Tuesday, March 30, 2010

What if Fox News actually wants mob violence?

The Rage Is Not About Health Care

New York Times Op-Ed Columnist
March 28, 2010

THERE were times when last Sunday’s great G.O.P. health care implosion threatened to bring the thrill back to reality television. On ABC’s “This Week,” a frothing and filibustering Karl Rove all but lost it in a debate with the Obama strategist David Plouffe. A few hours later, the perennially copper-faced Republican leader John Boehner revved up his “Hell no, you can’t!” incantation in the House chamber — instant fodder for a new viral video remixing his rap with will.i.am’s “Yes, we can!” classic from the campaign. Boehner, having previously likened the health care bill to Armageddon, was now so apoplectic you had to wonder if he had just discovered one of its more obscure revenue-generating provisions, a tax on indoor tanning salons.

But the laughs evaporated soon enough. There’s nothing entertaining about watching goons hurl venomous slurs at congressmen like the civil rights hero John Lewis and the openly gay Barney Frank. And as the week dragged on, and reports of death threats and vandalism stretched from Arizona to Kansas to upstate New York, the F.B.I. and the local police had to get into the act to protect members of Congress and their families.

How curious that a mob fond of likening President Obama to Hitler knows so little about history that it doesn’t recognize its own small-scale mimicry of Kristallnacht. The weapon of choice for vigilante violence at Congressional offices has been a brick hurled through a window. So far.

No less curious is how disproportionate this red-hot anger is to its proximate cause. The historic Obama-Pelosi health care victory is a big deal, all right, so much so it doesn’t need Joe Biden’s adjective to hype it. But the bill does not erect a huge New Deal-Great Society-style government program. In lieu of a public option, it delivers 32 million newly insured Americans to private insurers. As no less a conservative authority than The Wall Street Journal editorial page observed last week, the bill’s prototype is the health care legislation Mitt Romney signed into law in Massachusetts. It contains what used to be considered Republican ideas.

Yet it’s this bill that inspired G.O.P. congressmen on the House floor to egg on disruptive protesters even as they were being evicted from the gallery by the Capitol Police last Sunday. It’s this bill that prompted a congressman to shout “baby killer” at Bart Stupak, a staunch anti-abortion Democrat. It’s this bill that drove a demonstrator to spit on Emanuel Cleaver, a black representative from Missouri. And it’s this “middle-of-the-road” bill, as Obama accurately calls it, that has incited an unglued firestorm of homicidal rhetoric, from “Kill the bill!” to Sarah Palin’s cry for her followers to “reload.” At least four of the House members hit with death threats or vandalism are among the 20 political targets Palin marks with rifle crosshairs on a map on her Facebook page.

When Social Security was passed by Congress in 1935 and Medicare in 1965, there was indeed heated opposition. As Dana Milbank wrote in The Washington Post, Alf Landon built his catastrophic 1936 presidential campaign on a call for repealing Social Security. (Democrats can only pray that the G.O.P. will “go for it” again in 2010, as Obama goaded them on Thursday, and keep demanding repeal of a bill that by September will shower benefits on the elderly and children alike.) When L.B.J. scored his Medicare coup, there were the inevitable cries of “socialism” along with ultimately empty rumblings of a boycott from the American Medical Association.

But there was nothing like this. To find a prototype for the overheated reaction to the health care bill, you have to look a year before Medicare, to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Both laws passed by similar majorities in Congress; the Civil Rights Act received even more votes in the Senate (73) than Medicare (70). But it was only the civil rights bill that made some Americans run off the rails. That’s because it was the one that signaled an inexorable and immutable change in the very identity of America, not just its governance.

The apocalyptic predictions then, like those about health care now, were all framed in constitutional pieties, of course. Barry Goldwater, running for president in ’64, drew on the counsel of two young legal allies, William Rehnquist and Robert Bork, to characterize the bill as a “threat to the very essence of our basic system” and a “usurpation” of states’ rights that “would force you to admit drunks, a known murderer or an insane person into your place of business.” Richard Russell, the segregationist Democratic senator from Georgia, said the bill “would destroy the free enterprise system.” David Lawrence, a widely syndicated conservative columnist, bemoaned the establishment of “a federal dictatorship.” Meanwhile, three civil rights workers were murdered in Philadelphia, Miss.

That a tsunami of anger is gathering today is illogical, given that what the right calls “Obamacare” is less provocative than either the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or Medicare, an epic entitlement that actually did precipitate a government takeover of a sizable chunk of American health care. But the explanation is plain: the health care bill is not the main source of this anger and never has been. It’s merely a handy excuse. The real source of the over-the-top rage of 2010 is the same kind of national existential reordering that roiled America in 1964.

In fact, the current surge of anger — and the accompanying rise in right-wing extremism — predates the entire health care debate. The first signs were the shrieks of “traitor” and “off with his head” at Palin rallies as Obama’s election became more likely in October 2008. Those passions have spiraled ever since — from Gov. Rick Perry’s kowtowing to secessionists at a Tea Party rally in Texas to the gratuitous brandishing of assault weapons at Obama health care rallies last summer to “You lie!” piercing the president’s address to Congress last fall like an ominous shot.

If Obama’s first legislative priority had been immigration or financial reform or climate change, we would have seen the same trajectory. The conjunction of a black president and a female speaker of the House — topped off by a wise Latina on the Supreme Court and a powerful gay Congressional committee chairman — would sow fears of disenfranchisement among a dwindling and threatened minority in the country no matter what policies were in play. It’s not happenstance that Frank, Lewis and Cleaver — none of them major Democratic players in the health care push — received a major share of last weekend’s abuse. When you hear demonstrators chant the slogan “Take our country back!,” these are the people they want to take the country back from.

