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REVEALED: The Democrats’ devious plan to compromise with the Republicans April 3, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Health.
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–>, www.opednews.com, April 2, 2012

In Monday’s New York Times, Ross Douthat explains the devious reasoning behind the Democrats’ adoption of the individual mandate: “It protected the Democratic bill on two fronts at once: buying off some of the most influential interest groups even as it hid the true cost of universal coverage.”

Clever! But I can’t help feeling like Ross is forgetting something. There was some other reason Democrats adopted this policy. I’m almost sure of it. If you give me a second, I’m sure it’ll come to me.

Ah, right! Because Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, was saying things like “I believe that there is a bipartisan consensus to have individual mandates,” and “individual mandates are more apt to be accepted by a majority of the people in Congress than an employer mandate.”

And it wasn’t just Grassley. A New York Times columnist by the name of Ross Douthat praised Utah Sen. Bob Bennett for “his willingness to co-sponsor a centrist (in a good way!) health care reform bill with the Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden.” That health-care reform bill was the Healthy Americans Act which included, yes, an individual mandate. But while Douthat did later say that the Healthy Americans Act wasn’t his “preferred health care reform,” at no point did he accuse Bennett of “buying off some of the most influential interest groups” even as he “hid the true cost of universal coverage.”

The Healthy Americans Act, meanwhile, had been cosponsored by a bevy of heavy-hitting Senate Republicans, including Lamar Alexander, Mike Crapo, Bob Corker, Judd Gregg, Norm Coleman and Trent Lott. And it’s not like they were off the reservation in some significant way: In 2007, both Sen. Jim DeMint and the National Review endorsed Mitt Romney, who had passed an individual mandate into law in Massachusetts. In their endorsements, both icons of conservatism specifically mentioned his health-care plan as a reason for their endorsement. DeMint, for instance, praised Romney’s health-care plan as “something that I think we should do for the whole country.”

Avik Roy points out that many liberals — including candidate Barack Obama — were historically skeptical of the individual mandate. And that’s true! There was a robust debate inside the party as to whether Democrats should move from proposing a government-centric health-care model to one Republicans had developed in order to preserve the centrality of “personal responsibility” and private health insurers. Many liberals opposed such a shift. But they lost to the factions in the party that wanted health-care reform to be a bipartisan endeavor.

Roy tries to use this to draw some equivalence between the two parties. Both Democrats and Republicans changed their mind on the individual mandate, he argues. But there’s a key difference: The Democrats changed their mind in order to secure a bipartisan compromise on health-care reform. Republicans changed their mind in order to prevent one.

And so what did Democrats get for their troubles? Well, the individual mandate is the least popular element of the health-care law. The entire Republican Party decided the individual mandate was an unconstitutional assault on freedom. And today, even relatively moderate Republicans like Douthat present the mandate as some kind of underhanded trick.

That’s politics, I guess. But ask yourself: If Obamacare is overturned, and Obama is defeated, who will win the Democratic Party’s next fight over health care? Probably not the folks counseling compromise. Too many Democrats have seen how that goes. How much easier to propose a bill that expands Medicaid eligibility to 300 percent of the poverty line, covers every child through the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and makes Medicare availability to every American over age 50. Add in some high-risk pools, pay for the bill by slapping a surtax on rich Americans — indisputably constitutional, as even Randy Barnett will tell you — and you’ve covered most of the country’s uninsured. Oh, and you can pass the whole thing through the budget reconciliation process.

I don’t think that’s a particularly good future for the health-care system. And I doubt that bill will pass anytime soon. But, if Obamacare goes down, something like it will eventually be passed. And what will Republicans have to say about it? That no, this time, they really would have worked with the Democrats to reform America’s health-care system? Who will believe them?

The always-expanding bipartisan Surveillance State May 20, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Democracy.
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Friday, May 20, 2011 08:21 ET

When I wrote earlier this week about Jane Mayer’s New Yorker article on the Obama administration’s war on whistleblowers, the passage I hailed as “the single paragraph that best conveys the prime, enduring impact of the Obama presidency” included this observation from Yale Law Professor Jack Balkin:  “We are witnessing the bipartisan normalization and legitimization of a national-surveillance state.”  There are three events — all incredibly from the last 24 hours — which not only prove how true that is, but vividly highlight how it functions and why it is so odious.

