Democrats mimic GOP sleight-of-hand March 20, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Health.
Tags: big pharma, congress, david sirota, democracy, democrats, drug industry, health, health insurance, health reform, healthcare, insurance industry, Lobbyists, pelosi, politics, public option, republicans, roger hollander
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Friday, Mar 19, 2010 17:20 EDT
They’re selling huge giveaways to insurance companies and Big Pharm as reform that helps the middle class
Ever since Thomas Frank published his book “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” Democrats have sought a political strategy to match the GOP’s. The healthcare bill proves they’ve found one.
Whereas Frank highlighted Republicans’ sleight-of-hand success portraying millionaire tax cuts as gifts to the working class, Democrats are now preposterously selling giveaways to insurance and pharmaceutical executives as a middle-class agenda. Same formula, same fat-cat beneficiaries, same bleating sheeple herded to the slaughterhouse. The only difference is the Rube Goldberg contraption that Democrats are using to tend the flock.
First, their leaders campaign on pledges to create a government insurer (a “public option”) that will compete with private health corporations. Once elected, though, Democrats propose simply subsidizing those corporations, which are (not coincidentally) filling Democratic coffers. Justifying the reversal, Democrats claim the subsidies will at least help some citizens try to afford the private insurance they’ll be forced to buy — all while insisting Congress suddenly lacks the votes for a public option.
Despite lawmakers’ refusal to hold votes verifying that assertion, liberal groups obediently follow orders to back the bill, their obsequious leaders fearing scorn from Democratic insiders and moneymen. Specifically, MoveOn, unions and “progressive” nonprofits threaten retribution against lawmakers who consider voting against the bill because it doesn’t include a public option. The threats fly even though these congresspeople would be respecting their previous public-option ultimatums — ultimatums originally supported by many of the same groups now demanding retreat.
Soon it’s on to false choices. Democrats tell their base that any bill is better than no bill, even one making things worse, and that if this particular legislation doesn’t pass, Republicans will win the upcoming election — as if signing a blank check to insurance and drug companies couldn’t seal that fate. They tell everyone else that “realistically” this is the “last chance” for reform, expecting We the Sheeple to forget that those spewing the do-or-die warnings control the legislative calendar and could immediately try again.
Predictably, the fear-mongering prompts left-leaning establishment pundits to bless the bill, giving Democratic activists concise-yet-mindless conversation-enders for why everyone should shut up and fall in line (“Krugman supports it!”). Such bumper-sticker mottos are then demagogued by Democratic media bobbleheads and their sycophants, who dishonestly imply that the bill’s progressive opponents 1) secretly aim to aid the far right and/or 2) actually hope more Americans die for lack of healthcare. In the process, the legislation’s sellouts are lambasted as the exclusive fault of Republicans, not Democrats and their congressional majorities.
Earth sufficiently scorched, President Obama then barnstorms the country, calling the bill a victory for “ordinary working folks” over the same corporations he is privately promising to enrich. The insurance industry, of course, airs token ads to buttress Obama’s “victory” charade — at the same time its lobbyists are, according to Politico, celebrating with chants of “We win!”
By design, pro-public-option outfits like Firedoglake and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee end up depicted as voices of the minority, even as they champion an initiative that polls show the majority of voters support. Meanwhile, telling questions hang: If this represents victory over special interests, why is Politico reporting that “drug industry lobbyists have huddled with Democratic staffers” to help pass the bill? How is the legislation a first step to reform, as proponents argue, if it financially and politically strengthens insurance and drug companies opposing true change? And what prevents those companies from continuing to increase prices?
These queries go unaddressed — and often unasked. Why? Because their answers threaten to expose the robbery in progress, circumvent the “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” contemplation and raise the most uncomfortable question of all:
What’s the matter with Democrats?
© 2010 Creators.com
Obama and the Denial of Genocide March 15, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Genocide, Human Rights.
Tags: 1915 genocide, armenia, armenian genocide, armenians, bush administration, congress, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, foreign relations, genocide, genocide denial, hillary clinton, history, human rights, obama administration, orhan pamuk, ottoman empire, pelosi, roger hollander, stephen zunes, turkey, War Crimes
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The Obama administration, citing its relations with Turkey, has pledged to block the passage in the full House of Representatives of a resolution passed this past Thursday by the Foreign Relations Committee acknowledging the 1915 genocide by the Ottoman Empire of a 1.5 million Armenians. Even though the Obama administration previously refused to acknowledge and even worked to suppress well-documented evidence of recent war crimes by Israel, another key Middle Eastern ally, few believed that the administration would go as far as to effectively deny genocide.
Following the committee vote, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that “We are against this decision,” and pledged that the administration would “work very hard” to prevent the bill from coming to the floor. Despite widespread support for the resolution by House Democrats, she expressed confidence that the administration would find a means of blocking the resolution, saying, “Now we believe that the U.S. Congress will not take any decision on this subject.”
As candidates, both Clinton and Barack Obama had pledged that their administrations would be the first to formally recognize the Armenian genocide. Clinton acknowledged that this was a reversal, but insisted that circumstances had “changed in very significant ways.” The State Department, however, has been unable to cite any new historical evidence that would counter the broad consensus that genocide had indeed taken place in the waning years of the Ottoman Empire. The official excuse is that it might harm an important rapprochement between Armenia and Turkey. However, there is no indication the Armenian government is at all concerned about potential negative fallout in their bilateral relations over a resolution passed by a legislative body in a third country.
More likely, the concern is over not wanting to jeopardize the cooperation of Turkey, which borders Iran, in the forthcoming enhanced sanctions against the Islamic republic.
Back in 2007, a similar resolution acknowledging the Armenian genocide also passed through the House Foreign Relations Committee. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi promised that she would allow it to come for a vote. With 226 cosponsors – a clear majority of the House – there was little question it would pass. However, in response to claims by the Bush White House and Republican congressional leaders that it would harm the “Global War on Terror,” Pelosi broke her promise and used her power as speaker to prevent a vote on the resolution. She will also certainly buckle under pressure from an administration of her own party.
The Historical Record
Between 1915 and 1918, under orders of the leadership of the Ottoman Empire, an estimated two million Armenians were forcibly removed from their homes in a region that had been part of the Armenian nation for more than 2,500 years. Three-quarters of them died as a result of execution, starvation, and related reasons.
According to Henry Morgenthau, U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire during that period, “When the Turkish authorities gave the orders for these deportations, they were merely giving the death warrant to a whole race; they understood this well, and, in their conversations with me, they made no particular attempt to conceal the fact.” While issuing a “death warrant to a whole race” would normally be considered genocide by any definition, this apparently isn’t the view of the Obama administration.
The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, signed and ratified by the United States, officially defines genocide as any effort “to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such.” The earliest proponent of such an international convention was Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jewish lawyer who originally coined the term “genocide” and identified the Armenian case as a definitive example.
Dozens of other governments – including Canada, France, Italy, and Russia – and several UN bodies, as well as 40 U.S. states, have formally recognized the Armenian genocide. The Obama administration does not, however, and is apparently determined to prevent Congress from doing so.
Congress has previously gone on record condemning Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for refusing to acknowledge the German genocide of the Jews. Congress appears unwilling, however, to challenge Obama’s refusal to acknowledge the Ottoman genocide of the Armenians. While awareness of anti-Semitism is fortunately widespread enough to marginalize those who refuse to acknowledge the Holocaust, tolerance for anti-Armenian bigotry appears strong enough that it’s still considered politically acceptable to deny their genocide.
The Turkey Factor
Opponents of the measure argue that they’re worried about harming relations with Turkey, the successor state to the Ottoman Empire and an important U.S. ally. However, the United States has done much greater harm in its relations with Turkey through policies far more significant than a symbolic resolution acknowledging a tragic historical period. The United States clandestinely backed an attempted military coup by right-wing Turkish officers in 2003, arming Iraqi and Iranian Kurds with close ties to Kurdish rebels in Turkey who have been responsible for the deaths of thousands of Turkish citizens. The United States also invaded neighboring Iraq. As a result, the percentage of Turks who view the United States positively declined from 52 percent to only 9 percent.
