takeover bill. We always encourage our members to be considerate of others in their demonstrations."

I caught up with Heimlich after a Conservative-sponsored candidates forum the other evening to ask about AFP's future plans, but also to ask whether AFP was going to apologize to Mr. Letcher for the behavior of individuals at an event which they sponsored. The full interview is below and the specific question about Letcher is at about 1:35 into the clip:

(Note: I refer to Bob Letcher as "Bob Letchman" during this interview. That was my spoken mistake. I also mention that Letcher had described the movement as being "cultivatively violent or harsh or something along those lines." Letcher's quote is "cultivatively angry" and can be found here.)

In short, Heimlich did not know if it would "be appropriate" for AFP to issue Letcher an apology because it was not clear that the "man in the white shirt" was a member of her organization. She also stated that she didn't know if it would be AFP's "responsibility" to issue an apology due to this event having many sponsors.

Heimlich also stated that she does not think that this movement is primarily violent or angry and that she has not seen any other inappropriate behavior at her events. She also said that she thinks it is good for people to express their opinions in a respectful way and even went as far as calling a moment where two sides were yelling at each other "substantive debate".

Since my interview with Heimlich, the "man in the white shirt" has been identified as Chris Reichert and interviewed by the Columbus Dispatch. In his interview, he told the paper that he was sorry:

"He's got every right to do what he did and some may say I did too, but what I did was shameful," Reichert said. "I haven't slept since that day."

"I made a donation (to a local Parkinson's disease group) and that starts the healing process."

As Reichert begins his own healing process, groups like AFP continue to forge ahead in attempts to make health care an issue in upcoming elections. The fact still remains however that the Conservative and Tea Party movements are still trying to figure out if they are really Libertarians or Republicans with a new populist message. This disconnect was illustrated at the end of my interview with Heimlich:

CB: Do you think Glenn Beck is a positive voice for your movement?

RH: ...I don't watch that show, so I can't really tell you if I think he is or not because [...] I don't know that much about him...

CB: Is there any differentiation you think between the 9/12 groups and the Tea Party groups or is it pretty much...?

RH: From what I have seen in Ohio, they all work together I mean they are all part of the Ohio Liberty Council, so I have not seen any differentiation.

So the Tea Party movement is no different from the 9/12 movement. Glenn Beck motivates the 9/12 Movement with his show much like AFP motivates Tea Party groups with their rallies, yet Heimlich doesn't know if Beck is a positive voice for her movement? Schizophrenic Conservatism indeed.

This piece is cross posted here.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Mandel's Campaign Blocks Cameras at Public Forum

On Wednesday evening, a candidates forum was held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Blue Ash. The event was sponsored by several Conservative groups including COAST, the Cincinnati Tea Party and Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati. The event was moderated by former Hamilton County Commissioner, Phil Heimlich. Heimlich posed questions to candidates who are competing in many races this Spring and the vast majority of the candidates in attendance were running as Republicans.

My initial intention in covering this event was to talk to attendees and participants to see where the Conservative movement is heading. Now that the health care reform legislation has become law, it is a forum like this that can give some insight into the direction that the Republican Party will choose to take.

However my initial goal was sidetracked once the Republican Candidate for Ohio State Treasurer, Josh Mandel, took the stage. At 32, Mandel is currently the youngest member of the Ohio House of Representatives, has served in the Marine Corp. and has been on two tours of duty in Iraq. As Mandel took the stage, he was given a standing ovation for his service and it was clear during the first few moments of his speech that he was going to be well-received.

Shortly into my videotaping of Mandel's remarks, my attention was drawn to my right, where another gentleman was videotaping the speech. A member of Mandel's campaign, who I would later identify as Joel Riter, was trying to block this man's camera. (Riter is also the Legislative Aide for Josh Mandel in the Ohio House) It took me a moment to realize what was happening, but I quickly turned my own camera lens on this situation.

Once Riter noticed that he was being recorded, he promptly came over to me as I turned my lens back to the speech. Riter proceeded to hold his Blackberry approximately six inches from my face and take multiple pictures of me. In-between pictures, he proceeded to block my camera lens from videotaping Josh Mandel's speech.

I confronted Riter, asking what why he was standing in front of my camera to which he replied: "Are you working with the Democrats?" When I told him that I wasn't he said, "I thought you were, you're not?" Again, I said that I wasn't and Riter informed me that he was blocking the other man's camera because he did work with the Democrats. Here is the video:

After the candidate forum ended and I had packed up my video equipment, I ran into Josh Mandel outside. I approached him to ask about this incident, but as you will hear, once he heard that The Cincinnati Beacon has a "liberal" perspective, he completely ignored me.

Mandel made time for Republicans Phil and Rebecca Heimlich and even Democratic City Council member Cecil Thomas, but ignored my attempts to ask him about his staffer. I approached Councilman Thomas about the situation after Mandel had finished with him. Here is the audio beginning with my questioning of Mandel:

After the event, I asked the other gentleman who was having his camera blocked, if he had a moment for a question or two. He referred me to Seth Bringman, the Communications Director for the Ohio Democratic Party. Bringman issued this statement:

“Tracking your opponents is a standard practice of both parties. We had a tracker from the Ohio Democratic Party at this event, which was open to the public. Like any of our trackers, he was both respectful and professional.”

Even though both Joel Riter and Josh Mandel did not comment on this matter at the event, I also made an attempt to contact Michael Long, the Political Director for Mandel's campaign. He did not respond to either my email request or to the message that I left with his office. If I hear back, I will post his response in full.

While the majority of the Candidate forum was calm and civil, this incident took several by surprise. I had more than one citizen come up to me in the ballroom asking who the "man blocking the cameras" was. When I explained who he was and why he was blocking the cameras, these attendees expressed disgust and made mention that they would contact the campaign. You even heard COAST member Mark Miller say that this behavior is "not cool" in my interview with Cecil Thomas.

As the Mandel Campaign and Mandel himself remain silent on this issue, the fact remains that they felt it appropriate to block the cameras of those who they disagreed with during a public forum. Joel Riter operated under the assumption that I was with the Democrats and though he apologized to me personally when he realized I was not, still felt justified in blocking the camera of the gentleman who was working for the Democrats.

Josh Mandel also decided that he would only permit himself to be asked questions by media outlets who have a "Conservative" lean as evidenced by his repeated dismissal of my questions. These actions are quite curious for a candidate who claims to run his campaign with "honesty" and "integrity".

