It appears that those of us who desire real and systemic healthcare reform may have lost the battle in the public forum and the ironies are as rich as the profits of the healthcare industry are obscene.
(For those who are confused, Hitler was a tyrant and a dictator whose political party captured power in part by trapping the German socialist party into a deal with the devil.
If Hitler was a Socialist then Reagan was an Anarchist.)
The outrage is real but it tragically misplaced. The world is turned upside down and inside out.
These are the people who stand the most to gain from meaningful healthcare reform and the most to lose from its failure.
You just can’t argue with them.
You can only observe as they go on banging their heads against the wall in the hope that one of them may stop to inquire why his head hurts.
The richest irony of all is that it appears they have won. When Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius went on the Sunday talk shows to concede that the administration no longer considered the public option essential to reform she signaled that they were prepared to throw in the towel.
They might as well change the name to Health and Corporate Services.
Cut out the heart and the patient dies. Any legislation that passes congress without the public option would not be worth the cost of passage for it would merely kick the can down the road for another ten to twenty years – time we cannot waste at a cost we cannot afford.
Media conservatives aren't content to merely misinform regarding the content of progressive health insurance reform legislation. They want to misinform about the legislative process used to pass that legislation, too. Just think of it: Death panels passed using a nuclear option. What American could support that?
In recent days, talk of Senate Democrats using the budget reconciliation process to pass health care reform legislation has grown. According to Senate rules, bills advanced through the process can't be filibustered, and so the 60-vote threshold that must be met to defeat a filibuster would not apply. Republicans used reconciliation in exactly this way during the Bush years to pass tax cuts in 2001, 2003, and 2005. Senate Republicans also used the reconciliation process to pass a bill permitting oil drilling the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (The final version of that bill signed by Bush did not contain the provision on drilling.) So long as the legislation in question impacts the budget, doing so is within regular Senate order.
Conservatives in the media, however, have now chosen to portray such a course of action as the dreaded "nuclear option." As usual, a little history reveals a lot of hypocrisy. The phrase was actually coined by former Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) in 2003 during the Democratic filibuster of U.S. Court of Appeals nominee Miguel Estrada. At the time, Republican aides discussed changing the rules of the Senate to make filibusters of judicial nominees out of order. Lott, reflecting the drastic nature of such a change, called it a "nuclear option." Starting in 2005, Republicans noted that the term polled badly. They began referring to such a rules change as the "constitutional option," and claimed that onlyDemocrats called it a "nuclear option." The media quickly fell in line, repeating the falsehood.
Unsurprisingly, the hypocrisy has continued. Passing budget-related legislation through the reconciliation process and the "nuclear option" have nothing to do with each other.
This hasn't stopped the conservative media from conflating the two. The goal is to portray progressives as a group of anti-democratic radicals, forcing through a supposedly unpopular bill using procedural tricks -- or, in Chris Matthews' words, "blow[ing] up the Senate rules." Fox News vice president and Washington managing editor Bill Sammon was one of the first to draw the false equivalency back in June, and in recent days, the chorus has only grown. Dick Morris did the same on August 10, and Sean Hannity has repeatedlypushed the distortion. The Fox Nation website even chose to illustrate the story using amushroom cloud.
Just as they did several years ago, multiple mainstream media figures have taken up the right's deceitful talking point, among them A.B. Stoddard of The Hill, Matthews, and evenCNN hosts Anderson Cooper and Kiran Chetry. Thus far, factual explanations, such as the one provided by CNN's Josh Levs, have been few and far between.
This distortion has jumped from the media to the highest levels of the Republican Party. When Hannity hosted RNC chairman Michael Steele, he asked about the "by any means necessary" approach Democrats were considering. "Does this mean the will of the American people," Hannity asked, "as evidenced by just about every credible poll, means nothing to them?" (It seems as though NBC/Wall Street Journal polls are no longer credibleto Hannity.) Steele agreed: "If it means the nuclear option, it's going to be the nuclear option."
The right-wing distortion here is obvious and blatant. For the sake of its credibility, the media needs to take its finger off the "nuclear" button.
Beck's advertiser exodus continues
Last week we noted:
There was an encouraging development in the ongoing campaign to get hate off our public airwaves. After a host of progressive groups, among themMedia Matters and ColorOfChange.org, publicized Beck's recent rantaccusing [President] Obama of racism, multiple companies announced that they would no longer advertise on his program -- among them: ConAgra, Roche, Sanofi-Aventis, Radio Shack, GEICO, Travelocity, and Sargento. Reflecting on the development, The Washington Post's Jonathan Capehartsaid that it might "pump the brakes on some of these wild statements." We can only hope.
