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  • October 29, 2014
    "Some of Them Seem Willing to Fight for You"

    So it's come to this. In the wake of last week's Parliament shooting in Ottawa and the hatchet attack on police officers in New York, some in the GOP and its amen corner are calling for draconian measures against American Muslims and their places of worship. "We have to go all-out with surveillance," New York Congressman Peter King declared, "to find out what's going on in the mosques which are often incubators of this type of terrorism." Former Florida Republican Congressman Allen West went further, demanding of mosques and their leaders, "we gotta shut 'em down" and deport their imams.

    It is especially at times like these that the Party of Lincoln needs to take the wisdom of its namesake to heart. In August 1863, months before he used the Gettysburg Address to declare America "dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal," Abraham Lincoln defended his Emancipation Proclamation as inextricably linked to the preservation of the Union. Noting reports from some of his commanders that "the emancipation policy, and use of colored troops, constitute the heaviest blow yet dealt to the rebellion," Lincoln reminded his critics:

    "You say you will not fight to free the negroes. Some of them seem willing to fight for you."

    One hundred and fifty years later, all Americans should once again take the 16th President's words to heart. Right now, thousands of American Muslims, a group of roughly 1.5 million constituting only half of one percent of the adult population, seem willing to fight for you.

    As the Wall Street Journal reported in 2009 (see chart above):

    The military has worked hard to recruit more Muslims since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the number of Muslim troops, while still small, has been increasing. There were 3,409 Muslims in the active-duty military as of April 2008, according to Pentagon statistics.

    Military personnel don't have to disclose their religions, and many officials believe the actual number of Muslim soldiers may be at least 10,000 higher than the Pentagon statistics.

    Compared to their percentages of the U.S. population, Muslims are enlisting at higher rates than, say, Jews or Mormons, the latter members of the fastest growing religion in America.

    American followers of Islam aren't just fighting for their country; they are dying for it, too. A Google image search for Muslim headstones at Arlington National Cemetery shows many Muslim heroes who gave all, including Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan. In 2008, former Joint Chiefs Chairman and Secretary of State Colin Powell eulogized Khan after seeing the heartbreaking New Yorker image of his mother at his grave:

    As the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone, and it gave his awards - Purple Heart, Bronze Star - showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death, he was 20 years old. And then at the very top of the head stone, it didn't have a Christian cross. It didn't have a Star of David. It has a crescent and star of the Islamic faith.

    And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan. And he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was fourteen years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he could serve his country and he gave his life."

    Just like countless other of our friends and neighbors in Detroit and Houston, Cedar Rapids and Peoria. (To learn more about them, the Rev. Dr. Carol M. Flett, Interfaith Programs Coordinator at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. suggests reading by Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam by Dr. Akbar Ahmed.) Other Muslims have put their lives at risk by serving--and saving--American military units as translators in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Sadly, the America that has known internment, harassment and paranoia is subjecting its Muslim citizens to more of the same. As the ACLU has documented, mosques across the country have subject by vandalism, arson and other attacks ever since September 11, 2001:

    And yet Americans Muslims, like their fellow Americans of every (and no) religion, accepted to call to come to their nation's defense. Perhaps it is because if America stands for anything, it is the dignity, equality and freedom which accompany the universal emancipation of the human spirit. If there is not religious liberty for all in the United States, there will liberty for none. Or as President Lincoln wrote of the African-American troops who would play a decisive role in saving the Union and with it "the last best hope of earth":

    "If they stake their lives for us, they must be prompted by the strongest motive -- even the promise of freedom. And the promise being made, must be kept."
    Perrspective 6:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Share

    October 27, 2014
    Why It's Time for Myth McConnell to Go

    With Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell facing a tough reelection battle back home in Kentucky, Washington Post columnist and Fox News regular George Will rushed to the defense of his fellow human-turtle hybrid. Returning the 30 year veteran to Capitol Hill, Will proclaimed, is about nothing less than the "restoration of the Senate's dignity."