This piece is cross posted here.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Chris Matthews Clip Berating Rep. Grayson is Given new Light

Daily Kos has dug into the January 2010 archives and pulled out this telling clip from Hardball with Chris Matthews:

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Rep. Grayson (D-FL) was trying to explain to Matthews how the Democrats no longer would need 60 votes to pass the health care legislation due to the process of reconciliation, but Matthews would have none of it.

He continually made fun of Grayson and dismissed his views as "outside" the traditional Washington way of thinking. This segment was quite telling about where Matthews is coming from:

MATTHEWS: In the Senate, you have to get 60 votes. Why do you think the Democrats fought like hell to get 60 votes? Why do you think the President and everybody else is dying over the fact that they lost Massachusetts? Because it didn't matter? You think they're all crazy over there, but you're smart?

GRAYSON: No, I didn't say that. What I'm saying is that everyone's been talking about reconciliation, and nobody has the guts to do it.

MATTHEWS: Name the United States Senator that's willing to do this. You keep talking about it...

GRAYSON: I think that's what you'll probably see at this point.

MATTHEWS: [Laughs.] Wanna bet? [Laughs.] Do you want to bet that they're gonna do this? In other words, they killed themselves to get 60 votes, but now they're gonna say all we need is 50, and Biden to break the tie.

GRAYSON: They shouldn't have killed themselves to get 60 votes. This is something they could've done six months ago.

MATTHEWS: This is netroots talk!

GRAYSON: No, look...

MATTHEWS: This is outsider talk, and you're an elected official...

GRAYSON: That's not true. That's not true.

MATTHEWS: ...and you know you can't do it. You're pandering to the netroots right now. I know what you're doing!

GRAYSON: You are wrong! This is something we talk about with the leadership in our caucus meetings every week!

Notice that Matthews was chiding Grayson for supposedly pandering to the "netroots" and while we now know that Grayson was simply telling Matthews exactly what was happening, it speaks to the value that Matthews puts on various opinions. He obviously respects the viewpoints that are inside the beltway and is very dismissive of "outside" views no matter the validity that they hold.

Matthews continued:

GRAYSON: When did you become the Senate parliamentarian? Did I miss that?

MATTHEWS: Well, I worked over there for many, many years, and I worked for the Speaker for six years, I worked 15 years up there...

GRAYSON: Well, I'm speaking to the Speaker and the leadership this year...

MATTHEWS: ...and I know what I'm talking about! You ask anybody... you ask anybody in the Senate right now... Go call the Senate legislative counsel's office and ask them if you can do this. Go ask the parliamentarians if you can do this. You haven't bothered to do that.

GRAYSON: No, the leadership...

MATTHEWS: [Laughs.]

GRAYSON: leadership has done that. And my answer is yes.

See? Matthews is an "insider" so he is "in the know" on these issues and when Grayson dare stray from this mindset, Matthews is all over him. See how this works within the beltway and why this mindset doesn't yield the best results? At the end of this exchange Matthews bet Grayson that reconciliation wouldn't happen.

Seems like Matthews was wrong on reconciliation and if the reconciliation package passes the Senate, it will be interesting to see what Matthews will have to say.

On World Water Day, A Closer Look at the Bottled Water Industry

It is no secret that the bottled water industry is a booming $5 billion a year industry. We are constantly bombarded with ads that tell us that our tap water is unsafe and that we should opt for the so-called "cleaner" and "more refreshing" alternative.

While marketing campaigns for Dasani, Aquafina and FIJI can be found throughout various media outlets, the topic that doesn't get much attention is how the bottled water industry operates. Annie Leonard, the Director of "Story of Stuff Project", opines:

Today is World Water Day--a good day to pause and consider the insanity of a global economy where 1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water while other people spend billions on a bottled product that's no cleaner, harms people and the environment and costs up to 2,000 times the price of tap water.

To mark the occasion, I'm joining with a bunch of North America's leading environmental groups to release our new film: The Story of Bottled Water. It's a seven-minute animated film that, like The Story of Stuff, uses simple images and words to explain a complex problem caused by what I call the 'take-make-waste' economy. In this case, we explain how you get Americans to buy half a billion bottles of water a week when most can get it almost free from the tap in their kitchen.


The thing is, there are a lot of inconvenient truths the bottled water ads don't mention:

• Bottled water is subject to fewer health regulations than tap water. In 2006, Fiji Water ran ads bragging that their product doesn't come from Cleveland, only to have tests show a glass of Fiji water is lower quality than Cleveland tap. Oops!

• Up to 40 percent of bottled water is filtered tap water. In other words, if you're concerned about what's in your tap water, just cut out the middleman and buy a home water filter.

• Each year, according to the Pacific Institute's Peter Gleick, making the plastic water bottles used in the U.S. takes enough oil and energy to fuel a million cars. And that doesn't even include the fuel required to ship, fly or truck water across continents and state lines.

• Three-fourths of the half-a-billion plastic water bottles sold in the U.S. every week go to the landfill or to incinerators. It costs our cities more than $70 million to landfill water bottles alone each year, according to Corporate Accountability International.

Here is the 8 minute video that Leonard has put together to simply explain how the bottled water industry has used manufactured demand to convince the population that they need this product:

House Passes Health Care Reform Legislation: 219-210

The House of Representatives has passed the health care reform legislation by a vote of 219-210 late Sunday evening.

This final vote brings to a close a long debate that has taken place over the last year, but for many, the hard work is just beginning. Many activists are adamant that this legislation should be the starting point for more comprehensive and lasting reforms to the health care system. Jane Hamsher is one such activist and has posted a "mythbusting" piece about what this legislation does and doesn't do. Hamsher states:

The Firedoglake health care team has been covering the debate in congress since it began last year. The health care bill will come up for a vote in the House on Sunday, and as Nancy Pelosi works to wrangle votes, we’ve been running a detailed whip count on where every member of Congress stands, updated throughout the day.

We’ve also taken a detailed look at the bill, and have come up with 18 often stated myths about this health care reform bill.

Real health care reform is the thing we’ve fought for from the start. It is desperately needed. But this bill falls short on many levels, and hurts many people more than it helps.

You can click here for a PDF version of the "18 myths" that Hamsher references in her post.

As Democrats revel in the passage of this historic legislation tonight, Republicans went down swinging. Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) even went so far as to shout "Hell No" during the end of the period for debate:

After the initial passage of the legislation, members of the House were to vote on a Republican motion to recommit the bill over the issue of Federal funding for abortion. Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) is a pro-life Democrat who had initially objected to this bill's so-called inclusion of Federal funding for abortions, but rose to urge members of the House to vote against recommitting the bill based upon this issue. As Stupak was making his remarks, there was a call for order and then you could hear someone yell out, calling Stupak a "baby killer". Here is the video:

As of this writing it is not clear which member of the House shouted this at Stupak. It was initially reported that the shouter was Rep. Tom Campbell (R-CA), but he was quick to say that he was not the culprit. He did give Talking Points Memo a few more clues to who may have been responsible:

Christina also reports that Rep. Tom Campbell (R-CA) told reporters that the "baby killer" was "clear as a bell."

