The Worst Teacher in Chicago September 12, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Chicago, Education, Labor.
Tags: arne duncan, benno schmidt, charter schools, chicago, chicago strike, edison schools, education, Greg Palast, public educatiion, Rahm Emanuel, roger hollander, standardized tests, teacher's strike, teachers
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Greg Palast is the author of the new Book Billionalres and Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps. For two decades, Palast was an investigator for Chicago-area unions, including the Chicago Teachers Union.
They’ve almost stopped pretending, too. Both the Right Wing-nuts and the Obama Administration laud the “progress” of New Orleans’ schools–a deeply sick joke. The poorest students, that struggle most with standardized tests, were drowned or washed away.
One thing Democrat Emanuel and Republican Romney both demand of Chicago teachers is that their pay, their jobs, depend on “standardized tests.” Yes, but whose standard?
But Rahm, after all, is just imposing Bush education law which should be called, No Child’s Behind Left.
Mayor’s Kids Private School is What Public Schools Should Be September 12, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Chicago, Education, Labor.
Tags: arne duncan, chicago, chicago strike, ctu, education, karen lewis, labor, labour, mike elk, private schools, public education, Rahm Emanuel, roger hollander, standarized tests, teacher evaluations, teacher's strike, unions
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Director of Private School Where Rahm Sends His Kids Opposes Using Testing for Teacher Evaluations
CTU President Karen Lewis says she would love to use University of Chicago Lab School as model for public schools
Unlike occasional teacher union opponent Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel does not send his kids to public schools. Instead, Emanuel’s children attend one of the most elite prep schools in Chicago, the University of Chicago Lab School, where the annual tuition is more than $20,000. (Emanuel has repeatedly refused to answer questions about why he eschews public schools for his children, telling reporters that it is a private family decision.)
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel eschews the city’s public schools in favor of the University of Chicago Lab School, who director eschews Emanuel’s idea of “reform.” (Zol87/Flickr/Creative Commons)
The conditions at the University of Chicago Lab Schools are dramatically different than those at Chicago Public Schools, which are currently closed with teachers engaged in a high-profile strike. The Lab School has seven full-time art teachers to serve a student population of 1,700. By contrast, only 25% of Chicago’s “neighborhood elementary schools” have both a full-time art and music instructor. The Lab School has three different libraries, while 160 Chicago public elementary schools do not have a library.
“Physical education, world languages, libraries and the arts are not frills. They are an essential piece of a well-rounded education,” wrote University of Chicago Lab School Director David Magill on the school’s website in February 2009.
Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) President Karen Lewis agrees with Magill, and believes what works for Mayor Emanuel’s kids should be a prescription for the rest of the city.
“I’m actually glad that he did [send his kids to Lab School] because it gave me an opportunity to look at how the Lab school functions,” Lewis told Chicago magazine in November 2011. “I thought he gave us a wonderful pathway to seeing what a good education looks like, and I think he’s absolutely right, and so we love that model. We would love to see that model throughout.”
One of the key sticking points in union negotiations is that Emanuel wants to use standardized tests scores to count for 40 percent of the basis of teacher evaluations. Earlier this year, more than 80 researchers from 16 Chicago-area universities signed an open letter to Emanuel, criticizing the use of standardized test scores for this purpose. “The new evaluation system for teachers and principals centers on misconceptions about student growth, with potentially negative impact on the education of Chicago’s children,” they wrote.
CTU claims that nearly 30% of its members could be dismissed within one to two years if the proposed evaluation process is put into effect and has opposed using tests scores as the basis of evaluation. They’re joined in their opposition to using testing in evaulations by Magill.
Writing on the University of Chicago’s Lab School website two years ago, Magill noted, “Measuring outcomes through standardized testing and referring to those results as the evidence of learning and the bottom line is, in my opinion, misguided and, unfortunately, continues to be advocated under a new name and supported by the current [Obama] administration.”
While Magill could not be reached for direct comment on the specifics of the Chicago Teachers’ strike, his past writings on the school’s site suggest he might be supportive.
“I shudder to think of who would be attracted to teach in our public schools without unions,” Magill wrote on the school’s website in February 2009, adding that, even with unions, many teachers “have had no choice but to take on second jobs to make ends meet.“
But Magill’s writings also note just how fine a line CTU will have to walk to keep public sentiment, which currently supports the strike 47% to 39%, on its side according to one recent poll. Acknowledging the “distressing…generational change in the public’s attitude toward teachers,” Magill writes, “Some would say that teachers are responsible for this change by publicly participating in actions designed to bring attention to sub-standard working conditions and compensation. These actions often cause unintended collateral damage to students. Parents and the public at large have long memories when the education of their children is interrupted. We must find a way to conclude collective bargaining without raising doubts about the professionalism of those whose work should be valued the most.”
Tags: alec, arne duncan, charter schools, chris christie, cyber charter, diane ravitch, education, gates foundation, jeb bush, koch brothers, privatization, public education, Rahm Emanuel, right wing, roger hollander, teachers, teachers' unions
Published on Wednesday, May 2, 2012 by Bridging the Difference Blog / Ed Week
What You Need To Know About ALEC
Since the 2010 elections, when Republicans took control of many states, there has been an explosion of legislation advancing privatization of public schools and stripping teachers of job protections and collective bargaining rights. Even some Democratic governors, seeing the strong rightward drift of our politics, have jumped on the right-wing bandwagon, seeking to remove any protection for academic freedom from public school teachers.
This outburst of anti-public school, anti-teacher legislation is no accident. It is the work of a shadowy group called the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. Founded in 1973, ALEC is an organization of nearly 2,000 conservative state legislators. Its hallmark is promotion of privatization and corporate interests in every sphere, not only education, but healthcare, the environment, the economy, voting laws, public safety, etc. It drafts model legislation that conservative legislators take back to their states and introduce as their own “reform” ideas. ALEC is the guiding force behind state-level efforts to privatize public education and to turn teachers into at-will employees who may be fired for any reason. The ALEC agenda is today the “reform” agenda for education.
ALEC operated largely in the dark for years, but gained notoriety because of the Trayvon Martin case in Florida. It turns out that ALEC crafted the “Stand Your Ground” legislation that empowered George Zimmerman to kill an unarmed teenager with the defense that he (the shooter) felt threatened. When the bright light of publicity was shone on ALEC, a number of corporate sponsors dropped out, including McDonald’s, Kraft, Coca-Cola, Mars, Wendy’s, Intuit, Kaplan, and PepsiCo. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said that it would not halt its current grant to ALEC, but pledged not to provide new funding. ALEC has some 300 corporate sponsors, including Walmart, the Koch Brothers, and AT&T, so there’s still quite a lot of corporate support for its free-market policies. ALEC claimed that it is the victim of a campaign of intimidation.