First, consider what Democrats and Republicans just jointly did with regard to the Patriot Act, the very naming of which once sent progressives into spasms of vocal protest and which long served as the symbolic shorthand for Bush/Cheney post-9/11 radicalism:

Top congressional leaders agreed Thursday to a four-year extension of the anti-terrorist Patriot Act, the controversial law passed after the Sept. 11 attacks that governs the search for terrorists on American soil.

The deal between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker John Boehner calls for a vote before May 27, when parts of the current act expire. The idea is to pass the extension with as little debate as possible to avoid a protracted and familiar argument over the expanded power the law gives to the government. . . .

From its inception, the law’s increased surveillance powers have been criticized by liberals and conservatives alike as infringements on free speech rights and protections against unwarranted searches and seizures.

Some Patriot Act opponents suggest that Osama bin Laden’s demise earlier this month should prompt Congress to reconsider the law, written when the terrorist leader was at the peak of his power. But the act’s supporters warn that al-Qaida splinter groups, scattered from Pakistan to the United States and beyond, may try to retaliate.

Now more than ever, we need access to the crucial authorities in the Patriot Act,” Attorney General Eric Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

This will be the second time that the Democratic Congress — with the support of President Obama (who once pretended to favor reforms) — has extended the Patriot Act without any changes.  And note the rationale for why it was done in secret bipartisan meetings:  to ensure “as little debate as possible” and “to avoid a protracted and familiar argument over the expanded power the law gives to the government.”  Indeed, we wouldn’t want to have any messy, unpleasant democratic debates over “the expanded power the law gives to the government.”  Here we find yet again the central myth of our political culture:  that there is too little bipartisanship when the truth is there is little in Washington but that. And here we also find — yet again — that the killing of Osama bin Laden is being exploited to justify a continuation, rather than a reduction, in the powers of the National Security and Surveillance States.

Next we have a new proposal from the Obama White House to drastically expand the scope of “National Security Letters” — the once-controversial and long-abused creation of the Patriot Act that allows the FBI to obtain private records about American citizens without the need for a subpoena or any court approval — so that it now includes records of your Internet activities:

White House proposal would ease FBI access to records of Internet activity

The Obama administration is seeking to make it easier for the FBI to compel companies to turn over records of an individual’s Internet activity without a court order if agents deem the information relevant to a terrorism or intelligence investigation.

The administration wants to add just four words — “electronic communication transactional records” — to a list of items that the law says the FBI may demand without a judge’s approval. Government lawyers say this category of information includes the addresses to which an Internet user sends e-mail; the times and dates e-mail was sent and received; and possibly a user’s browser history. . .

Stewart A. Baker, a former senior Bush administration Homeland Security official, said the proposed change would broaden the bureau’s authority. “It’ll be faster and easier to get the data,” said Baker, who practices national security and surveillance law. “And for some Internet providers, it’ll mean giving a lot more information to the FBI in response to an NSL.” . . .

To critics, the move is another example of an administration retreating from campaign pledges to enhance civil liberties in relation to national security. The proposal is “incredibly bold, given the amount of electronic data the government is already getting,” said Michelle Richardson, American Civil Liberties Union legislative counsel.

The critics say its effect would be to greatly expand the amount and type of personal data the government can obtain without a court order. “You’re bringing a big category of data — records reflecting who someone is communicating with in the digital world, Web browsing history and potentially location information — outside of judicial review,” said Michael Sussmann, a Justice Department lawyer under President Bill Clinton who now represents Internet and other firms.

So first they conspire with the GOP to extend the Patriot Act without any reforms, then seek to expand its most controversial and invasive provisions to obtain the Internet activities of American citizens without having to bother with a subpoena or judicial approval — “they” being the Democratic White House.