They can’t. Demographics are avatars of a change bigger than any bill contemplated by Obama or Congress. The week before the health care vote, The Times reported that births to Asian, black and Hispanic women accounted for 48 percent of all births in America in the 12 months ending in July 2008. By 2012, the next presidential election year, non-Hispanic white births will be in the minority. The Tea Party movement is virtually all white. The Republicans haven’t had a single African-American in the Senate or the House since 2003 and have had only three in total since 1935. Their anxieties about a rapidly changing America are well-grounded.

If Congressional Republicans want to maintain a politburo-like homogeneity in opposition to the Democrats, that’s their right. If they want to replay the petulant Gingrich government shutdown of 1995 by boycotting hearings and, as John McCain has vowed, refusing to cooperate on any legislation, that’s their right too (and a political gift to the Democrats). But they can’t emulate the 1995 G.O.P. by remaining silent as mass hysteria, some of it encompassing armed militias, runs amok in their own precincts. We know the end of that story. And they can’t pretend that we’re talking about “isolated incidents” or a “fringe” utterly divorced from the G.O.P. A Quinnipiac poll last week found that 74 percent of Tea Party members identify themselves as Republicans or Republican-leaning independents, while only 16 percent are aligned with Democrats.

After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, some responsible leaders in both parties spoke out to try to put a lid on the resistance and violence. The arch-segregationist Russell of Georgia, concerned about what might happen in his own backyard, declared flatly that the law is “now on the books.” Yet no Republican or conservative leader of stature has taken on Palin, Perry, Boehner or any of the others who have been stoking these fires for a good 17 months now. Last week McCain even endorsed Palin’s “reload” rhetoric.

Are these politicians so frightened of offending anyone in the Tea Party-Glenn Beck base that they would rather fall silent than call out its extremist elements and their enablers? Seemingly so, and if G.O.P. leaders of all stripes, from Romney to Mitch McConnell to Olympia Snowe to Lindsey Graham, are afraid of these forces, that’s the strongest possible indicator that the rest of us have reason to fear them too.

Healthcare reformageddon

Monday, March 29, 2010

The dangers of sleazy corporatism

By Glenn Greenwald

Mike McConnell, the WashPost & the dangers of sleazy corporatism

In a political culture drowning in hidden conflicts of interests, exploitation of political office for profit, and a rapidly eroding wall separating the public and private spheres, Mike McConnell stands out as the perfect embodiment of all those afflictions.  Few people have blurred the line between public office and private profit more egregiously and shamelessly than he.  McConnell's behavior is the classic never-ending "revolving door" syndrome:  public officials serve private interests while in office and are then lavishly rewarded by those same interests once they leave.  He went from being head of the National Security Agency under Bush 41 and Clinton directly to Booz Allen, one of the nation's largest private intelligence contractors, then became Bush's Director of National Intelligence (DNI), then went back to Booz Allen, where he is now Executive Vice President.

But that's the least of what makes McConnell such a perfect symbol for the legalized corruption that dominates Washington.  Tellingly, his overarching project while at Booz Allen and in public office was exactly the same:  the outsourcing of America's intelligence and surveillance functions (including domestic surveillance) to private corporations, where those activities are even more shielded than normal from all accountability and oversight and where they generate massive profit at the public expense.  Prior to becoming Bush's DNI, McConnell, while at Booz Allen, was chairman of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, the primary business association of NSA and CIA contractors devoted to expanding the privatization of government intelligence functions.

Then, as Bush's DNI, McConnell dramatically expanded the extent to which intelligence functions were outsourced to the same private industry that he long represented, and worse, became the leading spokesman for demanding full immunity for lawbreaking telecoms for their participation in Bush's illegal NSA programs -- in other words, he exploited "national security" claims and his position as DNI to win the dismissal of lawsuits against the very lawbreaking industry he represented as INSA Chairman, including, almost certainly, Booz Allen itself.  Having exploited his position as DNI to lavishly reward and protect the intelligence industry, he then returns to its loving arms to receive from them lavish personal rewards of his own.

It's vital to understand how this really works:  it isn't that people like Mike McConnell move from public office to the private sector and back again.  That implies more separation than really exists.  At this point, it's more accurate to view the U.S. Government and these huge industry interests as one gigantic, amalgamated, inseparable entity -- with a public division and a private one.  When someone like McConnell goes from a top private sector position to a top government post in the same field, it's more like an intra-corporate re-assignment than it is changing employers.  When McConnell serves as DNI, he's simply in one division of this entity and when he's at Booz Allen, he's in another, but it's all serving the same entity (it's exactly how insurance giant Wellpoint dispatched one of its Vice Presidents to Max Baucus' office so that she could write the health care plan that the Congress eventually enacted).

In every way that matters, the separation between government and corporations is nonexistent, especially (though not only) when it comes to the National Security and Surveillance State.  Indeed, so extreme is this overlap that even McConnell, when he was nominated to be Bush's DNI, told The New York Times that his ten years of working "outside the government," for Booz Allen, would not impede his ability to run the nation's intelligence functions.  That's because his Booz Allen work was indistinguishable from working for the Government, and therefore -- as he put it -- being at Booz Allen "has allowed me to stay focused on national security and intelligence communities as a strategist and as a consultant. Therefore, in many respects, I never left."