The campaign to privatize the schools and to dismantle the teaching profession is in full swing. Where is the leadership to oppose it?
Groups like Common Cause and colorofchange.org have been putting ALEC’s model legislation online and printing the names of its sponsors. They have also published sharp criticism of ALEC’s ideas. This is hardly intimidation. It’s the democratic process at work. A website called alecexposed.org has published ALEC’s policy agenda. Common Cause posted the agenda for the meeting of ALEC on May 11 in Charlotte, N.C. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards has dropped out of ALEC and also withdrawn from the May 11 conference, where it was originally going to be a presenter.
A recent article in the Newark Star-Ledger showed how closely New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s “reform” legislation is modeled on ALEC’s work in education. Wherever you see states expanding vouchers, charters, and other forms of privatization, wherever you see states lowering standards for entry into the teaching profession, wherever you see states opening up new opportunities for profit-making entities, wherever you see the expansion of for-profit online charter schools, you are likely to find legislation that echoes the ALEC model.
ALEC has been leading the privatization movement for nearly 40 years, but the only thing new is the attention it is getting, and the fact that many of its ideas are now being enacted. Just last week, the Michigan House of Representatives expanded the number of cyber charters that may operate in the state, even though the academic results for such online schools are dismal.
Who is on the education task force of ALEC? The members of the task force as of July 2011 are here. Several members represent for-profit online companies, including the co-chair from Connections Academy; many members come from for-profit higher education corporations. There is someone from Jeb Bush’s foundation, as well as right-wing think tank people. There are charter school representatives, as well as Scantron. And the task force includes a long list of state legislators, from Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
Quite a lineup. Common Cause has asked why ALEC is considered a “charity” by the Internal Revenue Service and holds tax-exempt status, when it devotes so much time to lobbying for changes in state laws. Common Cause has filed a “whistleblower” complaint with the IRS about ALEC’s status.
The campaign to privatize the schools and to dismantle the teaching profession is in full swing. Where is the leadership to oppose it?
Diane Ravitch is a historian of education at New York University. She is a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. She has written many books and articles about American education, including: The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform, (Simon & Schuster, 2000); The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn (Knopf, 2003); The English Reader: What Every Literate Person Needs to Know (Oxford, 2006), which she edited with her son Michael Ravitch.
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Tags: chicago, chicago schools, education, kristen mack, privagte education, public education, public schools, Rahm Emanuel, roger hollander, teachers' unions
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Critics say choice sends message about Chicago’s public schools
Mayor Rahm Emanuel will bypass Chicago Public Schools, like many high-profile politicians before him, and send his children to the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools in Hyde Park this fall.
“We understand why he would choose a school with small class sizes; a broad, rich curriculum that offers world languages, the arts and physical education; a focus on critical thinking, not test-taking; a teacher and an assistant in every elementary classroom; and paid, high-quality professional development for their teacher,” Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said. “It’s wonderful that he has that option available to him.” (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
The mayor’s administration confirmed Thursday that Emanuel and his wife, Amy Rule, decided to send their children, Zach, Ilana and Leah, to the same school once attended by Barack and Michelle Obama’s daughters, Malia and Sasha.
Emanuel, who was in New York for an Obama fundraiser when the news broke, has maintained that where the couple send their children to school is a personal, not a political, decision. But the choice led inevitably to criticism that city leaders who send their children to private schools have no personal stake in Chicago’s public schools.
“I’m not in a position to question his choice. Every parent has the right to do that,” said Julie Woestehoff, executive director of Parents United for Responsible Education. “But I do think he has to recognize that his choice has sent a message to Chicago public school parents.
“It sends a message that he has not found a Chicago public school that he is confident enough to send his kids to.”
Emanuel’s children previously attended a private religious school in Chicago before moving to Washington while he served as President Obama’s White House chief of staff. They attended private schools in Washington and finished the school year there.
During the mayoral campaign, Emanuel faced the question of whether Chicago public schools were good enough for his kids. He declined then to say where his children would go.
At a recent news conference, Emanuel said the decision was one to make privately with his wife, taking into consideration what is best for their children and their education.
“This is what you have to respect. I live in public life. I’m a father to three great children, and that’s a private life,” Emanuel said. “If I use my kids’ education in any political context, I’d be less of a father than I want to be.”
Former Mayor Richard Daley sent his children to Catholic schools, even as he made it clear Chicago could not survive without vibrant public schools. Emanuel, too, has made improving CPS a key focus of his young administration.
The Emanuels’ home is in Ravenswood, where the local schools are Lake View High School and Ravenswood Elementary.
Many families who live in that neighborhood, however, compete for elite Chicago public high schools — selective enrollment schools such as Northside College Prep — where students need top grades and high test scores for admission.
Those high schools also allow principals to admit a handful of students using principal discretion. The controversial process has come under fire in recent years over whether clout plays a role in students landing the coveted spots.
To gain admissions into magnet CPS schools, some of the top elementary schools in the district, students have to win a spot through a lottery.
Barbara Radner, director of DePaul University’s Center for Urban Education, said either way Emanuel was in a difficult situation.
“There’s no way they could’ve gotten into a selective enrollment school without heavy suspicion,” Radner said. “If it had happened through a lottery, everyone would’ve been suspicious too. It wouldn’t have worked out.”
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, who has objected to Emanuel’s plans to withhold teacher pay raises and change work rules, issued a less-than-subtle statement about the mayor’s decision.
“We understand why he would choose a school with small class sizes; a broad, rich curriculum that offers world languages, the arts and physical education; a focus on critical thinking, not test-taking; a teacher and an assistant in every elementary classroom; and paid, high-quality professional development for their teacher,” Lewis said. “It’s wonderful that he has that option available to him.”
Cheney Admits to War Crimes, Media Yawns, Obama Turns the Other Cheek February 16, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, Torture.
Tags: Abu Ghraib, al-Qaeda, bagram, binya mohamed, cheney, CIA torture, detainees, enhanced interrogation, eric holder, geneva convention, Guantanamo, International law, jason leopold, jay bybee, john yoo, jonathan karl, journalism, justice department, Media, nuremberg, olc, opr, Rahm Emanuel, roger hollander, torture, torture tapes, War Crimes, waterboarding
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Monday 15 February 2010
Dick Cheney is a sadist.
