Friday, September 4, 2009

Today’s News Bleak And Blunt On Every Front

Today’s News Bleak And Blunt On Every Front

You Measure A Democracy By The Freedom It Gives Its Dissidents, Not The Freedom It Gives Its Assimilated Conformists."

- Abbie Hoffman (1936-1989)

This morning I saw a picture of President Obama dressed as Hitler, complete

with little mustache, tacked high on a tree trunk. At first it seemed jaw-droppingly ridiculous, sociopathically paranoid. But if the rule of reversal is what's encoded in that image, all people of good will must worry that what's really at stake for some of our gun-toting, demagogic fellow citizens is nothing less

than America's very own Weimar moment.”

Many Call This

His Greatest Speech:

View Full Screen

Expand Torture Inquiry

Holder Should Investigate Policy-Makers, Not Just The CIA.

By Doug Bandow

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has appointed a special prosecutor to review CIA interrogations of terrorist suspects, but the investigation shouldn't stop with the agency. No one should be above the law - least of all top policy-makers.

Investigating officials from the past administration is bound to be controversial. President George W. Bush and his aides undoubtedly did what they thought was right. There was no need, though, to sacrifice the Constitution and civil liberties to protect the American people from terrorism. As President Obama observed in his inaugural address, "We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals."

Those ideals require an impartial investigation of any Bush administration officials who may have violated the law. There is ample evidence that torture occurred, and that its use was debated and decided at the upper reaches of the White House. Policy-makers bear the principal responsibility.

Policy disagreements are not at issue; liberal democracy requires political conflict. Arrest and prison are appropriate only when those in authority break the basic rules.

In the same light, there should also be an investigation of Bush administration warrantless wiretapping in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The administration made a number of extravagant claims to justify ignoring FISA. The most serious was that, as the military commander in chief, the president had the authority to ignore an express congressional enactment in this area.

Being commander in chief gives the president extensive discretion when it comes to operational issues. However, the Constitution tasks Congress with creating the broad legal and administrative frameworks within which military and intelligence operations occur.

Indeed, the Constitution gives Congress almost all war powers other than operational command. The legislature raises the military, declares war, and has the power "To define and punish ... offenses against the law of nations"; "make rules concerning captures on land and water"; "make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces"; and "make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers."

In the area of war-related surveillance, if Congress does not legislate, the president may act. However, if Congress chooses, for example, to require a warrant before the executive branch is allowed to spy on Americans, the president has the responsibility to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed."

If Bush and those around him thought that the congressionally prescribed procedures were inadequate, they should have requested additional legal authority from Congress. It seems likely that it would have been granted. Even the Democratic Congress elected in 2006 acquiesced to administration pressure to weaken FISA.

The Obama administration has been nervous about prosecuting Bush officials, lest it be accused of conducting a partisan witch-hunt. But Obama has an obligation to hold accountable any government official who broke the law. A democratic republic requires public accountability to survive.

At the very least, executive lawbreaking requires an investigation. The people should know what was done in their name. Moreover, policies and procedures should be adopted to make it harder for future officials to follow suit.

The administration also must consider prosecution. If high-level government officials can violate the law simply by claiming to believe that their actions are legal, then the law is meaningless.

The U.S. government has prosecuted foreign officials and soldiers for war crimes, including torture. It must hold its own citizens to the same standard.

In his opening address at the Nuremberg trials, chief American prosecutor

Robert Jackson said the law must "not stop with the punishment of petty crimes by little people. It must also reach men who possess themselves of great power."

And So It Must In America Today.

EXCLUSIVE: CIA Asks Justice To Probe Leaks Of Secrets

By Eli Lake, Sara A. Carter THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Besieged by leaks of several closely held secrets, the CIA has asked the Justice Department to examine what it regards as the criminal disclosure of a secret program to kill foreign terrorist leaders abroad, The Washington Times has learned.