Well, Beck's advertiser exodus continues. This week, Farmers Insurance reportedly said it had "ceased placing [ads] on Glenn Beck a week ago." Likewise, GMAC Financial Services, parent company of Ally Bank, announced that it, too, had "ceased advertising on the Glenn Beck program."
The conservative media chattering class is none too pleased with these developments. Radio host Rose Tennent called GEICO "idiots" for pulling Beck's ads, while radio talker Jim Quinn said Color of Change has "kowtowed" advertisers into ditching Beck. On his radio program, Fox News' Sean Hannity even claimed that accusations that radio hosts want the president dead (I, for one don't, remember anyone of prominence making this charge) were part of a "strategy to silence," like "people go[ing] after advertisers."
In other sponsor news, JC Penney reportedly said it has a "policy" that prohibits advertising on Rush Limbaugh's show -- but Media Matters was able to produce audio from El Rushbo's broadcast containing an ad for the retailer. Home Depot also reportedly claimed it doesn't "support" Limbaugh's program, and Media Matters was also able to produce audio of a Home Depot ad airing during the conservative leader's show. We welcome the policies announced by JC Penney and Home Depot, but perhaps now would be a good time for them to state publicly that they will no longer run ads on Rush's show.
When PoliticsDaily.com claimed that "the pressure on advertisers has become a politically charged debate about the right to free speech, censorship and what constitutes hate speech," Media Matters' Eric Boehlert responded: "Do editors at PoliticsDaily.com not understand what 'censorship' means in terms of free speech? ... Of course, only the government can censor free speech." In other words, the First Amendment doesn't guarantee anyone the right to his own show.
Conservative media: Barney Frank is soooo rude
At a town hall meeting in Massachusetts, a woman took to the mic and asked Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), who is both Jewish and gay, "why do you continue to support a Nazi policy as Obama has expressly supported this policy? Why are you supporting it?" Frank responded: "When you ask me that question, I'm going to revert to my ethnic heritage and answer your question with a question. On what planet do you spend most of your time?" Frank went on to say, "You want me to answer the question? As you stand there with a picture of the president defaced to look like Hitler and compare the effort to increase health care to the Nazis, my answer to you is, as I said before, it is a tribute to the First Amendment that this kind of vile, contemptible nonsense is so freely propagated. ... Ma'am, trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to have an argument with a dining room table. I have no interest in doing it.
For conservatives in the media, this was over the line. No, I'm not talking about the Nazi nonsense; I'm talking about Frank's response to the lunacy.
Fox News' Brian Kilmeade blasted Frank's "arrogance" and "smugness" and wondered why the Massachusetts Democrat couldn't just say, "I understand where you're coming from, but ... " His Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy repeatedly defended the woman, claiming that Frank's response to her was "rude," out of touch, and laden with "attitude," while never noting the content of the woman's question. Limbaugh called the woman's Nazi sign and question "fabulous" before telling his listeners that Frank "spends most of his time living around Uranus."
In the words of Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert, "I've been watching these town hall meetings, and I've had enough of these uncontrollable outbursts by members of Congress. Hey, congressmen, how are people supposed to scream their questions if you keep interrupting with your answers? And Democrat Barney Frank is the latest culprit."
This week's media columns
This week's media columns from the Media Matters senior fellows: Eric Boehlert explains how the health care mobs = Swift Boat Vets. And the press plays dumb, again; Jamison Foser details how the media made this summer's political insanity inevitable
FRIDAY AUG. 21, 2009 08:22 EDT
(updated below - Update II - Update III)
Paul Krugman has an excellent column today arguing that progressives have backlashed so intensely over the prospect of Obama's dropping the public option because -- for reasons extending far beyond specific health care issues -- they no longer trust the President. Citing Obama's steadfast continuation of Bush/Cheney Terrorism policies, the administration's extreme coziness with crisis-causing banks, and the endless retreats on health care, Krugman says that "a backlash in the progressive base . . . has been building for months" and that "progressives are now in revolt. Mr. Obama took their trust for granted, and in the process lost it."