On Sunday, in an exclusive interview with Jonathan Karl of ABC News’ “This Week,” Cheney proclaimed his love of torture, derided the Obama administration for outlawing the practice, and admitted that the Bush administration ordered Justice Department attorneys to fix the law around his policies.
“I was a big supporter of waterboarding,” Cheney told Karl, as if he were issuing a challenge to officials in the current administration, including President Barack Obama, who said flatly last year that waterboarding is torture, to take action against him. “I was a big supporter of the enhanced interrogation techniques…”
The former vice president’s declaration closely follows admissions he made in December 2008, about a month before the Bush administration exited the White House, when he said he personally authorized the torture of 33 suspected terrorist detainees and approved the waterboarding of three so-called “high-value” prisoners.
“I signed off on it; others did, as well, too,” Cheney said in an interview with the right-wing Washington Times about the waterboarding, a drowning technique where a person is strapped to a board, his face covered with a cloth and then water is poured over it. It is a torture technique dating back at least to the Spanish Inquisition.
The US has long treated waterboarding as a war crime and has prosecuted Japanese soldiers for using it against US troops during World War II. And Ronald Reagan’s Justice Department prosecuted a Texas sheriff and three deputies for using the practice to get confessions.
But Cheney’s admissions back then, as well as those he made on Sunday, went unchallenged by Karl and others in the mainstream media. Indeed, the two major national newspapers–The New York Times and The Washington Post–characterized Cheney’s interview as a mere spat between the vice president and the Obama administration over the direction of the latter’s counterterroism and national security policies.
The Times and Post did not report that Cheney’s comments about waterboarding and his enthusiastic support of torturing detainees amounted to an admission of war crimes given that the president has publicly stated that waterboarding is torture.
Ironically, in March 2003, after Iraqi troops captured several U.S. soldiers and let them be interviewed on Iraqi TV, senior Bush administration officials expressed outrage over this violation of the Geneva Convention.
“If there is somebody captured,” President George W. Bush told reporters on March 23, 2003, “I expect those people to be treated humanely. If not, the people who mistreat the prisoners will be treated as war criminals.”
Nor did the Times or Post report that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” Cheney backed was, in numerous cases, administered to prisoners detained at Guantanamo and in detention centers in Iraq and Afghanistan who we would come to discover were innocent and simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. The torture methods that Cheney helped implement as official policy was also directly responsible for the deaths of at least 100 detainees.
Renowned human rights attorney and Harper’s magazine contributor Scott Horton said, “Section 2340A of the federal criminal code makes it an offense to torture or to conspire to torture. Violators are subject to jail terms or to death in appropriate cases, as where death results from the application of torture techniques.”
In addition to Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder said during his confirmation hearing last year that waterboarding is torture.
“Dick Cheney wants to be prosecuted. And prosecutors should give him what he wants,” Horton wrote in a Harper’s dispatch Monday.
Karl also made no mention of the fact that the CIA’s own watchdog concluded in a report declassified last year that the torture of detainees Cheney signed off on did not result in any actionable intelligence nor did it thwart any imminent attacks on the United States. To the contrary, torture led to bogus information, wrongful elevated threat warnings, and undermined the war-crimes charges against Mohammed al-Qahtani, the alleged “20th hijacker” in the 9/11 attacks because the evidence against him was obtained through torture.
Karl also failed to call out Cheney on a statement the former vice president made during his interview in which he suggested the policy of torture was carried out only after the Bush administration told Justice Department attorneys it wanted the legal justification to subject suspected al-Qaeda prisoners to brutal interrogation methods.
Cheney told Karl that he continues to be critical of the Obama administration “because there were some things being said, especially after we left office, about prosecuting CIA personnel that had carried out our counterterrorism policy or disbarring lawyers in the Justice Department who had — had helped us put those policies together, and I was deeply offended by that, and I thought it was important that some senior person in the administration stand up and defend those people who’d done what we asked them to do.”
In an interview with Karl on December 15, 2008, Cheney made a similar comment, which Karl also allowed to go unchallenged, stating that the Bush administration “had the Justice Department issue the requisite opinions in order to know where the bright lines were that you could not cross.”
Bush’s Key Line of Defense Destroyed
Those statements, both on Sunday and in his December 2008 interview with Karl, destroys a key line in the Bush administration’s defense against war crimes charges. For years, Cheney and other Bush administration officials pinned their defense on the fact that they had received legal advice from Justice Department lawyers that the brutal interrogations of “war on terror” detainees did not constitute torture or violate other laws of war.
Cheney’s statements, however, would suggest that the lawyers were colluding with administration officials in setting policy, rather than providing objective legal analysis.
In fact, as I reported last year, an investigation by the Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) determined that DOJ attorneys John Yoo and Jay Bybee blurred the lines between attorneys charged with providing independent legal advice to the White House and policy advocates who were working to advance the administration’s goals, according to legal sources who were privy to an original draft of the OPR report.
That was a conclusion Dawn Johnsen reached. Johnsen was tapped a year ago by Obama to head the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), where Yoo and Bybee worked, but her confirmation has been stuck in limbo.
In a 2006 Indiana Law Journal article, she said the function of OLC should be to “provide an accurate and honest appraisal of applicable law, even if that advice will constrain the administration’s pursuit of desired policies.”
“The advocacy model of lawyering, in which lawyers craft merely plausible legal arguments to support their clients’ desired actions, inadequately promotes the President’s constitutional obligation to ensure the legality of executive action,” said Johnsen, who served in the OLC under President Bill Clinton. “In short, OLC must be prepared to say no to the President.
“For OLC instead to distort its legal analysis to support preferred policy outcomes undermines the rule of law and our democratic system of government. Perhaps most essential to avoiding a culture in which OLC becomes merely an advocate of the Administration’s policy preferences is transparency in the specific legal interpretations that inform executive action, as well as in the general governing processes and standards followed in formulating that legal advice.”
In a 2007 UCLA Law Review article, Johnsen said Yoo’s Aug. 1, 2002, torture memo is “unmistakably” an “advocacy piece.”
“OLC abandoned fundamental practices of principled and balanced legal interpretation,” Johnsen wrote. “The Torture Opinion relentlessly seeks to circumvent all legal limits on the CIA’s ability to engage in torture, and it simply ignores arguments to the contrary.
“The Opinion fails, for example, to cite highly relevant precedent, regulations, and even constitutional provisions, and it misuses sources upon which it does rely. Yoo remains almost alone in continuing to assert that the Torture Opinion was ‘entirely accurate’ and not outcome driven.”