Two U.S. intelligence officials, who spoke on the condition that they not be named because of the sensitivity of the case, said the leak investigation involved a program that CIA Director Leon E. Panetta told Congress about in June and that surfaced in news reports just a month later.

The vice chairman of the the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence declined to discuss any possible leak investigations but told the Times on Thursday that a growing number of disclosures of highly secret programs, tactics and other information had caused "irreparable damage" to the U.S. intelligence community.

"They foil our attempts to carry out classified missions," Sen. Christopher S. Bond said in an interview. "They tell our intelligence community: We don't have your back; we're stabbing you in the back. Our allies ask us, 'How can we trust you to deal in classified matters in private, when the details are leaked to the press?'"

Mr. Bond, a Republican from Missouri, said he heard this refrain in recent meetings with heads of European, South Asian and Middle Eastern allied intelligence services. "Nobody has told me they won't cooperate, but they are asking the question," he said.

One element of the new leak investigation involves a New York Times story last month that said the secret program employed the security contractor Xe - formerly known as Blackwater. The plan was never put into effect - and Mr. Panetta canceled it as soon as he learned of it, according to the CIA.

But the disclosure has had other consequences: Al Qaeda has placed Xe's chief executive, Eric Prince, on its own version of a most-wanted list, said Mark Corallo, a spokesman for the contractor.

The CIA routinely asks Justice to investigate unauthorized disclosures of classified information, but this one comes at a particularly delicate time for the spy agency. Its own interrogators face criminal investigation by the same department, and its relationship with lawmakers is evolving as a Democratic-controlled Congress has signaled a willingness to rein in some of the agency's activities.

If the Justice Department decides to mount a criminal investigation, it would have several potential subjects to interview, as the number of people who knew about the once closely held program expanded earlier this year. The Wall Street Journal on July 13 was the first to disclose details of the program and attributed the information to former intelligence officials.

The plan was a "special access program" - an activity or plan that is kept from officers with even the highest security clearances. As a result, the number of individuals aware of the program was extremely small at first. The pool grew much larger by the time it reached Congress and was briefed to the full House and Senate intelligence committees and senior staff.

A CIA spokesman, Paul Gimigliano, said "the agency does not, as a general practice, deny or confirm reports of leaks it may bring to the attention of the Department of Justice."

Richard Kolko, a Justice Department spokesman, told The Times, "Every referral to the Department of Justice is taken seriously; however, we do not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation."

The CIA request for a criminal investigation comes after a summer of leaks and other uncomfortable disclosures for the agency. The Obama administration last month released details of harsh interrogation procedures carried out against captured terrorists and terrorist suspects by CIA employees and contractors under the Bush administration - activities that many human rights activists say amounted to torture.

Also last month, over strong objections by Mr. Panetta, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. appointed a special prosecutor to re-evaluate cases against CIA officers who may have exceeded the Bush administration's legal guidelines on interrogations.

Jeffrey Addicott, a former senior legal adviser to the Green Berets and director of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary's University School of Law in San Antonio, said the leak of such classified information hurts U.S. national security and undermines CIA morale.

"It has a chilling effect from the highest levels to the lowest levels of the CIA," Mr. Addicott said. "It discourages cooperation from our allies on the war on terror because it strikes at the ...issue of trustworthiness. They don’t trust us. We have to remember we are in a state of war. These aren’t peacetime leaks but wartime leaks that have a profound negative impact on our war effort. This contributes to the enemys propaganda agenda."

However, one intelligence official downplayed the significance of the leak and of the request for a Justice Department investigation.

"These leaks, unlike others in the past, didn’t cost the country a viable collection or counterterrorism capability," the official said. "There were different concepts considered and tested over the years, but they always ran into problems. They never proved themselves, so its not a big loss."

The official added, "Leaks of classified information are, unfortunately, fairly common. They can do tremendous damage, and they need to be pursued. The real impact here, though, was not operational - these small efforts never took a single terrorist off the street. But it did make for some sloppy stories about hit squads and another public discussion of congressional oversight."