I didn't look but it came from the floor, behind me and to the left.

And this:
It was close enough I decided not to turn around and look. ... It was in my area. I thought it was a southern accent.

Campbell returned a few moments later and said, "other people agree with me it was someone with a southern accent."

Campbell also said that some of the Republicans on the floor recognized the voice but would not say who it was.

The California Republican then came out again -- a third time -- and told reporters that "that is where the Texans sit. Californians are in one row, Texans sit behind us. I am being told it's a Texan. The people who know won't give it up."

It seems as though the ugly nature of some tea-party members spilled over into the House Chamber.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Tea-Party Protesters Shout Slurs and Spit On Members of Congress

Like many others, I have written numerous entries about the tea-party movement and their rhetoric at various protests around the country. I wrote about how the Cincinnati Tea Party and 9/12 Project posted a letter comparing the actions of the Obama Administration to Hitler, I wrote about a local town hall forum where protesters shouted down and chased Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-OH), and this is what I wrote back in August:

...this type of anger is not rooted in, nor is it specifically about, health care reform. This is the same kind of rage that we saw during the campaign for President when the right-wing supporters of John McCain claimed that Obama was a terrorist, that his friends were terrorists, and that he was going to destroy America. This is the same kind of rage that we saw once Obama took office and tea parties were organized in opposition to the stimulus. This is the same kind of rage that we see from time to time when the issue of race is brought up either in the Henry Gates case, the nomination of a Latina to the Supreme Court, or the legitimacy of Obama's birth certificate. They claim that Obama is a racist, a foreign-born operative, and imply that he isn't really "one of us". This rage has now morphed into the opposition to health care reform, but it still has the same ugly undercurrent that is all too recognizable.

This ugly undercurrent reared its head once again yesterday with a tea-party protest in Washington.

As Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) and Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN) walked past tea-partiers on the Hill, protesters shouted "kill the bill" and some also shouted "nigger" at the two members of Congress. This was not an isolated incident as it was also reported that when Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) was exiting a building earlier in the day, he was greeted with shouts and being called a "faggot" which prompted the crowd to erupt in laughter.

In a third disturbing incident, a staffer for Rep. James Clayburn (D-SC) reported that Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MD) was spit on by a protester. Cleaver's office released this statement in response to the incident:

For many of the members of the CBC, like John Lewis and Emanuel Cleaver who worked in the civil rights movement, and for Mr. Frank who has struggled in the cause of equality, this is not the first time they have been spit on during turbulent times.

This afternoon, the Congressman was walking into the Capitol to vote, when one protester spat on him. The Congressman would like to thank the US Capitol Police officer who quickly escorted the others Members and him into the Capitol, and defused the tense situation with professionalism and care. After all the Members were safe, a full report was taken and the matter was handled by the US Capitol Police. The man who spat on the Congressman was arrested, but the Congressman has chosen not to press charges. He has left the matter with the Capitol Police.

This is not the first time the Congressman has been called the "n" word and certainly not the worst assault he has endured in his years fighting for equal rights for all Americans. That being said, he is disappointed that in the 21st century our national discourse has devolved to the point of name calling and spitting. He looks forward to taking a historic vote on health care reform legislation tomorrow, for the residents of the Fifth District of Missouri and for all Americans. He believes deeply that tomorrow's vote is, in fact, a vote for equality and to secure health care as a right for all. Our nation has a history of struggling each time we expand rights. Today's protests are no different, but the Congressman believes this is worth fighting for.

As the health care reform legislation is gearing up for a vote by the House of Representatives, it is clear that the ugly undercurrent, which was evident during the summer town hall meetings, has once again bubbled up to the surface. As Barney Frank told Talking Points Memo, the health care reform debate has indeed become a proxy for other underlying sentiments.

This piece is cross posted here.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Iraq Anniversary Passes With Little Attention

With all of the attention that has been given to the health care debate and the potential passage of the current legislation, there wasn't much coverage of yesterday's important anniversary.

Yesterday marked the seventh anniversary of the invasion of Iraq by the United States military.

The folks over at Brave New Films made a video that highlights the numerous costs of the war and urging President Obama to heed the lessons of Iraq in his decision-making in Afghanistan. Here is the video:

Jon Stewart Uses Half his Show to Spoof Glenn Beck

Jon Stewart has parodied Glenn Beck in the past, but the other night on The Daily Show, Stewart devoted half of the show to spoofing Beck.

It may not have been Stewart's funniest moment, but it works as an effective piece of satire to ridicule Beck's unique brand of crazy.

Here is the segment:

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Friday, March 19, 2010

The Disparity Between Progressives on Health Care Reform

When Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) flipped his position and agreed to vote in favor of the current health care legislation earlier this week, many progressive activists from around the country felt as if they had been kicked in the gut.

Kucinich has long been a Democratic hold-out, voicing his staunch opposition to any health care legislation that did not include a public option. The fact that this legislation does not include a public option has caused a rift between those on the Left who feel that passing the current legislation is an important means to an end and those who feel that legislation without a public option is simply a giveaway to the insurance companies.

This disparity between progressive positions was on display during a very interesting and constructive conversation on today's Democracy Now!. The guests were none other than Rep. Kucinich and Ralph Nadar. While lengthy, the whole segment is worth watching and I have included it at the bottom, but here are a few highlights from the transcript that illustrate perfectly the difference in position.

AMY GOODMAN: Have you ever received as much pressure as you’re getting right now, as you have gotten right now, right down to your flight on Air Force One with President Obama?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: The pressure doesn’t really come so much from the outside. I mean, I had people who are for this and against it with equal intensity. What the pressure comes from, being told that you might be singularly responsible for the passage or failure of an initiative and having to live with the implications of that.

Amy, I did not want to be in the House on Sunday night with my voting card, you know, and a finger in the wind about what to do. And looking at the bigger picture here, I’m hopeful that in making this decision to switch in favor of voting for the bill, that we can use this opportunity to, down the road, push for the kind of health reform that I am for, that I stand for, that I’ve worked my life for. But it’s not going to happen in this bill. And there’s a point at which you just have to maturely look at the situation as it is and say, no matter what I do, it’s not going to change this bill. And I’ve tried harder than anyone, but, you know, it’s just not going to happen.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Ralph Nader, what about this issue of the seventy-seven other members of Congress who pledged not to support this bill? We’ve had quite a few of them on this show—Raul Grijalva, Anthony Weiner. What about the others who also have gradually agreed to support this bill?

