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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Spoiled And Out Of Touch

by digby

Steve Benen writes:

From time to time, we're reminded of the fact that members of Congress -- many of whom are fighting to kill health care reform -- give themselves pretty good coverage. Several weeks ago, the LA Times reported on the taxpayer-subsidized insurance federal lawmakers currently enjoy.

The piece noted that, while most Americans have to go with whatever their employer offers, members have a choice of 10 plans that offer access to a national network of doctors. "Lawmakers also get special treatment at Washington's federal medical facilities and, for a few hundred dollars a month, access to their own pharmacy and doctors, nurses and medical technicians standing by in an office conveniently located between the House and Senate chambers," the article added.

ABC News explores this conveniently located facility in more detail today. It sounds like a pretty sweet deal for lawmakers.

This fall while members of Congress toil in the U.S. Capitol, working to decide how or even whether to reform the country's health care system, one floor below them an elaborate Navy medical clinic -- described by those who have seen it as something akin to a modern community hospital -- will be standing by, on-call and ready to provide Congress with some of the country's best and most efficient government-run health care.

Formally called the Office of the Attending Physician, the clinic -- and at least six satellite offices -- bills its mission as one of emergency preparedness and public health. Each day, it stands ready to handle medical emergencies, biological attacks and the occasional fainting tourist visiting Capitol Hill.

Please read on to see what excellent facilities are available to our elites as they argue that the rest of us should ask our neighbors for charity or just get a job working for a big employer if our current one doesn't offer health insurance.

As Benen pithily notes:

Keep this in mind the next time you hear a member of Congress complaining about the nightmares of government-run, taxpayer-subsidized health care.

God help us if every American had such health care. How would we know which people deserve to live and which ones don't?

h/t to Susie Madrak
How It's Done

by dday

Republicans seriously don't know who they're dealing with when it comes to Alan Grayson.

This just does not compute for Republicans, who are supposed to wail and moan and collect their scalp for their hissy fit. They don't understand a Democrat taking ownership of his actions and throwing it right back at them. Incidentally, most of the Democrats I've seen today, including members of Congress, haven't backed away from his remarks even a little bit.

Teaching Democrats how to neutralize a hissy fit is all the more reason to support Alan Grayson.

Goal Thermometer

...by the way, media idiots, he didn't compare health care death to the Holocaust, he compared it to a holocaust. That's the definition of the word - "an act of mass destruction and loss of life." What else would you call the needless deaths of 45,000 Americans every year due to lack of health insurance, while political leaders stand mute? I call it "an accurate description."

Owning By Proxy

by dday

Last night, Blanche Lincoln and Kent Conrad, who like to fancy themselves fiscal conservatives and whose entire rhetoric about health care has concerned "bending the cost curve" and reducing the price tag in the bill, joined with Republicans to hand up to $250 million dollars to states to teach children that sex is icky.

The Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday night approved an amendment providing tens of millions of dollars to fund abstinence education programs for teens.

The proposal, offered by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), would provide $50 million per year through 2014 exclusively for abstinence education programs. The measure would effectively reinstate the controversial Title V program, which offered $50 million per year to states for abstinence education, but prohibited them from tapping the funds for other sex-ed subjects like contraception. The same prohibition would accompany the Hatch amendment. “Abstinence education works,” the Utah Republican said.

The vote was 12 to 11, with Democratic Sens. Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) and Kent Conrad (N.D.) voting with every Republican to secure passage of the measure.

Abstinence education doesn't work, this California Democrat says, backed up by every study ever done on the subject, including a 6-year study authorized by Congress that published in 2007. Even Max frickin' Baucus agrees, and his competing amendment on comprehensive sex ed, which also passed, wouldn't fund programs that were in his words "ineffective." Suzy Khimm has more on this.

I'm sure that giving in to Republican fears about liberated women, whether through this measure or trying to gut reproductive coverage in private insurance plans (thankfully, that amendment did fail in the Finance Committee today), will cause members of the party who don't think women should have the right to vote to flip on the bill and offer their support, right? We're just so close to consensus, and if we can just add to that 80% agreement with selling out women and futilely indoctrinating children to abstinence, we can all sing kumbaya and have a bill everyone can support, right?

Wrong. Republicans like Orrin Hatch will ask for concession after concession and offer nothing themselves. That's because they know that stooges like Blanche Lincoln and Kent Conrad will end up agreeing with them anyway, so there's no need to take ownership of the bill when you can own it by proxy.

Heckuva Job Bushie

by digby

This is nice:

A federal judge approved a civil-court settlement requiring the Social Security Administration to repay $500 million to 80,000 recipients whose benefits it suspended after deeming them fugitives.

The supposed fugitives include a disabled widow with a previously suspended driver's license, a quadriplegic man in a nursing home and a Nevada grandmother mistaken for a rapist.

They were among at least 200,000 elderly and disabled people who lost their benefits in recent years under what the agency called the "Fugitive Felon" program. Launched in 1996 and extended to Social Security disability and old-age benefits in 2005, the program aimed to save taxpayers money by barring the payment of Social Security benefits to people "fleeing to avoid prosecution."

But some federal courts in recent years have concluded that most people the agency identified as fleeing felons were neither fleeing nor felons. The problem: Social Security employees relied on an operations manual stating that anyone with a warrant outstanding is a fugitive felon, whether the person is actually fleeing or attempting to avoid being captured.

In 2005, the Bush administration decided that all those alleged ancient felons on Social Security needed to be "brought to justice." Meanwhile, Wall street was going completely unchecked. And they got it wrong on top of that.

Maybe this is something the Democratic congress and the Obama Administration could look into and correct? Seriously, they don't have to cover up all the Bush era obscenities.

"This Is Ridiculous"

by digby

Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post is a fairly good gauge of where the village conventional wisdom is at any given point. And here's what he had to say on David Shuster today:

Shuster: If the Democrats said it was wrong for Joe Wilson to say "you lie" on the House floor, shouldn't they also be condemning Grayson for suggesting the Republican plan is "die quickly?"

Capehart: No. These are two different things. Joe Wilson shouted at the President of the United States during a joint session of congress which is a clear violation of House rules. Representative Grayson was speaking on the House floor to his collegues. Sure it's hyperbolic language about policy but it was not a personal insult to anyone in the room.

And hey, if he has to apologize for "die quickly" whoever came up with "death panels" and "drop dead" and "pull the plu oon grandma" has to apologize too. This is ridiculous.

Yes, it certainly is. But all hissy fits are ridiculous. This one is particularly stupid because of the "death panel" stuff the Republicans have been flogging all summer, but the hissy fit is always made more potent the more stupid and hypocritical it is. This one may not end up with an apology, but it will probably be successful in creating a false equivalence between the two parties which is about the best they can do at the moment.

The GOP Plan

by digby

In case anyone still wonders if the Republican health care plan really is "don't get sick and if you do, die quickly" read this essay about what the Republican plans really would do if implemented:

Mitch Berger, a Washington-based lawyer, has a rare, incurable and very expensive-to-treat cancer. He is not fond of insurance companies.

As Democrats scramble to assemble a health care reform package that a majority of the party can support, Republicans have agreed on what they claim is a quick and easy way to reduce health insurance costs. In delivering the Republican reply to the President’s recent joint-session speech, Charles Boustany of Louisiana offered the GOP plan, saying "Let's also talk about letting families and businesses buy insurance across state lines. I and many other Republicans believe that that will provide real choice and competition to lower the cost of health insurance."

It's an approach conservatives have been talking up for a while. Probably its most vocal proponent is Representative John Shadegg of Arizona, who introduced the idea formally this July with "The Health Care Choice Act of 2009." But a closer examination shows that it's the "Drill baby Drill" of health care reform--a cynical slogan masquerading as a serious public policy solution.