Because the program was briefed to Congress, it opens the prospect that the FBI could place lawmakers and congressional staffers under polygraph.

The last time the bureau conducted such a major leak investigation involving a member of Congress, it resulted in the reprimand of Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Republican from Alabama, who was accused of divulging to Fox News al Qaeda communications that were intercepted prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

At the time, Mr. Shelby was vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat from Vermont, resigned from that committee in 1986 after leaking a staff report to a reporter on the Iran-Contra affair, under which the U.S. sold weapons to Iran and used the proceeds illegally to fund anti-communist guerrillas in Central America.

It remains to be seen whether the investigation will rise to the level of those incidents or the 2003 probe that followed the disclosure by columnist Robert Novak that Valerie Plame was a CIA officer. That investigation mired the Bush presidency in legal and political challenges and led ultimately to the indictment of I. Lewis Libby, chief of staff to then-Vice President Cheney. Mr. Libby was found guilty of obstructing the FBI's original leak investigation.

"Unlike the Valerie Plame matter, where the cocktail circuit knew she worked for the CIA, these people ... Blackwater, were covert," said Victoria Toensing, a former chief counsel to the Senate intelligence committee. "Every fact that I know points to a violation unlike the Valerie Plame matter. The identifier, the exposer, has to know the relationship is covert."

Fox News' Goler Ignored His Network's Freak-Out Over School Speech

Fox News White House correspondent Wendell Goler reported that the "controversy" over President Obama's September 8 speech to students on the importance of education "spread quickly over the Internet and on conservative talk shows, and some parents are now threatening to keep their kids home next Tuesday." But Goler ignored that Fox News has repeatedly hyped the "controversy," with hosts and guests describing Obama's speech as an "indoctrination;" advancing comparisons of Obama to dictators; and, highlighting the plans of some to "keep kids home" on the day of Obama's address.

Biden: Expect Screaming, Hollering, Then Success

By Adriel Bettelheim, CQ Staff

Vice President Biden on Thursday predicted the Obama administration will have substantial success overhauling the health care system, but not before a difficult autumn filled with partisan battles.

“As bleak as it looks ... you think about every change in health care, it passed by a couple of votes,” Biden said in response to a question following an address at the Brookings Institution. “So we’re going to get something substantial. It’s going to be a lot of screaming and hollering before we get there.”

Biden said the stars were properly aligned for a health care overhaul because most providers, with the exception of insurers, are hankering for change.

“I never thought I’d see the day when doctors showed up at Democratic functions,” Biden said. “We have never had this many stakeholders invested in the need for a fundamental change in the status quo.”

Biden refused to delve into more contentious aspects of the health care debate, including whether to include a public option in an overhaul plan.

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that you don’t step on your boss’s lines,” he said, alluding to President Obama’s planned Sept. 9 address to Congress.

Democrats Hit Back On Health Care

Democrats, ramping up their rebuttal to GOP attacks on health care, unveiled a web video today going after Representatives John Boehner and Michele Bachmann and commentators Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.

The video shows the critics repeating debunked claims, including that the health care bill would create death panels of bureaucrats who would decide who lives and dies, and using terms such as "communist" to describe the plan.

“Since Congressional Republicans and their right wing allies can’t win with the facts on health care, they’ve resorted to using fear, fiction, and scare tactics of the worst kind to shamelessly try and ‘kill’ health insurance reform,” Ryan Rudominer, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a statement. “This new web video is just another way that we are exposing their lies and over-the-top rhetoric while empowering our grassroots supporters to hold them accountable for trying to deny families quality, affordable health care.”

The video is part of Democrats' strategy of advertising, phone calls, letters to the editor, fact checks, and telephone town halls in targeted Republican districts to try to regain momentum.

Republicans and other critics have taken the upper hand during the August congressional recess, one reason why President Obama plans to give an unusual "State of the Union"-like speech to a joint session of Congress next Wednesday to make his case for a health care overhaul.