Most critically, the government’s increased ability to learn more and more about the private activities of its citizens is accompanied — as always — by an ever-increasing wall of secrecy it erects around its own actions.  Thus, on the very same day that we have an extension of the Patriot Act and a proposal to increase the government’s Internet snooping powers, we have this:

The Justice Department should publicly release its legal opinion that allows the FBI to obtain telephone records of international calls made from the U.S. without any formal legal process, a watchdog group asserts.

The nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation alleges in a lawsuit filed Thursday that the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel violated federal open-records laws by refusing to release the memo.

The suit was prompted in part by McClatchy’s reporting that highlighted the existence of the memo and the department’s refusal to release it. Earlier this year, McClatchy also requested a copy and was turned down.

The decision not to release the memo is noteworthy because the Obama administration — in particular the Office of Legal Counsel — has sought to portray itself as more open than the Bush administration was. By turning down the foundation’s request for a copy, the department is ensuring that its legal arguments in support of the FBI’s controversial and discredited efforts to obtain telephone records will be kept secret.

What’s extraordinary about the Obama DOJ’s refusal to release this document is that it does not reveal the eavesdropping activities of the Government but only its legal rationale for why it is ostensibly permitted to engage in those activities.  The Bush DOJ’s refusal to release its legal memos authorizing its surveillance and torture policies was unquestionably one of the acts that provoked the greatest outrage among Democratic lawyers and transparency advocates (see, for instance, Dawn Johnsen’s scathing condemnation of the Bush administration for its refusal to release OLC legal reasoning: “reliance on ‘secret law’ threatens the effective functioning of American democracy” and “the withholding from Congress and the public of legal interpretations by the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) upsets the system of checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches of government.”

The way a republic is supposed to function is that there is transparency for those who wield public power and privacy for private citizens.  The National Security State has reversed that dynamic completely, so that the Government (comprised of the consortium of public agencies and their private-sector “partners”) knows virtually everything about what citizens do, but citizens know virtually nothing about what they do (which is why WikiLeaks specifically and whistleblowers generally, as one of the very few remaining instruments for subverting that wall of secrecy, are so threatening to them).  Fortified by always-growing secrecy weapons, everything they do is secret — including even the “laws” they secretly invent to authorize their actions  — while everything you do is open to inspection, surveillance and monitoring.

This dynamic threatens to entrench irreversible, absolute power for reasons that aren’t difficult to understand.  Knowledge is power, as the cliché teaches.  When powerful factions can gather unlimited information about citizens, they can threaten, punish, and ultimately deter any meaningful form of dissent:  J. Edgar Hoover infamously sought to drive Martin Luther King, Jr. to suicide by threatening to reveal King’s alleged adultery discovered by illicit surveillance; as I described earlier today in my post on New York’s new Attorney General, Eliot Spitzer was destroyed in the middle of challenging Wall Street as the result of a massive federal surveillance scheme that uncovered his prostitution activities.  It is the rare person indeed with nothing to hide, and allowing the National Security State faction unfettered, unregulated intrusive power into the private affairs of citizens — as we have been inexorably doing — is to vest them with truly awesome, unlimited power.

Conversely, allowing government officials to shield their own conduct from transparency and (with the radical Bush/Obama version of the “State Secrets privilege”) even judicial review ensures that National Security State officials (public and private) can do whatever they want without any detection and (therefore) without limit or accountability.  That is what the Surveillance State, at its core, is designed to achieve: the destruction of privacy for individual citizens and an impenetrable wall of secrecy for those with unlimited surveillance power.  And as these three events just from the last 24 hours demonstrate, this system — with fully bipartisan support — is expanding more rapidly than ever.

The Absence of Debate over War May 24, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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Published on Monday, May 24, 2010 by Salon.comby Glenn Greenwald

The Washington Post‘s Fred Hiatt ponders how little attention our various wars received during the primary campaigns that were just held:  “You would hardly know, from following this year’s election campaign or the extensive coverage of last week’s primaries, that America is at war. . . . those wars, and the wisdom of committing to or withdrawing from them, have hardly been mentioned in the hard-fought campaigns of the spring.”  Hiatt is right in that observation, and it’s worth examining the reasons for this.