The basis for this approach is the work of the Council for Affordable Health Insurance (CAHI). CAHI describes itself as "a research and advocacy association of insurance carriers"--in other words, the insurance industry. Its position? That state insurance benefit mandates "increase the cost of basic health coverage from a little less than 20% to perhaps 50%". Based on this assumption, Republicans argue: To lower insurance costs dramatically, all you have to do is get rid of or drastically reduce benefit mandates.

See, the real problem is that the state governments have been passing laws that require insurance companies to offer coverage. That's a problem because is order to have your profits rise 28% over seven years, they need to take your money and give you nothing in return. So, it's a problem.

The Republicans say over and over again that the worst possible thing that could happen is these insurance companies facing competition from the government. They seem to think they are doing a great job and that costs would go down if only they could allow the insurance companies to stop covering sick people. Therefore, their plan is, as Alan Grayson pithily stated, "don't get sick and if you do get sick, die quickly."

If you'd like to Get Grayson's Back, you can donate here.


Hissy Fit Of The Day

by digby

So, let me get this straight: the same party that's been saying the Democrats are planning to pull the plug on Grandma for months is having an epic fit of the vapors because Alan Grayson said that the Republican Health Care plan is "Don't get sick and if you do get sick, die quickly?" Really? How do they live with this much gall?

Apparently, they are going to introduce a privileged resolution to sanction Grayson today. And Stephanopopulos says they deserve an apology. Seriously.

So this is a-ok:

But this isn't:


Today is the last day of the quarter. I expect that Grayson could use a little boost so feel free to donate to him here; at our new page Getting Grayson's Back. I hear the Democrats are pretty angry at the Republicans for this hissy fit, so if you feel like sending them a little token or giving a call to their offices to tell them that you appreciate them having Grayson's back, that would be helpful too.

This is crazy time. You have the main Republican Senate negotiator saying publicly that the Democrats are trying to pull the plug on grandma, and Grayson is beyond the pale for saying the truth? Because the fact is that is you support the status quo, as they do, you are supporting the insurance company model which is based upon only insuring people who aren't sick and not paying for their care if they get that way. That's how they make their money. It is essentially: don't get sick and die quickly. What he said is really not controversial at all.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

If You Take Out The People Who Die, Americans Live Forever

by dday

So John Ensign, the adulterous Senator from Nevada who had his parents pay off his mistress and her family in possible violation of campaign laws, put forward the following argument today to prove the awesomeness of the US health care system:

"Are you aware that if you take out gun accidents and auto accidents, that the United States actually is better than those other countries?" Ensign said. Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) had been citing the health care systems of France, Germany, Japan and Canada as more effective, but with lower costs.

Conrad responded that one can bend statistics in all sorts of ways.

"But that doesn't have anything to do with health care. Auto accidents don't have anything to do with h--," Ensign said, cutting himself off. "I mean we're just a much more mobile society. ... We drive our cars a lot more, they do public transportation. So you have to compare health care system with health care system."

I'm sure that if you take out truffle and eclair accidents, France's health care outcomes skyrocket, too. But I'm wondering why this means anything, even if it were true, which it isn't. First of all, if Ensign wants to improve health care in America, he seems to be saying that the way to do that is to move away from a car-centered transportation system and engage in strict gun control. Somehow I doubt that was his intention, since he's never cast a vote in favor of more mass transit or bike lanes or gun control in his life, but there's no other way to characterize this argument.

So in order to properly figure out what in the hell Ensign was trying to prove with that comment, you have to recognize that he read it in some talking points somewhere. And the talking points trace back to - you guessed it - Betsy McCaughey.

Where did he come up with such an argument? TPMDC's Brian Beutler tracks down the source: Betsy McCaughey said as much when she appeared on the Daily Show last month. McCaughey is the former lieutenant governor of New York and the first person to push the idea that, under health care reform, the government would decide who gets care, who lives and who dies -- a precursor to the "death panel" articulated by Sarah Palin.

On the show, McCaughey said that, without violence and auto accidents, the U.S. would have the highest life expectancy in the world. It was an attempt to undermine an argument for reform, that the U.S. spends more money than any other country but still lags in life expectancy.

The Wall Street Journal explains that McCaughey got the idea from a 2006 report published by conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute.

As that last link notes, the OECD rebuts this talking point, saying that the AEI report is "based in part on GDP. If you don’t factor in GDP, the U.S. ranks 17th in the world for life expectancy when the high U.S. rate of fatal injuries is ignored." In fact, even the report's writers walked away from this statement in future reports. It's a moot point anyway, it says nothing about the health care system itself, nor is it comfort to anyone who experiences a gunshot or a car accident in the US, that if their death gets factored out, then the system works.

So the real lesson here is that the entire GOP position on health care - or really, anything - is based on irrelevant misinformation, and when you're looking for such misinformation, all roads lead to Betsy McCaughey.

Taser Meeting

by digby

I would hope that this "public meeting" will include some people who will testify to the fact that tasers are killing people. But it doesn't appear that they are enlisting anyone but the manufacturers to weigh in on the "safety" of these devices.


National Institute of Standards and Technology

Electroshock Weapons Measurement Methods and Issues Public

AGENCY: National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), United
States Department of Commerce.

ACTION: Notice of public meeting.


SUMMARY: NIST invites manufacturers of electroshock weapons that deploy skin penetrating barbs for operation to attend a public meeting. The purpose of the meeting is for manufacturers to present to NIST
nonproprietary information on their methods of measurement and test of the output of these weapons and associated lessons learned.

DATES: The public meeting will be held on Wednesday, October 21, 2009
from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.

ADDRESSES: The public meeting will be held at NIST, 100 Bureau Drive,
Gaithersburg, MD. Information on accommodations, location, and travel
can be found at: http://www.nist.gov/public_affairs/visitor/
visitor.htm. Please note admittance instructions under the
SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION section of this notice.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Cindy Stanley at 301-975-2756 or by e-
mail at cindy.stanley@nist.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: To support the development of rigorous
performance requirements for electroshock weapons, the Office of Law
Enforcement Standards (OLES) at NIST, is developing methods to measure
the current and high-voltage output of these weapons, to calibrate
these measurement methods, and to compute measurement uncertainties.
NIST is holding this public meeting to obtain individual input from
workshop participants on their non-proprietary efforts in these areas.
All visitors to the NIST site are required to pre-register to be
admitted. Anyone wishing to attend this meeting must register by close
of business Monday, October 19, 2009 in order to attend. Please submit
your name, time of arrival, e-mail address and phone number to Cindy
Stanley and she will provide you with instructions for admittance. Non-
U.S. citizens must also submit their country of citizenship, title,
employer/sponsor, and address. Cindy Stanley's e-mail address is
cindy.stanley@nist.gov and phone number is 301-975-2756.

Dated: September 23, 2009.
Patrick Gallagher,
Deputy Director.
[FR Doc. E9-23461 Filed 9-28-09; 8:45 am]

Always Be There For You

by digby

Jonathan Cohn writes about Jay Rockefeller's strange effectiveness in talking about the public option, which I have found kind of surprising myself. He explains it this way:

It's easy to treat health care as an abstraction--to make it all about economic theories and Congressional Budget Office projections. (I'm surely guilty of this myself.) Rockefeller sees it through the eyes of West Virginians making $30,000 a year--people who just want to know they can pay their premiums and that, if they do, the insurance they get will protect them when they get sick.

Rockefeller's ability to channel these feelings may seem odd, given his privileged pedigree. But it makes sense given what he's done with his career. Remember, West Virginia didn't choose him. He chose West Virginia, starting with his service as a VISTA volunteer. He knows his constituents very well. And he acts that way.

You see this in his advocacy for the public plan. The arguments you hear in the debate are mostly about costs, payment rates, and how best to make a market function. But for Rockefeller, it really boils down to a simple proposition: A public plan is good because you know it will always be there for you.

The government isn't going to point to an obscure provision on page 152 of your manual and deny you essential services. The government isn't going to comb through your medical records and decide that, having taken your premiums for several months, you're not eligible for coverage after all. The government isn't going to stop offering coverage next year because it can't make a profit big enough to satisfy Wall Street.