Krugman contends that while "the fight over the public option involves real policy substance," it is at least as much "a proxy for broader questions about the president’s priorities and overall approach." That's the argument I made the other day about why the health care fight is so important regardless of one's views of the public option. The central pledges of the Obama campaign were less about specific policy positions and much more about changing the way Washington works -- to liberate political outcomes from the dictates of corporate interests; to ensure vast new levels of transparency in government; to separate our national security and terrorism approaches from the politics of fear. With some mildexceptions, those have been repeatedly violated. Negotiating his health care reform plan in total secrecy and converting it into a gigantic gift to the pharmaceutical and insurance industries -- which is exactly what a plan with (1) mandates, (2) no public option and (3) a ban on bulk negotiations for drug prices would be -- would constitute yet another core violation of those commitments, yet another bolstering (a major one) of the very power dynamic he vowed to subvert.
It is difficult to dispute that there is rising progressive anger over what the administration appears to be doing in the health care realm. Consider the remarkable, blog-based fund-raising campaignto embolden progressive House members who vowed a NO vote on any health care bill lacking a public option even if that's the bill returned from conference reconciliation. If those House progressives adhere to their pledge, that would be an enormous impediment to the White House's plans -- and Kevin Drum astutely notes that the purpose of the fund-raising effort is to force the notoriously hapless, impotent and capitulating House progressives to adhere to their clear commitment (as The Hill put it yesterday: "House liberals have a history of getting rolled"). In just a few days, that campaign has raised more than $300,000. From what I can recall, that is the most prolific single-issue Internet fund-raising since the fundraising bonanza fueled by anger over the 2008 vote by Democrats (revealingly including Obama) to legalize Bush's warrantless eavesdropping program and retroactively immunize telecom lawbreakers.
If one were to analyze matters from a purely utilitarian perspective, one could find ways to justify the White House's attempt to write a health care plan that accommodates the desires of the pharmaceutical and drug industries [mandates (i.e., 50 million forced new customers) plus government subsidies to pay their premiums plus no meaningful cost controls (i.e., no public option)]. All other things being equal, it's better -- from the White House's political perspective -- that those industries not spend vast sums of money trying to defeat Obama's health care proposal, that they not pour their resources into the GOP's 2010 midterm effort, that they not unleash their fully army of lobbyists and strategists to sabotage the Democratic Party. That's the same calculating mindset that leads the White House to loyally serve the interests of the banking industry that caused the financial crisis (we don't want to make enemies out of of Goldman Sachs or turn investment bankers into GOP funders). Indeed, that's the same mindset that leads the White House to avoid any fights with the Right -- and/or with the intelligence community and permanent military establishment -- over Terrorism policies (there's no political benefit to subjecting ourselves to accusations of being Soft on Terror and there's plenty of reasons to cling to those executive powers of secrecy, detention and war-making).
In essence, this is the mindset of Rahm Emanuel, and its precepts are as toxic as they are familiar: The only calculation that matters is maximizing political power. The only "change" that's meaningful is converting more Republican seats into Democratic ones. A legislative "win" is determined by whether Democrats can claim victory, not by whether anything constructive was achieved. The smart approach is to serve and thus curry favor with the most powerful corporate factions, not change the rules to make them less powerful. The primary tactic of Democrats should be to be more indispensable to corporate interests so as to deny the GOP that money and instead direct it to Democrats. The overriding strategy is to scorn progressives while keeping them in their place and then expand the party by making it more conservative and more reliant on Blue Dogs. Democrats should replicate Republican policies on Terrorism and national security -- not abandon them -- in order to remove that issue as a political weapon.
If those Emanuelian premises are the ones that you accept, if you believe that Obama should be guided by base concerns of political power, then you're likely to be satisfied with the White House's approach thus far -- both in general and on health care specifically. That would also likely mean that you're basically satisfied with the behavior of Democrats during the Bush era, and especially since 2006 when they won a majority in Congress, since that is what has driven them for the last decade: all that matters is that we beat the Republicans and we should do anything to achieve that, including serving corporate donors to ensure they fund Us and not Them and turning ourselves into war-making, civil-liberties-abridging, secrecy-loving GOP clones in the national security realm.
But that isn't what Obama pledged he would do when he campaigned. He repeatedly vowed he would do the opposite -- that he wouldreject that thinking and battle aggressively against domination by what he called "the interests of powerful lobbyists or the wealthiest few" who have "run Washington far too long" -- and he convinced millions of people that he was serious, people who, as a result, became fervent devotees to his cause. Those are the people who New York Times columnist Frank Rich recently said have been "punked by Obama" because it is precisely that same narrow group which continues to be the prime beneficiaries and masters of Washington behavior during the Obama presidency.