    Will's warning would be hilarious if it weren't so grotesque. Mitch McConnell, after all, is the man most responsible for the GOP's unprecedented obstructionism during President Obama's tenure. Under his leadership, Senate Republicans shattered the record for filibusters and blocked Obama's judicial and executive branch nominees at rates unimaginable before 2009. Nevertheless, the same Mitch McConnell who on November 4, 2010 declared "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president" less than a year later complained about Democrats' "storyline" that "there must be some villain out there who's keeping this administration from succeeding."

    But McConnell's unique parliamentary skills are only one weapon in his kamikaze campaign to sink the Democratic agenda under President Obama. As it turns out, Mitch McConnell is also the GOP's mythmaker-in-chief, a hyper-partisan more than willing to tell the biggest lies on the biggest issues in order to mislead the American public, all in the service of his Republican Party.

    Whether he's discussing taxes, health care, the economy, the debt or pretty much anything else, virtually all of Myth McConnell's talking points are tried--and untrue.

    Click a link to jump to the details for each below

    "The [Kynect] Website Can Continue, But In My View the Best interests of the Country Would Be Achieved by Pulling Out Obamacare Root and Branch."

    Within hours of President Obama affixing his signature to the Affordable Care Act, Mitch McConnell declared the Republicans' 2010 midterm slogan "will be 'repeal and replace', 'repeal and replace.'" But now that 520,000 of his constituents--12 percent of Kentucky's entire population--have gained insurance thanks to Obamacare, McConnell is trying to have it both ways. As described his plans for Kynect, the Blue Grass State's incredibly successful Obamacare program, during his recent debate with Democrat Allison Lundergan Grimes:

    "The website can continue, but in my view the best interests of the country would be achieved by pulling out Obamacare root and branch."

    After winning Politifact's Lie of the Year awards for "death panels" and "government takeover of health," this new Republican hoax is the most cynical and cruel deception of all: if Obamacare is repealed, over half a million Ohioans, those 520,000 Kentuckians and over 25 million people across America will lose their health insurance. As a result, thousands of them will needlessly die every year.

    The deception behind the Republicans' Obamacare shell game is a simple. The nearly $1 trillion Affordable Care Act program contains several, interconnected components. To succeed in their con, the likes of Mitch McConnell and John Kasich need voters to not grasp that inescapable truth. So, Mitch McConnell says Kentucky's Kynect web site "can continue," even though it would have no policies to sell the customers who could no longer afford them after he repeals Obamacare "root and branch." No Obamacare means no Medicaid expansion, which means 400,000 people in Kentucky lose their current coverage. No subsidies for Kentuckians to buy private insurance through the state's Kynect exchange means almost 100,000 will be left uninsured. And in a bitter irony, McConnell's newly uninsured will be disproportionately concentrated in the counties where he and his fellow Republicans poll best.

    47 Million Uninsured Americans "Don't Go Without Health Care"

    McConnell the "strict obstructionist" was naturally in the forefront of the all-out Republican effort to block health care reform at any cost. As he repeatedly put it in June 2009, "all of us want reform, but not reform that denies, delays, or rations health care." To prove his point, McConnell didn't merely trot out a Canadian patient who came to the U.S. for special treatment, but insisted to NBC's David Gregory that no American did without health care.

    GREGORY: Do you think it's a moral issue that 47 million Americans go without health insurance?

    McCONNELL: Well, they don't go without health care. It's not the most efficient way to provide it. As we know, the doctors in the hospitals are sworn to provide health care. We all agree it is not the most efficient way to provide health care to find somebody only in the emergency room and then pass those costs on to those who are paying for insurance. So it is important, I think, to reduce the number of uninsured. The question is, what is the best way to do that?

    That President George W. Bush, Tom Delay and Paul Broun among other Republicans also claimed "people have access to health care in America...after all, you just go to an emergency room" doesn't make it any more true. As the pre-Obamacare numbers showed--50 million uninsured, another 25 million underinsured, 45,000 unnecessary deaths, one in five Americans "self-rationing" care and 62 percent of all personal bankruptcies being related to medical bills--the crisis was far worse than the one Mitch McConnell pretended didn't exist.

    "Any President's Judicial Nominees, After Full Debate, Deserve a Simple Up-or-Down Vote."