RALPH NADER: They’ve all caved. They’ve all been put into line by the majority rulers in the House. So that’s not going to change, Juan.

What—I think Dennis Kucinich has been known as the great dissenter in the Democratic Party—against the criminal wars of aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan, for impeaching Bush and Cheney, for single payer, on and on. His subcommittee hearings, which are almost never covered by the press, provide a standard for what House subcommittees should be investigating all over the country. But I think he owes an explanation to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of progressive Americans, many of whom who watch this show, who have clinged to Dennis Kucinich as the great dissenter, as the principled person, as the person who will hold the banner high. “The Star-Spangled Banner” has this phrase, “And the flag was still there.” But for the progressives in this country, they want to keep saying, “And Dennis Kucinich was still there.” So I would like him to go all over the country, after this malicious vote by the Democrats in the House, and address audiences all over, starting a complete new wave for full Medicare for all before this bill kicks in in 2014, so all the members running for reelection in 2010 are going to have to face it.

And I hope people will visit the videos that are on to show how many of his colleagues react when they’re confronted with a reporter asking the question, “The majority of the American people, doctors and nurses want this system. They want free choice of doctor and hospital. They want the insurance companies displaced with full single payer. Why aren’t you for it?” You look at their faces as they try to squirm out of that. That’s the moral position. They know it. But they’re caving into the enormous lobbying power of the drug and insurance companies, which are deploying over 2,000 full-time lobbyists on Capitol Hill as we speak.

AMY GOODMAN: Dennis Kucinich, your response? And also to Jane Hamsher, founder of Firedoglake, who asked if you were going to be giving back the money to people who gave to you all over the country because you said you would not support healthcare reform without a public option?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: First of all, with respect to Jane Hamsher, I talked to her yesterday, and I also indicated through my campaign early yesterday that anybody who contributed, you know, with the hopes that I was going to vote against the legislation unless it had a public option, that of course they’re going to get their money back, because I changed my position.

Now, with respect to what Ralph Nader just said about the need to keep a strong public—a strong single-payer campaign going, absolutely. I mean, you know, I haven’t changed my position one bit on single payer. I’m not suddenly saying, “Oh, gee, this for-profit model is something we ought to consider.” I don’t like it. I just want to make sure that everyone understands that the minute this bill is done, reforms within the context of a for-profit system, we have to accelerate that, and at the same time, a parallel track of continuing to pursue single payer. I agree with Ralph Nader on that.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Mixed Messages at Local Tea-Party Meeting with Phil Heimlich as Guest Speaker

On Tuesday evening, the Eastern Hills Tea Party gathered at the Madeira City Hall to hold one of their periodic meetings and to discuss the national debt. Just prior to 7pm, between thirty and forty people gathered outside the main meeting room looking through tea-party literature and eating some cake to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the founding of the Cincinnati Tea Party. As seven-o-clock came around, citizens were ushered into the main chamber in order to hear from the night's featured speaker, former Republican member of Cincinnati City Council and former Hamilton County Commissioner, Phil Heimlich.

Heimlich is the son on the famed Dr. Henry Heimlich (who is credited with inventing the "maneuver" which bears his name), sat on Cincinnati City Council, and was a Hamilton County Commissioner. Heimlich was also a candidate for the 2nd Congressional District of Ohio, but lost his bid in the 2008 primary to current Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-OH). Currently Heimlich runs one-minute television segments on WXIX-TV which he calls "The Hard Truths with Phil Heimlich".

The former Council member was slated to speak at this tea-party event on the issue of national debt, but Heimlich's presence at a tea-party gathering was puzzling given his stance on health care reform. Take this recent blog entry where he discussed how it is moral and Biblical for the government to provide health care for its citizens (emphasis mine):

I’ve heard many “believers” say it’s the job of the church, not the government, to take care of the sick. But Proverbs 29:14 says, “If a king judges poor people fairly, his government will continue forever.”

These and other scriptures command those in power to help the less fortunate.

Forty-six million Americans are without health insurance. Millions more have coverage that is wholly inadequate — so inadequate that over 60 percent of bankruptcies are due to medical bills. This need is unlikely to be met by the church or individual donors.

The Bible directs our leaders to meet this need — and do it efficiently — so as not to violate the Biblical principle of stewardship. But to do nothing is like the servant who, when given money to invest, buried it in the ground. Jesus said, “Throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 25:30)

Heimlich is saying that the Bible tells government leaders to meet the needs of those who do not have health care. In other words, the government should provide its citizens with health care. This is quite a different narrative than has been heard since the summer months when tea-party activists shouted down Congressmen and held rallys denouncing a "government takeover" of health care.

What is more, Heimlich's wife Rebecca is the Ohio State Director of Americans for Prosperity, an organization that has been very involved in organizing opposition to the health care reform legislation that is being circulated in Washington. A few months ago, Rachel Maddow discussed how this organization is corporately funded and how it has disseminated falsehoods in their fight to energize tea-party movements and defeat the health care legislation:

This is what these groups do. They're experts at fake grass roots campaigns that promote corporate interests. Americans for Prosperity is the group that ginned up anti-stimulus rallies earlier this year. They also organized what they called the "Hot Air Tour" to campaign against the whole idea of global warming. They were the ones who sent Joe the Plumber around the country to rail against the Employee Free Choice Act, which is pro-labor legislation.

This oil industry and Republican operative billionaires club is according to the Republican party spokesman today, just average middle class Americans. Just regular American folks sitting around the kitchen table thinking about whether they can get away with saying that the government, continuing its long standing policy of encouraging living wills, is really a secret plot to kill old people.

One other thing about Americans for Prosperity, their most visible spokesman, is a man named Tim Phillips. He is the President of the organization and we've asked him to come on the show to talk with us about the group. Tim Phillips got his start in fake grass roots with a firm called Century Strategies, run by Ralph Reed. Century Strategies is famous for having duped Christian groups into lobbying for energy deregulation. You know, like the Bible said.


These guys are the pros. This is an industry. Americans are showing up at these events to shout down the discussion, to chase their Congressmen, and they are enraged. And they're enraged at least in part because they're being riled up by over the top, fabricated conspiracy theories about health care. And they're being directed and orchestrated by the corporate interests that do this for a living and do it very well.


To talk about these town hall events as some organic outpouring of average American folks who have concerns about health care is to be willfully blind to what is really going on, which is professional P.R. operatives generating exploitative, manufactured, strategically deployed outrage in order to line their own pocket.