Generations of Turks have been taught that there was no Ottoman genocide of the Armenians, but that there were scattered atrocities on both sides. Indeed, most Turks believe their country is being unfairly scapegoated, particularly when the United States refuses to label its treatment of American Indians as genocide or acknowledge more recent war crimes. As a result, some argue that a more appropriate means of addressing the ongoing Turkish denial of historical reality would be through dialogue and some sort of re-education, avoiding the patently political device of a congressional resolution that would inevitably make Turks defensive.
Failure to acknowledge the genocide, however, is a tragic affront to the rapidly dwindling number of genocide survivors as well as their descendents. It’s also a disservice to the many Turks who opposed the Ottoman Empire’s policies and tried to stop the genocide, as well as the growing number of Turks today who face imprisonment by their U.S.-backed regime for daring to publicly concede the crimes of their forebears. For example, Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish novelist who won the 2006 Nobel Prize for literature, was prosecuted and fled into exile to escape death threats after making a number of public references to the genocide.
Some opponents of the resolution argue that it is pointless for Congress to pass resolutions regarding historical events. Yet there were no such complaints regarding resolutions commemorating the Holocaust, nor are there normally complaints regarding the scores of dedicatory resolutions passed by Congress in recent years, ranging from commemorating the 65th anniversary of the death of the Polish musician and political leader Ignacy Jan Paderewski to noting the 150th anniversary of the first meeting of the Republican Party in Wisconsin.
The Obama administration insists that that this is a bad time to upset the Turkish government. However, it was also considered a “bad time” to pass the resolution back in 2007, on the grounds that it not jeopardize U.S. access to Turkish bases as part of efforts to support the counter-insurgency war by U.S. occupation forces in Iraq. It was also considered a “bad time” when a similar resolution was put forward in 2000 because the United States was using its bases in Turkey to patrol the “no fly zones” in northern Iraq. And it was also considered a “bad time” in 1985 and 1987, when similar resolutions were put forward because U.S. bases in Turkey were considered important listening posts for monitoring the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
For deniers of the Armenian genocide, it’s always a “bad time.”
While the passage of the resolution would certainly lead to strong diplomatic protests from Turkey, it is dubious that there would be much of a rupture between Ankara and Washington. When President Ronald Reagan, a major backer of the right-wing military dictatorship then ruling Turkey, once used the term genocide in relation to Armenians, U.S.-Turkish relations did not suffer.
The Obama administration, like administrations before it, simply refuses to acknowledge that the Armenian genocide even took place. As recently as the 1980s, the Bulletin of the Department of State claimed that “Because the historical record of the 1915 events in Asia Minor is ambiguous, the Department of State does not endorse allegations that the Turkish government committed genocide against the Armenian people.” Even more recently, Paul Wolfowitz, who served as deputy secretary of defense in President George W. Bush, stated in 2002 that “one of the things that impress me about Turkish history is the way Turkey treats its own minorities.”
The operative clause of the resolution simply calls upon Obama “to ensure that the foreign policy of the United States reflects appropriate understanding and sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights, ethnic cleansing, and genocide documented in the United States record relating to the Armenian Genocide and the consequences of the failure to realize a just resolution.” Therefore, if Obama really doesn’t want Congress to pass such a resolution, all he needs to do is make an executive order acknowledging the genocide. Despite whatever excuses one wants to make, failure to do so amounts to genocide denial.
Given the indisputable record of the Armenian genocide, many of those who refuse to recognize Turkey’s genocide of Armenians, like those who refuse to recognize Germany’s genocide of European Jews, are motivated by ignorance and bigotry. The Middle East scholar most often cited by members of Congress as influencing their understanding of the region is the notorious genocide-denier Bernard Lewis, a fellow at Washington’s Institute of Turkish Studies.
Not every opponent of the current resolution explicitly denies that there was genocide. Some acknowledge that genocide indeed occurred, but have apparently been convinced that it’s detrimental to U.S. security to state this publicly. This is still inexcusable. Such moral cowardice is no less reprehensible than refusing to acknowledge the Holocaust if it were believed that doing so might upset the German government, which also hosts critical U.S. bases.
Obama is not the first Democratic president to effectively deny the Armenian genocide. President Bill Clinton successfully persuaded House Speaker Dennis Hastert to suppress a similar bill, after it passed the Republican-led Foreign Relations Committee by a vote of 40-7 and was on its way to easy passage before the full House. President Jimmy Carter also suppressed a Senate effort led by Bob Dole, whose miraculous recovery from near-fatal wounds during World War II was overseen by an Armenian-American doctor who had survived the genocide.
Interestingly, neoconservatives – quick to defend crimes against humanity by the Bush administration, the Israeli government, and others – are opportunistically using Obama’s flip-flop on this issue as evidence of the moral laxity of Democrats on human rights.
Adolf Hitler, responding to concerns about the legacy of his crimes, once asked, “Who, after all, is today speaking of the destruction of the Armenians?” Obama is sending a message to future tyrants that they can commit genocide without acknowledgement by the world’s most powerful country.
Indeed, refusing to recognize genocide and those responsible for it in a historical context makes it easier to deny genocide today. In 1994, the Clinton also refused to use the word “genocide” in the midst of the Rwandan government’s massacres of over half that country’s Tutsi population, a decision that contributed to the delay in deploying international peacekeeping forces until after the slaughter of 800,000 people.
As a result, the Obama administration’s position on the Armenian genocide isn’t simply about whether to commemorate a tragedy that took place 95 years ago. It’s about where we stand as a nation in facing up to the most horrible of crimes. It’s about whether we are willing to stand up for the truth in the face of lies. It’s about whether we see our nation as appeasing our strategic allies or upholding our longstanding principles.
© 2010 Foreign Policy in Focus
Stephen Zunes is Middle East editor for Foreign Policy In Focus. He is a professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco and the author of Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism (Common Courage Press, 2003.)
Liberal Democrats Take Aim at Funding for War December 5, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: Afghanistan, Afghanistan escalation, Afghanistan Obama, afghanistan surge, afghanistan troops, Afghanistan War, anti-war, Barbara Boxer, barbara lee, congress, democrats, joe garofoli, john murtha, liberal democrats, pelosi, Pentagon, pentagon budget, roger hollander, war, war funding
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“This is not the hope you voted for,” read a sign at an anti-war protest in San Francisco this week.
Congressional leaders predict that Obama will have to ask Congress for supplemental war funding in the next six months to pay for his plan, which his administration estimated would cost $30 billion. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who chairs the subcommittee that oversees the Pentagon budget, predicts it could top $40 billion.
Bay Area positions
That offers an opportunity for opponents, including Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, who has sponsored a bill that would cut off funding for the war, to leverage Congress’ power to challenge the war.
A week after saying there wasn’t Democratic support for an escalation, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – typically the president’s biggest backer on Capitol Hill – continued Thursday to offer neutral statements on Obama’s plan except for saying she opposes a proposed war surtax to fund it.
Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ Afghanistan Task Force, worries about the annual cost of $1 million per soldier on the ground in Afghanistan.
Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, added: “I expect more casualties, and I don’t see any end to what has been going on unsuccessfully.”
At a Senate Foreign Relations hearing Thursday, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said “the situation got worse” after she voted to fund Obama’s request to send 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan earlier this year.
“How can we now leap to the conclusion that more troops will mean less violence when the opposite seems to have occurred?” Boxer said.
Obama is abandoning the coalition of liberals who helped elect him, analyst Phyllis Bennis of the liberal Institute for Policy Studies said, by relying on support from “the Pentagon, the Republicans and the right wing of the Democratic Party, who together will claim their due as an empowered pro-war coalition.”
That realignment, she said, could imperil Obama’s domestic agenda – including proposals to reform health care, establish climate change policy and fix the economy – by alienating liberals in his party and adding to the burgeoning federal debt.
“It ruins the potential for his domestic agenda,” Bennis said. “How is he supposed to do health care if he spends another $30 billion on Afghanistan? And if he doesn’t do health care or climate change or his jobs program, then he’s got a big problem politically.”