Is The Taliban On The U.S. Gov. Payroll?

A portion of American taxpayer dollars slated for development projects in Afghanistan is alleged to end up in the hands of the Taliban, the GlobalPost reports. The United States Agency for International Development is investigating if its funds are being used by contractors to pay the Taliban for protection – from itself.

Payoffs to the Taliban are a widely known practice in Afghanistan, according to a report by GlobalPost last month. When the money is not paid, they wreak havoc in the area, blowing up bridges, kidnapping contractors and bringing projects to a halt.

GlobalPost reporter Jean MacKenzie writes, "the Taliban allegedly receives kickbacks from almost every major contract that comes into the country. The arrangements are at times highly formalized and, as GlobalPost spelled out, the Taliban actually keeps an office in Kabul to review major deals, determine percentages and conduct negotiations. The arrangements are often more personal, as when a local supplier pays off a small-time Taliban commander to allow free passage of goods through his patch of insurgency-controlled terrain."

One source told the GlobalPost that the Taliban takes as much as 20% of development aid awarded to contractors. An embassy worker in Kabul described the arrangement as "organized crime."

Dona Dinkler, the chief of staff for congressional affairs at USAID’s Office of Inspector General in Washington, D.C. , told the GlobalPost that the allegations are a cause for concern, but added a note of caution.

“It’s a real hard thing to prove. Who is going to survive to testify about that? That is our challenge. But that doesn’t mean we stop trying. We want to get to the bottom of it," Dinkler said.

USAID has only one inspector and two auditors in Afghanistan following the billions of dollars in aid money that the United States provides.

The Early Word: Unemployment Rate Goes Up

By Janie Lorber And Kate Phillips

The unemployment rate rose last month to 9.7 percent from a dip in July, according to the latest report issued by the Labor Department this Friday morning.

The Times’s Jack Healy notes that employers eliminated 216,000 jobs in August, and the government revised earlier months’ job-shedding figures:

Economists had expected 230,000 job losses, and believed the unemployment rate would hit 9.5 percent. The government also revised monthly job losses for July higher, saying the economy had shed 276,000 jobs compared with the 247,000 that had originally been reported. The June number was revised to 463,000 job losses from 443,000.

Even with the overall economy rebounding a bit, Mr. Healy provided this context: “The slower pace of job losses suggested that the worst recession since the 1930s was losing steam, but the figures offered few hints that employers who had slashed their payrolls to conserve money were ready to hire again. Economists say employers must create 300,000 to 400,000 jobs a month to bring unemployment rates back to pre-recession levels — a difficult hurdle after such a prolonged downturn.”

Government officials from the president on down have warned that unemployment could reach 10 percent before making a comeback. But these numbers come amid a multi-day campaign to promote the successes of the Obama administration’s stimulus package that has officials dispatched through the country trumpeting various projects.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden said Thursday that the stimulus had already helped create or save between half a million and a million jobs. Today’s key numbers, which come after Thursday’s upbeat reports on retail sales and unemployment claims, will further fuel Republicans’ contentions that the stimulus isn’t creating enough jobs.

In fact, Michael Steele, the party’s national chairman, immediately issued a release mocking Mr. Biden’s assertions and contended that the new unemployment figures show how the administration is “ignoring reality.” Mr. Biden plans to talk about today’s new numbers during an announcement about stimulus funds for energy projects at noon, according to the White House.

The Washington Post weighed the impact of the stimulus in an article today.

In August, early back to school shopping gave stores the best sales figures in nearly a year. While half of all retailers sill missed projections, others, like Gap and Costco, comfortably exceeded them. Thursday’s report prompted some analysts to conclude that sales are on an upswing after hitting a July low.

Health Care Humming: In advance of President Obama’s address to Congress next Wednesday, lawmakers and journalists have been weighing in on the fall prospects for health legislation and what it may contain.