    After Minority Leader McConnell broke a string of promises to allow President Obama's judicial nominees to get a vote on the floor of the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid had enough. Last November, he exercised the "nuclear option," changing Senate rules to end the judicial filibuster on all nominees for the federal bench, except for the Supreme Court. In response, McConnell was furious:

    "This is nothing more than a power grab. They broke the Senate rules in order to exercise a power grab."

    Of course, when Republican George W. Bush sat in the Oval Office, McConnell had a different view. In March 2005, a spokesman explained that "Senator McConnell always has and continues to fully support the use of what has become known as the '[nuclear]' option in order to restore the norms and traditions of the Senate." And as McConnell declared on the Senate floor on May 19, 2005:

    "Any president's judicial nominees, after full and fair debate, receive a simple up-or-down vote on the Senate floor. It is time to move away from advise and obstruct and get back to advise and consent."

    Any president, that is, as long as he is a Republican. As ThinkProgress reported in 2011, the Democrat Barack Obama faced "the worst obstructionism any new president faced at any point in American history:"

    [T]he Senate confirmed fewer of [Obama's] district and circuit nominees than every president back to Jimmy Carter, and the lowest percentage of nominees - 58% - than any president in American history at this point in a President's first term. By comparison, Presidents George W. Bush, Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Reagan and Carter had 77%, 90%, 96%, 98%, and 97% of their nominees confirmed after two years, respectively.

    Senate Republicans' mass obstruction of Obama's judges stands in stark contrast to the treatment afforded to past presidents. Indeed, the Senate confirmed fewer judges during Obama's first two years in office than it did during the same period in the Carter Administration, even though the judiciary was 40 percent smaller while Carter was in office.

    As dismal as Mitch McConnell's record was, it was actually an improvement from a year earlier, when only 43 percent of President Obama's judicial appointments had been confirmed. So much for an "up-or-down vote."

    "Obama Made the Economy Worse."

    For years, Mitch McConnell (for example, here, here and here) regurgitated the GOP talking point that President Obama "made the economy worse." Sadly for the trickle-down mythmakers of the Republican Party, the facts and the overwhelming consensus of economists - including John McCain's 2008 brain trust - prove otherwise. President Obama not only did not make the American economy worse; no thanks to obstructionist Republicans in Congress he saved the United States from "Great Depression 2.0" and put the nation on the path to recovery.

    Start, for example, with the conclusions of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Despite Republican mythmaking that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) "created zero jobs," in November 2011, the CBO reported that the stimulus added up to 2.4 million jobs and boosted GDP by as much as 1.9 points in the previous quarter. As the Washington Post reported in June 2012, the House Budget Committee heard testimony from the CBO chief answering a simple question: did the $787 billion Obama stimulus work? Unfortunately for Republican propagandists, Elmendorf clearly refuted Mitt Romney's claim that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was "the largest one-time careless expenditure of government money in American history."

    Under questioning from skeptical Republicans, the director of the nonpartisan (and widely respected) Congressional Budget Office was emphatic about the value of the 2009 stimulus. And, he said, the vast majority of economists agree.

    In a survey conducted by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, 80 percent of economic experts agreed that, because of the stimulus, the U.S. unemployment rate was lower at the end of 2010 than it would have been otherwise.

    "Only 4 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed," CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf told the House Budget Committee. "That," he added, "is a distinct minority."

    Not content with that response, Kansas Republican Rep. Tim Huelskamp tried again. "Where did Washington mess up?" Huelskamp demanded. "Because you're saying most economists think it should've worked. It didn't." As the Post's Lori Montgomery detailed, Elmendorf drove home the point:

    Most economists not only think it should have worked; they think it did work, Elmendorf replied. CBO's own analysis found that the package added as many as 3.3 million jobs to the economy during the second quarter of 2010, and may have prevented the nation from lapsing back into recession.