More than any betrayal on a specific issue, it is Obama's seeming eagerness to serve the interests of those who have "run Washington for far too long" -- not as a result of what he has failed to accomplish, but as a result of what he has affirmatively embraced -- that is causing what Krugman today describes as a loss of trust in Obama from those who once trusted him most. This approach is not only producing heinous outcomes, but is politically self-destructive as well. In a superb post the other day, Digby recounted what fueled the Naderite movement in 2000 and warns, presciently I think, that the willingness of Obama/Emanuel so blatantly to disappoint those to whom they promised so much (especially young and first-time voters who were most vulnerable to Obama's transformative fairy dust) will lead them either to support a third party or turn off from politics altogether:
Rahm Emanuel believes that the key to Democratic success is a coalition in which Blue Dogs and corporate lackeys mitigate progressive change on behalf of the moneyed interests which he believes the political system must serve. Regardless of his malevolent view of how the political system should work, on a political level, I think he's living in the past. . . .
But on a political level, the left has been betrayed over and over again on the things that matter to us the most. The village is pleased, I'm sure. But the Democratic party only needs to look back eight short years to see just how destructive it is to constantly tell their left flank to go fuck themselves. . . .
At the time [in 2000] nobody believed that an incumbent Vice President in a roaring economy would have a race so close that the Republicans could steal it. But we know differently now don't we? And you would think that the Democratic establishment would also know that because of that, it may not be a good idea to alienate the left to the point where they become apathetic or even well... you know. It can happen. It did happen. Why the Democrats persist in believing that it can't happen again is beyond me. . . .
Obama mobilized a whole lot of young people who have great expectations and disappointing them could lead to all sorts of unpleasant results. Success is about more than simply buying off some congressional liberals or pleasing the village. It's worth remembering that a third party run from the left is what created the conditions for eight long years of Republican governance that pretty much wrecked this country.
After 2000, what is it going to take for the Democrats to realize that constantly using their base as a doormat is not a good idea? It only takes a few defections or enough people staying home to make a difference. And there are people on the left who have proven they're willing to do it. The Democrats are playing with fire if they think they don't have to deliver anything at all to their liberal base --- and abandoning the public option, particularly in light of what we already know about the bailouts and the side deals, may be what breaks the bond.
It's really not too much to ask that they deliver at least one thing the left demands, it really isn't. And it's not going to take much more of this before their young base starts looking around for someone to deliver the hope and change they were promised.
On most fronts that matter -- civil liberties, national security, economic policy, servitude to corporate interests, even rising opposition to Obama's long-promised escalation of the war in Afghanistan -- that defines rather clearly what the Obama/Emanuel approach has been thus far. Stopping it somewhere -- anywhere -- is vital, and for many reasons, the health care fight provides an excellent opportunity (at least as good as any) for doing so. Clearly -- as first became conclusively clear when Obama so shamelessly reversed himself on FISA and telecom immunity -- the Obama White House will not, on its own, cease following the dictates of Blue Dogs, "centrists" and the corporate interests which own them. That will only happen if they realize that their political power is threatened by building their power in service of corporate interests and by continuing to ignore the interests of those who elected them. The signs which Krugman identifies to show that Obama has lost the trust of many progressives is one important step, but preventing a health care bill that is nothing but an ill-gotten gift to the insurance and drug industries is a far more important step still. Whatever else one might want to say, changing who wins in Washington is the most important goal there is.
UPDATE: The new weekly Research 2000/Kos tracking poll was just released and -- according to Daily Kos polling analyst Steve Singiser -- Obama's approval ratings have taken a dive (as have the Demorcratic Party's) due to increasing dissatisfaction with him on the part of Democrats:
Across the board, the drops among Obama and the Democratic Party have come not from the loyal opposition, nor have they come from dismayed Independents.
They have come from Democrats.
A cursory look at the graph for Obama's favorability, broken down by party, shows that after a long period of relative stability among Democrats, there was a sharp drop this week . . . Anyone who thinks the protracted arguments over health care aren't frustrating the Democratic base need look no further. A ten-point dip in net favorability, in a single week, is a pretty solid statement.
That speaks for itself. The Obama/Emanuel approach not only produces awful policy but is also self-destructive politically.
UPDATE II: On the general question of "trusting Obama," BTD makes an important point: "I am against the idea of trusting any politician, including Obama, Ted Kennedy, Russ Feingold, Bernie Sanders, Nancy Pelosi and Anthony Weiner. Watch what they do, not what they say." Indeed, as I've written many times, "trust" is appropriate for one's friends, loved ones, family members and the like -- but not for politicians. That's what John Adams meant when he said: "There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty." "All" means "all" and "none" means "none."