The Times’s Robert Pear and Jackie Calmes give a full airing to the possibility of a “trigger option,” something considered as backup government coverage if private insurers fail to offer affordable coverage. One of its primary supporters, Senator Olympia Snowe, Republican of Maine, is considered a key swing vote by the Obama administration and Democrats on the health bill. The two journalists explain her concept this way:

Under Ms. Snowe’s proposal, a new government corporation would offer health insurance in any states where affordable coverage was not readily and widely available from private insurers. The corporation would not be part of the Department of Health and Human Services, although federal officials would serve on its board.

The public insurance plan would be offered in any state where fewer than 95 percent of the residents had access to affordable coverage.

As that approach shifts into the spotlight, leading liberal Democrats like Speaker Nancy Pelosi reasserted their insistence that a health care package must include the broader reach of a public option. In a letter to the president released on Thursday, Representatives Lynn Woolsey of California and Raul Grijalva of Arizona, leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, warned that they would not vote in favor of a health care bill that did not include the public plan.

That said, some formerly stalwart blocs of support for the public option seem to be splintering, including labor organizations, which have provided huge financial and grassroots support to ad and public campaigns this summer. James Hoffa, the leader of the International Brotherhood of the Teamsters, told Al Hunt of Bloomberg News that he wasn’t wedded to the public option in an interview that will be broadcast Friday evening. According to a transcript provided by Bloomberg, Mr. Hunt asked Mr. Hoffa whether the public option was the “litmus test” on health care legislation. Mr. Hoffa replied that not having such an option wouldn’t be “a deal-killer”:

I think it’s important to get something done this time and declare a victory. I think the goal is to go after those 50 million people that don’t have health care. I think that’s the goal.

And I think there’s a lot of things that people want to do, but right now we’ve got to find out what’s doable and if we can get – offer insurance to those people on some type of basis where they enroll and get these people health care, I think that’s a victory right now.

Today the so-called “Gang of Six” will hold a telephone conference call to gear up for lawmakers’ return to Washington in just four days and talk about their Finance Committee drafts on health care.

If you need a refresher on the nitty-gritty of the debate, CSPAN isrebroadcasting a number of Congressional sessions this week.

School Speech Uproar: Conservative parents and commentators are accusing President Obama of trying to indoctrinate children with his political ideology during a back-to-school address next week. Some parents are threatening to keep their children home from school the day Mr. Obama plans to speak to public school classrooms around the nation. Their concerns, fueled by incensed right wing commentators, like Michelle Malkin and Rush Limbaugh, have even led some school districts, particularly in Texas, to allow students to opt out of the session.

Mark Steyn, a Canadian author and political commentator, speaking on the Rush Limbaugh show on Wednesday, accused Mr. Obama of trying to create a cult of personality, comparing him to Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader.

The Republican Party chairman in Florida, Jim Greer, said he “was appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama’s socialist ideology.”

Afghanistan: The Times’s Peter Baker and Elisabeth Bumiller outline thedivisions among administration officials as they face the military’s request for more troops in Afghanistan. Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. leads the skeptics, while Richard C. Holbrooke, Mr. Obama’s special representative to the region, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are likely to support a more robust force.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who has worried that more troops could make America look like an occupier, signaled on Thursday that he’d be open to the idea in part because of the still-secret report assessing the situation in Afghanistan from its commander, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal.

In an analysis this morning, The Wall Street Journal poses two questions: Can the administration convince Washington that a significantly different strategy is in place? And second, is the timeline for that strategy fast enough that it will show progress before political support collapses?

If the answers to these questions are negative, the Journal writes, “the administration, by the middle of next year, will find it hard to sustain support for troops at any level.”

Columnist George Will continues his arguments for withdrawing American troops from war. Earlier this week, he argued that the United States should get out of Afghanistan. In today’s column, he looks at the Iraq mission and finds it unsatisfactory, as well.