One significant cause of America’s indifference to the wars we are waging is that those wars have virtually no effect on the overwhelming majority of Americans, while they impose a huge cost on a tiny sliver of the population:  those who fight the wars and their families.  Hiatt acknowledges that fact:  “it’s yet another reminder of American society’s separation from its professional military.”  If anyone would know about that, it’s the endless-war-loving, nowhere-near-a-battlefield Fred Hiatt.

Everyone from the Founders to George Orwell thought (and hoped) that the massive societal costs which war imposes would be a deterrent to their being fought, but most Americans who express their “support” for these wars bear absolutely no cost whatsoever.  Worse, many who cheer for our wars enjoy that most intoxicating and distorting reward:  cost-free benefits, in the form of vicarious feelings of strength, purpose, nobility and the like, all from a safe distance.  It’s very difficult to generate attention for political issues that do not personally and tangibly affect most Americans — that’s why the failing economy receives so much attention and our various wars (and civil liberties erosions) do not.

Then there’s the lack of partisan division over these wars.  During the Bush presidency, war debates raged because those wars — especially the Iraq war — were a GOP liability and a Democratic Party asset.  Anger over the Iraq War drove the Democratic takeover of Congress in 2006 and Obama’s election in 2008 (though it did not drive the end of the war).  But now, America’s wars are no longer Republican wars; they’re Democratic wars as well.  Both parties are thus vested in their defense, which guts any real debate or opposition.  Very few Republicans are going to speak ill of wars which their party started and continued for years, and very few Democrats are going to malign wars which their President is now prosecuting.

Here we find, once again, one of the most consequential aspects of the Obama presidency thus far:  the conversion of numerous Bush/Cheney policies from what they once were (controversial, divisive, right-wing policies) into what they have become (uncontroversial bipartisan consensus).  One sees this dynamic most clearly in the Terrorism/civil-liberties realm, but it is quite glaring in the realm of war as well.  Hiatt describes it this way:

[M]aybe, in a time of toxic partisanship, we should be grateful for this inattention to the wars, taking the absence of debate as a sign of rare bipartisan consensus. Certainly few would miss the vitriol of the Iraq debate of a few years back.

It’s not surprising that Hiatt is grateful for the disappearance of what he calls “the vitriol of the Iraq debate a few years back.”  As one of the media’s leading cheerleaders for the invasion and ongoing occupation, it’s understandable that he wants no longer to be reminded of the enormous amounts of innocent blood which he and his war-cheering comrades have on their permanently drenched hands.  But he is right that to take “the absence of debate” as a “sign of rare bipartisan consensus.”  It’s true that the (dubious) perception that the Iraq War will soon end has probably dampened the urgency of that issue in the eyes of many people, as have the pretty words that Obama utters when he speaks of war, but the real reason the “debates” have disappeared is because it serves neither party to engage them. 

Perhaps the most significant factor of all in understanding this lack of debate is the fact that “war” is not some aberrational, temporary state of affairs for the country.  It’s the opposite.  Thanks to Fred Hiatt and his friends, war is basically the permanent American condition:  war is who we are and what we do as a nation.  We’re essentially a war fighting state.  We have been at “war”the entire last decade (as well as largley non-stop for the decades which preceded it), and continue now to be at “war” with no end in sight.  That’s true of our specific wars (in Afghanistan), and the way in which The War, more broadly, has been defined (i.e., against Islamic extremism/those who wish to harm Americans) makes it highly likely that it will never end in our lifetime.  The decree that we are “at war” has been repeated over and over for a full decade, drumbed into our heads from all directions without pause, sanctified as one of those Bipartisan Orthodoxies that nobody can dispute upon pain of having one’s Seriousness credentials immediately and irrevocably revoked.  With war this normalized, is it really surprising that nobody debates it any longer?  It’d be like debating the color of the sky.

