Saturday, August 22, 2009

Less Than Three Percent

Less than three percent of America's population is represented by the states of the Senate's "Gang of Six", and yet they are apparently deciding the final health care bill, and of the Gang of Six it is a Republican, Iowa's Charles Grassley, that is calling the shots in that group. Robert Reich wonders why that is, and so do I.
It's come down to these six senators. The House has reported a bill as has another Senate committee, but all eyes are fixed on Senate Finance -- and on these three Dems and three Republicans, in particular. But who, exactly, anointed these six to decide the fate of the nation's health care?

I don't get it. Of the three Republicans in the gang, the senior senator is Charles Grassley. In recent weeks Grassley has refused to debunk the rumor that the House's health-care bill will spawn "death panels," empowered to decide whether the sick and old get to live or die. At an Iowa town meeting last Tuesday Grassley called the President and Speaker Nancy Pelosi "intellectually dishonest" for claiming the opposite. On Thursday Grassley told the Washington Post that Congress should scale back its efforts to overhaul health care in the wake of intense anger at town hall meetings. But -- wait -- the anger is largely about distortions such as the "death panels" that Grassley refuses to debunk.

This week on Fox News Grassley termed the House bill "the Pelosi Bill," and called it "a government takeover of heath care, exploding the deficit because it's not paid for and it's got high taxes in it."

I really don't get it. We have a Democratic president in the White House. Democrats control sixty votes in the Senate, enough to overcome a filibuster. It is possible to pass health care legislation through the Senate with 51 votes (that's what George W. Bush did with his tax cut plan). Democrats control the House. The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, is a tough lady. She has said there will be no health care reform bill without a public option.

So why does the fate of health care rest in Grassley's hands?
Excellent question. Last time I checked, there were sixty Democrats in the Senate and Barack Obama was still President. America has rejected Republican rule wholesale. But somehow, Chuck Grassley is running health care.

What kind of things does Grassley want in his bill?
Before they left Washington for the August recess, the Finance group, known as the "Gang of Six," had crafted the outlines of a package that trimmed more than $100 billion from the House price tag and jettisoned a government-run insurance option, which has become a rallying cry for many liberals but is opposed by Republicans. The senators also were looking to provide insurance subsidies to a smaller, less affluent group than the House bill would.

After meeting via teleconference for more than an hour late Thursday, the Senate group is now looking to go further. They support a requirement that all individuals carry health insurance, but they are considering creating a bare-bones insurance policy that would be easier for people to afford without government help. They are also talking about further reducing the number of people eligible for subsidies, said an aide familiar with the talks.
In other words, the final Preisdent Grassley plan is nothing more than a huge gift to private insurance companies. Is that something Republicans can get behind in order to get a major bipartisan bill passed?
But this week, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), indicated that he would have trouble supporting even those measures, saying states that had experimented with insurance reforms had seen "fairly disastrous consequences," including much higher premiums for people who already had coverage.

Kyl also shot down the notion that controlling the cost of the package might help. "There's no way Republicans are going to support a trillion-dollar-plus bill," Kyl said. "And when the chairman of the Finance Committee in the Senate said, 'Ah, great success, I think we've got it under a trillion dollars,' you didn't hear a lot of applause from Republicans."

Of course not. Republicans aren't even going to vote for the Grassley plan. Why should they? It's the worst of all worlds: a plan that mandates 50 million additional people be covered, but makes no effort to make that insurance comprehensive or affordable. What it will do is it will force tens of millions of people to underinsure, to purchase health insurance with massive deductibles that will only cover a fraction of costs, making the insurance giants hundreds of billions of dollars. We need a public option because there is no competition in health care plans as it is now. The Grassley plan will make them all the more richer. Health care premiums are expected to double by 2020 without real reform.

Republicans are trying to kill the bill by watering it down so badly that it will crash, and then they will be able to fully blame the Dems for it failing to pass. The White House is going along 100%, seemingly oblivious to the plan.

Again, when did Chuck Grassley end up America's leader, and why is the President allowing him to take the lead on health care when the GOP has no interest in seeing any bill pass?

Another Rigged Election

Afghanistan's Harmid Karzai will not have an easy path to re-election, as his main challenger Dr. Abdullah Abdullah is already crying fraud.
The accusations, which Karzai's spokesman denied, are the most direct Abdullah has made against the incumbent in a contest that likely has weeks to go before a winner is proclaimed. Both Abdullah and Karzai claim they are in the lead based on reports from campaign pollwatchers monitoring the count.

Officials of Abdullah's campaign have alleged fraud in several southern provinces where the insurgency is strongest and Karzai had been expected to run strong.

"He uses the state apparatus in order to rig an election," Abdullah said in the interview. "That is something which is not expected."