Reform without a public option can still remedy a lot of these ills, as long as there's enough regulation. But it's not clear there will be, which is why Rockefeller is speaking out--and why he should be.

(Considering the bipartisan whorishness of our current political system, it's almost a guarantee that there there won't be the kind of regulation needed to give security to average people. We've just seen that you can nearly destroy the world economy and wipe out more than a decade of accumulated wealth with unbridled greed and they won't properly regulate you.)

I think Blanche Lincoln, Kent Conrad and Max Baucus all have plenty of constituents who make 30k a year just like Rockefeller. But they'd rather see them suffer than risk being called a socialist by some confused teabagger or lose a big campaign check from Blue Cross. It's a choice. And what they choose tells you a whole lot about the character of those making it.

In Case You Were Wondering

by digby

... who the "national problem" is, Lou Dobbs is here to tell you:

And this Newsmax columnist knows one way to begin to solve it:

There is a remote, although gaining, possibility America's military will intervene as a last resort to resolve the "Obama problem." Don't dismiss it as unrealistic.

America isn't the Third World. If a military coup does occur here it will be civilized. That it has never happened doesn't mean it wont. Describing what may be afoot is not to advocate it.


Will the day come when patriotic general and flag officers sit down with the president, or with those who control him, and work out the national equivalent of a "family intervention," with some form of limited, shared responsibility?

Imagine a bloodless coup to restore and defend the Constitution through an interim administration that would do the serious business of governing and defending the nation. Skilled, military-trained, nation-builders would replace accountability-challenged, radical-left commissars. Having bonded with his twin teleprompters, the president would be detailed for ceremonial speech-making.

Military intervention is what Obama's exponentially accelerating agenda for "fundamental change" toward a Marxist state is inviting upon America. A coup is not an ideal option, but Obama's radical ideal is not acceptable or reversible.

Unthinkable? Then think up an alternative, non-violent solution to the Obama problem. Just don't shrug and say, "We can always worry about that later."

In the 2008 election, that was the wistful, self-indulgent, indifferent reliance on abnegation of personal responsibility that has sunk the nation into this morass.

Yes. Nine months in, it's obvious that the only choice Real Americans have is to stage a coup. The lessons they've learned from recent presidencies is that impeachment is no sure thing and that unless you can get close enough to steal elections, you might get stuck with someone you didn't vote for. So they're dreaming of more tried and true methods. That whole democracy thing is very inconvenient.

(And just the thought of "skilled, military trained, nation builders" bending the government to their will clearly sends one big thrill up these fellows' legs. Oooh baby.)

Up Or Down Vote

by digby

Chris Cilizza asks a good question:

Five Democrats -- Sens. Max Baucus (Mont.) Kent Conrad (N.D.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), Bill Nelson (Fla.) and Tom Carper (Del.) -- voted against the Rockefeller amendment. President Barack Obama's average percentage of the 2008 vote in those states was 49.4 percent.

The eight Senate Democrats who voted for the Rockefeller amendment represent states, by contrast, that gave Obama an average of 56.75 percent of the vote in the last presidential election.

While there will be more votes on the public option between now and when (and if) a final bill passes, the vote on the Rockefeller amendment shows how Democrats are approaching the politics of the issue.

Democrats representing red or swing states clearly believe the public option is a non-starter politically despite evidence in recent polling -- in places like Arkansas and Montana -- that voters in these states favor the idea of a government-run program.

Can the White House change their minds?

Carper and Nelson flipped on the Shumer public option amendment, leaving only Conrad, Lincoln and Baucus voting against it. This is good news believe it or not. It indicates that there are 51 votes for a public option in the senate.

The question most certainly is whether or not the president can change their minds. And frankly, if he doesn't have enough juice to at least hold them together for one cloture vote then I have to wonder if he has any real juice at all. Every one of these corporate lackeys can vote against the final bill if they dare. Assuming they can bring Byrd in to do it, all they need to do is break a Republican filibuster and "allow an up or down vote."

Update: Tom Harkin claims they have the votes for the PO.

Update II: Carl Cameron on Fox just said that today was the first time that anyone had a chance to vote on a public option and it got killed.

And he's right --- except for the Senate HELP Committee and the three House committees that already voted on it and passed it.

I Know You Are But What Am I Politics: 101

by digby

Remember this?

Irony Alert: "House Republicans are preparing to vote en bloc against the $106 billion war-spending bill, a position once unthinkable for the party that characterized the money as support for the troops," The Hill points out. "For years, Republicans portrayed the bills funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as matters of national security and accused Democrats who voted against them of voting against the troops."

"Congressional Republicans are at their weakest point politically in decades, but they still appear to be keeping Democrats on the defensive when it comes to national security," Roll Call writes

The Democrats halfheartedly ran a few ads saying that the Republicans didn't support the troops but didn't really follow though because they actually didn't believe in the war funding themselves. So, the Republicans got away with doing what they accused the Democrats of doing for years.

Now we have this:
After years of trying to cut Medicare spending, Republican lawmakers have emerged as champions of the program, accusing Democrats of trying to steal from the elderly to cover the cost of health reform.


The cuts are designed to be relatively painless. Except for an increase in premiums for wealthier subscribers to the Medicare drug plan, the Baucus bill would not increase premiums or co-payments, or explicitly cut benefits, for most Medicare beneficiaries.


Fifty-six percent of seniors said they thought reform would weaken the Medicare program. With seniors likely to make up nearly 20 percent of the electorate in 2010, Republicans see Medicare as a potent campaign issue. In the Finance Committee, GOP senators moved repeatedly to strip the spending cuts from the bill.
For decades, the Republicans have been trying to gut Medicare. And every time they screamed bloody murder that the Democrats were "trying to scare seniors" when the Democrats pointed out what they were doing. Today, they are shamelessly doing exactly what they accused the Dems of doing --- and they are getting away with it.

It takes a lot of brass to be this brazenly hypocritical but they realize something that the Democrats don't, which is that there is no accountability for conservatives. Ever. And that's mostly because the liberals are confused by this and just keep playing by rules that only apply to themselves. In politics, the assault on reason is now a full fledged, mob beat down and reason is on life support.


True Colors

by dday

Here's the vote on the Rockefeller amendment: Rockefeller, Aye; Conrad, No; Bingaman, Aye; Kerry, Aye; Lincoln, No; Wyden, Aye; Schumer, Aye; Stabenow, Aye; Cantwell, Aye; Bill Nelson, No; Menendez, Aye; Carper, No; Grassley, No; Hatch, No, Snowe; No; Kyl, No; Bunning, No; Crapo, No; Roberts, No; Ensign, No; Enzi, No; Cornyn, No; Baucus, No.

8 Ayes, 15 Nos. Conrad, Lincoln, Bill Nelson, Carper and Baucus have been ferreted out. We'll see if anyone flips on the Schumer "level playing field" amendment. Given the debate on the prior amendment, I'd say that MAYBE Bill Nelson could go that route. Probably not anyone else.

Now we know which Democrats want to protect the insurance industry at the expense of people.

...UPDATE: Bill Nelson just agreed to vote for Chuck Schumer's "level playing field" amendment. And during Schumer's remarks, he thanked Tom Carper for helping "move us toward consensus." So we may pick up a couple votes here. Of course, the "level playing field" amendment, which doesn't tie a public option to Medicare rates, saves $85 billion less over 10 years than the Rockefeller amendment.

...Kent Conrad is saying that the Schumer amendment reflects a "significant improvement" on the Rockefeller amendment... so will he vote for it? No. "The place where we still have a difference is whether the non-profit option is run by the government." He's sticking with his crappy co-ops. Conrad says that Schumer is moving much closer to package that can get 60 votes on the floor, but he won't help move it, of course.

...Schumer amendment vote coming right up. Max Baucus once again says that "the public option can't get 60 votes, so I won't vote for it." It's the "innocent bystander" theory of government. Why, if only a Senator like Max Baucus had a vote on the bill, surely it could attract the necessary votes!