But that's not how our political culture works generally. Our politics have become entirely celebretized. Political discussions typically resemble junior high chatter about one's most adored and despised actors: filled with adolescent declarations of whether someone "likes" and "trusts" this politician or "dislikes" that one. "I trust Obama" has long been a common refrain among his most loyal supporters. The fact that, as Krugman says, that is much less true now is quite significant, even if "trust" is an inappropriate emotion in the first place to feel towards any political official.
UPDATE III: It's not just the Research 2000/Kos poll that shows a significant decline in Obama's approval ratings among Democrats. According to Greg Sargent, the ABC News/Washington Post poll released this week shows the same and even worse:
A major factor in President Obama’s slide in today’s big Washington Post/ABC News poll, which is preoccupying the political classes today, is his surprisingly sharp drops among Democrats and even liberals, according to crosstabs that were sent my way.
Much talk today has focused on Obama’s difficulties with independents. But the drop among Dems and liberals is also a key driving factor in the President’s skid, according to WaPo polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta, who graciously provided the additional data.
Even for those of you who are willing to justify anything and everything in the name of "political pragmatism," betraying clear campaign commitments and constantly exhibiting contempt for core progressive values doesn't seem to be working very well as a political strategy, to put that mildly
-- Glenn Greenwald
Published on Friday, August 21, 2009 by CommonDreams.org
by Ray McGovern
Hats off to Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times for ferreting out what it was that sent CIA Director Leon Panetta scurrying over to Congress in late June.
According to Mazzetti, Panetta's top lieutenants, many of them holdovers from the last administration, had just told him that, under President Bush, they had farmed out assassinations to their Blackwater subsidiary. I use "they" advisedly, since the CIA holdovers that had kept Panetta in the dark continue to function as Panetta's top managers.
Panetta abruptly stopped the project and contritely briefed the intelligence committees. Until now, it was not clear what had prompted Panetta to set up hurried consultations with the intelligence "oversight" committees of the House and Senate.
An odd odor still hangs over the affair. After being briefed by Panetta, one committee member described him as "stunned" that his lingering lieutenants had kept information on the program from him until nearly five months into his tenure. Yet there is not the faintest hint that anyone on either committee dared to ask why Panetta continues to leave such tainted officials in very senior positions.
Anyone know why he does not send them packing?
Mazzetti quotes officials as admitting that "the C.I.A. did not have a formal contract with Blackwater" for a program with "lethal" authority. Putting out contracts on other people, I suppose you might call it, without a contract. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/20/us/20intel.html?_r=2
What Mazzetti does not mention -- and what he, like the vast majority of Americans, may not know -- is that there is a one-sentence umbrella "contract" available for use as authorization for such activities. It creates a structural fault, so to speak, and a legal loophole through which Bush and Cheney drove a Mack truck of lawlessness.
Bush administration lawyers were not the first to read considerable leeway into that loophole created by just one sentence in the language of the National Security Act of 1947. The sentence can be (ab)used as authorization for all manner of crime -- irrespective of existing law or executive order.
A Cheney-esque "unitary executive" perspective and a dismissive attitude toward lawmakers reinforced the Bush team's predilection to exploit the ambiguous language, taking it further than it had ever been taken in the past.
The Act (as slightly amended) stipulates that the CIA Director shall:
"Perform such functions and duties related to intelligence affecting the national security as the President or the National Security Council may from time to time direct."
There's the "umbrella contract." While more than one past President (I served under seven during my tenure at CIA) has taken advantage of that open language, the Bush administration translated the dodging into a new art form. This, in turn, was sustained by Frankenstein cottage industries like Blackwater to launch and operate the administration's own Gestapo. I use the word advisedly; do not blanch before it.
As for outsourcing, it is nothing new. The earlier Nazi Gestapo enjoyed umbrella authorization from the Fuhrer; they and the SS knew what was wanted, and famously "followed orders." There was absolutely no need to go back to supreme authority for approval to contract out some of their work. And German legislators turned out to be even more intimidated than ours -- if you can imagine it.
Charlatans Can Apply...and Some Stay On
As for an American President's freedom of action, all a President need do is surround himself with eager co-conspirators like the sycophant former Director of Central Intelligence, George Tenet (not to mention his, and Panetta's, lingering lieutenants), who give allegiance to their secret world of unchecked power, rather than to the Constitution of the United States. True, a Vice President thoroughly versed in using the levers of power also can be a valuable asset.