These P.R. spin misters get paid a lot of money for doing it. The corporations they work for get to kill legislation that would hurt their profits. And the real people who they launch into these town hall settings after they're told that health care reform is a secret commie plot to kill old people and to mandate sex changes, those real people get more, and more, and more and more angry, and more, and more, and more alienated, and ultimately they get left, like the rest of us, with a health care system that is broken and doesn't work in the interest of the American people, but does work in the interest of the corporations that profit from the way the system is now.

This is professional, corporate funded Republican staffed P.R., and it should be reported as such.

This is the context in which Phil Heimlich was to give his remarks at the Eastern Hills Party meeting on Tuesday night. It seemed as if schizophrenic conservatism had hit overdrive: Heimlich posts a blog entry advocating government-provided insurance but has long been a staunch Republican whose wife now is a State Director of an Organization that has been instrumental in drumming up the anger of citizens to oppose health care reforms. I attended this tea-party meeting to see if I couldn't figure out what was going on here.

Heimlich was introduced by the facilitator of the meeting and took the stage making a joke about his wife. "I had to rush my, you know my wife is very demanding," Heimlich started, "She made me take her to the hospital Saturday morning just because she had appendicitis."

He went on to discuss how his wife recovered enough to have him drive her to Columbus on Monday so that she could participate in a huge health care protest that was organized by Americans for Prosperity. He also mentioned that she was also involved in organizing the "Hands off our Health Care Rally" that was held on the other side of Cincinnati that same evening. "She's really doing some exciting stuff," Heimlich said of his wife's organizing efforts.

After praising his wife's courage and "exciting" efforts in organizing citizens against health care reform, Heimlich apologized for not wearing a tie to this event and said his tie-less appearance reminded him of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. "I don't mind that the guy brutalizes his own people, rigged the election and the guy denies the Holocaust, but the guy is such a shabby dresser," joked Heimlich, "He outta stop by Brooks Brothers or something and get a pair of pants before he goes to the UN or something like that."

Heimlich then began his talk on the financial troubles that face the United States with why the tea-party crowd should listen to him on this issue. He admitted that the only economics course he took was Economics 101 during his time at Stanford, but said that he finds it interesting that the economists who are viewed as experts on the issue are all getting it wrong. Heimlich especially went after Nobel Prize recipient and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman:

"Here is a guy who won the Nobel Prize for Economics, he's Professor of Economics at Princeton, a columist for the New York Times; his solution to the economic problems facing our country, do you know what it is? Bigger stimulus. He thinks the problem is that we are not spending enough. That's his solution."


"So my point is just that, I don't know if having a big economics degree necessarily qualifies you to speak about some of the crisis, the financial crisis that our country is facing."

So the first reason that the tea-party members should trust Heimlich's views on economics are because even though he has only taken one economics class, he doesn't think that a Nobel Prize winning Professor of Economics like Paul Krugman, is qualified to speak about the economic crisis? An interesting (and somewhat confusing) stance.

After appealing to the crowd that he is just a normal guy who "has something to say" like "you might have something to say", Heimlich launched into his views on the national debt. He told the crowd that if they take away anything from his talk, they should understand that "The United States is broke". He slammed the United States government for out of control spending that has led to a "$14.5 trillion dollar debt" that is complicated by billions in borrowed interest.

Sounding at times like an apprentice of Ron Paul, Heimlich told the crowd that while they are concerned with cutting spending on social programs, the problem also lies in spending on wars and the military. He criticized Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-OH) and Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-OH) for taking funds so that GE could produce a "duplicate engine" to the F-35 aircraft; a project that Heimlich views as "wasteful spending". Heimlich also outlined the how the spending on the Iraq War is out of control:

"Most of us on our side, we thought that was the greatest thing in the world. Maybe it will turn out that way, but you know, what I don't get about that is that there used to be a situation in that region where you had...two countries that basically hated each other. You had Iran and Iraq and you know what they did? They went around killing each other. They fought a war for eight years and even though it was pretty terrible for their people, for our national security that was a pretty good deal."


"Now why the heck we spent, what will be, $1 trillion dollars, 4,000 lives, 100,000 lives of Iraqi civilians, why we did that to get rid of one of the bullies so that now the other bully is dominating the region, I don't know. But it seems to me that if we are going to be truly fiscally responsible, if that's really what we are after, then we have to be fiscally responsible across the board."

Heimlich made the case that since the U.S. is mounting a debt that will never be repaid, it will affect everyone's personal finances. He claims that this calls for radical action (emphasis mine on a point I will come back to):

"I think we all ought to start thinking about being a little less patriotic. I'm all for electing the right people...I'm all for everything that you guys are doing, I think this is an incredible, incredible turnout you have here, my wife works with tea-parties all over Ohio and I think it's great, but I gotta tell you something. I think it's time to start thinking about protecting ourselves. I do. Protecting our families."


"I think the bottom line is, let's not run our lives like the government runs theirs. That make sense?"

As Heimlich concluded he chose to take a few questions. As I sat through his presentation, I couldn't help but continue to think about the apparent contradiction that his presence at a tea-party meeting posed. After all, in that last quote, Heimlich stated that he was "all for everything that you guys are doing" and that his wife's work with other Ohio tea-parties was "great"; yet his own blog post where he advocated for government-run health care seemed to contradict his support for the tea-parties and the work that his wife was doing.

As the Q&A continued, I asked about this contradiction. Below is the video of my question, Heimlich's response and the aftermath:

Clearly, Heimlich was only interested in, as he stated, criticizing Republican hypocrisy on this issue instead of taking a firm stand either single-payer or the public option, like he hinted at in his blog post. You could see that members of the tea-party were not pleased to hear his stance on health care reform and even gave some pushback.

After this segment, Heimlich exited the main chamber to allow the tea-party meeting to continue. I followed Heimlich into the lobby with my digital audio recorder in hand and asked him what health care reforms he would like to see implemented. (Note, another man who had attended the meeting was standing with us and he is the third voice you hear in the audio)

It is interesting that Heimlich has such strong criticisms for members of his own party, even calling them out on their inaction during the years of President Bush. What is also interesting is Heimlich's condemnation of the partisanship that surrounds the health care debate when he openly says that he is "all for" what the tea-parties are doing and that his wife's efforts with the tea-parties are "great" and "exciting". The level of partisanship has been been well-documented at these tea-party rallies and for Heimlich to suggest that he supports the efforts, but is outraged by the partisanship in the debate, is disingenuous.

Heimlich also states that he is "not necessarily a member of the tea-party" when I asked him if he is worried about Republican influence, but his presence at these events and in telling members that he is "all for" what they are doing sends mixed messages at best and makes his self-described hate of hypocrisy ironic at worst.