As the NSA scandal revealed, private telecom giants and other corporations now occupy the central role in carrying out the government's domestic surveillance and intelligence activities -- almost always in the dark, beyond the reach of oversight or the law.  As Tim Shorrock explained in his definitive 2007 Salon piece on the relationship between McConnell, Booz Allen, and the intelligence community, where (to no avail) he urged Senate Democrats to examine these relationships before confirming McConnell as Bush's DNI:

[Booz Allen's] website states that the Booz Allen team "employs more than 10,000 TS/SCI cleared personnel." TS/SCI stands for top secret-sensitive compartmentalized intelligence, the highest possible security ratings. This would make Booz Allen one of the largest employers of cleared personnel in the United States.
Among those on Booz Allen's payroll are former CIA Director and neoconservative extremist James Woolsey, George Tenet's former Chief of Staff Joan Dempsey, and Keith Hall, the former director of the National Reconnaissance Office, the super-secret organization that oversees the nation's spy satellites.  As Shorrock wrote:  "Under McConnell's watch, Booz Allen has been deeply involved in some of the most controversial counterterrorism programs the Bush administration has run, including the infamous Total Information Awareness data-mining scheme" and "is almost certainly participating in the agency's warrantless surveillance of the telephone calls and e-mails of American citizens."  For more details on the sprawling and overlapping relationships between McConnell, Booz Allen, the INSA, the Government and the private intelligence community, see Shorrock's interview with Democracy Now and his 2008 interview with me.

Aside from the general dangers of vesting government power in private corporations -- this type of corporatism (control of government by corporations) was the hallmark of many of the worst tyrannies of the last century -- all of this is big business beyond what can be described.  The attacks of 9/11 exploded the already-huge and secret intelligence budget.  Shorrock estimates that "about 50 percent of this spending goes directly to private companies" and "spending on intelligence since 2002 is much higher than the total of $33 billion the Bush administration paid to Bechtel, Halliburton and other large corporations for reconstruction projects in Iraq."

* * * * *

All of that is crucial background for understanding just how pernicious and deceitful is the Op-Ed published this weekend by The Washington Post and authored by McConnell.  The overarching theme is all-too-familiar:  we face a grave threat from Terrorists and other Very Bad People ("cyber wars"), and our only hope for protection is to vest the Government with massive new powers.  Specifically, McConnell advocates a so-called "reeingeer[ing] of the Internet" to allow the Government and private corporations far greater capability to track what is being done over the Internet and who is doing it:

The United States is fighting a cyber-war today, and we are losing. It's that simple. . . . If an enemy disrupted our financial and accounting transactions, our equities and bond markets or our retail commerce -- or created confusion about the legitimacy of those transactions -- chaos would result.  Our power grids, air and ground transportation, telecommunications, and water-filtration systems are in jeopardy as well.
Scary!  And what do we need to submit to in order to avoid these calamaties?  This:

The United States must also translate our intent into capabilities. We need to develop an early-warning system to monitor cyberspace, identify intrusions and locate the source of attacks with a trail of evidence that can support diplomatic, military and legal options -- and we must be able to do this in milliseconds.  More specifically, we need to reengineer the Internet to make attribution, geolocation, intelligence analysis and impact assessment -- who did it, from where, why and what was the result -- more manageable.
In one sense, this is just typical fear-mongering of the type the National Security State has used for decades to beat frightened Americans into virtually full-scale submission:  you are in grave danger and you can be safe only by vesting in us far greater power, which we'll operate in secret:  here, allowing us to "reengineer" the Internet so we can control it.

Think about how dangerous that power is in relationship to the war I wrote about this weekend being waged on WikiLeaks, which allows the uploading of leaked, secret documents that expose the corruption of the world's most powerful interests.  This "reengineering of the Internet" proposed by McConnell would almost certainly enable the easy tracing of anyone who participates.  It would, by design, destroy the ability of anyone to participate or communicate in any way on the Internet under the shield of anonymity.  Wired's Ryan Singel -- noting that "the biggest threat to the open internet is . . .  Michael McConnell" -- documents the dangers from this "cyber-war" monitioring policy and how much momentum there now is in the Executive and Legislative branches for legislation to implement it (as a result of initiatives that began during the Bush era, under McConnell, and which continue unabated).

But there's something even worse going on here.  McConnell doesn't merely want to empower the Government to control the Internet this way; he wants to empower private corporations to do so -- the same corporations which pay him and whose interests he has long served.   He notes that this "reengineering" is already possible because "the technologies are already available from public and private sources," and explicitly calls for a merger of the NSA with private industry to create a sprawling, omnipotent network for monitoring the Internet:

To this end, we must hammer out a consensus on how to best harness the capabilities of the National Security Agency, which I had the privilege to lead from 1992 to 1996.   The NSA is the only agency in the United States with the legal authority, oversight and budget dedicated to breaking the codes and understanding the capabilities and intentions of potential enemies. The challenge is to shape an effective partnership with the private sector so information can move quickly back and forth from public to private -- and classified to unclassified -- to protect the nation's critical infrastructure.
We must give key private-sector leaders (from the transportation, utility and financial arenas) access to information on emerging threats so they can take countermeasures. For this to work, the private sector needs to be able to share network information -- on a controlled basis -- without inviting lawsuits from shareholders and others. . . .
[T]the reality is that while the lion's share of cybersecurity expertise lies in the federal government, more than 90 percent of the physical infrastructure of the Web is owned by private industry. Neither side on its own can mount the cyber-defense we need; some collaboration is inevitable. Recent reports of a possible partnership between Google and the government point to the kind of joint efforts -- and shared challenges -- that we are likely to see in the future.
No doubt, such arrangements will muddy the waters between the traditional roles of the government and the private sector. We must define the parameters of such interactions, but we should not dismiss them. Cyberspace knows no borders, and our defensive efforts must be similarly seamless.
In other words, not only the Government, but the private intelligence corporations which McConnell represents (and which are subjected to no oversight), will have access to virtually unfettered amounts of information and control over the Internet, and there should be "no borders" between them.  And beyond the dangerous power that will vest in the public-private Surveillance State, it will also generate enormous profits for Booz Allen, the clients it serves and presumably for McConnell himself -- though The Washington Post does not bother to disclose any of that to its readers.  The Post basically allowed McConnell to publish in its Op-Ed pages a blatant advertisement for the private intelligence industry while masquerading as a National Security official concerned with Keeping America Safe.