The original draft of the OPR report concluded that Yoo and Bybee violated professional standards and recommended a referral to state bar associations where they could have faced disciplinary action and have had their law licenses revoked.
The report’s findings could have influenced whether George W. Bush, Cheney and other senior officials in that administration were held accountable for torture and other war crimes. But two weeks ago, it was revealed that officials in Obama’s Justice Department backed off the earlier recommendation and instead altered the misconduct findings against Yoo and Bybee to “poor judgment,” which means neither will face disciplinary action. The report has not yet been released.
For his part, Yoo had already admitted in no uncertain terms that Bush administration officials sought to legalize torture and that he and Bybee fixed the law around the Bush administration’s policy.
As I noted in a report last year, in his book, “War by Other Means: An Insider’s Account on the War On Terror,” Yoo described his participation in meetings that helped develop the controversial policies for the treatment of detainees.
For instance, Yoo wrote about a trip he took to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, with other senior administration officials to observe interrogations and to join in discussions about specific interrogation methods. In other words, Yoo was not acting as an independent attorney providing the White House with unbiased legal advice but was more of an advocate for administration policy.
The meetings that Yoo described appear similar to those disclosed by ABC News in April 2008.
“The most senior Bush administration officials repeatedly discussed and approved specific details of exactly how high-value al-Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the CIA,” ABC News reported at the time, citing unnamed sources.
“The high-level discussions about these ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ were so detailed, these sources said, some of the interrogation sessions were almost choreographed – down to the number of times CIA agents could use a specific tactic.
“These top advisers signed off on how the CIA would interrogate top al-Qaeda suspects – whether they would be slapped, pushed, deprived of sleep or subjected to simulated drowning, called waterboarding,” according to unnamed sources quoted by ABC News.
Torture Preceded Legal Advice
If ABC’s Karl had a firmer grasp on the issues he queried Cheney about he would have known that as recently as last week, three UK high-court judges released seven paragraphs of a previously classified intelligence document that proved the CIA tortured Binyam Mohamed, a British resident captured in Pakistan in April 2002 who was falsely tied to a dirty bomb plot, months before the Bush administration obtained a memo from John Yoo and Jay Bybee at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) authorizing specific methods of torture to be used against high-value detainees, further undercutting Cheney’s line of defense.
The document stated bluntly that Mohamed’s treatment “could readily be contended to be at the very least cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by the United States authorities.”
Under the United Nations Convention Against Torture, the treatment of Mohamed and the clear record that the Bush administration used waterboarding and other brutal techniques to extract information from detainees should have triggered the United States to conduct a full investigation and to prosecute the offenders.In the case of the US’s refusal to do so, other nations would be obligated to act under the principle of universality.
However, instead of living up to that treaty commitment, the Obama administration has time and again resisted calls for government investigations and has gone to court to block lawsuits that demand release of torture evidence or seek civil penalties against officials implicated in the torture.
Though it’s true, as Vice President Joe Biden stated Sunday on “Meet the Press,” that Cheney is rewriting history and making “factually, substantively wrong” statements about the Obama administration’s track record and approach to counterterrorism, it’s difficult, if not near impossible, to defend this president from the likes of Cheney.
Case in point: last week the Obama administration treated the disclosure by British judicial officials of the former prisoner’s torture as a security breach and threatened to cut off an intelligence sharing arrangement with the UK government.
In what can only be described as a stunning response to the revelations contained in the intelligence document, White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said “the [UK} court's judgment will complicate the confidentiality of our intelligence-sharing relationship with the UK, and it will have to factor into our decision-making going forward."
"We're deeply disappointed with the court's judgment today, because we shared this information in confidence and with certain expectations," LaBolt said, making no mention of Mohamed's treatment nor even offering him an apology for the torture he was subjected to by the CIA over the course of several years. Mohamed was released from Guantanamo last year and returned to the UK.
As an aside, as revelatory as the disclosures were, news reports of Mohamed's torture were buried by the mainstream print media and went unreported by the cable news outlets, underscoring how the media's interest in Bush's torture policies has waned.
The Obama administration's decision to ignore the past administration's crimes has alienated civil liberties groups, who he could once count on for support.
Last December, on the day Obama received a Nobel Peace prize, Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, told reporters that "on every front, the [Obama] administration is actively obstructing accountability. This administration is shielding Bush administration officials from civil liability, criminal investigation and even public scrutiny for their role in authorizing torture.”
That being the reality is what makes Cheney’s claim on Sunday that the Obama administration is attempting to prosecute “CIA personnel that had carried out our counterterrorism policy or disbarring lawyers” laughable.
Holder has expanded the mandate of a special counsel, appointed during the Bush administration, who is investigating the destruction of torture tapes, to conduct a “preliminary review” of less than a dozen torture cases involving CIA contractors and interrogators to determine whether launching an expanded criminal inquiry is warranted. That hardly amounts to a prosecution. It’s not even an investigation.
And “disbarring lawyers, a clear reference to Yoo and Bybee, which is beyond the scope of the Justice Department watchdog’s authority to begin with, is no longer a possibility given that the OPR report reportedly does not recommend disciplinary action.
In a statement, the ACLU said, “to date, not a single torture victim has had his day in court.”
As Jane Mayer reported in a recent issue of the New Yorker, Holder’s limited scope authorization to Durham did not go over well with the White House and Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel made sure Holder knew where the administration stood.
“Emanuel worried that such investigations would alienate the intelligence community…,” Mayer reported. “Emanuel couldn’t complain directly to Holder without violating strictures against political interference in prosecutorial decisions. But he conveyed his unhappiness to Holder indirectly, two sources said. Emanuel demanded, ‘Didn’t he get the memo that we’re not re-litigating the past?’”
Jason Leopold is the Deputy Managing Editor at Truthout. He is the author of the Los Angeles Times bestseller, News Junkie, a memoir. Visit www.newsjunkiebook.com for a preview.
Obama’s Royal Scam and The Iron Fist Of Rahm January 2, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
Tags: audacity to hope, audacity to win, Barack Obama, bmaz, change, david plouffe, democracy, democratic party, hope, howard dean, Obama, obama campaign, Obama presidency, presidency, Rahm Emanuel, roger hollander
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Audacity To Hope
Change We Can Believe In
Rule of Law
Freedom From Lobbyists and Special Interests
Harm From Illegal Surveillance
Predatory Business Practices
Withdrawing From Iraq and Afghanistan
These are but some of the major buzzwords, issues and concepts Barack Obama based his candidacy and campaign on to convince the American electorate to sweep him in to office. Mr. Obama, however, has gone significantly in the opposite direction on each and every one since taking office. As Frank Rich noted, there is a growing “suspicion that Obama’s brilliant presidential campaign was as hollow as Tiger’s public image – a marketing scam…”.