    Mark Zandi, an adviser to John McCain in 2008, couldn't have agreed more. He was adamant on positive role of the stimulus. Federal intervention, he and Princeton economist Alan Blinder argued in August 2010, literally saved the United States from a second Great Depression. In "How the Great Recession Was Brought to an End," Blinder and Zandi's models confirmed the impact of the Obama recovery program and other federal interventions dating back to 2008, concluding that "laissez faire was not an option":

    We find that its effects on real GDP, jobs, and inflation are huge, and probably averted what could have been called Great Depression 2.0. For example, we estimate that, without the government's response, GDP in 2010 would be about 11.5% lower, payroll employment would be less by some 8½ million jobs, and the nation would now be experiencing deflation.

    Public Sector Layoffs a "Local" Problem

    Last fall, Minority Leader McConnell led the GOP opposition to President Obama's proposed $400 billion American Jobs Act. The loss of hundreds of thousands of police, firefighter, teacher and other public sector jobs, he insisted, was a "local" problem.

    But as the numbers show, the sum of McConnell's "local" concerns was a disaster for the United States. DC Republicans didn't just block Obama initiatives like the American Jobs Act and infrastructure investment that could have boosted employment when unemployment was mired at 9 percent and strangle job creation and consumer confidence with their debt ceiling hostage-taking. The draconian austerity policies of state and local governments created an "anti-stimulus," with layoffs of public sector workers and cuts to spending that only served to undermine the gains from ARRA. By May 2013, the Hamilton Institute estimated those austerity policies cost 2.2 American million jobs and resulted in the slowest recovery since World War II. In April 2012, the Economic Policy Institute explained:

    The current recovery is the only one that has seen public-sector losses over its first 31 months...If public-sector employment had grown since June 2009 by the average amount it grew in the three previous recoveries (2.8 percent) instead of shrinking by 2.5 percent, there would be 1.2 million more public-sector jobs in the U.S. economy today. In addition, these extra public-sector jobs would have helped preserve about 500,000 private-sector jobs.

    That March, Paul Krugman expressed the same point, but with some inconvenient historical context for the Party of Reagan. "In fact, if it weren't for this destructive fiscal austerity," Krugman explained, "Our unemployment rate would almost certainly be lower now than it was at a comparable stage of the 'Morning in America' recovery during the Reagan era."

    We're talking big numbers here. If government employment under Mr. Obama had grown at Reagan-era rates, 1.3 million more Americans would be working as schoolteachers, firefighters, police officers, etc., than are currently employed in such jobs.

    And once you take the effects of public spending on private employment into account, a rough estimate is that the unemployment rate would be 1.5 percentage points lower than it is, or below 7 percent -- significantly better than the Reagan economy at this stage.

    Fast forward to 2014, and GDP gains, the drop in unemployment and new investment are nevertheless outpacing the recovery from the Reagan recession. To put it another way, Barack Obama is out-Reaganing Reagan. No thanks, of course, to Mitch McConnell.

    "No Evidence Whatsoever That the Bush Tax Cuts Actually Diminished Revenue."

    In his version of the Republican myth that "tax cuts pay for themselves," President Bush confidently proclaimed, "You cut taxes and the tax revenues increase." As it turned out, not so much.

    After Ronald Reagan tripled the national debt with his supply-side tax cuts, George W. Bush doubled it again with his own. (Reagan's performance would have been much worse, had he not raised taxes 11 times to help make up the shocking shortfall.) As a share of American GDP, tax revenues peaked in 2000; that is, before the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities concluded, the Bush tax cuts accounted for half of the deficits during his tenure, and if made permanent, over the next decade would cost the U.S. Treasury more than Iraq, Afghanistan, the recession, TARP and the stimulus - combined.

    Nevertheless, as the Republican Party waged its all-out attack in 2010 to preserve the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, the GOP's number two man in the Senate provided the talking point to help sell the $70 billion annual giveaway to America's rich. "You should never," Arizona's Jon Kyl declared, "have to offset the cost of a deliberate decision to reduce tax rates on Americans." For his part, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell rushed to defend Kyl's fuzzy math:

    "There's no evidence whatsoever that the Bush tax cuts actually diminished revenue. They increased revenue because of the vibrancy of these tax cuts in the economy. So I think what Senator Kyl was expressing was the view of virtually every Republican on that subject."