Obama’s grassroots supporters are dismayed by his plan for a troop surge, even though he consistently called Afghanistan the “central front” in the battle against terrorism during his presidential campaign and has called for sending at least two more brigades, roughly 10,000 soldiers, there since 2007.
“I held out hope that he wouldn’t really do it,” Desiree Aubry, a San Francisco City College student, said at a San Francisco anti-war demonstration Wednesday night that drew 200 protesters.
The liberal organizing hub MoveOn.org wants supporters to lobby Congress to set a firm troop pullout date. And on the Web site of Organizing for America, an extension of Obama’s campaign effort, a poster identified as Jono Shaffer wrote: “This decision on Afghanistan is a slap in the face to those of us who supported you as a peace candidate.”
Still, Congress will give Obama the money needed to fund the expanded Afghanistan operation, said Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress who advised Obama on Afghanistan strategy during his presidential campaign. “And I don’t think it is going to have an impact on his domestic agenda.”
They’ll come around
Liberal congressional leaders like Pelosi will eventually support the plan out of political necessity, said Steven Hill, director of the Political Reform Program at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank.
While Obama’s Afghanistan plan may not be popular with the Democrats’ anti-war wing, it will play better with conservative Blue Dog Democrats. Obama needs those legislators to retain their seats next year to maintain a strong majority in the House, Hill said.
© 2009 The San Francisco Chronicle
The Nighmare Of Coat Hangers Revisited November 13, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Religion, Women.
Tags: abortion, abortion rights, blue dogs, catholic bishops, catholic church, catholic hospitals, health care, health care industry, healthcare, insurance companies, lucinda marshall, pelosi, pharmaceutical companies, reproductive rights, RNC, roger hollander, stupak, stupak amendment, women health
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by Lucinda Marshall
Wouldn’t you know it- while we silly feminists have been agonizing about the impact of the Stupak Amendment after Nancy and the Cardinals did the C Street Shuffle at the Saturday Night Congressional Jerk I mean Dance Off it turns out that if we really want to keep our reproductive rights, all we need to do is get a job at the RNC or the anti-choice group Focus on the Family cuz their health plans cover, wait for it, ABORTION. Really.
I don’t even know why this surprises me. The entire health care debate without end has been one long-winded exercise in stupid. From the get go the sad thing is that what passes as discourse has suffered from the same malady as the abortion issue-a deeply flawed frame. In the case of abortion, the minute the word ‘choice’ and the phrase ‘pro-life’ became the descriptors, the discussion we should have been having about women’s reproductive rights was gone.
In the case of health care we have had all manner of false flag buzzwords-public option, triggers, yada yada everything centered around the cost of premiums totally losing sight of the fact that health care is a human right, not a commodity that needs to be delivered in a way that keeps pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies afloat so they will keep funding our elected representatives. Our health care system is ill, it is a disgrace and it is an affront to human decency. Ditto our Congress who, with very few exceptions have apparently had frontal lobotomies and seem to be suffering from some painful form of spinal disintegration. What part of just fix it could possibly not be clear? The answer of course is apparently the whole damned thing and until we insist that Congress get their little patooties (I leave it to you to decide what part of the anatomy you feel that should describe) pointed in the right direction and back on topic, our health care is going to remain in critical condition.
One of the most galling aspects of the Stupak Amendment is that after months of dithering, pontificating, waffling and other forms of ass covering that pass for political debate these days, Stupak happened in the 11th hour before a Saturday vote leaving reproductive justice advocates doing a lot of WTF-ing. I am still deeply shocked that the Democratic leadership that has been so unable to use its majority position to act decisively could all of a sudden simply decide that women’s reproductive rights could just cavalierly be thrown to the Blue Dogs for the sake of the last 3 votes. It is just breathtaking even though it has come to light in recent months that our current system has been shafting women on many health care fronts for quite some time-higher premiums, maternity care, etc. As I noted last week, even high risk state insurance pools have been discrimination against women.
But what is the deal with Pelosi making a last minute concession of this magnitude to the Catholic Church? Wendy Norris sheds some light on why this isn’t just a matter of the Catholic Church playing the abortion card on a moral basis, it is also has a huge stake in the financial ramifications of the health care legislation,
The justifiable anger at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for lobbying on the Stupak-Pitts amendment overshadows what is possibly the bigger motive for the Vatican: the billions of dollars at stake for the church’s hospitals.
The scale of the church’s involvement in the rapidly growing $2.5 trillion dollar American health care industry is staggering.
Abortion may be safe, it may be legal. But if it isn’t affordable, it is de facto not available and that is detrimental to women’s health and an unacceptable compromise. For additional commentary on this issue, please also read,
- Joanne Bamberger
- Gloria Feldt
- Katha Pollitt
- Frances Kissling and Kate Michelman
- and ongoing coverage on RH Reality Check
Single-Payer Advocates Must Seize This Opening July 27, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Health.
Tags: anthony weiner, H.R. 676, health, health care, health care lobbies, health care reform, health costs, health insurance, health lobbies, healthcare, healthcare lobbies, healthcare reform, insurance industry, john nichols, max buacus, new democrats, obama plan, pelosi, private insurance, public option, roger hollander, senate finance, single payer
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It is unsettling to listen as President Obama and House Speaker Pelosi talk up a health-care reform “plan” that has yet to take shape in any realistic form.
The vagueness on the part of the president and the speaker is, of course, intentional.
Obama and Pelosi are still pushing the notion that they can get some version of their public-private stew cooked up before the year is done — although not, it is now clear, before the president and the Congress take the extended summer vacations that will kill whatever sense of official urgency might have existed.
Neither Obama nor Pelosi is dealing in details because that’s where the devil resides.
Here is the truth they tend to avoid mentioning: A robust public plan, with the quality and flexibility that is required to make it appealing to all Americans, would wipe out its insurance-industry competitors in short order. Why would anyone opt for more of the profiteering, restrictions and actual denials of needed treatment — especially for people with pre-existing conditions — that the insurance industry uses to make money rather than provide Americans with the medical care they require? And why would any employer choose to subsidize the stock value of health-care conglomerates when it is possible to opt for the better care and controlled costs of a public plan?
Unfortunately, the creation of a robust public plan, one that can compete on the basis of quality and affordability, will require a significant federal expenditure in the form of start-up money as well as regulatory protection for the program. That’s where the devil comes in.
The powerful insurance and private health-care lobbies, which fear honest competition as the vampire does the stake, are going to do everything in their power to accomplish three things:
1. Scare Americans with hypocritical talk about the hefty price-tag for getting a robust public plan off the ground.
2. Undermine the structural supports for a public plan so that it cannot compete — effectively turning it into a sub-standard “alternative” that will appeal only to those who have no other options.
3. Fiddle with the overall “reform” so that most of the taxpayer money that is expended streams into the accounts of private firms.
In the state of confusion created the industry’s lobbying and advertising campaigns, chances are that the scaremongers and the profiteers will come out ahead.
They usually do.
And their task is being made easier by in-the-pocket “Democrats” like Montana Senator Max Baucus, the Senate Finance Committee chair who is collecting huge contributions from hospitals, insurers and medical interest groups in return for doing their dirty work. If it was just Baucus, that would be a problem.
But it’s not just Baucus. The monied Montanan has all too many Democratic allies — especially among the Democratic Leadership Council-allied “New Democrats.” The “New Dems” are far greedier and more troubling players than the small cadre of southern and rural Blue Dog Democrats. Of particular concern is the determination of so many of the “New Dems” to follow Baucus’ lead and grab up what Jerry Flanagan, a health-care analyst with the group Consumer Watchdog describes as the “huge down payment” of campaign contributions from corporations by that want any health care “reform” warped to favor their interests.
The corporate special interests and their willing accomplices within the ranks of the Democratic party are capitalizing on the confusion about the scope and character of proposed reforms. In so doing, they are creating a circumstance where the push for real reform can and will be thwarted unless there is a major pushback from real reformers.
That pushback can and should take the form of a renewed effort to promote the right repair: a single-payer program.