..here's the vote: Schumer Aye; Rockefeller Aye; Bingaman Aye; Kerry Aye; Cantwell Aye; Stabenow Aye; Wyden Aye; Menendez Aye; Bill Nelson Aye; Baucus No; Conrad No; Carper Aye; Lincoln No; All R's no.

So Carper and Nelson flipped. Amendment fails 10-13. Only Lincoln, Conrad and Baucus against it.

Burrowed In

by digby

Everyone on the right is totally appalled by the NEA enlisting artists to pass on the good word about government and rightly so. Nothing could be worse than using the power of the government for political purposes, right?

Well, unless it has to do with flogging an illegal and unnecessary war (or using the DOJ to tip elections.) Then it's perfectly acceptable. I'll be waiting to see if the right can figure out what they think about this (from Raw Story):

A key senior figure in a Bush administration covert Pentagon program, which used retired military analysts to produce positive wartime news coverage, remains in his same position today as a chief Obama Defense Department spokesman and the agency’s head of all media operations.

In an examination of Pentagon documents the New York Times obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request — which reporter David Barstow leveraged for his April 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winning expose on the program – Raw Story has found that Bryan Whitman surfaces in over 500 emails and transcripts, revealing the deputy assistant secretary of defense for media operations was both one of the program’s senior participants and an active member.


The program, ostensibly, was run out of the Pentagon’s public affairs office for community relations as part of its outreach and attended to by political appointees, most visibly in these records by then community relations chief Allison Barber and director Dallas Lawrence.

But as Barstow noted in his report, in running the program out of that office rather than from the agency’s regular press office, “the decision recalled other Bush administration tactics that subverted traditional journalism.” In addition to concealing the true nature of the program and the retired military officers’ participation in it, Raw Story uncovered another effect of this tactic.

It provided Bryan Whitman, a career civil servant and senior Defense Department official who oversees the press office and all media operations, cover if and when the program was revealed.

Additionally, while political appointees tend to come and go with each new administration, Whitman would be there before the program and he would be there after it. His status as a career civil servant, the fact that he’s worked for both Democratic and Republican administrations – something he points out often in public settings and did as well at the close of his recent phone interview with Raw Story — has also served to buffer him thus far from scrutiny regarding his involvement in this program.

Speaking with Mr. Whitman, he denied any involvement or senior role in the program, saying he only had “knowledge” of its existence and called the assertion “not accurate.”

Asked to explain the hundreds of records showing otherwise, Mr. Whitman replied, “No, I’m familiar with those documents and I’d just beg to differ with you,” though he did acknowledge being in “some” of them.

In defending his claim that he wasn’t involved in the program, Whitman reiterated numerous times that since it was not run out of his office, it was not under “my purview or my responsibility.”

Yet records clearly reveal that Whitman was not only fully aware of the program’s intent but also zealously pursued its goal of arming the military analysts with Pentagon talking points in an effort to dominate each relevant news cycle. He was consulted regularly, doled out directives, actively participated and was constantly in the loop.

Documented communications show that Whitman played a senior role in securing generals to brief the analysts, fashioned talking points to feed them, called analyst meetings to put out Pentagon and Bush administration PR fires, hosted meetings, determined which analysts should attend trips to wartime military sites (such as the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba) and received frequent, comprehensive reports detailing the analysts’ impact on the air, in print and online.

Now, we all know that artists and poets are far, far more powerful than the military, so it's not fair to compare the two. But still, consistency would require that the wingnuts be just a little bit appalled by the Bush adminstration and Pentagon pushing war propaganda in this blatant fashion. But we know consistency isn't exactly their strong suit.

But as with so many things, they must be confused about what to do about this. This fellow, after all, is now working on behalf of the Obama administration, which makes his activities a dangerous march to fascism where under Bush they were necessary, patriotic defenses of the homeland.

Public Service Announcement

by digby

For those of you lucky enough to have a job, the public option debate in the finance committee is being liveblogged by Brian Beutler and is streaming here.

Update: You have to love this:

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) continues to be a scold to the liberals in his party. Before a crowd of over 200 gathered at a senior center in Nebraska, Nelson said health care reform ought to pass with 65 votes--a feat which would require at least five Republicans to break with their party.

"I think anything less than that would challenge its legitimacy," he said.

That's so true. It's so much more legitimate to give 35 political enemies of the majority party veto power over all legislation, which is the very definition of democracy.

Update II: Dday, writing over at Brave New Films has a post up about the public option, replete with a BNF video to illustrate everything that's wrong with the Baucus Plan.

Smoking Gun

by dday

Tim Dickinson of Rolling Stone has a huge scoop - 15 years too late, but still a huge scoop - that again shows the capture of our government by corporate interests. It turns out that Betsy McCaughey, the wingnut noise machine creation, was actually a creation of - get this - Philip Morris:

During the debate over Clinton's health care overhaul in the early 1990s, McCaughey — then an academic at the right-wing Manhattan Institute — wrote an article for The New Republic called "No Exit," in which she claimed that Hillarycare would prevent even wealthy Americans from "going outside the system to purchase basic health coverage you think is better." Even though the bill plainly stated that "nothing in this Act" would prohibit consumers from purchasing additional care, McCaughey's claim was echoed endlessly in the press, with each repetition pounding a stake further into the heart of the reform effort.

McCaughey's lies were later debunked in a 1995 post-mortem in The Atlantic, and The New Republic recanted the piece in 2006. But what has not been reported until now is that McCaughey's writing was influenced by Philip Morris, the world's largest tobacco company, as part of a secret campaign to scuttle Clinton's health care reform. (The measure would have been funded by a huge increase in tobacco taxes.) In an internal company memo from March 1994, the tobacco giant detailed its strategy to derail Hillarycare through an alliance with conservative think tanks, front groups and media outlets. Integral to the company's strategy, the memo observed, was an effort to "work on the development of favorable pieces" with "friendly contacts in the media." The memo, prepared by a Philip Morris executive, mentions only one author by name:

"Worked off-the-record with Manhattan and writer Betsy McCaughey as part of the input to the three-part exposé in The New Republic on what the Clinton plan means to you. The first part detailed specifics of the plan."

The story goes on to say that Big Tobacco funded a front group called Citizens for a Sound Economy in 1993-94 to stage "grassroots revolts" in Congressional town hall meetings, which morphed this year into Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks.

We all knew McCaughey was a paid liar, but not a tobacco-funded paid liar. James Fallows has a bit more. This will be a great angle for the media to ignore the next time they invite McCaughey on one of their shows to tell us what's "really" in the health care bill.


Monday, September 28, 2009

Fed Up

by dday

Alan Greenspan had an interesting change of heart today. He endorsed the Consumer Financial Protection Agency as an overseer of banks and lenders.

For Alan Greenspan, lapdog to Ayn Rand, perhaps the only person in America not to recognize the possibility of human greed in the financial markets, to come out for a federal body overseeing the Masters of the Universe, the same kind of consumer protections he opposed while chairing the Fed, is quite a turnaround indeed. But then Greenspan told us that he was rethinking his theories after the biggest financial collapse since the Depression.

Greenspan: I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms…

Waxman: In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right, it was not working.

Greenspan: Absolutely, precisely. You know, that’s precisely the reason I was shocked, because I have been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well.

In particular, Greenspan said that the Fed's current responsibilities are quite enough for the body to manage without the added layer of consumer protection. He might have gone a bit further and mentioned that, when faced with a choice between monetary policy and consumer protection, the Fed will always choose the former. They don't exist for the mere consumer. You can see this in the performance of Alan Greenspan's Federal Reserve during the housing bubble.

The visits had a ritual quality. Three times a year, a coalition of Chicago community groups met with the Federal Reserve and other banking regulators to warn about the growing prevalence of abusive mortgage lending [...]

The evidence eventually led Illinois to file suit against Wells Fargo in July for discrimination and other abuses.