    That may have been a view universally shared by virtually every Republican, but it happens to be wrong. In a 2012 University of Chicago Booth School of Business survey, not a single one of the economists asked agreed that "a cut in federal income tax rates in the US right now would raise taxable income enough so that the annual total tax revenue would be higher within five years than without the tax cut." As Former Obama administration economist and current University of Chicago professor Austan Goolsbee put it:

    Moon landing was real. Evolution exists. Tax cuts lose revenue. The research has shown this a thousand times. Enough already.

    "Punishing Job Creators."

    For years, Senator McConnell has been among the legions of Republicans wrongly arguing that even the slightest increase in taxes for the wealthiest Americans is tantamount to "punishing job creators." As his colleague John Boehner put it:

    "The top one percent of wage earners in the United States...pay forty percent of the income taxes...The people he's [President Obama] is talking about taxing are the very people that we expect to reinvest in our economy."

    If so, those expectations were sadly unmet under George W. Bush. After all, the last time the top tax rate was 39.6 percent during the Clinton administration, the United States enjoyed rising incomes, 23 million new jobs and budget surpluses. Under Bush? Not so much.

    On January 9, 2009, the Republican-friendly Wall Street Journal summed it up with an article titled simply, "Bush on Jobs: the Worst Track Record on Record." (The Journal's interactive table quantifies his staggering failure relative to every post-World War II president.) The meager one million jobs created under President Bush didn't merely pale in comparison to the 23 million produced during Bill Clinton's tenure. In September 2009, the Congressional Joint Economic Committee charted Bush's job creation disaster, the worst since Hoover.

    That dismal performance prompted David Leonhardt of the New York Times to ask last fall, "Why should we believe that extending the Bush tax cuts will provide a big lift to growth?" His answer was unambiguous:

    Those tax cuts passed in 2001 amid big promises about what they would do for the economy. What followed? The decade with the slowest average annual growth since World War II. Amazingly, that statement is true even if you forget about the Great Recession and simply look at 2001-7...

    Is there good evidence the tax cuts persuaded more people to join the work force (because they would be able to keep more of their income)? Not really. The labor-force participation rate fell in the years after 2001 and has never again approached its record in the year 2000.

    Is there evidence that the tax cuts led to a lot of entrepreneurship and innovation? Again, no. The rate at which start-up businesses created jobs fell during the past decade.

    The data are clear: lower taxes for America's so called job-creators don't mean either faster economic growth or more jobs for Americans.

    As Jared Bernstein aptly put it:

    "Tax cuts and job growth? They're just not that into each other."

    "We Look a Lot Like Greece Already"

    As their last round of hostage-taking of the debt heated up in the summer of 2011, Republicans including Mitch McConnell warned, "We look a lot like Greece."

    While FactCheck.org was quick to conclude that "whatever it 'looks like' through Sen. McConnell's eyes -- the fact is that the U.S. is not yet a fiscal wreck of Greek proportions," its analysis hardly does justice to the scale of the Republican myth-making. The Washington Monthly's Steve Benen summed it up quite succinctly:

    New rule: every time a confused Republican lawmakers compare the United States' fiscal conditions to that of Greece, an angel loses its wings.

    Look, the very idea is just crazy. The U.S. has extremely low interest rates and foreign investor are happy to loan us money; Greece has extremely high interest rates and no one is eager to loan the country money. The U.S. has our own currency; Greece has the Euro. We have a great credit rating (for now); Greece has an awful credit rating. We have a manageable debt; Greece has a debt crisis. We're a large country with an enormous economy; Greece is a small country with a small economy. We have one of the world's most stable systems of government (at least until six months ago); Greece's government structure is a little shaky.

    For his part, Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has been decrying the "Hellenization of economic discourse" for months. "Greece -- with a long history of fiscal irresponsibility, very high public debt, and a country without a currency -- doesn't bear much resemblance even to the other peripheral Europeans, let alone the United States."

    Here's debt levels (if you ask me the IMF projections for Greece are too optimistic):

    Plus there's the having your own currency thing, and the fact that the interest rate on US 10-year bonds is 3.11 percent, on Greek bonds 16.82 percent.