There has already been some progress in this regard. The recent 25-19 vote by the House Committee on Education and Labor for an amendment allowing states to create single-payer health care systems if they so choose was an example of this.
A bigger test could come this week, as the House Energy and Commerce Committee considers Congressman Anthony Weiner’s proposal to replace the convoluted public-private scheme that is outlined in the Obama/House leadership bill with the easily-understood and efficient single-payer plan contained in HR 676 that has been endorsed by 86 members of Congress.
Were the committee to endorse the Weiner amendment, single-payer would be on the table — as it should be.
Even if the committee fails to do the right thing, a strong vote for single-payer would send an essential signal about the need for a robust public option.
The stalwart single-payer backers at Progressive Democrats for America are organizing on behalf of the Weiner amendment, urging targeted calls to members of the committee.
The website http://www.democrats.com is maintaining a whip count, which includes phone numbers of members who are being targeted. Heading the list of those expected to cast “yes” votes for single-payer is Congresswomen Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, and Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois, who has long been in the forefront of the real reformers in the House.
Baldwin and Schakowsky are staying steady.
And rightly so.
This is not the time to waver is our commitment to real reform.
Indeed, it is the time to press those who know the right reform to stop wavering.
Physicians for a National Health Care Plan has launched a smart — and necessary — new campaign to get President Obama to abandon experiments that are likely to fail in favor of the reform he supported before he became president: a single-payer plan.
“Like most of our colleagues and the majority of the general public, we believe that single-payer reform is the standard against which other health reforms should be measured. Sound single-payer proposals have been introduced in both the House of Representatives (H.R. 676, The U.S National Health Care Act) and the Senate (S. 703, The American Health Security Act of 2009),” the physicians write. “Single payer reform, as embodied in these bills, would eliminate the bewildering patchwork of private insurance plans with their exorbitant overhead and profits, as well as the costly paperwork burdens they impose on providers. These savings on bureaucracy – nearly $400 billion annually – are sufficient to cover all of the uninsured and to provide first dollar coverage for all Americans. No other approach can provide comparable coverage at a cost our nation can afford.”
That’s the proper prescription. Obama and Pelosi should listen to the doctors and follow it. But that will only happen if those who favor real reform seize on this uncertain but not unforgiving moment to make the case for single-payer.
© 2009 The Nation
John Nichols is Washington correspondent for The Nation and associate editor of The Capital Times in Madison, Wisconsin. A co-founder of the media reform organization Free Press, Nichols is is co-author with Robert W. McChesney of Tragedy & Farce: How the American Media Sell Wars, Spin Elections, and Destroy Democracy – from The New Press. Nichols’ latest book is The Genius of Impeachment: The Founders’ Cure for Royalism.
Will 39 Democrats Stand Up to Stop the War Funding? June 15, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Torture, War.
Tags: Afghanistan escalation, Afghanistan War, anti-war, defense department, democratic leadership, democrats, dod, graham, harry reid, IMF, imf funding, Iraq war, jeremy scahill, lieberman, lynn woolsey, military spending, Obama, pelosi, prisoner abuse, Rahm Emanuel, roger hollander, torture photos, U.S. militarism, war funding, war spending
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The White House and the Democratic Congressional Leadership are playing a very dirty game in their effort to ram through supplemental funding for the escalating US war in Afghanistan and continued occupation of Iraq. In the crosshairs of the big guns at the White House and on Capitol Hill are anti-war freshmen legislators and the movement to hold those responsible for torture accountable.
In funding the wars, the White House has been able to rely on strong GOP support to marginalize the anti-war Democrats who have pledged to vote against continued funding (as 51 Democrats did in May when the supplemental was first voted on). But the White House is running into trouble now because of Republican opposition to some of the provisions added to the bill (and one removed), meaning the pro-war Democrats actually need a fair number of anti-war Democrats to switch sides. In short, the current battle will clearly reveal exactly how many Democrats actually oppose these wars. And, according to reports, the White House and Democratic Leadership have the gloves off in the fight:
Rep. Lynn Woolsey of California, a leader of the antiwar Democrats, said the White House is threatening to withdraw support from freshmen who oppose the bill, saying “you’ll never hear from us again.”She said the House leadership also is targeting the freshmen.
“It’s really hard for the freshmen,” she said. “Nancy’s pretty powerful.”
On June 11, the relevant committees in the House and Senate approved the $105.9 billion spending package. According to an analysis by the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation:
The bill includes $79.9 billion for the Department of Defense, primarily to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, roughly $4.4 billion more than the amount sought by the Administration. This funding is in addition to the $65.9 billion “bridge fund” in war funding for FY’09 that Congress approved last June. To date Congress has approved over $814 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, not including the $80 billion recommended by the Conference Committee, In addition, the Obama Administration is seeking $130 billion in for fiscal year 2010. Both the House and Senate could take up the conference agreement as early as this week.In addition to funding combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the bill provides $10.4 billion for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and $7.7 billion for Pandemic Flu Response.
The current battle over war funding has brought with it a couple of high-stakes actions, which have threatened passage of the bill. Many Democrats were up in arms about an amendment sponsored by Senators Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham that would have blocked the release of photos depicting US abuse of prisoners (which the White House “actively” supported. Facing warnings that the provision could derail the funding package, the White House stepped in, deploying Rahm Emanuel to the Hill to convince legislators to drop the amendment, while at the same time pledging that Obama would use his authority to continue to fight the release of more photos:
White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel ‘rushed’ to Capitol Hill and prevailed upon Senate Democrats to remove the torture photo measure in exchange for an explicit White House promise that it would use all means at its disposal to block the photos’ release. Obama also issued a letter to Congress assuring it he would support separate legislation to suppress the photos, if necessary, and imploring it to speed passage of the war-spending bill. The rider would “unnecessarily complicate the essential objective of supporting the troops,” Obama wrote.
In other words, Obama took a position that amounted to providing political cover to Democrats to support the war funding, while pledging to implement, through other means, the very policy they supposedly found objectionable.
Secondly, the White House and Congressional leadership added a provision to the bill that extends up to $100 billion in credits to the International Monetary Fund. While this sent many Republicans to the microphones to denounce the funding, the Democratic leadership portrayed the IMF funding as a progressive policy:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is trying to paint the IMF provision as a “very important national security initiative.” The IMF, she said, “can be a force for alleviating the fury of despair among people, poor people throughout the world.”
It is a pathetic symbol of just how bankrupt the Congressional Democratic leadership is when it comes to US foreign policy that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are trying to use funding for the IMF to convince other Democrats to support war funding. The IMF has been a destabilizing force in many countries across the globe through its austerity measures and structural adjustment schemes. Remember, it was the policies of the IMF and its cohorts at the World Bank and World Trade Organizations that sparked global uprisings in the 1990s.
To support the IMF funding scam, the Center for American Progress, which has passionately supported Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan, released a position paper today called, “Bailing Out the Bailer-Outer: Five Reasons Congress Should Agree to Fund the IMF.”
Thankfully, some anti-war Democrats seem to understand the atrocious role the IMF has played and have tried to impose rules on the funding that would attempt to confront the IMF’s austerity measures by requiring that “the funds allocated by Congress for global stimulus are used for stimulatory, and not contractionary, purposes.”
By adding the IMF provision to this bill, the White House is making a bold statement about the intimate relationship of the hidden hand of US neoliberal economic policy to the iron fist of US militarism.
At the end of the day, the real issue here is: How many Democrats will actually stand up on principle to the funding of the wars, regardless of the bells and whistles the White House and Democratic Leadership attach or the threats they need to endure from their own party?