But during the years of the housing boom, the pleas failed to move the Fed, the sole federal regulator with authority over the businesses. Under a policy quietly formalized in 1998, the Fed refused to police lenders' compliance with federal laws protecting borrowers, despite repeated urging by consumer advocates across the country and even by other government agencies.

The hands-off policy, which the Fed reversed earlier this month, created a double standard. Banks and their subprime affiliates made loans under the same laws, but only the banks faced regular federal scrutiny. Under the policy, the Fed did not even investigate consumer complaints against the affiliates.

"In the prime market, where we need supervision less, we have lots of it. In the subprime market, where we badly need supervision, a majority of loans are made with very little supervision," former Fed Governor Edward M. Gramlich, a critic of the hands-off policy, wrote in 2007. "It is like a city with a murder law, but no cops on the beat."

Binyamin Appelbaum's story is well worth reading. If the Federal Reserve were a rank-and-file employee, they would have been fired long ago.

I don't know if Greenspan is trying to atone for past sins or actually learn from past experience. But when you have Greenspan and the World Bank in agreement with the likes of Elizabeth Warren, that Fed powers have grown too strong and a separate entity needs to be charged with protecting people who enter into financial arrangements, there clearly is a growing consensus here.

Planned Personhood

by digby

Here's the latest "pro-life" tactic, which I'm sure will be a lot of fun for all of us:

It is one of the enduring questions of religion and science, and lately of American politics: When does a fertilized egg become a person?

Abortion foes, tired of a profusion of laws that limit but do not abolish abortion, are trying to answer the question in a way that they hope could put an end to legalized abortion.

Across the country, they have revived efforts to amend state constitutions to declare that personhood -- and all rights accorded human beings -- begins at conception.

From Florida to California, abortion foes are gathering signatures, pressing state legislators and raising money to put personhood measures on ballots next year. In Louisiana, a class at a Catholic high school is lobbying state legislators as part of a civics exercise.


"I realize it's been defeated in every state where it's been attempted, but I am not discouraged," said Hoye, who has founded the California Civil Rights Foundation to push the initiative. "Everywhere I go from now on, we are going to be talking about personhood. Imagine the discussion statewide on whether the child inside the womb is human or not.

Yes. Imagine. Ugh.

This is just another harrassment strategy to wear down the population until they finally just give in out of sheer fatigue. I certainly know more than a few liberals who would love to add this to the death penalty, gun control column.


by digby

Dave Weigel reports from deep in the heart of the conservative movement:

Kitty Werthmann has made quite a career out of warning Americans that fascism is on its way. The 84-year-old native Austrian survived the excesses of the Third Reich and, in her dotage as a leader of the South Dakota branch of the Eagle Forum, recorded tapes and videos explaining just how Hitler took power. She made her case during George W. Bush’s presidency, but the audience was small–fringe conservative activists, radio hosts like Alex Jones. Then came President Barack Obama. On Saturday, at the “How to Take Back America” conference, Werthmann found herself speaking to an overflowing room of conservative activists about the parallels between Obama and the rise of Hitler.

“We had prayer in school before we started class, and after class,” said Werthmann. “One day I came into the classroom and the crucifix was gone, and there was Hitler’s picture, and the Nazi flag on either side. And our teacher said, ‘Today we don’t pray anymore. We sing ‘Deutschland, Deutschland Uber Alles.’” [I hope nobody tells her about the Pledge of Allegiance. hooboy... ed]

The audience of mostly female conservative activists murmured; some of them scrawled out detailed notes, shaking their heads at what they were hearing. It had been a few days since Fox News reported that a New Jersey school had children sing a song of praise to President Obama. They kept on writing and listening as Werthmann explained how Hitler had euthanized mentally handicapped children, and how he’d kept lists of political enemies.

“What would you suggest we do,” asked one activist, “if we are asked to give up our guns?”

“Don’t you dare give up your guns!” thundered Werthmann. “Never, never, never!”

“Give them back one bullet at a time!” called out another activist. The tense atmosphere melted a little bit; the room broke up with laughter.

Ah, good times at Phyllis Schlaffley's yearly confab. Apparently, it's more successful than ever this year.

But this was classic:

“If you look at the classic model for moving to Marxism,” said retired Lt. Gen. William Boykin, who would give the conference’s opening speech, “you look at what every Marxist organization has done, they nationalize. They redistribute wealth. They restrict gun ownership. They then go out and suppress the opposition. And then, finally, they censor the media.”

In his speech, Boykin–who has gotten into hot water for speaking out against Islam while in uniform–begged the audience to pray for their country. “It’s only because of intercessory prayer that we haven’t been hit again since September 11,” said Boykin. “Pray for America for 10 minutes a day. If we can mobilize millions of prayer warriors that can pray for 10 minutes a day, we can open the gates of heaven.”

Boykin, of course, is the Delta Force zealot Zelig who became famous for saying that he was fighting the terrorists for Jesus:

The Pentagon has assigned the task of tracking down and eliminating Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and other high-profile targets to an Army general who sees the war on terrorism as a clash between Judeo-Christian values and Satan.

Lt. Gen. William G. "Jerry" Boykin, the new deputy undersecretary of Defense for intelligence, is a much-decorated and twice-wounded veteran of covert military operations. From the bloody 1993 clash with Muslim warlords in Somalia chronicled in "Black Hawk Down" and the hunt for Colombian drug czar Pablo Escobar to the ill-fated attempt to rescue American hostages in Iran in 1980, Boykin was in the thick of things.

Lt. Gen. William G. ‘Jerry’ Boykin, speaking about battle with a Muslim warlord
Yet the former commander and 13-year veteran of the Army's top-secret Delta Force is also an outspoken evangelical Christian who appeared in dress uniform and polished jump boots before a religious group in Oregon in June to declare that radical Islamists hated the United States "because we're a Christian nation, because our foundation and our roots are Judeo-Christian ... and the enemy is a guy named Satan."

Discussing the battle against a Muslim warlord in Somalia, Boykin told another audience, "I knew my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol."

"We in the army of God, in the house of God, kingdom of God have been raised for such a time as this," Boykin said last year.

On at least one occasion, in Sandy, Ore., in June, Boykin said of President Bush: "He's in the White House because God put him there."

Interestingly, this super Christian is the same guy who went down to Guantanamo and dispatched General Geoffrey Miller to Iraq to "Gitmoize" Abu Ghraib. But then, that would make sense, wouldn't it?

Anyway, it's interesting to watch the Christian right shifting into anti-communism/fascism (which seems to have morphed into the same thing, which would come as a helluva surprise to Hitler and Stalin....) A guy like Boykin is perfect. He's a real Christian soldier, who fought for both God and the flag as if they were the same things --- kind of like the Nazis actually. He's an excellent standard bearer. The real Jack D. Ripper.

Wiegel's reports from the front are fascinating. The right may be confused but they are thrilled to be wallowing in their domestic paranoia once again. The Islamofascists are terrible and all, but they're nothing to the threat of the Amerifascists, the clear and present threat to everything the wingnuts hold dear.

A Vast Failure

by digby

Norah O'Donnell, Tamryn Hall and Jonathan Capehart examined Bill Clinton's statement over the week-end that the vast right wing conspiracy still exists. Here's what he said:

It's not as strong as it was, because America's changed demographically, but it's as virulent as it was. I mean, they're saying things about him--you know, it's like when they accused me of murder and all that stuff they did. He--but it's not really good for the Republicans and the country, what's going on now. I mean, they may be hurting President Obama. They can take his numbers down, they can run his opposition up. But fundamentally, he and his team have a positive agenda for America. Their agenda seems to be wanting him to fail, and that's not a prescription for a good America.

They all agreed that the virulence on the right still exists and that it has to do with the fact that these people simply don't believe that the president is legitimate. (They didn't believe that of Clinton either, btw, because he won with only a plurality of the vote. It's always something.) They talked about Richard Scaife and how he financed the conspiracy, but agreed that nobody is financing today's version. They seemed very sure of themselves.