It's not an exaggeration to say that the "cyber-war" policies for which McConnell is shilling is the top priority of the industry he serves.  Right this very minute, the front page of the intelligence industry's INSA website (previously chaired by McConnell) trumpets the exact public-private merger for "cyber-war" policies which McConnell uses the Post to advocate:

The Report just published by that that industry group (.pdf) is entitled "Addressing Cyber Security Through Public-Private Partnership."  The industry's Report sounds like a virtually exact replica of what McConnell just published in the Post:  America is under grave threat and can Stay Safe only by transferring huge amounts of public funds to these private corporations in order to restructure the Internet to allow better detection and monitoring.  And look at the truly Orwellian and unintentionally revealing logo under which the Report is written:  showing a complete linkage of Government institutions (such as Congress and regulatory agencies), the Surveillance State, private intelligence corporations, and the Internet (click on image to enlarge):

Readers of The Washington Post, exposed to McConnell's Op-Ed, would know none of this.  They would think that they were reading the earnest National Security recommendations of a former top military and government official, and would have no idea about the massive profit motives driving him.  Although the Op-Ed, at the end, identifies McConnell as "executive vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton, which consults on cybersecurity for the private and public sector" (as well as a former NSA head, DNI, and retired Admiral), there's no hint that Booz Allen, its multiple clients, and the industry it represents (along with McConnell himself) would stand to benefit greatly from the very policies he advocates in The Post.  Indeed, just like the INSA, the Booz Allen website, at the very top, this very minute promotes the very policies McConnell advocates:

So here we have a perfect merger of (a) exploiting public office for personal profit, (b) endless increases in the Surveillance State achieved through rank fear-mongering, (c) the rapid elimination of any line between the public and private sectors, and (d) individuals deceitfully posing as "objective commentators" who are, in fact, manipulating our political debates on behalf of undisclosed interests.

And, as usual, it is our nation's largest media outlets -- in this case The Washington Post -- which provide the venue for these policies to be advocated and glorified, all the while not only failing to expose -- but actively obscuring -- the bulging conflicts of interests that drive them.  While "news" outlets distract Americans with the petty partisan dramas of the day, these factions -- whose power is totally impervious to changes in party control -- continue to expand their stranglehold on how the Government functions in ways that fundamentally alter our core privacy and liberties, and radically expand the role private corporations and government power play in our lives.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The 5 Signs of Republican and Tea Party Unity

By Avenging Angel

After a year of denying the obvious, the American media is finally coming to the conclusion that the supposed Tea Party movement is simply a continuation of the failed 2008 Republican presidential campaign by other means.  As the data show, the vast majority Tea Baggers don't merely identify themselves as Republicans, they vote for the GOP as well.  And as it turns out, the wildest myths propagated by the Tea Bagger are broadly accepted by the Republican faithful.  Even in their casual incitements to violence, they are, as Jon Stewart aptly put it last year, "confusing tyranny with losing."

Here, then, are the five sure signs that the GOP and the Tea Party are one and the same:

1.  Tea Baggers Vote Republican

While their members might (see #2 below), the numbers don't lie.  Far from being the "independents" trumpeted by half-term Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, the Tea Partiers are just Republicans who happen to be louder and more in your face about it.

A new Quinnipiac University poll found that 74 percent are Republicans or independent voters leaning Republican while 77 percent voted for Sen. John McCain in 2008.  (Exit polls showed that McCain won 90% of Republican voters but only 44% of independents.)  That's a far cry for the current 8-point Democratic edge in party identification in the United States as a whole.

The Quinnipiac findings echo a February CNN survey which similarly demolished the myth of the Tea Bagger-as-independent.  As CNN polling director Keating Holland noted:

"87 percent say they would vote for the GOP candidate in their congressional district if there were no third-party candidate endorsed by the Tea Party."
2.  Republicans Share Tea Party Myths

Never in modern political history has a political movement been as consistently and profoundly wrong on matters of fact.  Sadly, what many assumed what the delusional mindset of the far-right Tea Party fringe is mainstream thought in the Republican Party.

As was documented last fall in "10 Lessons for Tea Baggers," Republicans share the same schizophrenia as the Birchers, Birthers, Deathers and Deniers comprising the Tea Party goers.

For example, a DailyKos/Research 2000 poll found that a stunning 58% of Republicans did not believe (28%) or were unsure (30%) that President Barack Obama was in fact born in the United States. 17% of Republicans and 19% of white evangelicals (74% of whom voted for John McCain) insist President Obama is a Muslim, despite his repeated pronouncements and decades of church attendance to the contrary. After furious Tea Baggers interrupted town hall meetings with shouts of "keep your government hands off my Medicare," it turned out that 59% of self-identified conservatives and 62% of McCain voters hold that oxymoronic view of the federal-funded health care program for 46 million American seniors. And as I noted in February ("The Tea Party's Taxing Logic"), while President Obama cut taxes for over 95% of working households, the Tea Party instead believes the sun orbits the earth:

Of people who support the grassroots, "Tea Party" movement, only 2 percent think taxes have been decreased, 46 percent say taxes are the same, and a whopping 44 percent say they believe taxes have gone up.
(Instead of calling President Obama a communist, Tea Partiers should be thanking him for the 10% increase in the average tax refund this year.)