In order to block passage, 39 Democrats need to vote against it in the House. As of this writing, 34 reportedly are committed to voting against it. Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake has been doing great coverage of this issue, much of which can be found here. So too has David Swanson at AfterDowningStreet. This does seem to be one issue where phone calls and letters matter-tremendously. See where your representative stands here. As of this writing, these are the legislators who are reportedly leaning toward a “No” vote, but have not yet committed. They are the people most likely to be convinced by hearing from constituents:
- Steve Cohen
- Keith Ellison
- Chakah Fattah
- Mike Honda
- Doris Matsui
- Ed Markey
- Jim McDermott
- Gwen Moore
- Jared Polis
- Jan Schakowsky
- Jackie Speier
- Mike Thompson
- John Tierney
- Mel Watt
- Anthony Weiner
UPDATE: I just spoke to Trevor Kincaid, Jan Schakowsky’s communications director and he told me that Schakowsky will not release a statement on her position on the supplemental “until after the vote.” I asked him if she was concerned about going back on her 2007 pledge never to vote for war funding that did not call for troop withdrawal. He said, “She is currently reviewing the pros and cons of the bill.” He would provide no further comment.
Also, Jane Hamsher reports that it now appears Keith Ellison is voting no.
© 2009 Jeremy Scahill
Jeremy Scahill is the author of the New York Times bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He is currently a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute.
Health Care Activists Lament Single-Payer Snub May 30, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Health.
Tags: ama, baucus 13, california nurses, green party, health, health care, health care reform, health insurance, health insurance industry, health system, healthcare, insurance industry, max baucus, medicare, national health plan, National Health Program, obama administration, pelosi, pharmaceutical industry, private health insurance, progressive democrats, reform, roger hollander, russell mokhiber, senage finance, single payer, single payer action, single payer now, universal health care, universal healthcare, victoria colliver
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Frustrated by the exclusion of government-financed medical care from the debate to revamp the nation’s troubled health system, advocates of a “single-payer” plan are increasingly turning to demonstrations and civil disobedience as a way to get their message across.
During Senate Finance Committee hearings May 5 and 12 on health reform, 13 doctors, nurses, lawyers and activists stood up to complain that no single-payer proponent had been invited to take part and were arrested for disrupting the proceedings.On Friday in San Francisco, about 200 single-payer proponents held a rally in front of the Federal Building and headed in small groups to Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s office to urge the speaker of the House, who was in China, to back single-payer legislation and give its supporters a seat at the table of the health reform debate. The public appeals were part of a series of demonstrations being held in more than 50 U.S. cities over the next few days to encourage lawmakers to enact a single-payer plan.
Some advocates of a nationalized health plan are calling for activists to become even more militant.
“It’s the only way – direct confrontation with the people who are blocking what the majority of the American people want,” said Russell Mokhiber, the founder of the newly formed Single Payer Action.
“It’s about getting in people’s faces and being serious about the fact that 60 Americans are dying every day because of lack of health insurance,” said Mokhiber, who was arrested at the May 5 hearing and arraigned earlier this week in Washington.
Single payer unlikely
Reforming health care has become a focus of the Obama administration, with the president urging Congress to get legislation to his desk by the end of the year that would cover most of the nation’s 47 million uninsured. Whether that will happen remains to be seen, but whatever Congress passes is not likely to come in the form of a single-payer plan.
In a single-payer system, as envisioned by most advocates, the federal government would pay for basic medical care delivered by public and private health professionals. The money would come from taxes, and medical bills would go directly to a government insurance plan, similar to Medicare.
President Obama and lawmakers have proposed a form of “single-payer lite” – a government-administered plan people could buy into as an alternative to purchasing an individual policy offered by insurers. But single-payer supporters say this option doesn’t go far enough. They want private insurers completely out of the business of covering basic care, which they say could save nearly 30 percent in administrative costs.
That’s clearly not something the health insurance industry supports. Many of the nation’s largest insurers prefer a form of “universal” health care that would cover all Americans, while keeping them in business. They tend to avoid discussing the single-payer option largely because it hasn’t been included in the national debate.
Some statistics show the single-payer concept has grown in popularity as problems in the nation’s health care system have worsened. A CBS News/New York Times poll conducted in January found 59 percent of the 1,112 people surveyed said they supported government-provided national health insurance.
Several groups, including the California Nurses Association and Physicians for a National Health Program, call for a single-payer option. While not supported by the American Medical Association, a nationalized health system got the backing of 59 percent of physicians in a poll published last year in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
The California Legislature has twice passed a state-level single-payer bill – in 2006 and 2008 – making it the first state to do so, but both times the effort was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The legislation, authored by former state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, has been reintroduced as by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco. Leno’s version is expected to meet the same fate as its predecessors.
Still, single payer has been largely dismissed from serious discussion on the national level as politically infeasible.
“It’s off the table in Washington because of the politics,” said Laurence Baker, associate professor of health research and policy at Stanford University.
Health insurers and drugmakers have contributed millions of dollars to members of Congress. One of the top recipients of that money, said Consumer Watchdog, an advocacy group based in Santa Monica, was Sen. Max Baucus, D-Montana, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, who was running the hearings when the arrests took place this month. He accepted $413,000 in drug and health insurance campaign contributions during that time.
Many single-payer supporters interpret the resistance to the single-payer idea to be simply the result of a formidable lobbying effort by the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries, but Stanford’s Baker said the hurdles are more nuanced.
Distrust for government
Americans are clearly frustrated by the health care system. While some polls indicate that a majority of Americans favor single payer, some polls show a distrust of government’s ability to take over health care, he said. In a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released in April, just 35 percent of those surveyed expressed support for a government-run health system like Medicare.
As the debate continues, single-payer supporters have clearly ramped up their activity and tactics. The 50 demonstrations have been organized by a variety of groups including Healthcare-NOW!, Progressive Democrats of America and the Green Party.
But not all single-payer groups promote civil disobedience as a way to draw attention to the cause. Don Bechler, chairman and founder of Single Payer Now, a statewide advocacy group in San Francisco that helped organize the demonstrations, said he is more interested in drawing in more supporters than seeing people get arrested.
California nurse DeAnn McEwen didn’t set out to become one of the “Baucus 13,” the 13 arrested at the Senate Finance Committee hearings. She happened to be in Washington for a nurses’ union organizing committee meeting when she learned about the hearings.
McEwen, of Long Beach, a nurse for 35 years, said she felt compelled to speak out about the lack of a single-payer voice at the table.
“At that point, I felt I couldn’t be silent anymore because it was like I was seeing a gag, a hand covering the mouth of a victim,” McEwen said. “There’s therapy for the broken health care system, and any other reform that includes the insurance companies is not going to get us where we need to go in terms of providing equitable and fair coverage.”
Health care proposals
A number of health policy proposals are under consideration as lawmakers work to overhaul the nation’s health care system, but a proposal to have the government pay exclusively for basic health care has largely been left out of the discussions. Here are some of the ideas on the table:
Public plan: Create a government-financed purchasing pool or “exchange” – one that people could buy as an alternative to individual health policies offered by private insurers.
Individual mandate: Require individuals to get health insurance through an employer, the government or on their own. In exchange, insurers would have to stop discriminating against people with medical problems.
New taxes: Tax job-based health insurance benefits, a controversial option that proponents say could help pay for the overhaul estimated to cost some $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion over 10 years. Other taxes would come from hikes on alcohol, tobacco and soda.
Reduce health costs: Improve efficiency in the delivery system by upgrading technologies, increasing the availability of generic medications, realigning provider payments to reward quality of care rather than just quantity, and funding efforts to figure out which medical treatments work best.
© 2009 Hearst Communications Inc.
Tags: 9/11, Abu Ghraib, bagram, bin Laden, bush crimes, cheney, cia, condoleeza, convention against torture, eichmann holocaust, gary younge, geneva conventions, Guantanamo, hannah arendt, military commissions, nuremberg, Obama, pelosi, prolonged detention, rendition, roger hollander, rule of law, secret prisons, torture, torture photos, War Crimes, waterboarding
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By acknowledging recent crimes while refusing to pursue the criminals, the president has made his position untenable
by Gary Younge
‘Every government assumes deeds and misdeeds of the past,” writes Hannah Arendt in Eichmann and the Holocaust. “It means hardly more, generally speaking, than that every generation, by virtue of being born into a historical continuum, is burdened by the sins of the fathers as it is blessed with the deeds of the ancestors.”