This reminds me of a story I read in the NY Times a couple of days ago in which they profiled a plucky right wing activist named Bill Wilson:

It is the weekly research meeting at Americans for Limited Government, and Bill Wilson is presiding with gusto. The Obama administration is serving up so many rich targets that Mr. Wilson and his crew of young conservatives hardly know where to begin.

There is the small, minority-owned firm with deep ties to President Obama’s Chicago backers, made eligible by the Federal Reserve to handle potentially lucrative credit deals.

“I want to know how these firms are picked and who picked them,” Mr. Wilson, the group’s president, tells his eager researchers.

There is the Georgetown University professor, nominated for a top State Department post, who Mr. Wilson thinks is way too soft on Fidel Castro of Cuba and President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela. He is pleased that a Republican senator has put a hold on the nomination.

There are three new appointees to the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities — in the hunt for political vulnerabilities, no post is too humble to scrutinize.

“Are they for using the arts as propaganda, as opposed to just art?” Mr. Wilson asks. The researchers scribble notes.

Last November, when Mr. Obama won 53 percent of the vote and stirred many Americans with soaring rhetoric about what his administration might achieve, pundits wondered whether the election marked a symbolic end of the “government is the problem” era that Ronald Reagan had started. But eight months into Mr. Obama’s presidency, his proposals have hugely energized his opposition.

A longtime Boy Scout leader with a broad light bulb of a forehead, Mr. Wilson, 56, seems to take avuncular pleasure in mentoring his young staff members at Americans for Limited Government, a nonprofit advocacy group with a $4 million budget. In person, he is no obvious firebrand.

But for more than 30 years, migrating through groups pushing right-to-work laws, term limits and school choice, he has been a member of Washington’s permanent class of ideological activists. Appointed to no government post, elected to no office, they populate research and advocacy groups with names that often seem to include the word “American,” laboring to steer the ship of state to the left or right.

A non-profit advocacy group with a four million dollar budget, you say? Why how interesting. Where do you suppose they get the money? Well, it isn't their membership:

While Americans for Limited Government claims 400,000 members in its literature, that turns out to be wishful thinking; that is the number of “conservatives” on an e-mail list it bought from a marketing vendor. And the group cannot claim credit for any single major victory against the administration to date. But its relentless agitation has clearly helped rally the opposition.

Yes it has. But where do they get that four million dollars? You won't know about that until you get to the 26th paragraph, the fourth paragraph from the end:

In 1992, he was contacted by Howard Rich, a New York real estate magnate who has poured much of his fortune into conservative causes.

The relationship has lasted, and Mr. Rich has been a crucial financer of Mr. Wilson’s efforts at a series of organizations: U.S. Term Limits, Parents in Charge and Americans for Limited Government.

Howard Rich is well known to anyone who follows right wing politics, (but completely unknown to the public at large) and the fact that he supports this allegedly "grassroots" activist with a four million dollar a year endowment is the actual story. And once again, just as they did in the 90s, they are refusing to report it.

And just as they did in the 90s they blame Clinton for being a target. O'Donnell made the point in her commentary that the real difference is that the Clintons insisted on "engaging" these people whereas Obama refuses to. (I say, wait until he's got special prosecutors crawling all over him 24/7 and is being impeached and then see if he feels the need to fight back...)

Meanwhile, just as it was at the Washington Post last week, the garment rending over their alleged failure to write about the depth of the ACORN threat continues in the MSM, this time at the very same NY Times that wrote a glowing profile of one of the people who flogged the story for ideological purposes in the first place. You can't make this stuff up:

Jill Abramson, the managing editor for news, agreed with me that the paper was “slow off the mark,” and blamed “insufficient tuned-in-ness to the issues that are dominating Fox News and talk radio.” She and Bill Keller, the executive editor, said last week that they would now assign an editor to monitor opinion media and brief them frequently on bubbling controversies. Keller declined to identify the editor, saying he wanted to spare that person “a bombardment of e-mails and excoriation in the blogosphere.”

One need only to look back at how this worked the first time to feel a chill at the idea that they are going to do it all over again:

It's not as if the press didn't know from the very beginning with whom they were dealing because they were called to task for their stenographic use of Citizens United "press packages" all the way back in June of 1994 by Trudy Lieberman in the Columbia Journalism Review:

Bossie, the twenty-eight-year-old political director for Citizens United, a conservative Republican operation, runs an information factory whose Whitewater production lines turn out a steady stream of tips, tidbits, documents, factoids, suspicions, and story ideas for the nation's press and for Republicans on Capitol Hill. Journalists and Hill Republicans have recycled much of the information provided by Citizens United into stories that have cast a shadow on the Clinton presidency.


...Citizens United has collected thousands of facts and documents on Whitewater and packaged it all to catch the attention of the press and to restoke the story whenever it threatened to die down.

Bossie and Brown have been briefing people since October -- "the top fifty major publications, networks, and editorial boards," Bossie says. "We've provided the same material on the Hill both on the House and Senate side." An equal opportunity source, Bossie says he would gladly provide documents to Democrats, but they haven't asked.

Francis Shane, publisher of Citizens United's newsletter, ClintonWatch, hesitates to say exactly whom they've worked with -- "We don't particularly like to pinpoint people" -- but he does say, "We have worked closer with The New York Times than The Washington Times." Jeff Gerth, The New York Times's chief reporter on Whitewater, hesitated to talk on the record. He did say, "If Citizens United has some document that's relevant, I take it. I check it out like anything else


The March 1994 issue of ClintonWatch characterized the organization's impact on Whitewater press coverage this way: "We here at ClintonWatch have been working day and night with the major news media to help them get the word out about the Clintons and their questionable dealings in Whitewater and Madison Guaranty." Of course, Citizens United is not the only source of information on Whitewater. And reputable reporters do their own digging and doublechecking. Still, an examination of some 200 news stories from the major news outlets aired or published since November shows an eerie similarity between the Citizens United agenda and what has been appearing in the press, not only in terms of specific details but in terms of omissions, spin, and implication.


Whitewater is about character, publisher Fran Shane tells me. "The American people have elected a president with 43 percent of the vote. He is a man of no character. He may have to tell the people he didn't come clean. We're saying Bill Clinton may not be worth saving."

Many news organizations explain the importance of Whitewater in similar terms. Take Time, for instance. In a January 24 story laced with references to documents that also appear in Bossie's Whitewater collection, the magazine pronounced that "the investigation concerns the much larger issue of whether a President and First Lady can be trusted to obey the law and tell the truth."

Now please tell me how the Bill Wilson operation differs from that one. The only thing he is doing that Citizens United didn't do is use the internet, but that's only because it didn't really exist for public use then. Everything else is VRWC 101.

In fact, if I didn't know better, I'd assume that that puff piece on Wilson was a beat sweetener for the NY Times reporter, Scott Shane, who hopes to have greater access to more of those important ACORN and Van Jones scandals the mainstream press wants to get in on when they first "bubble up" in the conservative noise machine. I'm sure Wilson will be very happy to slip Shane some good dirt whenever he wants it. After all, he's got a four million dollar operation funded by a right wing millionaire and a full time staff dedicated to the task.

And why not? If it weren't for the fact that the newspaper business is almost dead and the respect for the news media among the public is somewhere between Michael Vick and Dick Cheney, you couldn't think of one good reason why they shouldn't do it. Just as the financial sector learned nothing from their actions of the past two decades, neither has the press. They know they are failing but it never occurs to them that it's because they refuse to tell the real stories.

Minority Report

by dday

The very manly Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee, blessed with the manliest of manliness, have decided to take their toys and go home rather than participate in a probably-toothless study of the CIA torture program, because they're so personally hurt that anyone could be held responsible for lawbreaking.

Republicans on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence said Friday that they will no longer participate in an investigation into the Bush administration's interrogation policies, arguing that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.'s decision to reexamine allegations of detainee abuse by the CIA would hobble any inquiry [...]