As the Daily Beast reported this week, the contentious debate over health care did nothing to improve the mental health of conservatives:

On the heels of health care, a new Harris poll reveals Republican attitudes about Obama: Two-thirds think he's a socialist, 57 percent a Muslim--and 24 percent say "he may be the Antichrist."
3.  Let's Go to the Videotape

Long before President Obama as promised delivered the tax cuts they now decry, today's Tea Baggers were calling Senator Obama a socialist Muslim and demanding his birth certificate at McCain-Palin rallies across America.

Just take a look back at Alexandra Pelosi's documentary of the 2008 campaign, "Right America: Feeling Wronged." Clips from "Right America" are virtually indistinguishable from, say, the "trailer" making the rounds for a supposed film about the Tea Party movement called "Fraud." Let's go to the videotape: "Tea Baggers 2009" is just a sequel to the "McCain-Palin Mob," and a bad one at that. As one McCain supporter put it before the November 2008 election: "We all hate the same things."

For more proof, look no further than the Washington Post's October 9, 2008 article, "Anger Is Crowd's Overarching Emotion at McCain Rally":

There were shouts of "Nobama" and "Socialist" at the mention of the Democratic presidential nominee. There were boos, middle fingers turned up and thumbs turned down as a media caravan moved through the crowd Thursday for a midday town hall gathering featuring John McCain and Sarah Palin.
As CNN reported in another October 2008 article titled, "Rage Rising on the McCain Campaign Trail," one future Tea Bagger announced at a town hall:

"I'm mad.  I'm really mad.  It's not the economy. It's the socialist taking over our country."
4.  A Common Language of Violence

Facing a backlash from the public over the violence and threats their frothing-at-the-mouth supporters have unleashed, Republicans leaders are walking back their tough talk.  Indiana's Mike Pence, the number three Republican in the House declared there is "no excuse for bigotry, threats or acts of vandalism and I condemn such things in the strongest possible terms."  Just days after warning that Democrat Steve Driehaus "may be a dead man", House Minority Leader John Boehner insisted that even for his "angry" Americans, "violence and threats are unacceptable. That's not the American way."

Sadly, casual incitements to violence have been the Republican way for years.

And this isn't just reflected by Glenn Beck's recent talk of "revolution," Michele Bachmann's call to Minnesotans to be "armed and dangerous," Tea Party protestors packing heat or carrying signs praising their Browning weapons.  As "From Republican Rhetoric to Right-Wing Terror" detailed:

Whether concerning guns, abortion, gay Americans, immigration or judicial appointments, the line connecting the rhetoric of the Republican Party and the mainstream conservative movement behind it to right-wing terror is a very short one.
Consider judicial intimidation.  In the wake of the Terri Schiavo affair, House Minority Leader Tom Delay warned, "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior, but not today."  On April 4th, 2005, Senator John Cornyn took to the Senate floor to issue a not-too-thinly veiled threat to judges opposing his reactionary agenda. Just days after the murders of one judge in Atlanta and the family members of another in Chicago and Atlanta, former Texas Supreme Court Justice Cornyn offered his endorsement of judicial intimidation:

"I don't know if there is a cause-and-effect connection, but we have seen some recent episodes of courthouse violence in this country...And I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters, on some occasions, where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in, engage in violence."
Anti-abortion terrorists, too, have gotten a wink and a nod from Republican leaders.  While then-Attorney General John Ashcroft denounced clinic bomber Eric Rudolph as a "terrorist," GOP Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin would do no such thing regarding Rudolph's ilk.  During an October 2008 interview with NBC's Brian Williams Palin refused to similarly brand violent right-wing radicals as terrorists:

WILLIAMS: Is an abortion clinic bomber a terrorist, under this definition, governor?

PALIN: (Sigh). There's no question that Bill Ayers via his own admittance was one who sought to destroy our U.S. Capitol and our Pentagon. That is a domestic terrorist. There's no question there. Now, others who would want to engage in harming innocent Americans or facilities that uh, it would be unacceptable. I don't know if you're going to use the word terrorist there.
And the tacit endorsement of domestic terror hardly ends there.  Throughout their 1990's campaign to gut the Internal Revenue Service, Republican leaders denounced the "Gestapo-like tactics" and "armed personnel in flak jackets" of an IRS that "is out of control."  After a suicide pilot flew his plane into an Austin IRS building in February, Tea Party hero and new Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown yawned that "people are frustrated."  Iowa Rep. Steve King reacted by announcing that "when the day comes when that is over and we abolish the IRS, it's going to be a happy day for America."

As the House health care debate reached its climax this weekend, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) blamed Democrats' "totalitarian tactics" for prompting Tea Party activists to hurl racial epithets, homophobic slurs and worse. Meanwhile on the House floor, GOP representatives cheered as a protester yelled "kill the bill" from the gallery.

5.  Republican Leaders Tell Us So

The demand that the Tea Party and the Republican Party should be viewed as identical comes from an authoritative source, the leadership of the GOP.