Is there support for this allegation other than anecdotal evidence? Yes, and Micah Sifry has an excellent piece out detailing the basis:
After all, the image of Barack Obama as the candidate of “change”, community organizer, and “hope-monger” (his word), was sold intensively during the campaign. Even after the fact, we were told that his victory represented the empowerment of a bottom-up movement, powered by millions of small donors, grassroots volunteers, local field organizers and the internet. …. The truth is that Obama was never nearly as free of dependence on big money donors as the reporting suggested, nor was his movement as bottom-up or people-centric as his marketing implied. And this is the big story of 2009, if you ask me, the meta-story of what did, and didn’t happen, in the first year of Obama’s administration. The people who voted for him weren’t organized in any kind of new or powerful way, and the special interests-banks, energy companies, health interests, car-makers, the military-industrial complex-sat first at the table and wrote the menu. Myth met reality, and came up wanting. …. Should we really surprised that someone with so much early support from Wall Street and wealthy elites overall might not be inclined to throw the money-changers out of the temple? …. When it came to planning for being in government, it turns out that Plouffe, along with David Axelrod, was a chief advocate for bringing in then Rep. Rahm Emanuel as Obama’s chief of staff. He writes, using a baseball analogy: “Rahm was a five-tool political player: a strategist with deep policy expertise, considerable experience in both the legislative and executive branches, and a demeanor best described as relentless.” (p. 372) Note that nowhere in that vital skill-set is any sense of how to work with the largest volunteer base any presidential campaign has developed in history. Rahm Emanuel came up in politics the old-fashioned way; organizing and empowering ordinary people are the least of his skills.
It is an extremely interesting piece by Sifry, and I recommend a read of the entirety. For those that have not read David Plouffe’s book on the campaign, The Audacity To Win, or one of the other long form reports of the Obama 2008 campaign, Sifry lays open the hollowness of Obama’s “grass roots”. Use em and lose em appears to have been the Obama modus operandi. The American people were desperate for something to latch onto, and Obama and Plouffe gave them a slickly tailored package.
As Digby notes, this line by Sifry really sums it up:
Now, there is a new enthusiasm gap, but it’s no longer in Obama’s favor. That’s because you can’t order volunteers to do anything-you have to motivate them, and Obama’s compromises to almost every powers-that-be are tremendously demotivating.
I think that is exactly right, and the needle in much of the activist base is moving from “demotivated” to downright demoralized and antagonistic. Yet Obama and his administration, notably Rahm Emanuel, indignantly continue to poke sticks in the eyes of the activist base and boast about it; and it is not from necessity, it is from design and pleasure.
Quite frankly, the seeds of this should have been seen coming. I have never forgotten the shudders I felt when I read two interrelated articles by Matt Stoller and David Dayen discussing how, heading into the 2008 general election, Obama was not just benefitting from, but devouring and commandeering broad swaths of Democratic base activist groups and their power, and actively working to marginalize and cripple those that didn’t assimilate into his Borg.
This isn’t a criticism; again, Obama made his bet that the country isn’t into ideological combat and wants a politics of unity and hope, and he has won at internally. In terms of the ‘Iron Law of Institutions’, the Obama campaign is masterful. From top to bottom, they have destroyed their opponents within the party, stolen out from under them their base, and persuaded a whole set of individuals from blog readers to people in the pews to ignore intermediaries and believe in Barack as a pure vessel of change. … All I’ll add is that it’s time to think through the consequences of a party where there is a new chief with massive amounts of power. I’ve been in the wilderness all my political life, as have most of us. The Clintonistas haven’t, and they know what it’s like to be part of the inside crew. We have a leader, and he’s not a partisan and he can now end fractious intraparty fights with a word and/or a nod. His opinion really matters in a way that even Nancy Pelosi’s just did not. He has control of the party apparatus, the grassroots, the money, and the messaging environment. He is also, and this is fundamental, someone that millions of people believe in as a moral force. When you disagree with Obama, you are saying to these people ‘your favorite band sucks’.
There’s nothing shadowy about this – it’s an extension of what the Obama campaign has been doing since he entered the race. He’s building a new Democratic infrastructure, regimenting it under his brand, and enlisting new technologies and more sophisticated voter contacting techniques to turn it from a normal GOTV effort into a lasting movement. The short-term goal is to increase voter turnout by such a degree that Republicans will wither in November, not just from a swamp of cash but a flood of numbers. The long-term goal is to subvert the traditional structures of the Democratic Party since the early 1990s, subvert the nascent structures that the progressive movement has been building since the late 1990s, and build a parallel structure, under his brand, that will become the new power center in American politics. This is tremendous news.
However, despite his calls that change always occurs from the bottom up, these structures are very much being created and controlled from the top down.
Stoller and DDay, although both seemed to have a nagging question or two, both thought that the gathering “Obama Nation” was a good thing and that once he took office the immense consolidated power and organization would, in fact, as Obama was jawing, be used to end the age old grip of corporate money and influence and propel good new and different policies into action. This pie in the sky was directly defied by passages in their own articles though. Not only was Obama consolidating Democratic power to serve only him from the top down, he was taking out people and groups that didn’t step in to his line.
I have heard from several sources that the Obama campaign is sending out signals to donors, specifically at last weekend’s Democracy Alliance convention, to stop giving to outside groups, including America Votes. The campaign also circulated negative press reports about Women’s Voices Women’s Vote, implying voter suppression. … He has bypassed Actblue, and will probably end up building in a Congressional slate feature to further party build while keeping control of the data. … The campaign has also, despite thousands of interviews with a huge number of outlets, refused to have Obama interact on progressive blogs. … I’m also told, though I can’t confirm, that Obama campaign has also subtly encouraged donors to not fund groups like VoteVets and Progressive Media. These groups fall under the ‘same old Washington politics’ which he wants to avoid, a partisan gunslinging contest he explicitly advocates against.
But wresting away ALL the power and consolidating it is I think a misunderstanding of how inside and outside groups can be mutually reinforcing and part of a more vibrant cultural and political movement, and how the culture is moving toward more decentralized, more viral, looser networks to organize. Obama’s movement, based on unity and hope, is working because politics is of the moment, a fad, Paris Hilton. To sustain that, you must institutionalize engagement, civic participation, awareness and action, even in a non-horse race year, as a necessary facet of citizenship. And there’s no reason to shut down reinforcing progressive structures that can keep it fun and interesting and vital.