This piece is cross posted here.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Democrats Continue to Back Away From the Public Option

As White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs makes the rounds saying that health care reform will be the "law of the land" within the week, it is continually important to examine the demise of the public option.

In August of last year, when the Obama Administration started to waiver on supporting the public option, I wrote the following which still holds relevance to the situation that we find ourselves in today:

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.


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.

Not only has President Obama and the Democratic leadership shown that they are not married to the public option, they have shown a gross failure in leadership in working to pass this provision that they all say they support. If they say they support the public option then why wouldn't they fight for it? Because the Senate Democrats and the White House really don't support this provision quite as much as they may say. This clip from The Rachel Maddow Show last week illustrates this perfectly:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

and yet somehow Dennis Kucinich is the bad guy because he has stated that he will vote against the current legislation if it does not contain the public option?

These are interesting times.

Here is Kucinich stating his piece during a radio interview with Ian Masters from last week:

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Marc Thiessen Defends Liz Cheney on The Daily Show

The parade of torture sympathizers from the Bush Administration continued last night on The Daily Show with former Bush speech writer Marc Thiessen making an appearance. Thiessen has been vocal in his support of the the interrogation policies that were implemented during the Bush Administration and has most recently jumped to the defense of Liz Cheney and her organization for questioning the loyalty of some DOJ lawyers.

Here was Thiessen in the Washington Post on Monday:

One lawyer in the National Security Division of Holder's Justice Department, Jennifer Daskal, has written that any terrorist not charged with a crime "should be released from Guantanamo's system of indefinite detention" even though "at least some of these men may ... join the battlefield to fight U.S. soldiers and our allies another day." Should a lawyer who advocates setting terrorists free, knowing they may go on to kill Americans, have any role in setting U.S. detention policy? My hunch is that most Americans would say no.

Do other lawyers in question hold similarly radical and dangerous views? Without the information Holder is withholding, we cannot know if such lawyers are affecting detainee policy.

Yet for raising questions, Cheney and the Republican senators have been vilified. Former Clinton Justice Department official Walter Dellinger decried the "shameful" personal attacks on "these fine lawyers," while numerous commentators leveled charges of "McCarthyism."

I was wondering how Jon Stewart would treat Thiessen after John Yoo seemed to get a big pass in his recent appearance on the Daily Show, but Stewart did a pretty good job. Here is the full discussion in three parts:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive - Marc Thiessen Extended Interview Pt. 1
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Reform

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive - Marc Thiessen Extended Interview Pt. 2
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Reform

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive - Marc Thiessen Extended Interview Pt. 3
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Reform

I still think Stewart doesn't give himself enough credit by telling Thiessen that their views are "not that far apart". Clearly this is not the case. It was nice to see Thiessen's views challenged and Stewart take him to task for his support of the shameful ad that was put out by Liz Cheney's organization.

Thiessen is another individual who defends the use of torture, is unapologetic about the affects of using such techniques on detainees, and is critical of those who refuse to use these same policies. It is these views that show a disrespect and some could argue, a certain level of contempt for the American justice system. These individuals want the power to be able to torture detainees and will continue to level attacks against anyone who defends the rule of law and appropriate interrogation tactics. Interviews like the one above only continue to re-enforce this point.

Running Off the Rails...

I've listened to preachers
I've listened to fools
I've watched all the dropouts
Who make their own rules
One person conditioned to rule and control
The media sells it and you live the role

Photo courtesy of here and the lyrics are from Ozzy Osborne's "Crazy Train".

Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY) appeared on Glenn Beck's show this afternoon in what can only be described as a complete train-wreck.

Massa has made news as of late due to his announcement that he is resigning his Congressional Seat due to intense pressure from the White House surrounding his potential vote for the health care legislation. The White House has denied this claim and shortly after Massa made this claim, Glenn Beck jumped at the chance to let Massa tell exactly how the White House had pressured him to resign.

This situation got even more complicated earlier today when it was revealed that Massa was being investigated for inappropriately groping male staffers.

Glenn Beck was quite intrigued by the "White House forcing out a Congressman" angle of the story and desperately tried to get Massa to give him all the juicy details. Massa had nothing to offer aside from the "shocking" revelation that Washington is a town that has fallen victim to partisanship.

Beck set up the segment saying that he didn't know who this guy was or if he was a bad guy, but that the allegations of being forced out of office made this an interesting story. After a five-minute build-up, Beck introduced Massa and the first words out of Massa's mouth were:

"Can I just start off with something? I wasn't forced out, I forced myself out. I failed. I didn't live up to my own codes. I own this."

Wow, glad that was settled so quickly! Not only that, but Massa continued on and admitted that he did grope a male staffer and "tickled him until he couldn't breath". Beck was clearly taken aback from the very beginning and it only got crazier from there. Watch the whole intro and the first segment:

Picture of x-ray's, tickle fights, a reversal of position and that is all within the first segement of this program. It actually looks like Beck is the sane one in these clips. Massa would go on to describe an encounter that he had with a naked Rahm Emanuel in the House of Representative's communal shower. From the Huffington Post:

"I was in my first two months," he said. "I was in a battle about the budget, Rahm was angry with me. He poked his finger in my chest while we were in the shower. I went through it on the radio show. Not only did it happen, I will never forget it. Rahm Emanuel doesn't like me. I get it."

Despite all of this, Beck continued to plead with Massa to tell the public something new about how he was forced out of office by the White House, but Massa continued to give him absolutely nothing:

This all led Beck to apologize to his viewers for "wasting their time" with the interview. Just watch Beck's face during this last segment as he realizes that he has successfully booked someone on his show who is spouting off something crazier than him:

This was truly a crazy interview, one that Beck certainly did not see playing out as it did. Former Rep. Massa showed signs of dealing with some intense pressures that are obviously affecting him and led to his being all over the place during this hour of television. I think it can be surmised that the White House probably didn't force him from his job and that there is more that has yet to have been discovered regarding the investigation into Massa's "groping" of his staffers. Massa even stated that there are "probably text messages" out there that could be wrongly perceived.

Beck expected Massa to come on and spill the beans about how the White House is full of unprecedented corruption and how they threw their weight around, forcing Massa to resign. What became clear to Beck from very early on was that his plan backfired in a big way. Massa is obviously having some problems in his life right now and his behavior in this interview exemplified why it was probably a mistake for Beck to try and embrace him politically.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Upon Further Review...

In case you missed it, last week the District Attorney in Brooklyn, NY cleared the local ACORN office of wrong-doing in the incident where Conservative activists James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles posed as a pimp and prostitute to solicit advice from ACORN employees.