But the sine quo non for successful subversion of our Constitutional process is this: cowardly members of Congress so afraid of being painted pastel on terrorism that they abdicate their oversight responsibility. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney may have "misunderestimated" some things, but not Congress. They held it in scorn and contempt, and the Congress' behavior gave them every reason to believe they were right.
The Bush White House gave very high priority to "terrorification" of Congress and it paid off handsomely. The most senior congressional leaders caved, winking even at torture, kidnapping, warrantless eavesdropping, etc., etc., etc.
And on the subject of contracting, Congress' oversight role was, in a real sense, "contracted out" -- to eight invertebrate leaders from the House and Senate. Their see-no-evil acquiescence in whatever Bush and Cheney painted as a weapon in the so-called "war on terror" was driven solely by the lawmakers' felt need to appear tough on terrorism.
"After 9/11 everything changed," is certainly an overused aphorism. But it does apply to what happened to the spirit and soul of our country after President Bush was given the pulpit at the National Cathedral. Vengeance is ours, said the President. And the vast majority of Christian leaders were cowed into razoring out of their Bibles "Blessed are the Peacemakers."
Clergy and Congress clapped, and so did the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM). Don't you remember?
The situation bears striking resemblance to that described by German writer Sebastian Haffner, who was in Berlin in 1933 after the Reichstag fire (Germany's 9/11):
"What was missing is what in animals is called ‘breeding.' This is a solid inner kernel that cannot be shaken by external pressures, something noble and steely, a reserve of pride, principle, and dignity to be drawn on in the hour of trial. It is missing in Germans. "As a nation they are without backbone. That was shown in March 1933. At the moment of truth, when other nations rise spontaneously to the occasion, the Germans collectively and limply collapsed, yielded to a nervous breakdown, and became a nightmare to the rest of the world." ("Defying Hitler," p. 135)
Congress' Stormy Applause...
And our Congress? During the President's infamous State-of-the-Union address on Jan. 28, 2003 (yes, the one with the uranium-from-Africa-to-Iraq and other make-believe), Bush got the most unbridled applause when, after bragging about the 3,000 "suspected terrorists" whom he said had been arrested, he added:
"And many others have met a different fate. Let's put it this way: They are no longer a problem to the United States and our friends and allies."
The lawmakers' reaction and the cheering that followed in the FCM reminded me of the short italicized note that Pravda regularly tacked onto the bottom of paragraphs recording similarly fulsome leadership speeches: Burniye aplodismenty; vce stoyat! - Stormy applause; all rise! Even so, Soviet leaders generally avoided (as not quite presidential) seeking applause for thinly veiled allusions to extrajudicial killing.
...and Fawning Over Creeps
It is Congress that is collectively responsible for abdicating its oversight responsibility, while cheering creeps like Cofer Black, CIA's top counter-terrorism official from 1999 to May 2002 and now one of Blackwater's senior leaders.
On Sept. 26, 2002 in his prepared testimony to the Joint Congressional Inquiry on 9/11, the swashbuckling Black said this about "operational flexibility":
"All I want to say is that there was ‘before' 9/11 and ‘after' 9/11. After 9/11 the gloves came off. ... I know that we are on the right track today and as a result we are safer as a nation. ‘No Limits' aggressive, relentless, worldwide pursuit of any terrorist who threatens us is the only way to go and is the bottom line."
What were those "gloves" to which you referred, Mr. Black? Do you mean that legal restrictions were gone? And "No Limits?" Is it the case that there now are no limitations on your pursuit of terrorists? Whence do you derive that kind of authority, Mr. Black? These are just some of the pertinent questions that members of the congressional panel apparently felt would be impertinent to ask.
And authorization? In the Bush/Cheney White House, all it took was a presidential signature, like the one appearing in broad strokes of felt-tipped pen under the two-page executive memorandum of Feb. 7, 2002. http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB127/02.02.07.pdf )
Last December the Senate Armed Forces Committee, without dissent, concluded that this memo, "opened the door" to abuse by exempting al Qaeda and Taliban detainees from Geneva protections. Alberto Gonzales, in a felicitous but inadvertent blunder, released that memo five years ago. It is a smoking gun. Someone, please, tell the FCM.