Shutting down Democratic and progressive structures that do not toe his line is exactly what Obama and his right hand man, Rahm Emanuel, have done since the election. As Stoller and DDay noted, they actually started even before the election and accelerated after it. The deal was sealed when, immediately after the election, Obama chose the iron fist of DLC strongman Rahm Emanuel to lead his administration, immediately dumped Howard Dean and began shuttering Dean’s wildly successful fifty state apparatus.
There was only one reason to do that, and it was not to germinate a new grass roots policy force; it was to consolidate power and kill off any other voices and/or authority within the party. As Micah Sifry demonstrated, consolidation and exclusion were always a part of the Obama plan. Almost more disconcerting than Obama’s singular cornering of all the power and movement is his refusal to use it to propel new policies. Not even on healthcare did Obama even attempt to truly energize and mobilize the vaunted Obama network, preferring instead to leave it up to the lobbyists, in the bag Congressmen like Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman and corporate interests.
This is exactly what has made the progressive campaign and voice of Jane Hamsher, Cenk Uygur, Firedoglake and other awakening progressive movements so critical. It is crystal clear the Obama Presidency is less than it was advertised to be; the only route to correction is through power and action; assertion of independent power is the only thing they will respect and acknowledge. The change will not come through old school Washington politicians beholden to corrupt financial institutions, the insurance lobby and corporate interests. Politicians like Barack Obama and Rahm Emanuel.
© 2010 FireDogLake
Yet More “Plus ça change …” You Can Believe In December 16, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Health.
Tags: aetna, blue cross, blue dogs, congress, glenn greenwald, health, health care, health care reform, health insurance, health insurance industry, health legislation, health reform, healthcare, healthcare reform, insurance industry, Joe Lieberman, medicare, medicare expansion, Obama, Obama presidency, pharma, pharmaceutical indurstry, plus ca change, public option, Rahm Emanuel, roger hollander, russ feingold, single payer
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White House as Helpless Victim on Health Care
by Glenn Greenwald
Of all the posts I wrote this year, the one that produced the most vociferious email backlash — easily — was this one from August, which examined substantial evidence showing that, contrary to Obama’s occasional public statements in support of a public option, the White House clearly intended from the start that the final health care reform bill would contain no such provision and was actively and privately participating in efforts to shape a final bill without it. From the start, assuaging the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries was a central preoccupation of the White House — hence the deal negotiated in strict secrecy with Pharma to ban bulk price negotiations and drug reimportation, a blatant violation of both Obama’s campaign positions on those issues and his promise to conduct all negotiations out in the open (on C-SPAN). Indeed, Democrats led the way yesterday in killing drug re-importation, which they endlessly claimed to support back when they couldn’t pass it. The administration wants not only to prevent industry money from funding an anti-health-care-reform campaign, but also wants to ensure that the Democratic Party — rather than the GOP – will continue to be the prime recipient of industry largesse.
As was painfully predictable all along, the final bill will not have any form of public option, nor will it include the wildly popular expansion of Medicare coverage. Obama supporters are eager to depict the White House as nothing more than a helpless victim in all of this — the President so deeply wanted a more progressive bill but was sadly thwarted in his noble efforts by those inhumane, corrupt Congressional “centrists.” Right. The evidence was overwhelming from the start that the White House was not only indifferent, but opposed, to the provisions most important to progressives. The administration is getting the bill which they, more or less, wanted from the start — the one that is a huge boon to the health insurance and pharmaceutical industry. And kudos to Russ Feingold for saying so:
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), among the most vocal supporters of the public option, said it would be unfair to blame Lieberman for its apparent demise. Feingold said that responsibility ultimately rests with President Barack Obama and he could have insisted on a higher standard for the legislation.
“This bill appears to be legislation that the president wanted in the first place, so I don’t think focusing it on Lieberman really hits the truth,” said Feingold. “I think they could have been higher. I certainly think a stronger bill would have been better in every respect.”
Let’s repeat that: “This bill appears to be legislation that the president wanted in the first place.” Indeed it does. There are rational, practical reasons why that might be so. If you’re interested in preserving and expanding political power, then, all other things being equal, it’s better to have the pharmaceutical and health insurance industry on your side than opposed to you. Or perhaps they calculated from the start that this was the best bill they could get. The wisdom of that rationale can be debated, but depicting Obama as the impotent progressive victim here of recalcitrant, corrupt centrists is really too much to bear.
Yet numerous Obama defenders — such as Matt Yglesias, Ezra Klein and Steve Benen — have been insisting that there is just nothing the White House could have done and all of this shows that our political system is tragically “ungovernable.” After all, Congress is a separate branch of government, Obama doesn’t have a vote, and 60 votes are needed to do anything. How is it his fault if centrist Senators won’t support what he wants to do? Apparently, this is the type of conversation we’re to believe takes place in the Oval Office:
The President: I really want a public option and Medicare buy-in. What can we do to get it?
Rahm Emanuel: Unfortunately, nothing. We can just sit by and hope, but you’re not in Congress any more and you don’t have a vote. They’re a separate branch of government and we have to respect that.
The President: So we have no role to play in what the Democratic Congress does?
Emanuel: No. Members of Congress make up their own minds and there’s just nothing we can do to influence or pressure them.
The President: Gosh, that’s too bad. Let’s just keep our fingers crossed and see what happens then.
In an ideal world, Congress would be — and should be — an autonomous branch of government, exercising judgment independent of the White House’s influence, but that’s not the world we live in. Does anyone actually believe that Rahm Emanuel (who built his career on industry support for the Party and jamming “centrist” bills through Congress with the support of Blue Dogs) and Barack Obama (who attached himself to Joe Lieberman when arriving in the Senate, repeatedly proved himself receptive to “centrist” compromises, had a campaign funded by corporate interests, and is now the leader of a vast funding and political infrastructure) were the helpless victims of those same forces? Engineering these sorts of “centrist,” industry-serving compromises has been the modus operandi of both Obama and, especially, Emanuel.
Indeed, we’ve seen before what the White House can do — and does do — when they actually care about pressuring members of Congress to support something they genuinely want passed. When FDL and other liberal blogs led an effort to defeat Obama’s war funding bill back in June, the White House became desperate for votes, and here is what they apparently did (though they deny it):
The White House is playing hardball with Democrats who intend to vote against the supplemental war spending bill, threatening freshmen who oppose it that they won’t get help with reelection and will be cut off from the White House, Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) said Friday. “We’re not going to help you. You’ll never hear from us again,” Woolsey said the White House is telling freshmen.