For Barack Obama this cuts both ways. Talented as he is, he looks much more so when compared with the man who preceded him. Just by showing up and stringing a few coherent sentences together, he embodies an improvement. To earn acclaim in these early months, he hasn’t had to do anything good. He merely had to announce that he would stop doing things that were bad.
On the other hand, he has inherited the scarred landscape of his predecessor’s tenure. Bush’s wars, banks, car companies, secret prisons and untried prisoners are now his. As the candidate he may have promised change, but as the president he must also simulate some sense of continuity. Soaring rhetoric, however hopeful about the future, cannot erase the past, which has a habit of remaining with us.
Herein lies the tension in Obama’s deeply flawed attempts to come to terms with America’s recent disgraceful record of torture and detainment. As a candidate he was consistent on two points. First, he was opposed to torture and would close Guantánamo Bay. “I believe that we must reject torture without equivocation because it does not make us safe, it results in unreliable intelligence, it puts our troops at risk, and it contradicts core American values.” Second, he had no desire to prosecute those who have been guilty of human rights abuses. “I would not want my first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of the Republicans as a partisan witch-hunt, because I think we’ve got too many problems to solve.”
In short, by acknowledging the crimes while refusing to pursue the criminals he has promised to rectify America’s grim recent history without ever reckoning with it.
Events over the past few weeks have shown just how ethically and politically untenable this situation really is. His first term looks as though it may be consumed by these issues anyway – and not on his terms. Having released the torture memos, Obama then reversed his position on releasing photographs that accompanied them on the grounds that to do so would endanger US troops. Having opposed trying Guantánamo prisoners under military commissions, he now supports it. His decision to close Guantánamo has been delivered a huge blow by the Senate, which voted 90-6 to deny the funds necessary to do so. Now he has proposed that suspects who cannot be tried in a federal court because evidence against them was obtained under torture could be held in ”prolonged detention” in the US without trial.
In essence, he would transfer the legal architecture of Guantánamo to the mainland, as though the problem were one of geography rather than principle. So much for core American values.
On one level we should not be surprised. Obama was elected by Americans to represent American interests – which, in turn, are informed by American political realities. And the reality is that, with a few notable exceptions, the Democrats have consistently failed to provide an unswerving, principled opposition to torture whenever they have had the power to do so, for fear of being branded unpatriotic. Like their spinelessness over the Iraq war, this complicity in the name of pragmatism ultimately makes them more vulnerable to political attack, rather than less.
The speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, knows this only too well. When asked why she took impeachment off the table before the 2006 elections, she said: “What about these other people who voted for that war with no evidence … Are they going to be voting with us to impeach the president? Where are these Democrats going to be? Are they going to be voting for us to impeach a president who took us to war on information that they had also?”
This makes the recent fiasco over her confused accounts of whether and when the CIA mislead her on waterboarding seem all the more disingenuous. Allegations of torture from various sources were prevalent by that stage, and she chose not to believe them. Her silence made her complicit, leaving her territory on the moral high ground foreclosed.
This should leave us in no doubt as to where the ultimate responsibility lies. “Where all are guilty, no one is,” wrote Arendt. “Confessions of collective guilt are the best possible safeguard against the discovery of culprits, and the very magnitude of the crime the best excuse for doing nothing.”
This is precisely how those who have now left the Bush administration have played it. “The president instructed us that nothing we would do would be outside of our legal obligations under the convention against torture,” Condoleezza Rice said recently. “So by definition, if it was authorised by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the convention against torture.”
But in the absence of moral leadership the national conversation has morphed seamlessly from human rights to national security, where the issue of torture and detention is debated not on the grounds of morality but efficacy.
With the former vice-president Dick Cheney leading the charge, the right has managed to mount a spirited defence of torture in which America’s rights as the potential, abstract victim of terrorism supersede detainees’ rights as actual victims of torture.
In the heady days following 9/11, argues Cheney, observing constitutional niceties and international conventions was a luxury they could not afford. Waterboarding, he said just last week, “prevented the violent deaths of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent people”. Cheney insists that by closing Guantánamo and putting a halt to torture Obama is making the country less safe.
These arguments are not difficult to counter. There is not one shred of evidence any intelligence obtained as a result of torture has been used to prevent further attacks. The best intelligence the Bush administration ever had was a month before 9/11, when it received a memo entitled “Bin Laden determined to attack inside the US” from the FBI, warning of “patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings”. No torture was involved; no action was taken.
Conventions are devised precisely to set boundaries in moments of crisis – in periods of relative harmony there is not much need to refer to them. The Geneva convention, in particular, was devised to establish the rules of engagement during times of war. If the very fact of being at war is reason enough to discard it, then it has no meaning.
And finally, if showing the world what America has done would inflame anti-American sentiment then maybe America shouldn’t do it in the first place.
Gary Younge is a Guardian columnist and feature writer based in the US
Tags: al-Qaeda, Alberto Gonzales, anti-torture act, blue ribbon commission, bush administrations, bush prosecutions, cheney, cia, constitution, crimes against humanity, criminal code, david addington, democracy, doj, geneva conventions, George Bush, illegal survelance, interrogation tapes, Iran-Contra, John Dean, john yoo, justice department, ken lay, martin garbus, patrick leahy, pelosi, president obama, reconciliation commission, roger hollander, scooter libby, senate judiciary, special prosecutor, Taliban, torture, truth commission, war crimes act, watergate
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Judges and jurors, not politicians or unelected commission members, should determine whether Bush & Co. broke the law.
It’s really quite simple. Truth and Reconciliation commissions, Congressional committees and blue ribbon commissions like the 9/11 Commission, are not deterrents to torture, illegal surveillance or lawyers on the Justice Department who attempted to justify the torture. They have a very limited function.
But they don’t punish anyone; don’t deter anyone, don’t even put pressure on the people who committed the acts and cannot really get at the truth to determine responsibility. They do not bring the full force of America’s 230 years of law down on the offenders. They don’t truly help rein in the powers of future presidents or defense secretaries who want to do the same or similar acts the next time they react to what they see as an extraordinary crisis. And different presidents, Democrats and Republicans from Woodrow Wilson and the prosecutions during the Red Scare, to Franklin D. Roosevelt and the internment of 110,000 Japanese, Lyndon Johnson, lying about the Gulf of Tonkin and to dramatically increase troop strength, nearly always find crisis and overreact.
Senator Patrick Leahy, the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has called at different times for either a Truth and Reconciliation commission or a Blue Ribbon commission. Neither is appropriate.
The best truth and reconciliation model comes from the South African experience. In South Africa, these commissions were used to begin the healing after the brutality of apartheid. It grants the confessing wrongdoers immunity. It was for a different time and place.
The Blue Ribbon commission gets attention and, along with Congressional committees, can get exposures and may help lead to better laws. But they create the danger of interfering and at times making impossible criminal trials of criminals. And they let criminals go unpunished.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a member of both the Judiciary Committee and Intelligence Committees and a former U.S. Attorney, supporting Leahy’s call, said that a torture commission might need the power to immunize witnesses on a case-by-case basis, and “it is beside the point” if it endangers criminal prosecutions.
We should go ahead with criminal prosecutions. It is the only way, through grand juries, subpoenas and trials, to get the facts and help America clean up some of its recent past.
The American people, immersed as they are in the economic crisis, are angry about torture and other illegalities of the Bush administration and want those prosecutions.
The February, 2009 USA Today/Gallup Poll shows 38 percent of Americans favor criminal prosecution of torturers, 38 percent for prosecution of those who used illegal surveillance, and 41 percent for those involved in the subversion of the Justice Department. Americans by a wide margin are in favor of criminal prosecutions than independent or Congressional panels. Seventy-five percent of Americans believe something must be done — we can’t walk away from the crimes against humanity committed in our name.
The argument is made that criminal prosecutions area too difficult, too lengthy, too expensive, too political and will keep the country divided. But there have always been political expensive and difficult trials. We have had long, expensive, political trials for John Dean during Watergate, Eliot Abrams during Iran-Contra, Scooter Libby today and even Aaron Burr nearly two hundred years ago.