Supreme Court Chats The Washington Post’s Robert Barnes mines new interviews C-Span conducted with some of the justices for clues as to how the newest member, Judge Sonia Sotomayor, may be received and how she’ll fit in. The C-Span series — with an original documentary featuring the interviews — doesn’t start until Oct. 4, but the cable network released some excerpts this week in advance of next week’s special arguments.

The Next Kennedy: Joseph P. Kennedy II, who once represented Massachusetts in the House, has the keys to Camelot. Until he announces whether he will seek the Senate seat his uncle, Edward M. Kennedy, held for 47 years, other candidates are not likely to enter the field, writes The Times’s Abby Goodnaugh and Sara Rimer.

Pressure to carry on the Kennedy legacy is likely coming from Massachusetts’ political leaders who think he’s best positioned to secure resources for the states’ many hospitals, universities and research centers. Senator Kennedy’s influence in Washington “made Massachusetts a prime beneficiary of the things he believed in,” our reporters write.

“I think to be quite honest he was the one who invented the earmark,” Greg Craig, the White House legal counsel and former Kennedy aide, tells the Washington Post. “I think earmarks came out of Ted Kennedy’s identifying ways in which he could get federal grants directed to institutions of higher education in Massachusetts.”

Pitcher likely to Stay Private: Former Red Sox pitcher got an unpleasant taste of the political rumor mill Wednesday. Less than 24 hours after he said he was mulling a run for Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s U.S. Senate seat on a Boston sports radio station, he found himself tamping down rampant speculation.

“My family’s been exposed to the public life, my kids for their entire lives, my wife for the last 20 years. Part of walking away from the game was walking away from that,” Mr. Schilling said. “The chances of it happening are slim to none, but they ran with, ‘I’m thinking about it.’ So it’s just gone nuts. The easy thing would be to say, ‘Absolutely not.’ But I’d be lying.”

Hill Wealth: Some of the wealthiest lawmakers are Capitol Hill newbies such as Representatives Jared Polis, Democrat of Colorado, and Alan Grayson, Democrat of Florida, and Senators Michael Bennet, Democrat of Colorado, and Ted Kaufman, Democrat of Delaware, according to a review of financial disclosure forms conducted by The Hill.

As expected, some of the largest portfolios–like that of Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who comes in at number one–took big hits during the recession. Mr. Kerry’s net worth fell more than $70 million, leaving him with a mere $167.8 million.

“Ditch the Pig”: Statements about working women and feminists that Robert F. McDonnell, the Republican gubernatorial candidate in Virginia, made in his master’s thesis twenty years ago have rippled all the way to present day Minnesota. A progressive group is asking the Minnesota’s governor, Tim Pawlenty, one of Republican’s top presidential prospects for 2012, to cancel a fund-raising event next Wednesday with Mr. McDonnell. He described working women and feminists as “detrimental to the family” and the group, Alliance for a Better Minnesota, is asking Mr. Pawlenty to “ditch the pig.”

Reverse Nazism and the War on Universal Healthcare

Diary of a Mad Law Professor | By Patricia J. Williams

The spinmeisters of the right have done quite a job with what used to be straightforward English etymology. Thanks to Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, "integration" was inverted to mean "takeover" and "colorblindness" is code for abandoning the advances of the civil rights movement, which itself is synonymous with an "industry" of exclusion. It's no surprise, then, that whenever a piece of progressive legislation comes to the table, the same manipulations come into play from right-wing pundits who shamelessly profess their desire to see the Obama presidency fail. Thus it is that America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009 is being turned upside down as the neat equivalent of Germany's Bankrupting Forced Death Act of 1939.

By Any Means Necessary

The window is open for President Obama and a Democratic Congress to finally reform our healthcare system. Success means a bill with a strong public option, not a watered-down "bipartisan" measure.

If you are watching the healthcare town-hall ruckuses with only common dictionary meanings in your head, you will be struck by the protesters' general incoherence and outright nonsense, bearing no rational connection to the actual draft of the healthcare bill. As Representative Barney Frank demanded of one constituent who likened the bill to Nazism, "On what planet do you spend most of your time?"