"Had Mr. Holder honored the pledge made by the President to look forward, not backwards, we would still be active participants in the Committee's review," the ranking Republican on the intelligence panel, Sen. Christopher S. Bond of Missouri, said in a statement. "What current or former CIA employee would be willing to gamble his freedom by answering the Committee's questions? Indeed, forcing these terror fighters to make this choice is neither fair nor just."

"Terror fighters." That premieres right after 24 on Fox this fall, right? (It's certainly not going to be on after Law And Order.)

I suppose another word you could use in place of "terror fighters" is "murderers," but that would be grossly uncouth and would cause a run on fainting couches in Washington, particularly in the Republican caucus.

I will say that the bravery on display by these Republicans, not seen since the times of Sir Robin, is truly inspiring. They know just how to treat allegations of wrongdoing - with the most studied indifference and, if necessary, outright ignorance. They make me proud to be an American.

The only problem with their strategy is that others will not forget so easily. There are multiple court challenges and civil suits and investigations and FOIA requests. I suppose the defense attorneys in these cases can take the example of the Senate GOP and walk out of the proceedings, but it's unlikely to have the same impact.

I think the next step for Kit Bond and his charges will be to write a minority report, refuting whatever comes from the committee investigation and pressing for expanded CIA powers to, I don't know, pull the fingernails out of suspects in the name of fighting terror. Watch for who leads that minority report authoring, it may be important later.

But there were dissenters. A number of House Republicans on the committee cheered Colonel North on. One who led the way was Dick Cheney of Wyoming, who praised Colonel North as “the most effective and impressive witness certainly this committee has heard.”

Mr. Cheney the congressman believed that Congress had usurped executive prerogatives. He saw the Iran-contra investigation not as an effort to get to the bottom of possible abuses of power but as a power play by Congressional Democrats to seize duties and responsibilities that constitutionally belonged to the president.

At the conclusion of the hearings, a dissenting minority report codified these views. The report’s chief author was a former resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Michael J. Malbin, who was chosen by Mr. Cheney as a member of the committee’s minority staff. Another member of the minority’s legal staff, David S. Addington, is now the vice president’s chief of staff [...]

The report made a point of invoking the framers. It cited snippets from the Federalist Papers — like Alexander Hamilton’s remarks endorsing “energy in the executive” — in order to argue that the president’s long-acknowledged prerogatives had only recently been usurped by a reckless Democratic Congress.

Above all, the report made the case for presidential primacy over foreign relations. It cited as precedent the Supreme Court’s 1936 ruling in United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corporation, which referred to the “exclusive power of the president as the sole organ of the federal government in the field of international relations.”

History, the report claimed, “leaves little, if any doubt that the president was expected to have the primary role of conducting the foreign policy of the United States.” It went on: “Congressional actions to limit the president in this area therefore should be reviewed with a considerable degree of skepticism. If they interfere with the core presidential foreign policy functions, they should be struck down.”

Maybe they'll just dust off that old report and replace "Iran-Contra" with "torture" and be done with it.

Very Serious People

by digby

Here's an acid flashback to start the week:

Quit Doling Out That Bad-Economy Line

By Donald Luskin
Sunday, September 14, 2008

"It was the worst of times, and it was the worst of times."

I imagine that's what Charles Dickens would conclude about the current condition of the U.S. economy, based on the relentless drumbeat of pessimism in the media and on the campaign trail. In the past two months, this newspaper alone has written no fewer than nine times, in news stories, columns and op-eds, that key elements of the economy are the worst they've been "since the Great Depression." That diagnosis has been applied twice to the housing "slump" and once to the housing "crisis," to the "severe" decline in home prices, to the "spike" in mortgage foreclosures, to the "change" in the mortgage market and the "turmoil" in debt markets, and to the "crisis" or "meltdown" in financial markets.

It's a virus -- and it's spreading. Do a Google News search for "since the Great Depression," and you come up with more than 4,500 examples of the phrase's use in just the past month.

But that doesn't make any of it true. Things today just aren't that bad. Sure, there are trouble spots in the economy, as the government takeover of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and jitters about Wall Street firm Lehman Brothers, amply demonstrate. And unemployment figures are up a bit, too. None of this, however, is cause for depression -- or exaggerated Depression comparisons.

I assume Luskin is still employed and is still consulted on economic matters by all the serious important people. Certainly, he is more respected than those Cassandras and doomsayers who were "prematurely pessimistic." There is no crime in being completely wrong, but woe to anyone who is right earlier than everyone else. He or she will never be forgiven for such rude prescience.

h/t top db
Days Of Decision

by dday

The McChrystal request for more troops in Afghanistan is reportedly as much as 45,000. It's now on a shelf at the Pentagon as deliberations continue in the White House on reviewing the overall strategy. Obama has no scheduled events today. That could be in observation of Yom Kippur, but what's also likely is a day of internal discussion over the way forward in Afghanistan. The President has reached beyond his circle of advisors in making this decision.

The competing advice and concerns fuel a pivotal struggle to shape the president’s thinking about a war that he inherited but may come to define his tenure. Among the most important outside voices has been that of former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, a retired four-star Army general, who visited Mr. Obama in the Oval Office this month and expressed skepticism that more troops would guarantee success. According to people briefed on the discussion, Mr. Powell reminded the president of his longstanding view that military missions should be clearly defined.

Mr. Powell is one of the three people outside the administration, along with Senator John F. Kerry and Senator Jack Reed, considered by White House aides to be most influential in this current debate. All have expressed varying degrees of doubt about the wisdom of sending more forces to Afghanistan.

Mr. Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has warned of repeating the mistakes of Vietnam, where he served, and has floated the idea of a more limited counterterrorist mission. Mr. Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island and an Army veteran, has not ruled out supporting more troops but said “the burden of proof” was on commanders to justify it.

In the West Wing, beyond Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has advocated an alternative strategy to the troop buildup, other presidential advisers sound dubious about more troops, including Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff, and Gen. James L. Jones, the national security adviser, according to people who have spoken with them. At the same time, Mr. Obama is also hearing from more hawkish figures, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Richard Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Even inside the Pentagon, opinions are mixed as to whether more troops will make a difference.

The assumption of the hawks, that allowing Afghanistan to fall to the Taliban will automatically signal a return of Al Qaeda into the country as a safe haven, reminds me of the domino theory - speculative, ignorant of the local dynamic, and based on scant evidence. James Jones, the national security advisor, seemed to dismiss it the other day. Al Qaeda already enjoys a safe haven of a fashion in Pakistan, and "safe havens" in host countries are completely unnecessary for individuals and groups in Western countries, for example, to attempt attacks. An Afghanistan-centered strategy, in this context, seems foolish.

I think Joe Biden's role in this is interesting. He was maybe the pre-eminent humanitarian interventionist in the Democratic Party for a long time, the model of a liberal hawk, until coming up against Afghanistan and recognizing that the nation-building effort had no partner and was doomed to failure. It's the personal meetings between Biden and Hamid Karzai that appear to have soured him on the whole project and shift to a counter-terrorism focus:

Nothing shook his faith quite as much as what you might call the Karzai dinners. The first occurred in February 2008, during a fact-finding trip to Afghanistan that Biden took with fellow senators John Kerry and Chuck Hagel. Dining on platters of rice and lamb at the heavily fortified presidential palace in Kabul, Biden and his colleagues grilled Karzai about reports of corruption and the growing opium trade in the country, which the president disingenuously denied. An increasingly impatient Biden challenged Karzai's assertions until he lost his temper. Biden finally stood up and threw down his napkin, declaring, "This meeting is over," before he marched out of the room with Hagel and Kerry. It was a similar story nearly a year later. As Obama prepared to assume the presidency in January, he dispatched Biden on a regional fact-finding trip. Again Biden dined with Karzai, and, again, the meeting was contentious. Reiterating his prior complaints about corruption, Biden warned Karzai that the Bush administration's kid-glove treatment was over; the new team would demand more of him.