Abdullah said it "doesn't make the slightest difference" whether Karzai or his supporters ordered the alleged fraud.

"All this happens under his eyes and under his leadership," Abdullah said. "This is under his leadership that all these things are happening, and all those people which are responsible for this fraud in parts of the country are appointed by him. And I'm sure he has all those reports, so he knows all of this. This should have been stopped and could have been stopped by him."

There's evidence of election irregularities in the country, especially in the South. Then again, there's the Taliban killing election workers and attacking polling stations all over the country.

It's hard to have fair and free elections in an environment like that.

What We Stand For

Having read over this morning's Newsweek preview of the CIA Inspector General's report on torture I have to say that America looked into the abyss after 9/11, and the abyss stared back.
According to two sources—one who has read a draft of the paper and one who was briefed on it—the report describes how one detainee, suspected USS Cole bomber Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was threatened with a gun and a power drill during the course of CIA interrogation. According to the sources, who like others quoted in this article asked not to be named while discussing sensitive information, Nashiri's interrogators brandished the gun in an effort to convince him that he was going to be shot. Interrogators also turned on a power drill and held it near him. "The purpose was to scare him into giving [information] up," said one of the sources. A federal law banning the use of torture expressly forbids threatening a detainee with "imminent death."

The report also says, according to the sources, that a mock execution was staged in a room next to a detainee, during which a gunshot was fired in an effort to make the suspect believe that another prisoner had been killed. The inspector general's report alludes to more than one mock execution.

I have to say, what would Americans say if our soldiers were treated like this? It would be a national outrage. And yes, I'm well aware that much worse has been done to American soliders, contractors, and civilians. But it does not make what we're doing right.
Top Bush CIA officials, including Tenet's successors as CIA director, Porter Goss and Gen. Michael Hayden, strongly lobbied for the IG report to be kept secret from the public. They argued that its release would damage America's reputation around the world, could damage CIA morale, and would tip off terrorists regarding American interrogation tactics. "Justice has had the complete document since 2004, and their career prosecutors have reviewed it carefully for legal accountability," said CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano. "That's already been done."

The inspector general's report is expected to fuel political debates over whether the tough interrogation methods used during the Bush administration actually worked. According to another source who has seen the document, the report says that the agency's interrogation program did produce usable intelligence.

At the same time the administration releases the inspector general's report, it is also expected to release other CIA documents that assert the agency collected valuable intelligence through the interrogation program. For months, former vice president Dick Cheney has called for these documents to be released. However, a person familiar with the contents of the documents says that they contain material that both opponents and supporters of Bush administration tactics can use to bolster their case. The Senate Committee on Intelligence is now conducting what is supposed to be a thorough investigation of the CIA's detention-and-interrogation program. The probe is intended not only to document everything that happened but also to assess whether on balance the program produced major breakthroughs or a deluge of false leads.

So once again, the argument will be "Was it worth it? Did it save lives?" That's a false argument, actually. If it was unequivocally clear that these acts saved lives, the information would have been released well before now. The Bush DoJ has been sitting on this report since 2004. If the information held within it somehow proved that torture worked, why sit on it?

The answer is of course that it didn't. The answer of course is that Bush, Cheney, Gonzo and the crew broke international law time and time again.

It is fast approaching the time that as a people we have to ask ourselves "Who will be accountable for what has been done in our name?"

An Uncivil War

Via Crooks & Liars, the Moonie Times has a very interesting interview with actor Jon Voight:
A Hollywood conservative has headed East. It's "Freedom Concert" time for Jon Voight. The Academy Award winner will join Sean Hannity in Cincinnati and Atlanta this weekend to honor fallen soldiers and present college scholarships to surviving children. Mr. Voight -- a warrior himself in many ways -- has been cogitating about the state of America, meanwhile.

"There's a real question at stake now. Is President Obama creating a civil war in our own country?" Mr. Voight tells Inside the Beltway.

"We are witnessing a slow, steady takeover of our true freedoms. We are becoming a socialist nation, and whoever can't see this is probably hoping it isn't true. If we permit Mr. Obama to take over all our industries, if we permit him to raise our taxes to support unconstitutional causes, then we will be in default. This great America will become a paralyzed nation."

Angelina Jolie's dad is full-on Winger, it seems. But it's not the Democrats who are showing up with AR-15 rifles at political speeches as publicity stunts, nor is it the Democrats wanting to secede from the union, folks.

The old Winger tactic of "Accuse your enemies of what you yourself are doing" is alive and well. I love how these brave warriors are constantly playing the victim card, bordering on paranoid delusions.

And this is after only seven months of Obama being in office.

StupidiNews, Weekend Edition!

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