But if you listen as though deciphering pig Latin and realize that this demographic is speaking from a well-managed, near-hypnotic looking-glass world where every word from the mouth of a Democrat (or a liberal, or a Latina, or a Canadian) is a lie, a betrayal... then it all makes sense. Their world truly has been turned inside out, by the election, by the economy, by the precarious conditions that threaten us all. But for those whose sense of identity has been premised on a raced, masculinist, conservative Christian hierarchy of American power, the world must seem even more emotionally terrifying than any actual facts would indicate.

So reversal is key to understanding what's going on. It's not just "lies"; it's the expressive angst of people whose felt power relations have been turned upside down. It's not factually accurate, but this is how they feel. Obama is Hitler! Health insurance for all means euthanasia for me! "My" country is suddenly "their" country.

Of course, there are special interests who profit from the magnification of these fears. Betsy McCaughey, a former shill for a medical instruments company, is the original source of the "death panel" rumors. From the beginning, big pharmaceutical and insurance companies, with an almost inconceivable amount of money to spend, have been muddying the waters. Think about the recent revelation that Merck secretly financed the publication of a fake medical journal that was designed to look objective but merely touted the supposed benefits of its products--and included "paid advertisements" for the company's drugs. What is truth in such a corrupt hall of mirrors?

But what does the bill actually say? A quick summary of the most contentious point: the act would provide reimbursement if you seek medical counseling about end-of-life decisions. This option allows you to plan what you would like to have done in the case of catastrophic or terminal illness--nothing forced about it. All extraordinary measures will continue to be used to resuscitate someone whose wishes are unknown: feeding tube, intubation, cracking ribs to defibrillate, whatever it takes. By contrast, it is private, profit-motivated insurance companies--which deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions and restrict one's choice of doctor, medical treatments and length of hospital stays (based on actuarial tables)--that bear the greatest resemblance to a mulching euthanasia machine. When nearly 50 million US citizens live without any health coverage, how on earth could a purely voluntary public option be considered throwing people under the bus?

Let me acknowledge the genuine ideological and moral misgivings behind some of the protests. Many libertarians hate anything the government does, no matter how monopolistic or quasi-governmental the power of pharmaceutical and insurance companies. But they are a minority and not generally the bloc using the language of reversal and code. Similarly, there are those with genuine moral or religious qualms: "prolifers" who, if they believe that life begins at the molecular moment of conception, could also think that any end-of-life consultation is against God's will. This would be the same line of reasoning followed by those who wanted Congress to keep Terri Schiavo on life support no matter what. While I can certainly respect that as a belief, it is clearly even more of a minority position than libertarianism. In addition, it requires strong-armed government intrusion over the wishes of patients or family; and it is totally unsustainable as national public policy.

All of this is complicated but surely, with a bit of listening, comprehensible to the average citizen. So how do we connect the reality of our dismal life-expectancy and health-cost statistics to the hysterical sobbing of people who come to town-hall meetings furious that "the insurance companies won't be able to make a profit"? Much of the epic woe is not about healthcare or public options. It's about roiling resentments that need to be dressed up as something else, the coded mummery of Halloween monsters hybridized into new chimeras of hate. It's about fear that precious resources are being transferred to "alien" others. Fear that the gains of others are ill-gotten, leaving the lonely patriot survivalist as victim, "thrown away," trash. In these fiery monologues, even our president is figured as conspiratorially alien-birthed, from a galaxy far, far away, who's just pretending to be one of "us."

This morning I saw a picture of President Obama dressed as Hitler, complete with little mustache, tacked high on a tree trunk. At first it seemed jaw-droppingly ridiculous, sociopathically paranoid. But if the rule of reversal is what's encoded in that image, all people of good will must worry that what's really at stake for some of our gun-toting, demagogic fellow citizens is nothing less than America's very own Weimar moment.

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