Biden's revised view of Karzai was pivotal. Whereas he had once felt that, with sufficient U.S. support, Afghanistan could be stabilized, now he wasn't so sure. "He's aware that a basic rule of counterinsurgency is that you need a reliable local partner," says one person who has worked with Biden in the past. The trip also left Biden wondering about the clarity of America's mission. At the White House, he told colleagues that "if you asked ten different U.S. officials in that country what their mission was, you'd get ten different answers," according to a senior White House aide. He was also growing increasingly concerned about the fate of Pakistan. Biden has been troubled by the overwhelmingly disproportionate allocation of U.S. resources to Afghanistan in comparison to Pakistan, a ratio one administration official measures as 30:1. Indeed, before leaving the Senate last year, Biden authored legislation that would triple U.S. non-military aid to Islamabad to $1.5 billion per year. (House-Senate bickering has tied up the plan for months, and Biden has recently been working the phones to broker a compromise.)

Actually, that tripling of aid for Pakistan passed the Senate unanimously this past week.

Biden actually lost this fight the first time around to the hawks, but the futility of the fraudulent election has brought things into a different view. And yet the White House and other NATO members feel obliged to actually support Karzai, mainly because of his ethnicity (a Tajik like Abdullah Abdullah would lose the Pashto-dominated country quickly). Just writing a sentence like that leads to the conclusion that building a stable government here is impossible.

Frank Rich looks at the deliberations in the White House through the prism of the Vietnam era and the release of a new book detailing that policymaking:

George Stephanopoulos reported that the new “must-read book” for President Obama’s war team is “Lessons in Disaster” by Gordon M. Goldstein, a foreign-policy scholar who had collaborated with McGeorge Bundy, the Kennedy-Johnson national security adviser, on writing a Robert McNamara-style mea culpa about his role as an architect of the Vietnam War.

Bundy left his memoir unfinished at his death in 1996. Goldstein’s book, drawn from Bundy’s ruminations and deep new research, is full of fresh information on how the best and the brightest led America into the fiasco. “Lessons in Disaster” caused only a modest stir when published in November, but The Times Book Review cheered it as “an extraordinary cautionary tale for all Americans.” The reviewer was, of all people, the diplomat Richard Holbrooke, whose career began in Vietnam and who would later be charged with the Afghanistan-Pakistan crisis by the new Obama administration [...]

As Goldstein said to me last week, it’s “eerie” how closely even these political maneuvers track those of a half-century ago, when J.F.K. was weighing whether to send combat troops to Vietnam. Military leaders lobbied for their new mission by planting leaks in the press. Kennedy fired back by authorizing his own leaks, which, like Obama’s, indicated his reservations about whether American combat forces could turn a counterinsurgency strategy into a winnable war.

We shall know the outcome of these days of decision within weeks. Obama has a responsibility, not to rubber-stamp the views of Washington hawks and counter-insurgency lovers, but to outline the best possible policy for the future. I don't see how committing 100,000-plus troops to Afghanistan for five years or more, to defend an illegitimate government, to fight an invisible enemy, fits with that mandate.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Throwing Punches

by digby

Last week I wondered:

Does anyone else find it odd that the Obama administration consistently uses the most hardball, down and dirty, tough guy tactics when it comes to Democratic Party electoral politics but pleads that it is required to observe every arcane, institutional ritual when it comes to legislation?

David Sirota finds it plenty odd too. He writes about the latest somewhat, shall we say, questionable tactic by Jim Messina, former Baucus aid and Emmanuel enforcer:

[T]he Denver Post gives us a sense of just how hard those punches are being thrown. The front-page Sunday story details how President Emanuel dispatched former Max Baucus aide and current Vice President Jim Messina to, as the Post says, "try to buy off" former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (D) with a job before he announced his primary challenge to appointed Sen. Michael Bennet (D).

There's probably nothing illegal about this - although you can't really say that for sure. Let's not forget that Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was indicted and impeached for allegedly trying to horse-trade jobs for senate seats. But legal questions aside, it shows that while President Emanuel may do nothing to stop insurance and pharmaceutical companies write health care legislation, he's going to do everything he can to make sure that incumbents are not bothered by local primary challenges - even those that might create a dynamic that helps pass President Emanuel's legislative agenda.

The danger for President Emanuel, of course, is that the big foot strategy make backfire, especially out here in the West:

"It may make the situation worse for Bennet for them to play the game this way," said state Rep. Kathleen Curry, a Gunnison lawmaker who is supporting Romanoff.

"People in Colorado have an adverse reaction to the external forces coming down and telling them how to think," she said.

The timing of Messina's latest intervention sparked particular concern - because of the appearance that the administration was trying to buy off a nettlesome opponent, to some; to others, because the timing made the effort appear so ham-handed.

As I've said, I have no dog in the primary fight - I just want to see local democracy be allowed to run its course.

It's this willingness to play the hardest hardball when it comes to candidates that makes me skeptical that the administration is being hamstrung by the congress rather than using that as an excuse. They certainly have the cojones to lead the party with an iron fist when it comes to electoral politics so it's hard for me to believe that Rahm and Jim (and the president) just can't herd those Democratic fat cats in the congress. It appears to me as if they have no trouble exerting their power when they want to.

This thing with Messina could be a big mess. We'll see if the administration puts up more of a fight for their favorite little insider than they have for the teabagger targets.

Double Indemnity

by digby

Same as it ever was ...

h/t to DG

Totally LRad, Bra

by digby

Here's the police state's latest toy:

Pittsburgh police on Thursday used an audio cannon manufactured by American Technology Corporation (ATCO), a San Diego-based company, to disperse protesters outside the G-20 Summit -- the first time its LRAD series device has been used on civilians in the U.S.


"The police fired a sound cannon that emitted shrill beeps, causing demonstrators to cover their ears and back up," The New York Times reported. For years, similar "non-lethal" products designed by ATC have been used at sea by cruise ships to ward off pirates.


Now that the law enforcement authorites have begun using the LRAD in U.S. cities, a whole new marketplace for the company may have opened up. Don't be surprised to see a LRAD at an event with large crowds in your town sometime in the future.

Oh goodie. There's nothing I like better than having my sensitive ears spiked with piercing, painful sound. I guess I won't be going to any protests. Oh well. Apparently, it's quite disorienting and painful:

Putnam acknowledged the potential for physical harm. "If you stand right next to it for several minutes, you could have hearing damage," he said. "But it's your choice." He added that heavy-duty ear-phones can render the weapon less effective.

Well at least they didn't use Shockwave. And hey,remember, it's your choice to get tasered or shot too. That's what freedom's all about.

And let's face facts, protesters will learn to wear ear plugs and headphones and only innocent bystanders will be hit with the painful noise. That'll teach them.

And don't think it can't happen:

A nonlethal device best known for beating back pirates off the coast of Somalia was deployed by local police in San Diego at political gatherings, and even at a competition to build sand castles, according to a local publication.

“The [Long Range Acoustic Device] was stationed by San Diego County Sheriff deputies at a recent town hall forum hosted by Congresswoman Susan Davis (D-San Diego) in Spring Valley and at a subsequent town hall with Congressman Darrell Issa (R-San Diego),” East Country Magazine reported after reviewing official records. It was also parked at a local sand-building competition along the beach.

Though the Long Range Acoustic Device can be used for hailing, it has also been employed as a weapon, most prominently in 2005 by a cruise ship, which used it to ward off attacking pirates. In fact, the device, which was developed after the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, is designed precisely for that sort of mission. It can permanently damage hearing, depending on how it’s used.

Deploying the Long Range Acoustic Device to local events has provided ammunition to critics of Police Sheriff Bill Gore, who was the agent-in-charge of the FBI’s infamous 1992 Ruby Ridge siege. In response to questions posed by East Country Magazine about use of the technology, Gore said that officers had the appropriate training and that the device’s use as a deterrent is just a “precaution in case you need it.”

It's your choice to go to a public beach where sand castle competitions are being held. If you don't want to be blasted with ear splitting noise that could damage your ear drums, don't leave your house. And have it sound proofed.