Senator Jim Demint (R-SC) turned to Twitter this weekend to proclaim he was "grateful for the thousands of patriots who are storming the Capitol today protesting government healthcare and defending freedom."  In December, Demint insisted "the GOP leadership needs to stand up for mainstream American principles" before concluding:

"We need to stop looking at the tea parties as separate from the Republican party.  If we do that, we can stand up and create the biggest tent of all."
Minnesota's Michele Bachmann, a Tea Party favorite and benefactor, also made clear that she sees no space between them.  Her preferred approach:

"Well, it's embrace the tea party movement with full arms...if the Republican Party is wise, they will allow themselves to be re-defined by the tea party movement. And I hope that that will be the case."
The electioneers of the GOP second that emotion.  Guy Harrison, executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), proudly declared, "We love the tea party movement."  For his part, Texas Senator and head of the Republican campaign operation in the Senate John Cornyn argued, "I think it's important that we try to channel these relative newcomers to the political process through our primaries so that they can have an impact on who's nominated."  And in January, RNC chairman Michael Steele told Fox News' Neil Cavuto:

"As I like to tell people - long before there was this big push on tea parties - if I wasn't doing this job, I'd be out there with the tea partiers."
Then, of course, there's Sarah Palin.  The half-term Alaska Governor not only headlined (for a large fee) the February Tea Party convention in Nashville, she praised the "everyday Americans" she proclaimed to be "the soul of this movement."  Two weeks later, she called the in-your-face Tea Baggers "a grand movement," adding, "I love it because it's all about the people."  But, she insisted, those lovely people need to proclaim their fidelity to the Republican Party which already confirmed its loyalty to them:

"Now the smart thing will be for independents who are such a part of this Tea Party movement to, I guess, kind of start picking a party," Palin said. "Which party reflects how that smaller, smarter government steps to be taken? Which party will best fit you? And then because the Tea Party movement is not a party, and we have a two-party system, they're going to have to pick a party and run one or the other: 'R' or 'D'."
And so it goes.  Abraham Lincoln, the father of the Republican Party, warned Americans on the brink of civil war that "a house divided against itself cannot stand."  Now, through its encouragement of its most ardent Tea Party followers, the Party of Lincoln is threatening the nation's peace and domestic tranquility.  Hopefully, this party united cannot stand.

GOP whine: Drink deeply

Republican leaders and their TV/radio clowns are wailing about healthcare reform as a "Pearl Harbor." Good times!

By Gene Lyons

I love the sound of Republicans whining in the morning. Boo-hoo-hoo. The GOP lost the presidency and a big congressional election back in 2008. With the passage of President Obama's healthcare bill, they've now lost the most significant domestic political battle since the 1960s. So naturally the light of freedom has been extinguished, the U.S. Constitution voided, capitalism doomed and the nation fallen into a dark totalitarian nightmare.

Party leaders are increasingly solemn, diminishingly serious. The GOP's entertainment wing, its crack team of right-wing radio/TV melodramatists, has been thrown into a competitive frenzy. For sheer entertainment value, this stuff is hard to top. Surely some dark beast shuffles toward Washington to be born. Rush Limbaugh predicts that the nation's private insurance industry will be bankrupted. (Oddly, insurance company stocks continue to rise.)

A couple of weeks ago, Limbaugh even vowed to leave the United States and move to Costa Rica if healthcare reform passed. Evidently, nobody told him Costa Rica has a government-funded, single-payer healthcare system. He has since recanted.

Neither Limbaugh nor Chicken Little had anything on Fox News' Glenn Beck, who actually compared the bill's passage to Pearl Harbor. Pearl Harbor! Not to be outdone, Mark Steyn, writing in the formerly respectable National Review, envisions "fewer doctors, more bureaucracy, massive IRS expansion, explosive debt, the end of the Pax Americana, and global Armageddon."

According to Steyn, America's "global military capacity" will need to be sacrificed to the ruinous expense of paying for grandpa's health insurance. Nuclear holocaust can only follow.

Conservative blogger Matthew Vadum tweets a different outcome: "Fascist House Democrats are preparing to euthanize America."

So which is it, boys? Fire or ice? Make up your minds.

But wait, there's hope! After the Republicans sweep into power in the November 2010 congressional elections, they'll repeal this hateful law, restoring what the old Superman TV show called "Truth, justice and the American way!"

Again, fellows, please decide. Which is it, the dark night of totalitarian rule or free elections? World War III or the 2012 Iowa caucuses?

Several things need saying. First, this latter-day GOP enthusiasm for governing by CNN poll stands the Constitution on its head. We determine who holds power in this country through biennial elections, not telephone surveys. Besides, where was all this solicitude for the randomly selected will of the people back when Republicans impeached Bill Clinton while polls showed that two-thirds of Americans opposed it?

Second, GOP paranoia over Democratic improvements to the nation's social contract is nothing new. In 1935, Republican congressmen greeted Social Security by invoking the "lash of the dictator," the "enslavement of workers" and similar nonsense.

In 1965, Ronald Reagan warned that unless Medicare was defeated, "You and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was like in America when men were free." Instead, Reagan spent his sunset years as president making people forget he'd said anything so silly.

Third, Republicans won't repeal "Obamacare" either. They'll get nowhere near the two-thirds Senate vote needed to override a presidential veto, and by 2012 -- imaginary horrors such as "death panels," rationing and global Armageddon having failed to materialize -- the presidential campaign will be contested over different issues.

In time, suitably housebroken conservatives will imitate their brethren elsewhere in the civilized world in arguing that they can more efficiently manage the nation's health insurance system.