What is more is that a law enforcement source brought to light what many have been suspicious of the entire time. From the New York Daily News:

While the video by James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles seemed to show three ACORN workers advising a prostitute how to hide ill-gotten gains, the unedited version was not as clear, according to a law enforcement source.

"They edited the tape to meet their agenda," said the source.

O'Keefe and Giles - who visited ACORN offices in several cities, including its Brooklyn headquarters - stirred controversy when they posted the videos on their Web site.

They were hailed as heroes by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and their footage led several government agencies to temporarily cut funding for ACORN as the prosecutors opened an investigation.

"On Sept. 15, 2009, my office began an investigation into possible criminality on the part of three ACORN employees," Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes said in a one-paragraph statement issued Monday afternoon.

"That investigation is now concluded and no criminality has been found."

So not only was the Brooklyn ACORN office cleared of wrong-doing, but it has become clear that O'Keefe edited his videos in a misleading way.

It is also important to remember that O'Keefe's fellow Conservative activist Hannah Giles, (who played the role of the prostitute in these videos), confirmed that O'Keefe did NOT wear the outlandish pimp outfit when he went into the ACORN offices as many had thought. From BradBlog:

I asked Giles about a criticism that’s often been leveled against them — that they hyped up the video by wearing outrageous clothes in promotional materials and the videos’ introductions that they didn’t wear in the actual stings.

“We never claimed that he went in with a pimp costume,” said Giles. “That was b-roll. It was purely b-roll. He was a pimp, I was a prostitute, and we were walking in front of government buildings to show how the government was whoring out the American people.”

But it's not like O'Keefe contributed to this "confusion" by letting everyone think that he wore that outfit during the "stings" right? Oh wait...

Apparently he was only dressed in khaki's and a white shirt and posed as the concerned boyfriend of Hannah Giles who wanted to protect her from an abusive pimp. Quite different than what Fox News and the likes of Andrew Breitbart led the public to believe.

O'Keefe is currently still under investigation for reportedly trying to conduct some type of "sting" in the office of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) back in January. Despite all of this, both O'Keefe and Giles spoke this weekend at the 2010 California Republican Assembly conference in an apparent show of support from some on the political Right.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Naomi Klein on Chile's History

Too often after tragedies strike we tend to see some major media outlets result to coverage that can be described as "disaster porn". Once the rubble has settled and amazing rescue stories have passed, the attention of these news outlets often goes on to the next sensational story.

I appreciate those who dig deeper into the histories of these countries and into the mitigating factors that will contribute to the rebuilding efforts.

This is why I want to highlight Naomi Klein's latest piece on the recent earthquake in Chile and history's impact on the state of the nation. The entire piece is worth reading, but here are a few clips:

Just two days after Chile was struck by a devastating earthquake, Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens informed his readers that Milton Friedman’s “spirit was surely hovering protectively over Chile” because, “thanks largely to him, the country has endured a tragedy that elsewhere would have been an apocalypse…. It’s not by chance that Chileans were living in houses of brick—and Haitians in houses of straw—when the wolf arrived to try to blow them down.”


As for the argument that Friedmanite policies are the reason Chileans live in “houses of brick” instead of “straw,” it’s clear that Stephens knows nothing of pre-coup Chile. The Chile of the 1960s had the best health and education systems on the continent, as well as a vibrant industrial sector and rapidly expanding middle class. Chileans believed in their state, which is why they elected Allende to take the project even further.

After the coup and the death of Allende, Pinochet and his Chicago Boys did their best to dismantle Chile’s public sphere, auctioning off state enterprises and slashing financial and trade regulations. Enormous wealth was created in this period but at a terrible cost: by the early eighties, Pinochet’s Friedman-prescribed policies had caused rapid de-industrialization, a ten-fold increase in unemployment and an explosion of distinctly unstable shantytowns. They also led to a crisis of corruption and debt so severe that, in 1982, Pinochet was forced to fire his key Chicago Boy advisors and nationalize several of the large deregulated financial institutions. (Sound familiar?)

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Importance of Reigniting the Conversation on Embedding Journalists Within the Military

As the United States continues its engagement in multiple military conflicts around the globe, a topic that is rarely discussed within the so-called "mainstream" media is how they cover war. Since the United States invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq in 2003, reporters from major news networks have taken advantage of the opportunity to become embedded with U.S. combat forces.

This strategy gives reporters an up close and personal look at war through the eyes of the warriors who are on the ground fighting the battle. What is also accomplished by embedding reporters within the U.S. military is the natural bond that forms between the soldiers and the reporters. After all, the reporter is an untrained observer along for the ride and they must put their safety in the hands of those who they are tasked with covering in an objective manner.

Embedded reporters see the shots fired at the opposition, but rarely see the outcome of what those bombs and bullets hit. These reporters are supposed to be able to report on the conflict with an even hand and a balanced set of facts, but when they are being shot at by the opposition and are forced to rely upon the U.S. military to shield them from getting killed, it is a difficult if not impossible task to not have their coverage tainted by the circumstances.

As Bill Berkowitz reminded us in 2003, the system of embedding reporters was designed to exploit this very bond:

Where did the "embedding" idea come from? Have journalists reported both the good and bad news? With the demands of 24/7 coverage, does it matter if reports emanating from within combat units are accurate?

Embedding reporters is the brainchild of Victoria "Torie" Clarke, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs. Clarke brings considerable PR experience to the task of winning the spin war. She recently worked with Hill and Knowlton, the public relations firm heavily involved in Gulf War I, and prior to that she was president of Bozell Eskew Advertising, an issue advocacy and corporate communications company.

According to a 10-page memo prepared for the National Security Council, Clarke, with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on board, argued that allowing journalists to report live from the front lines would give Americans the opportunity to get the story, both "good and bad -- before others seed the media with disinformation and distortions, as they most certainly will continue to do."

"Our people in the field need to tell our story. Only commanders can ensure the media get to the story alongside the troops. We must organize for and facilitate access of national and international media to our forces, including those forces engaged in ground operations. ... To accomplish this, we will embed media with our units. These embedded media will live, work and travel as part of the units... to facilitate maximum, in-depth coverage."

One senior Pentagon official told World magazine, an evangelical newsweekly, that "The concept was developed to dominate the information market and counter the historical lies and disinformation of the Iraqi regime."

Embedding reporters was a strategy that was meant to counteract what was viewed as the "negative role" that the media played during the Vietnam War. Embedding reporters would effectively grant major networks unparalleled access to the war zone while at the same time forcing the reporters to tell the stories of war through the eyes of the American military.