As for assassinations, the special presidential memoranda (often referred to as "Findings") that authorized covert action like the lethal activities of the CIA and Blackwater have not yet surfaced. They will, in due course, if the patriotic truth tellers who have now discussed assassination with the Times and Washington Post continue to put the Constitution and courage above secrecy oaths. Such oaths are aimed at protecting secrets, not crimes.
Vengeance is Ours
CIA operative Gary Schroen has told National Public Radio that, just days after 9/11, Cofer Black sent him to Afghanistan with orders to "Capture bin Laden, kill him, and bring his head back in a box on dry ice." As for other al Qaeda leaders, Black reportedly said, "I want their heads up on pikes."
Schroen told NPR he had been stunned that, for the first time in 30 years of service, he had received orders to kill targets rather than to capture them. Contacted by the radio network, Black would not confirm the exact words of the order to Schroen, but did not dispute Schroen's account.
This quaint tone reverberated among macho, Bush-friendly pundits in the FCM.Washington Post veteran Jim Hoagland, for example, published an open letter to President Bush on Oct. 31, 2001. It was no Halloween prank.
In his letter, Hoagland strongly endorsed what he termed the "wish" for "Osama bin Laden's head on a pike," an objective he attributed to Bush's "generals and diplomats." The consummate insider, Hoagland then virtually gave the real neoconservative game plan away by giving Bush the following ordering of priorities:
"The need to deal with Iraq's continuing accumulation of biological and chemical weapons and the technology to build a nuclear bomb can in no way be lessened by the demands of the Afghan campaign. You must conduct that campaign so that you can pivot quickly from it to end the threat Saddam Hussein's regime poses."
I have the feeling we are in for many more chapters recording how the lawlessness and savagery of post-9/11 Washington played out during the last seven years of the Bush/Cheney administration.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was a CIA analyst for 27 years and now serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
This article appeared first on Consortiumnews.com.
By Jason Leopold
The Public Record
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein said Thursday the CIA broke the law by failing to notify Congress about a secret assassination program.
Feinstein’s comments were made in response to a report published in the New York Times Wednesday stating that in 2004 the CIA outsourced the assassination program, aimed at targeting al-Qaeda leaders, to security firm Blackwater, now known as Xe, a company whose former chief executive was recently accused of murder. To date, Blackwater has received more than $1.2 billion in government contracts.
She said despite assertions by Republican lawmakers and CIA officials that the program was never operational, it had, “in fact gone beyond the simple planning stage.”
A report published in the Los Angeles Times Thursday said the CIA “delivered a report to Congress earlier this month after conducting an internal probe of the program, which was first launched after the Sept. 11 attacks but was canceled and restarted several times under different regimes at the agency.”
She said it was now “clear” to her that the “failure to notify” Congress about the program, which lawmakers on the House and Senate intelligence committees first learned about in June during a closed-door meeting with CIA Director Leon Panetta, “constituted a violation of law.”
Feinstein is the first lawmaker to state unequivocally that the CIA broke the law by failing to inform Congress about the covert program, which was concealed from Congress for nearly eight years.
While Feinstein would not comment on the specific revelations contained in the New York Times report, she said she has “believed for a long time that the Intelligence Community is over-reliant on contractors to carry out its work. This is especially a problem when contractors are used to carry out activities that are inherently governmental.”
“The program was never briefed to the Congress before June despite a clear requirement in law to keep the intelligence committees ‘fully and currently informed,’” she said.
“That’s a big problem and it should never ever happen again,” Feinstein said. “Every single intelligence operation and covert action must be briefed to the Congress. If they are not, that is a violation of the law.”
News reports said Panetta told the Intelligence Committee that Vice President Dick Cheney advised the agency not to disclose details of the program to Congress.
Feinstein, whose committee is currently conducting an investigation of the CIA’s interrogation program to determine whether the torture of high-level detainees produced any actionable intelligence, added that her panel has included a provision in the 2010 Intelligence Authorization Bill that “clearly states that there is no exception to the legal requirement to notify Congress.”
In July, the House Intelligence Committee launched an investigation to determine if the CIA violated federal law, “including the National Security Act of 1947″ by withholding details of the program from Congress.
Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes said the probe would be part of a wide-ranging investigation about the way in which the CIA informs Congress about its covert activities and other matters.
Blackwater was reportedly paid millions of dollars to train CIA operatives to assassinate and kill leaders of al-Qaeda, according to reports late Wednesday in the New York Times and Washington Post.