Fourth, this column doesn't predict elections, but there are many reasons to doubt that the enactment of Obamacare will lead to the triumphs Republicans dream of come November. Did you know that 13 percent of the 59 percent who opposed the Democrats' bill in that famous CNN poll did so because it wasn't liberal enough? Asked who they trusted more to fix healthcare, President Obama or congressional Republicans, respondents chose the White House 51-39.

It will be interesting to see how the numbers trend in the wake of a Democratic victory. Gallup daily tracking polls show Obama's job approval up 5 points over the past week.

Finally, conservative thinkers such as David Frum and Bruce Bartlett have begun warning that Republicans are foolish to make themselves captive to the "hysterical accusations and pseudo-information" of the party's entertainment and tea party wing. "Talk radio," the former Bush speechwriter argues on his FrumForum blog, "thrives on confrontation and recrimination" rather than governing.

Bartlett cites a survey of tea partiers at a recent Washington demonstration that shows most know nothing about the policies they so noisily abhor. Almost none realize, for example, that Obama's jobs stimulus plan gave "90 percent of all taxpayers ... a tax cut last year and almost 100 percent of those in the $50,000 income range." When people resort to racial epithets and sexual insults, it's normally a sign they've got nothing else to say.

© 2010, Gene Lyons. Distributed by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.

Threats reveal scary underpinnings of right-wing opposition

Some on the right never believed Obama had a right to govern, and threats over healthcare are the grim result

By Gabriel Winant

It's now been nearly a year since the Department of Homeland Security released its infamous report on the heightened risk of domestic extremist violence. It's also been almost that long that conservatives have griped that the report was a political smear job by a liberal-run department, unfairly singling out right-wingers and accusing them of being gun-waving, bomb-throwing extremists without any evidence.

Since the report's release last April, it's reemerged periodically as acts of domestic political violence have dominated the news: the killing of Dr. George Tiller, the Holocaust Museum shooting and the suicide attack on the Internal Revenue Service all come to mind, along with a general increase in white supremacist activity. Mainstream conservatives have strenuously denied any ideological overlap with this stuff, some going so far as to say that certain of these incidents belong on liberals' consciences. You can hardly blame them. A John McCain sticker on the car doesn't mean a white hood in the closet.

Still, sometimes the evidence accumulates in front of your nose. As the healthcare debate reached its climax in the past week or so, there’s been an extraordinary outpouring of nastiness from the right, much of it tinged with seething, tribal hatred. People at the tea party protest outside the Capitol flung hateful epithets at Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., Rep. Andre Carson, D-Ind., and Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass. And now that the bill has actually passed, there’s been an upswing of acts of intimidation -- in some cases, rather concrete -- against Democratic members of Congress.

Probably the most symbolically freighted incident thus far has happened to Rep. John Clyburn, D-S.C. An African-American and member of the Democratic leadership, Clyburn reported that his office had received a faxed image of a noose, and that his wife had been threatened over the phone. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., have both had district office windows smashed, as has the office of the Cincinnati Democratic Party. Slaughter, who as chair of the House Rules Committee has had her name associated with House floor procedures, also received a voicemail that used the word "snipers." Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., released a passel of menacing voicemails that he received from abortion opponents who believe he betrayed their cause. And in Virginia, after a tea party activist urged angry healthcare opponents to pay a visit to the house of Rep. Tom Perriello, and mistakenly released his brother’s address instead, someone severed the gas line at Perriello's brother’s house.

Capitol police and Democratic officials have begun to take some basic security measures, such as securing residences or moving families away from home districts.

It's certainly not the case that, because someone dislikes healthcare reform or wants tax cuts, we can infer support for physical violence or intimidation against Democratic members of Congress. But that's not really the point.

Today on his show, Morning Joe, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough asked why he never heard these stories of scary voicemails from Republicans. "I've got to say, and I'm going to get in trouble for saying this -- it's amazing, I never hear these stories, when it's Republicans receiving these threats." The implication was that Democrats are a bunch of cowards who just can't take the normal amount of heat associated with being an elected official.

But, while it is too soon to say exactly what is going on, it is obviously not normal. More to the point, it doesn't take a genius to see that there’s a connection between the rejection of Barack Obama's legitimacy as president, the vastly disproportionate reaction to his push for healthcare reform, and the increasing role of civil violence and intimidation in our politics.

Some segment of the American right wing has never reconciled itself to the idea that, having won an election decisively, Obama and his congressional allies are now entitled to govern. The endless conspiracy theories that have proliferated about the president have all varied on this theme -- that he’s somehow an impostor, and so even though he was duly elected and sworn in and governing according to the rules, he's somehow cheating, and has to be resisted.

When folks on the right insist that the president is, in the popular phrase of the moment, cramming reform down our throats, they’re riffing on this idea as well. Somehow, the ordinary mechanism of democratic accountability -- waiting for election day, and voting the bums out -- isn’t good enough anymore.

A political minority that isn’t willing to live with being on an election’s losing end is the classic recipe for political violence. Obviously, we’re generalizing here: it's not clear how widespread this attitude really is on the right, and we don’t know exactly how much of this kind of thuggishness there has even been so far, much less how whether there is more to come.

But what does seem apparent is that the proportion of opponents of the president and his agenda who think this isn’t some negligible fringe. It seems to constitute a major part of the popular opposition, and rhetoric about the illegitimacy of the president, his agenda, and the methods by which he’s pursuing it, are now entirely standard fare in the mainstream.