That’s what the White House can do when they actually care about pressuring someone to vote the way they want. Why didn’t they do any of that to the “centrists” who were supposedly obstructing what they wanted on health care? Why didn’t they tell Blanche Lincoln — in a desperate fight for her political life — that she would “never hear from them again,” and would lose DNC and other Democratic institutional support, if she filibustered the public option? Why haven’t they threatened to remove Joe Lieberman’s cherished Homeland Security Chairmanship if he’s been sabotaging the President’s agenda? Why hasn’t the President been rhetorically pressuring Senators to support the public option and Medicare buy-in, or taking any of the other steps outlined here by Adam Green? There’s no guarantee that it would have worked – Obama is not omnipotent and he can’t always control Congressional outcomes — but the lack of any such efforts is extremely telling about what the White House really wanted here.
Independent of the reasonable debate over whether this bill is a marginal improvement over the status quo, there are truly horrible elements to it. Two of the most popular provisions (both of which, not coincidentally, were highly adverse to industry interests) — the public option and Medicare expansion — are stripped out (a new Washington Post/ABC poll out today shows that the public favors expansion of Medicare to age 55 by a 30-point margin). What remains is a politically distastrous and highly coercive “mandate” gift to the health insurance industry, described perfectly by Digby:
Obama can say that you’re getting a lot, but also saying that it “covers everyone,” as if there’s a big new benefit is a big stretch. Nothing will have changed on that count except changing the law to force people to buy private insurance if they don’t get it from their employer. I guess you can call that progressive, but that doesn’t make it so. In fact, mandating that all people pay money to a private interest isn’t even conservative, free market or otherwise. It’s some kind of weird corporatism that’s very hard to square with the common good philosophy that Democrats supposedly espouse.
Nobody’s “getting covered” here. After all, people are already “free” to buy private insurance and one must assume they have reasons for not doing it already. Whether those reasons are good or bad won’t make a difference when they are suddenly forced to write big checks to Aetna or Blue Cross that they previously had decided they couldn’t or didn’t want to write. Indeed, it actually looks like the worst caricature of liberals: taking people’s money against their will, saying it’s for their own good — and doing it without even the cover that FDR wisely insisted upon with social security, by having it withdrawn from paychecks. People don’t miss the money as much when they never see it.
In essence, this re-inforces all of the worst dynamics of Washington. The insurance industry gets the biggest bonanza imaginable in the form of tens of millions of coerced new customers without any competition or other price controls. Progressive opinion-makers, as always, signaled that they can and should be ignored (don’t worry about us — we’re announcing in advance that we’ll support whatever you feed us no matter how little it contains of what we want and will never exercise raw political power to get what we want; make sure those other people are happy but ignore us). Most of this was negotiated and effectuated in complete secrecy, in the sleazy sewers populated by lobbyists, industry insiders, and their wholly-owned pawns in the Congress. And highly unpopular, industry-serving legislation is passed off as “centrist,” the noblest Beltway value.
Looked at from the narrow lens of health care policy, there is a reasonable debate to be had among reform advocates over whether this bill is a net benefit or a net harm. But the idea that the White House did what it could to ensure the inclusion of progressive provisions — or that they were powerless to do anything about it — is absurd on its face. Whatever else is true, the overwhelming evidence points to exactly what Sen. Feingold said yesterday: “This bill appears to be legislation that the president wanted in the first place.”
Copyright ©2009 Salon Media Group, Inc.
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.
Get Ready for the Obama/GOP Alliance November 25, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Health, Iraq and Afghanistan, Right Wing.
Tags: Afghanistan, afghanistan troops, Afghanistan War, Bill Clinton, clinton presidency, congress, democrats, dick morris, glass-steagall, gop, health care, health care reform, healthcare, healthcare reform, jeff cohen, NAFTA, newt gingrich, Obama presidency, Obama White House, public option, Rahm Emanuel, republicans, roger hollander, telecom act
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With Obama pushing a huge troop escalation in Afghanistan, history may well repeat itself with a vengeance. And it’s not just the apt comparison to LBJ, who destroyed his presidency on the battlefields of Vietnam with an escalation that delivered power to Nixon and the GOP.
There’s another frightening parallel: Obama seems to be following in the footsteps of Bill Clinton, who accomplished perhaps his single biggest legislative “triumph” – NAFTA – thanks to an alliance with Republicans that overcame strong Democratic and grassroots opposition.
It was 16 years ago this month when Clinton assembled his coalition with the GOP to bulldoze public skepticism about the trade treaty and overpower a stop-NAFTA movement led by unions, environmentalists and consumer rights groups. How did Clinton win his majority in Congress? With the votes of almost 80 percent of GOP senators and nearly 70 percent of House Republicans. Democrats in the House voted against NAFTA by more than 3 to 2, with fierce opponents including the Democratic majority leader and majority whip.
To get a majority today in Congress on Afghanistan, the Obama White House is apparently bent on a strategy replicating the tragic farce that Clinton pulled off: Ignore the informed doubts of your own party while making common cause with extremist Republicans who never accepted your presidency in the first place.
“Deather” conspiracists are not new to the Grand Old Party. Clinton engendered a similar loathing on the right despite his centrist, corporate-friendly policies. When conservative Republican leaders like Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey delivered to Clinton (and corporate elites) the NAFTA victory, it didn’t slow down rightwing operatives who circulated wacky videos accusing Clinton death squads of murdering reporters and others.
For those who elected Obama, it’s important to remember the downward spiral that was accelerated by Clinton’s GOP alliance to pass NAFTA. It should set off alarm bells for us today on Afghanistan.
NAFTA was quickly followed by the debacle of Clinton healthcare “reform” largely drafted by giant insurance companies, which was followed by a stunning election defeat for Congressional Democrats in November 1994, as progressive and labor activists were lethargic while rightwing activists in overdrive put Gingrich into the Speaker’s chair.
A year later, advised by his chief political strategist Dick Morris (yes, the Obama-basher now at Fox), Clinton declared: “The era of big government is over.” In the coming years, Clinton proved that the era of big business was far from over – working with Republican leaders to grant corporate welfare to media conglomerates (1996 Telecom Act) and investment banks (1999 abolition of the Glass-Steagall Act).
Today, it’s crucial to ask where Obama is heading. From the stimulus to healthcare, he’s shown a Clinton-like willingness to roll over progressives in Congress on his way to corrupt legislation and frantic efforts to compromise for the votes of corporate Democrats or “moderate” Republicans. Meanwhile, the incredible shrinking “public option” has become a sick joke.