Leahy argues against criminal prosecutions because “a failed attempt to prosecute for this conduct might be the worst result of all if it is seen as justifying dishonest actions.” But that’s true for every criminal prosecution — should murderers, John Ehrlichmann, Scooter Libby or Enron officials not be prosecuted because the possibility of an acquittal justifies their actions? If so, junk the criminal system.
We can’t leave it to politicians. Many Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are alleged to have known about the torture and surveillance programs and either approved or said nothing. Pelosi (who, interestingly, has called for criminal prosecutions) has consistently equivocated on what she knew and when she knew it. It’s unlikely Democrats on commissions, let alone Republicans, are going to pursue the inquiry to its final end. They will undermine Congressional Commissions, and blue ribbon Commissions, but they cannot so easily undermine criminal prosecutions.
The criminal trials of the chief of the Bush defendants can certainly be shorter and probably less expensive than the Barry Bonds or Scooter Libby prosecution, and less purely political than Thomas Jefferson’s presidentially controlled prosecution of Aaron Burr.
The Bush people violated some clear specific crimes. Failing to get wiretaps permission from the Federal Internal Security Courts is a felony. Representatives of the Justice Department, local police and federal agent who participated in break-ins or wiretaps without warrants, are guilty of clear and unambiguous federal crimes. Federal Agents who did illegal surveillance even when the Justice Department refused to sign off on its illegality can be found guilty. Violation of the Federal Anti-Torture Act, which has been on the books for years, bars citizens from committing torture abroad, is a felony.
The War Crimes Act of 1996 is violated even if there is not what the Bush defendants would claim is “torture.” That act punishes those who act cruelly and inhumanely. Waterboarding, vicious dogs, and exposing detainees to temperature extremes could all be punished by a jury.
Bush’s people, afraid of the applicability of the War Crimes Act, inserted a provision into a 2006 law that made the War Crimes Act retroactively ineffective. But Congress can change that now, that law can be used for prosecutions.
The defense will claim, say opponents of criminal trials, that defendants relied on the now infamous August 1, 2002 legal opinion of the Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, and his assistants justifying torture and the opinions on illegal surveillance creating fog and evasion and therefore, they will get off. And that all the lawyers did was give their albeit controversial opinions, a full defense. Jurors will get confused by legal experts who support the views of the Bush lawyers. It’s too complicated for a jury, we are told.
But we have prosecuted lawyers, experts and those who rely on legal or accounting opinions in many cases. Kenneth Lay could refer to legal or accounting documents prepared to justify his case all day long and not be saved. The legal opinions rendered by Alberto Gonzales, John Yoo and David Addington are such transparent documents that an American jury of citizens is, at the very least entitled to have an opportunity to pass judgment on them. Even as lawyers within the Bush administration repudiated the opinions, the illegal practices went on. No jury would have difficulty in rejecting John Yoo’s memorandum that reject the basic tenets of an American democracy.
Can a jury really decide the tough questions, such as whether Alberto Gonzales’ opinion, concluding the Geneva Convention Protections do not apply to prisoners of war captured for Al Qaeda or the Taliban? Of course. A jury can determine if the legal opinion was a facade to justify actions already taken — only the legal process with grand juries and subpoenas has any hope of piercing the wall of defense that will be used to block that inquiry. Those memos were not used to interpret the law — they were intentionally written to change the law. No Commission can hope to get facts behind these opinions as quickly as the Courts.
Our criminal law has specific status that reach overseas to punish torturers. Section 2340A of our Federal Criminal Code makes it a crime for any person “outside the United States to commit or attempt to commit torture.” But, say the critics of criminal prosecution, torture is too vague a word for a prosecution. Not so. Judges and juries routinely define much vaguer terms – what does “reasonable doubt of guilt” or “reasonable doubt of guilt with a degree of moral certainty.” What does cruel and inhuman treatment mean? They are always past precedents to help us define these terms.
Juries determine competency in cases interpreting wills and estates, and sanity in criminal cases, with the help of experts, whom they often barely understand.
It is wrong to say that lower level officials, or lower level military personnel can get off by claiming they followed higher orders. They did what fellow soldiers did – they followed the morality culture created by their environment and superiors. That’s not a defense. When police officers in Los Angeles, Jackson, or New York beat prisoners, or deny them rights, most know they are violating the laws — they do it nonetheless. And they can be and often are prosecuted.
At times CIA personnel and people within the White House knew with certainty they were acting illegally. When the CIA destroyed at least 92 interrogation tapes to cover up what was done to the detainees, they violated a specific court order that prohibited that destruction.
I don’t have a religious faith in the majesty of the law. It is just the far best alternative.
Is the criminal prosecutors and the process itself often flawed? Of course. At times, are the guilty declared innocent and the innocent declared guilty? Of course. Do conviction make it far less likely that torture will continue? Probably so. Will a string of successful prosecutions ensure that we will never have Americans participate in torture or illegal surveillance? Probably not. Does it make torture and illegal surveillance less likely? Yes.
At the end of the day, I would rather have American jurors, bound by the Constitution and the law, make the decision rather than politicians or unelected blue ribbon commission members. I would rather have the judges, bound by precedent and law, determine what is, and is not legal.
President Obama has said this is not the time to look back but to look forward. There was a claim that the need for bipartisanship argued against prosecution. But the illusion of bipartisanship, if it ever truly existed, has been broken.
President Obama and the Congress should now name a Special Prosecutor.
Tags: Afghanistan, Afghanistan War, democratic party, harry reid, Iraq, iraq bases, Iraq mercenaries, Iraq occupation, Iraq oil, Iraq war, iraqi government, obama withdrawal speech, pakistan, peace, peace movement, pelosi, Pentagon, phillis bennis, president obama, roger hollander, SOFA, status of forces, stiglitz, war on terror, war profiteering
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(Roger’s note: I beleive this article says in a much more polite and restrained manner essentially what I posted on the Blog on March 1 — http://rogerhollander.wordpress.com/2009/03/01/barack-obama-iraq-and-the-big-lie/?. The author is too cultured, where I am just plain angry and cynical, to call Barack Obama a liar. Yes, I agree it is for the peace movement to put the pressure on; but I do not exonerate Obama for his failure to stand up to the military-industrial complex once and for all and to speak the Plain Truth to the country. Of course, the proof is in the pudding. I would love to believe that President Obama is using a pragmatic gradualist approach that in the long run will result in the complete withdrawal from Iraq. But, as I pointed out in my article, the U.S. has an enormous investment in Iraq; and it is hard to believe that anything less than standing up to the military and corporate interests will change what appears to be a predetermined course that will keep U.S. military presence in Iraq for generations. From what I have seen and heard of Obama, it is hard to believe that he is up to it).
Talking Points Published March 6, 2009
Institute for Policy Studies, www.ips-dc.org
President Obama’s speech to Congress was a good first step, but we still have a lot of work to do to end the war in Iraq.
The meaning of President Obama’s Iraq withdrawal speech, and its influence on real U.S. policy in Iraq, will not be determined solely by his actual words. The import of the speech — and whether its promises become real — will be determined by a fluid combination of what Obama says, his own definitions of what he says, AND the disparate ways his speech is heard, perceived, described and contested by others — the mainstream media, Congress, the military, other centers of elite power, and crucially, the peace movement.
The words of the speech were quite amazing: “And under the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government, I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. We will complete this transition to Iraqi responsibility, and we will bring our troops home.”
After eight years of reckless slaughter proudly justified in the name of a “global war on terror,” it was stunning to hear the president of the United States announce what he called “a new strategy to end the war in Iraq.” That moment was something we should celebrate. It was ours. The statement was a recognition of the powerful antiwar consensus in this country, a consensus that helped define the powerful constituency so key to Obama’s election. Obama may not acknowledge, even to himself, that it was the organized antiwar movement that helped create and build and strengthen that consensus — but still his speech reflected the new political reality that requires him to speak to the demands of that antiwar community.