There are wack-jobs to be found in all areas of the political spectrum, and presumably Joe Scarborough did get some weird voicemails while in Congress. But the reason that he’s only hearing about Democrats receiving a wave of scary threats isn’t because they whine about them, and Republicans don’t. It’s because an extremist ideology -- essentially, a refusal to abide by uncongenial election results -- has purchase on a much greater part of the right than anything like it does on the left.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

In Health Care Bill, Obama Attacks Wealth Inequality

For all the political and economic uncertainties about health reform, at least one thing seems clear: The bill that President Obama signed on Tuesday is the federal government’s biggest attack on economic inequality since inequality began rising more than three decades ago.

Over most of that period, government policy and market forces have been moving in the same direction, both increasing inequality. The pretax incomes of the wealthy have soared since the late 1970s, while their tax rates have fallen more than rates for the middle class and poor.

Nearly every major aspect of the health bill pushes in the other direction. This fact helps explain why Mr. Obama was willing to spend so much political capital on the issue, even though it did not appear to be his top priority as a presidential candidate. Beyond the health reform’s effect on the medical system, it is the centerpiece of his deliberate effort to end what historians have called the age of Reagan.

Speaking to an ebullient audience of Democratic legislators and White House aides at the bill-signing ceremony on Tuesday, Mr. Obama claimed that health reform would “mark a new season in America.” He added, “We have now just enshrined, as soon as I sign this bill, the core principle that everybody should have some basic security when it comes to their health care.”

The bill is the most sweeping piece of federal legislation since Medicare was passed in 1965. It aims to smooth out one of the roughest edges in American society — the inability of many people to afford medical care after they lose a job or get sick. And it would do so in large measure by taxing the rich.

A big chunk of the money to pay for the bill comes from lifting payroll taxes on households making more than $250,000. On average, the annual tax bill for households making more than $1 million a year will rise by $46,000 in 2013, according to the Tax Policy Center, a Washington research group. Another major piece of financing would cut Medicare subsidies for private insurers, ultimately affecting their executives and shareholders.

The benefits, meanwhile, flow mostly to households making less than four times the poverty level — $88,200 for a family of four people. Those without insurance in this group will become eligible to receive subsidies or to join Medicaid. (Many of the poor are already covered by Medicaid.) Insurance costs are also likely to drop for higher-income workers at small companies.

Finally, the bill will also reduce a different kind of inequality. In the broadest sense, insurance is meant to spread the costs of an individual’s misfortune — illness, death, fire, flood — across society. Since the late 1970s, though, the share of Americans with health insurance has shrunk. As a result, the gap between the economic well-being of the sick and the healthy has been growing, at virtually every level of the income distribution.

The health reform bill will reverse that trend. By 2019, 95 percent of people are projected to be covered, up from 85 percent today (and about 90 percent in the late 1970s). Even affluent families ineligible for subsidies will benefit if they lose their insurance, by being able to buy a plan that can no longer charge more for pre-existing conditions. In effect, healthy families will be picking up most of the bill — and their insurance will be somewhat more expensive than it otherwise would have been.

Much about health reform remains unknown. Maybe it will deliver Congress to the Republicans this fall, or maybe it will help the Democrats keep power. Maybe the bill’s attempts to hold down the recent growth of medical costs will prove a big success, or maybe the results will be modest and inadequate. But the ways in which the bill attacks the inequality of the Reagan era — whether you love them or hate them — will probably be around for a long time.

“Legislative majorities come and go,” David Frum, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, lamented on Sunday. “This health care bill is forever.”

Since Mr. Obama began his presidential campaign in 2007, he has had a complicated relationship with the Reagan legacy. He has been more willing than many other Democrats to praise President Reagan. “Reagan’s central insight — that the liberal welfare state had grown complacent and overly bureaucratic,” Mr. Obama wrote in his second book, “contained a good deal of truth.” Most notably, he praised Mr. Reagan as a president who “changed the trajectory of America.”

But Mr. Obama also argued that the Reagan administration had gone too far, and that if elected, he would try to put the country on a new trajectory. “The project of the next president,” he said in an interview during the campaign, “is figuring out how you create bottom-up economic growth, as opposed to the trickle-down economic growth.”

Since 1980, median real household income has risen less than 15 percent. The only period of strong middle-class income growth during this time came in the mid- and late 1990s, which by coincidence was also the one time when taxes on the affluent were rising.

For most of the last three decades, tax rates for the wealthy have been falling, while their pretax pay has been rising rapidly. Real incomes at the 99.99th percentile have jumped more than 300 percent since 1980. At the 99th percentile — about $300,000 today — real pay has roughly doubled.

The laissez-faire revolution that Mr. Reagan started did not cause these trends. But its policies — tax cuts, light regulation, a patchwork safety net — have contributed to them.

Health reform hardly solves all of the American economy’s problems. Economic growth over the last decade was slower than in any decade since World War II. The tax cuts of the last 30 years, the two current wars, the Great Recession, the stimulus program and the looming retirement of the baby boomers have created huge deficits. Educational gains have slowed, and the planet is getting hotter.

Above all, the central question that both the Reagan and Obama administrations have tried to answer — what is the proper balance between the market and the government? — remains unresolved. But the bill signed on Tuesday certainly shifts our place on that spectrum.

Before he became Mr. Obama’s top economic adviser, Lawrence Summers told me a story about helping his daughter study for her Advanced Placement exam in American history. While doing so, Mr. Summers realized that the federal government had not passed major social legislation in decades. There was the frenzy of the New Deal, followed by the G.I. Bill, the Interstate Highway System, civil rights and Medicare — and then nothing worth its own section in the history books.

Now there is.
E-mail: leonhardt@nytimes.com