As he glides from retreats on civil liberties to health reform that appeases corporate interests to his Bush-like pledge this week to “finish the job” in Afghanistan, an Obama reliance on Congressional Republicans to fund his troop escalation could be the final straw in disorienting and demobilizing the progressive activists who elected him a year ago.
Throughout the centuries, no foreign power has been able to “finish the job” in Afghanistan, but President Obama thinks he’s a tough enough Commander-in-Chief to do it. Too bad he hasn’t demonstrated such toughness in the face of obstructionist Republicans and corporate lobbyists. For them, it’s been more like “compromiser-in-chief.”
When you start in the center (on, say, healthcare or Afghanistan) and readily move rightward several steps to appease rightwing politicians or lobbyists or Generals, by definition you are governing as a conservative.
It’s been a gradual descent from the elation and hope for real change many Americans felt on election night, November 2008. For some of us who’d scrutinized the Clinton White House in the early 1990s, the buzz was killed days after Obama’s election when he chose his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, a top Clinton strategist and architect of the alliance that pushed NAFTA through Congress.
If Obama stands tough on more troops to Afghanistan (as Clinton fought ferociously for NAFTA), only an unprecedented mobilization of progressives – including many who worked tirelessly to elect Obama – will be able to stop him. Trust me: The Republicans who yell and scream about Obama budget deficits when they’re obstructing public healthcare will become deficit doves in spending the estimated $1 million per year per new soldier (not to mention private contractors) headed off to Asia.
The only good news I can see: Maybe it will take a White House/GOP alliance over Afghanistan to wake up the base of liberal groups (like MoveOn) to take a closer and more critical look at President Obama’s policies.
Jeff Cohen is an associate professor of journalism and the director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, founder of the media watch group FAIR, and former board member of Progressive Democrats of America. In 2002, he was a producer and pundit at MSNBC (overseen by NBC News). His latest book is Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media.
Obama’s Health Care Waterloo June 19, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Health.
Tags: ama, corporate health, dave lindorff, H.R. 676, health care, health care costs, health care reform, health care universal, health insurance, health insurance industry, healthcare, healthcare reform, insurance industry, John Conyers, Lyndon Johnson, medicare, obama health plan, policy failures, Rahm Emanuel, roger hollander, single payer, uninsured
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www.opednews.com, June 19, 2009
The Obama administration and the Congressional Democrats are finally hitting the inevitable wall that was bound to confront them because of the president’s congenital inability to be a bold leader, and because of the party’s toxic decades-old decision to betray its working class New Deal base in favor of wholesale corporate whoredom.
The wall is health care reform, which both Barack Obama and the Democratic Party had hoped would be the ticket for them to ride to victory in the 2010 Congressional elections and the 2012 presidential election.
But you cannot achieve the twin goals of reducing health care costs and providing access to health care to 50 million uninsured people, while leaving the profit centers of the current system—doctors, hospitals and the health insurance industry—in charge and in a position to continue to reap profits.
Watching President Obama address the American Medical Association was a cringe-inducing experience as he assured the assembled doctors he was not going to expand Medicare payments “broadly” to cover all patients, or end the current “piece-work reimbursement” system that has so enriched physicians, or as he told them that savings would “not come off your backs.” It was particularly cringe-inducing when he told the AMA that he knew that making money was not why its members were in the profession, saying, “That is not why you became doctors. That is not why you put in all those hours in the Anatomy Suite or the O.R. That is not what brings you back to a patient’s bedside to check in or makes you call a loved one to say it’ll be fine. You did not enter this profession to be bean-counters and paper-pushers. You entered this profession to be healers – and that’s what our health care system should let you be. “
Oh please. I know there are plenty of wonderful doctors who are dedicated to their patients and to patient care. But I also know plenty of doctors who have told me how half their classmates in medical school were mainly in it for the money, and that study halls and cafeterias of American med schools echo with the conversations about what can be made working in particular specialties. Not to mention the corrupt and insidious profit-sharing arrangements doctors enter into with labs, CAT-Scan and MRI test centers, pharmaceutical companies and other businesses, to earn profits by sending patients for unnecessary tests and treatments.
One can only imagine what he would be saying to insurance industry executives about his “reform” plans.
Because Obama and Congressional Democrats are unwilling to cut themselves off from the lucrative campaign-funding bonanza that is the health care industry, they cannot address seriously either the cost or the access crisis that plagues health care in the US, and that makes health care in this country cost 20 percent of GDP—twice what it costs in any other modern nation on a per capita or GDP basis, and that still leaves one in six Americans without ready access to even routine health care.
The answer to this crisis is obvious: a single-payer “socialized” system, in which you still have private doctors, and private or publicly run hospitals, but where the government sets the payment rates for treatment, and provides all compensation to health care providers.
If Democrats in Congress were serious about health care reform, they would immediately order the Congressional Budget Office to conduct a cost study of instituting such a program—a study that would include an estimate of the savings to individuals and employers if health care costs were lifted entirely off their backs (because obviously it would require considerable new government revenue to fund a single-payer program, but that’s only half the equation—the other half, the savings, is simply ignored by critics and doomsayers on the right and in the health care industry). Instead, Obama and the Democratic Congress are studiously avoiding even allowing any mention of the single-payer option. (A New York Times report today on the various health care plans working their way through Congress, and coming out of the White House, completely blacked out any mention of a single-payer bill in the House authored by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which the House leadership has prevented from even getting a token hearing.)
Obama’s unwillingness to lead on this issue will doom his health care plan. There is obviously no way Congress is going to shake off its corrupt leech-like attachment to corporate sponsors and their cash-spreading lobbyists, but had the new president wanted to make a historic mark and cruise to victory in 2012, he could have, like President Lyndon Johnson before him in his campaign for Medicare in 1965, put himself solidly behind a single-payer plan and made the case that it could cut America’s collective health bill in half while opening the door to every American.
Instead, he’s likely to end up with worse than nothing—that is with even more uninsured Americans come 2012, and with health care costs moving up as a share of GDP—and could well find himself out of a job. The policy that his handlers, like White House Chief-of-Staff Rahm Emanuel, had conceived of as Obama’s ticket to re-election, health care reform, could well prove instead to be his Waterloo.
That is if his adoption of a policy of expanded war in Afghanistan—another example of a failure to lead—doesn’t prove to be this president’s bigger policy disaster.
DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-area journalist. He is author of “Marketplace Medicine: The Rise of the For-Profit Hospital Chains” (Bantam Books, 1992), and most recently of “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net