According to the Los Angeles Times report, the CIA “did not have a formal contract with Blackwater in connection with the targeted-killing program. Instead, the agency hired the company’s founder, Erik D. Prince, a former Navy SEAL team member, and other Blackwater executives to help turn an idea for forming Al Qaeda hit squads into an operational program.”
“The effort ranged from consulting with top executives to carrying out training exercises at Blackwater’s headquarters in North Carolina. Company officials did not respond to requests for comment.”
Blackwater has long been the target of Democratic lawmakers over its controversial security and business practices.
Wrongfully Awarded Contracts
In July 2008, the Inspector General of the Small Business Administration (SBA)released a report that said Blackwater misrepresented the size of its firm so it could receive more than $100 million in small business contracts from the federal government.
The report said the mercenary outfit obtained a total of 39 contracts intended for small businesses with annual revenues of $6.5 million between 2005 and 2007. But the report said Blackwater’s revenue surpassed $200 million for those years.
Blackwater “obtained a total of 33 contracts during Fiscal Years 2005 through 2007, totaling $2,188,620, which may have involved misrepresentations to obtain the contract.”
The report also found that “it is possible that misrepresentations took place” on the remaining six contracts, totaling $107,311,356.”
Of the 39 contracts reviewed, 38 were awarded by the Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs awarded one. The Inspector General’s report says the small business contracts “could have involved potential misrepresentations by Blackwater.
Moreover, the Department of Defense wrongfully awarded Blackwater aviation contracts worth $107 million. That contract was earmarked for companies with annual revenues of less than $25 million or less than 1,500 employees, the report said.
The report was prepared at the request of Congressman Henry Waxman, who at the time was the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Waxman sent a letter in March 2008 to Steven Preseton, the administrator of the Small Business Administration.
“As part of the Oversight Committee’s investigation into the business practices of Blackwater Worldwide, the Committee has obtained evidence indicating that Blackwater may have applied for and received federal contracts by improperly claiming that it was eligible for small business preferences,” Waxman’s March 10, 2008 letter said. “It appears Blackwater sought these small business contracts by improperly designating its security guards as “independent contractors” rather than “employees.”
The Inspector General’s 27-page report released Monday said Blackwater appeared to have improperly classified its guards stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan as independent contracts as opposed to full-fledged employees in order to obtain government contracts.
According to a memo issued by Waxman to Oversight Committee members Monday, “The key issue… was whether personnel hired by Blackwater to provide security services for the Department of State (DOS) and other agencies were Blackwater employees . . . or independent contractors.”
“In claiming it was a small business, Blackwater argued that 1,000 security personnel it provided under the State Department’s $1.2 billion Worldwide Personal Protective Service (WPPS) contract were independent contractors,” Waxman’s memo says. “The [Small Business Administration Inspector General] reports that Blackwater claimed that it “had little or no knowledge of the activities of the security personnel performing the contract and exercised little or no supervision over these personnel once they were deployed.”
The report “concludes that these assertions were incorrect,” Waxman’s memo says.
The Inspector General’s report says “Our review of the WPPS Statement of Work indicates that it contained a number of provisions that appeared to be inconsistent with SBA’s conclusion that Blackwater did not have knowledge about the actions of the personnel once they were deployed.”
Target of Controversy
Last December, five Blackwater security guards were indicted on manslaughter charges over the massacre of 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad. The Iraq government also stripped the company of its security license. The publicity reached such negative proportions that Blackwater sought to reinvent itself under a new name: Xe.
Recently, a Blackwater employee and a former ex-Marine employed by the company in a security capacity said in a sworn affidavit filed Aug. 3 in a federal court in Virginia, that company CEO Erik Prince may have murdered or assisted in the murder of individuals who were cooperating with federal law enforcement authorities investigation the company.
The explosive allegations, which also include claims the company was involved in the distribution of controlled substances, tax evasion, child prostitution, were made in a civil lawsuit filed against Blackwater that charges the company with Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) violations.
The company was also under federal investigation and was expected to be slapped with nearly $2 million in fines last Novemeber by the State Department for shipping about 900 weapons to law enforcement facilities in Iraq and Jordan without authorization. The weapons, however, ended up on the black market. It’s unclear whether the company was in fact fined or faced other charges. There does not appear to be additional information available about the weapons smuggling case beyond the reports of expected fines.
Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers continue to downplay new reports about the CIA’S assassination program and criticized Panetta’s decision to end the program.
Sen. Pete Hoekstra, the senior Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, accused Feinstein and other Democrats of engaging in “partisan, political theater” for launching a probe to determine if the CIA broke the law by not informing Congress about the program.