That’s why I always find the War Excuse for anything the Government does so baffling and nonsensical.  Any objections one voices to what the Executive Branch does — indefinite detentions, presidential assassinations of citizens, extreme secrecy, etc. — will be met with the justification that such actions are permissible “during war,” as though “war” is some special, temporary, fleeting state of affairs which necessitates vesting powers in the government which would, during “normal” times, be impermissible.  But the contrast between “war and “normal times” is totally illusory.  For the United States, war is normalcy.  The “war” we’re fighting has been defined and designed to be virtually endless.  Political leaders from both parties have been explicit about that.  Here’s how Obama put it last May in his “civil liberties” speech:

Now this generation faces a great test in the specter of terrorism. And unlike the Civil War or World War II, we can’t count on a surrender ceremony to bring this journey to an end. Right now, in distant training camps and in crowded cities, there are people plotting to take American lives. That will be the case a year from now, five years from now, and — in all probability — 10 years from now.

All the way back in September, 2001, George Bush said basically the same thing:  “Now, this war will not be like the war against Iraq a decade ago, with a decisive liberation of territory and a swift conclusion. . . . Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign unlike any other we have ever seen.”  Thus:  to justify new and unaccountable powers based on the fact that we are “at war” is, in essence, to change the American political system permanently, because the “war,” and the accompanying powers that it justifies, are not going anywhere for many, many years to come.

With both political parties affirming over and over that we are going to be at “war” for years, indeed decades, it’s unsurprising that so few people are interested in debating “war.”  That’s true even for the limited question of Afghanistan, where most Republicans won’t question a war their President began and most Democrats won’t question a war their President has vigorously embraced as his own.  From the perspective of the permanent factions that rule Washington — from Wall Street and AIPAC to the intelligence and military “communities” — that’s the beauty of the two-party system:  as long as both party establishments support a particular policy, any meaningful debate over it comes to a grinding halt.

© 2010 Salon.com

Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book “How Would a Patriot Act?,” a critique of the Bush administration’s use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, “A Tragic Legacy“, examines the Bush legacy.

Obama and “Pre-Emptive Capitulation” as a Modality of Democratic Governance July 4, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama.
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(Roger’s note: this article bemoans Barack Obama’s betrayal of his promise to generate genuine change; I for one do not feel betrayed becuase I never believed in him in the first place — full disclosure, I voted for Obama and do not regret it as McCain/Palin would have spelled disaster on a far greater scale.  In positing Obama’s failure to confront the Republican Party, Calhoun does not go deep enough in his analysis.  However, in showing how a progressive president congressional majorities cannot achieve a progressive agenda while at the same time Republican presidents achieve reactionary agendas with Democratic congresses, he does suggest the crux of the problem: the United States is for all intents and purposes a one-party quasi-dictatorship.  Republicrat.  Democratican.  Call it what you will.  It is not the Republicans that Obama lacks the guts or  imagination to confront, rather the military and the corporate Behemoth, the military-industrial complex against which Dwight Eisenhower warned us in his historic farewell address.)

Herbert Calhoun

www.opednews.com, July 4, 2009

 

Given that Obama is up against ideologica opponents

that fight to the death and play dirty in defense of their own (almost always
bad) ideas, one wonders what Obama hopes to accomplish with his Rodney King like
“can’t we all just get along” approach to getting his progressive agenda
through. Does he really think he can finesse his way around this minefield of conservative
pit bulls (sacrificing those who voted for him in the process), with this sweet
talk of empty bipartisanism? Has he not learned that the republicans do not
“play the game of bipartisanism” fairly; that is, unless it means that they can
“flip” progressive ideas? They will eat the part of his body that Jessie Jackson
was going to cut off, for breakfast, and then laugh all the way to the next
election cycle, unless he gets busy using those same parts to push
through the meaty ideas of those who gave him a mandate.

-

This is serious business; time to cut deeply into and roll
back the regressive conservative agenda of the last twenty-four years, rather
than giving us (the ones who got him elected), the gravy and the crumbs trimmed
from around the edges (like the limp-wristed credit card protection bill. Please,
give me a frigging break?).