Norman Soloman, author of "War Made Easy" illustrates this point in 2005:

During the war that followed, the “embedding” of about 700 reporters in spring 2003 was hailed as a breakthrough. Those war correspondents stayed close to the troops invading Iraq, and news reports conveyed some vivid frontline visuals along with compelling personal immediacy. But with the context usually confined to the warriors’ frame of reference, a kind of reciprocal bonding quickly set in.

“I’m with the U.S. 7th Cavalry along the northern Kuwaiti border,” said CNN’s embedded Walter Rodgers during a typical report (3/20/03), using the word “we” to refer interchangeably to his network, the U.S. military or both:

We are in what the army calls its attack position. We have not yet crossed into Iraq at this point. At that point, we will tell you, when we do, of course, that we will cross the line of departure. What we are in is essentially a formation, much the way you would have seen with the U.S. Cavalry in the 19th century American frontier. The Bradley tanks, the Bradley fighting vehicles are behind me. Beyond that perimeter, we’ve got dozens more Bradleys and M1A1 main battle tanks. . . .

With American troops moving into action, CNN’s Aaron Brown (3/20/03) emphasized that he and his colleagues “wish them nothing but safety.” He did not express any such wish for the Iraqi people in harm’s way.

Now that the initial advances of troops into foreign lands has transferred into occupation, we tend to not hear as much from embedded reporters. However on NPR's "Morning Edition" recently, I took note of an interesting story.

NPR Reporter Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson was recently embedded with Marines from India Company of the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment as they advanced on the city of Marjah in Afghanistan. Her reporting gained attention in part because she captured the audio of a battle with the Taliban that took the life of Lance Cpl. Alejandro Yazzie. Sarhaddi sat down with NPR's Renee Montagne on "Morning Edition" to talk about the experience and just for a second, I thought that there was going to be a constructive opportunity to discuss the conflicts that face embedded reporters (emphasis mine):

MONTAGNE: This then is your introduction to a group of mostly very young Marines with whom you will be rather intimate and in a sense depending on for your life and your well being.

SARHADDI NELSON: Yeah, it's always a challenge because, again, especially with Marines, it's hard for them to have women in fighting units, 'cause they're just not used to it. I mean, simple things like, you know, you need to go to the bathroom - there's no place to go. You have the Afghan soldiers on one side, you have the Marines on the other, and you really can't go away too far because you could step on an IED.

So it really gets to the point where you just have to kind of close your eyes and just suspend modesty and just go. It's as crude and rudimentary as you can possibly imagine. I mean, it makes camping in a national park look like a luxury.

Montagne hits on the significant issue that faces these embedded reporters, but in the same breath fails to hone in on the importance of her observation. Sarhaddi Nelson is depending on these Marines to protect her, but instead of addressing the potential limits that this situation may pose on her reporting, Sarhaddi Nelson instead chooses to talk about how uncomfortable it is to go to the bathroom as a lone woman among the men.

As the interview progresses, Sarhaddi Nelson continues to describe how she bonded with the Marines on who she was reporting (emphasis mine):

SARHADDI NELSON: I was in a room with maybe 20 or 25 Marines. It was freezing. I mean, it was basically a petrol station that had been - the glass had been blown out from the various IEDs that they had detonated. I was in this room, and you have to picture it's just a concrete floor, rat feces everywhere, and all of us were so cold.

It's interesting - I'm not sure how much they would want me to talk about it -but they would spoon. I mean, it was just to stay warm, you know? But, yeah, I mean, you just somehow managed, and you got to be very close, and you got to sit around and talk and just, you know, about families back home. And it was kind of, I mean, in a way it was nice.

This is a clear example of the kind of "reciprocal bonding" that Normon Solomon discusses in the quote above. The reporter experiences the same things as the troops, bonds with them through shared experience and then is reluctant to reveal information that may make their new friends "uncomfortable", in this case spooning for warmth.

As Sarhaddi Nelson continued the story and began to describe the firefight that took the life of Lance Cpl. Alejandro Yazzie, we see her use the term "we" when she describes how the Marines came under attack:

SARHADDI NELSON: It did. I mean, you have to picture when this happened, the patrol, it had been three hours of really intense pressure. We were constantly under fire. I think at that point the platoon officials or leaders had decided that they were going to stop for the night. It was just not safe to push forward anymore. And so we started to approach this field, and it was at that point that these gunmen, you know, jumped up and started firing - or at least it was described as three gunmen to me. I never saw them, I just heard the bullets.

And so everybody dropped down, squatted down, but we were exposed. We were all just behind these mounds of dirt. And Lance Corporal Yazzie, who I'd gotten to know over the last previous days - I didn't realize where he was standing - and I just, I mean, I saw him get hit, and certainly the captain next to him realized that he'd been killed. And it was just, there was nothing anybody could do, because at that stage the gunfire was so heavy.

Take a listen to the full "Morning Edition" piece by listening here:

After listening to the report one must acknowledge the obvious, that this experience was quite troubling and moving for Sarhaddi Nelson. I do not envy the experience of watching anyone being gunned before my eyes as bullets are flying through the air around me. I also do find value in reporting on the soldiers who are involved in these wars. These individuals are mostly young kids who are enduring very difficult circumstances that will more than likely impact them mentally, physically and emotionally for the rest of their lives. It is one side of the human cost of war and it is a story that needs to be told.

The expanded view of embedding reporters within active military units is another story that must be told whenever we hear reports like the one that Sarhaddi Nelson filed for NPR. The practice of embedding reporters was devised in order to form the close bonds that you can clearly hear in her reporting and it must be understood that these bonds exist and affect the overall coverage. These points must be stressed because telling the story of war through the eyes of the warriors is the norm. What is not the norm and the stories that you do not hear on a daily basis are the stories of those on the other end of the battle. When was the last time you saw a reporter embedded with a civilian Afghan family that was in the path of the American military? I don't seem to recall any reporters from CNN who were inside the Iraqi city of Fallujah prior to the American assault.

Embedding reporters within the military has real and very important consequences that impacts the coverage the public receives as well as the way people understand war. While a human face is put on those like Lance Cpl. Yazzie, too often are generic labels ("enemy", "opposition", "collateral damage") given to those who find themselves on the other end of the invading armies.

I wish Renee Montagne would have honed in on the importance of her phrasing when she indicated to Sarhaddi Nelson that these Marines were responsible for her safety as she reported in Afghanistan. There was a real chance to give some greater context to the practice of embedding journalists and how it contributed to Sarhaddi Nelson's coverage of this group of Marines. I fear that if this practice of embedding journalists continues to occur without a greater discussion on the implications, the larger context of this issue may continue to be swept under the rug.

This piece is cross posted here.