Ending the War: A Definition
From the vantage point of the peace movement, the speech was and remains insufficient, and shot through with wiggle room and loopholes. We know that President Obama’s definition of “ending the war” is not ours. Our definition has not changed:
- Withdraw all the troops and bring them home (don’t redeploy them to another illegal and unwinnable war in Afghanistan).
- Pull out all the U.S.-paid foreign mercenaries and contractors and cancel the remaining contracts.
- Close all U.S. military bases and turn them over to Iraq.
- Give up all efforts to control Iraq’s oil.
While he laid out partial versions of some of these issues (withdrawal and oil), others (mercenaries and bases) were left out entirely. And at the end of the day, President Obama did not make a single real commitment to meeting our definition of ending the war. As The New York Times columnist Bob Herbert described Obama’s plan for Iraq and Afghanistan, “we’re committed to these two conflicts for a good while yet, and there is nothing like an etched-in-stone plan for concluding them.”
Understanding all the problems, limitations, and dangers of President Obama’s speech is crucial. (For a fuller analysis of the dangers in Obama’s speech, see my February 26th talking points — http://www.ips-dc.org/articles/1117.)
But understanding those limitations does not tell us how to respond to this new moment, a moment when the president of the United States is telling Americans that he is ending the war, that he intends to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq, telling Iraqis that the U.S. “pursues no claim on your territory or your resources,” and telling the world that the U.S. plans to engage with everybody in the region including Iran and Syria.
We may — we must — understand all the reasons that those words don’t constitute a firm commitment. But the reality is that the vast majority of people hearing those words, who already believe in what those words should mean, will assume President Obama means the same thing they do. That perception provides a huge opportunity for the peace movement. And it is for that reason that the assertions in his speech remain contested terrain.
Who Opposes, Who Supports?
Leading Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Leader Harry Reid, criticized Obama’s plan for leaving 50,000 or more U.S. troops in Iraq after the withdrawal of “combat brigades.” Their critique was powerful, public, and their first substantive break with the president — breaking to his left. Although they will likely back down, indeed they have already gone silent on this issue, their initial response opens the possibility for their greater engagement with more progressive members of Congress whom they had consistently dissed throughout the Bush years, and perhaps ultimately with the peace movement directly. The “speak with one voice” posture of the Democratic Party may be eroding with a Democrat in the White House.
Perhaps not so surprisingly, it was key Republicans — including Senator John McCain — who voiced immediate support for Obama’s withdrawal plan. Clearly they understand the huge loopholes inherent in the “withdrawal” strategy. They recognize the limited character of Obama’s pledges. But what they have officially endorsed, on the record, is a strategy that includes the language of “remove all U.S. troops from Iraq,” “our combat mission will end,” etc. They will never be our allies — but they are stuck with those words. Certainly they can — and surely will — reverse themselves if partial withdrawal moves threaten to turn into a real end of U.S. occupation. But they will pay a high political price when they do — and risk being dubbed flip-floppers on the Iraq War.
Military leaders, including top U.S. generals in Iraq and the region, heads of the joint chiefs of staff, and the Republican secretary of defense, have also expressed support. Of course they are the most familiar with all the wiggle room in the plan. They know the likelihood of renegotiating with a compliant Iraqi government virtually any or all of the terms in the U.S.-Iraq agreement — on which Obama based his intention to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq. But whatever their understanding, the fact that the military brass is standing publicly behind what is being touted as a complete withdrawal plan strips an important weapon away from those who oppose any withdrawal at all.
On its February 28th front page, The New York Times referred to the speech as “the beginning of the end of one of the longest and most divisive wars in American history.” The Times went on to describe how Obama “announced that he would withdraw combat forces from Iraq by August 2010 and all remaining troops by December 2011.” Not that he “intended,” but that he “would” withdraw all troops. The San Francisco Chronicle headline was “Obama Makes it Plain: Troops Out by End of 2011.” The Washington Post headlined “Obama Sets Timetable for Iraq.”
We have to recognize that even reports accurately depicting the too limited withdrawals, the too long timelines, the continuing occupation by U.S. troops, etc., will still be widely understood as consistent with what President Obama called “a new strategy to end the war.” And while it’s vital that as a movement we harbor no illusions, and recognize all the loopholes and wiggle room and pitfalls, our most important job is not to convince the people of this country that there is no way President Obama will end the occupation of Iraq. Our job will be to convince people that the only way President Obama will be able to overcome the powerful pro-war opposition inside and outside his administration and among his congressional allies, the only way he will be willing to even try to accomplish what he has promised, is if we all mobilize to demand it, to hold him accountable to his pledges, his promises, his speeches, and even his intentions.
Our Job: Make Him Do It
It’s the story of FDR who, at the height of popular mobilization by trade unionists, communists, community activists and a host of others, finally told his demanding supporters, “okay, I get it. I know what we have to do. Now get out there in the streets and make me do it!” Our job is to constantly hold President Obama and his administration accountable to what appear to be promises: withdraw all the troops, respect Iraqi sovereignty, give up Iraqi oil…even as we ratchet up our push for a faster, fuller troop withdrawal, closure of bases, and more.
At the same time our movement must take on other challenges as well.
We need to oppose Obama’s call for expanding the military. If he were really worried about the stress on military, the best solution is to bring them home — not ship them from Iraq to another illegal and unwinnable war two borders away. And at this moment of economic devastation across the U.S. and around the world, the issue of the financial costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan/Pakistan must be addressed directly; those hundreds of billions represent perhaps the largest single pot of money to pay for the health care/environment/energy priorities of the new administration. If things continue as they are, Stiglitz’s Three Trillion Dollar War in Iraq will turn into a $4 trillion dollar set of wars, as Afghanistan and Pakistan continue to swallow more troops, more bombs, more lives. We need to demand replacement of the war budget with a people’s budget that cuts the military budget by eliminating the Pentagon’s network of foreign bases that cost billions and destroy lives and environments around the world, getting rid of all our nuclear weapons, and eliminating all the giant weapons systems that have been obsolete for years.
Afghanistan: Not a “Good” War
And, perhaps most urgently, we must mobilize powerfully to oppose and reverse Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan. That war was never a “good war,” and it turns out that most Americans no longer think it is. Military leaders from NATO to the Pentagon have already acknowledged that there is no military solution; escalating the war with 17,000 new U.S. troops, with plans for a strategy discussion after their deployment, is completely backwards. We must reclaim Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s lonely, brave, and prophetic opposition to authorizing force in response to the terror attacks of 9/11. The problem in Afghanistan, then and now, was never insufficient troops. It was the creation of the so-called “global war on terror,” that shaped a militarized framework for responding to every problem in the world (as well as here at home — remember the “war on poverty,” the “war on drugs,” the “war on crime,” etc?).
Obama gave us hope that a new foreign policy, based on negotiations and diplomacy, not military force, was possible. He said he would talk to everyone. Our job now is to mobilize stronger than ever — no post-inauguration vacations! — to demand that this new administration make good on the promises people heard. If the perception of tens of millions of people in this country is that President Obama promised to withdraw all troops, it doesn’t matter that we know his “intention” is not a commitment. That perception is a starting point. If everyone assumes complete U.S. troop withdrawal is already official U.S. policy, it will make renegotiating terms of the U.S.-Iraqi agreement much harder for the Pentagon — because people will believe they’re trying to reverse a promise. It makes our job easier.
After the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001, our movement began immediately to mobilize against the war we knew was coming. Organizations like the Center for Constitutional Rights moved quickly to challenge the “global war on terror” framework as illegal, and to demand that the attacks be dealt with as international crimes, rather than war. The first national demonstration was held October 7, led by the people who would soon form 9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, those who had lost loved ones three weeks before, and by those who would soon create United for Peace and Justice. The war began the same day, with the bombing of Kabul launched just as the antiwar rally began in the streets of New York. We have been working ever since. But most of our movement left Afghanistan more or less in the background as we tried to stop the U.S. invasion and then mobilized to end the war and occupation in Iraq.
It’s time to come back. We hear accusations that the war in Iraq was a “distraction” from the “real war,” the “just war,” the “good war” in Afghanistan. Not everyone believes it was a “good war” anymore. But we have a lot of work to do to stop them both.