We want some “progressive meat,” not just the carcass of the
old Conservative centrist Bill Clinton programs and ideas. This pussyfooting
around the edges has got to stop and soon, or else this “Obama run train to
Washington” is going to be short-lived: derailed in the mid-term election.
Obama had better “start dancing with the one who brung him,” or else he is
headed to the “graveyard of one-term Presidency land” and lack of my vote is
going to be one of the many progressive nails in his coffin.

-

I would like to remind him that although I am a black man
who followed his career while he was a “community organizer” in the Altgeld
ghetto community in South Chicago, and who has reviewed both of his books on
Amazon.com, through the years, I am frankly still not all that impressed with
his results. I voted for him not because he is black, or edited the Harvard Law
Review; or just to see a black family in the White House, but because, I
thought he would put his foot on the accelerator and get progressive ideas
enacted quickly, and for no other reason. Unless he begins to show some
fighting spirit, some moxie, in the next election cycle I’ll vote against him and
all those limp-wristed Congressional democrats like Nancy Pelosi in a heartbeat,
and gladly send them all packing. Unless they get busy doing the business of
those who got them elected, their political capital is going to dry up like the
Sahara Desert.

-

So far, even with a mandate and a filibuster proof Congress, all Obama has shown us is a lot of-
“TV style” totally devoid of progressive substance. I am frankly tired
of seeing him on the TV. -(And
don’t send me any more of those emails asking for more money and touting these
milquetoast centrist ideas: I am not a centrist; I am a progressive!). I’d
rather see you twisting a few Republicans arms in the back rooms, and a lot less
of this empty media show. In short, so far Obama looks like, acts like, and
quacks like a “good old Bill Clinton Republican,” “a good ol’ boy, pre-emptively
giving up his progressive bona fides behind the scenes.- And giving us lots of TV style smiles,
and sweet talk. -Lets have more
grimaces and a little rough talk; that way, we know you are working for our
causes.

-

Do we need to remind Obama that when the Republicans were in
office (with Bill Clinton’s help), even without a mandate and a filibuster
proof Congress, they aggressively pursued every one of their bad ideas? And got
most of them through a democratic Congress? To wit: All of them went to work on
the number one “global Republican project:” dismantling FDR New Deal social safety
net. Ronald Reagan, GWH Bush, the not too bright, GW Bush, Jr, and even with the
centrist Bill Clinton’s help, together, all but supplanted FDR’s programs with
the new existing playing field: the over-arching capitalist model of economic insecurity.
Now, that is what we have as the new playing field. That is the “given.” That
is the new ground zero.

So, Obama begins his presidency on Ronald Reagan’s playing
field, but with a bulletproof Congress. And what does he do? Forgets about the
big ideas and proceeds to preemptively capitulate on the number one progressive
idea, single payer healthcare system; gives us a weak-kneed credit card bill
instead; a watered down energy bill that even GW would be proud of, and more
importantly, has not shown us that he is willing to fight the republicans
toe-toe for any of the progressive programs that are important to the people
who elected him. -We are now wedded
to a worse version of the private Healthcare system than the one we already
have. What about the campaign promises of lower cost for everyone and to getting
everyone covered? -[Barack, your
slip is showing...]

-

-

And as an aside, Obama, of course, since he can’t even
openly acknowledge or be seen championing mainstream progressive causes, would
not be caught dead pushing any overt black causes. I suppose that dealing with
black concerns, like the inner social city meltdown, the public schools, etc.,
are either completely out of the question, or, are so far down the Obama agenda
that we are not likely to see them until a second term, if at all.

This pre-emptive capitulation is for the birds, and if it
does not stop soon, I am going to personally lead a group to picket the White
house to further dramatize how weak-kneed the Obama team really is. I never
thought I would be the one to say this but what we really need is a democrat,
with GW’s like moxie of full speed ahead, working a progressive agenda. Barack
Obama, ugh!

Retired Foreign Service Officer and past Manager of Political and Military Affairs at the US Department of State. For a brief time an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the University of Denver and the University of Washington at (more…)
 
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