    Otherwise we're exactly the same.

    The situation has only continued to improve since Krugman penned those words. By the spring of 2013, both Speaker Boehner and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan were forced to admit "we do not have a debt crisis right now." Federal spending is lower, the annual budget deficit halved and U.S. public sector employment down since President Obama first took the oath of office on January 20, 2009.

    The federal budget deficit has been cut n half sin e Barack Obama became President.

    The Debt Ceiling "Is a Hostage That's Worth Ransoming."

    Once upon a time, raising the debt ceiling--that is, increasing Uncle Sam's borrowing authority to pay bills already incurred--was a routine, bipartisan practice. The debt limit was routinely raised 40 times since 1980, including 17 times under Ronald Reagan (who tripled the national debt) and another seven under President George W. Bush (who nearly doubled it again). As it turns out, the GOP leadership team that included Eric Cantor voted a combined 19 times to bump the debt limit $4 trillion during Bush's tenure. And that vote tally included a "clean" debt ceiling increase in 2004, backed by 98 current House Republicans and 31 sitting GOP Senators.

    Then Democrat Barack Obama became President of the United States. And when Republicans regained the House majority four years ago, they became the first party with both the intent and the votes to block a debt ceiling increase and thereby trigger a sovereign default by the United States. Despite John Boehner's admission that a default would mean "a financial disaster, not only for our country but for the worldwide economy," Congressional Republicans nearly drove the nation over the cliff in the summer of 2011.

    Mitch McConnell relished his new role as Extortionist-in-Chief. As the Washington Post reported after the debt ceiling was raised in exchange for the draconian budget sequester, McConnell crowed:

    "I think some of our members may have thought the default issue was a hostage you might take a chance at shooting," he said. "Most of us didn't think that. What we did learn is this -- it's a hostage that's worth ransoming. And it focuses the Congress on something that must be done."

    McConnell, the Post revealed, "said he could imagine doing this again." And as he explained to CNBC's Larry Kudlow, McConnell's future hostage-taking wasn't a threat, but a promise:

    "What we have done, Larry, also is set a new template. In the future, any president, this one or another one, when they request us to raise the debt ceiling, it will not be clean anymore. This is just the first step. This, we anticipate, will take us into 2013. Whoever the new president is, is probably going to be asking us to raise the debt ceiling again. Then we will go through the process again and see what we can continue to achieve in connection with these debt ceiling requests of presidents to get our financial house in order."

    The result of McConnell's hostage-taking was that the U.S. economic recovery stalled as consumer confidence and job creation nose-dived. Standard & Poor's was shocked by what is rightly remembered as the "Tea Party Downgrade":

    A Standard & Poor's director said for the first time Thursday that one reason the United States lost its triple-A credit rating was that several lawmakers expressed skepticism about the serious consequences of a credit default -- a position put forth by some Republicans. Without specifically mentioning Republicans, S&P senior director Joydeep Mukherji said the stability and effectiveness of American political institutions were undermined by the fact that "people in the political arena were even talking about a potential default," Mukherji said. "That a country even has such voices, albeit a minority, is something notable," he added. "This kind of rhetoric is not common amongst AAA sovereigns."

    For his part, Mitch McConnell boasts about his party of hostage-takers. But former Bush Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill has a different name for them:

    "The people who are threatening not to pass the debt ceiling are our version of al Qaeda terrorists. Really. They're really putting our whole society at risk by threatening to round up 50 percent of the members of the Congress, who are loony, who would put our credit at risk."

    The Public Option "May Cost You Your Life."

    While Mitch McConnell insisted that the lack of insurance doesn't prevent anyone from getting health care (above), in 2009 he suggested having coverage could prove fatal. Months before the passage of the Affordable Care Act without the so-called "public option," Minority Leader McConnell said it would be deadly.

    That irresponsible fear-mongering came during an appearance on Dennis Miller's radio show in October 2009. Blasting the "opt-out" version of the public option then being considered in the Senate bill, the Senator from the state ranked 45th in health care performance insisted access to coverage could kill you:

    MCCONNELL: Well, it doesn't make any difference frankly whether you opt-in or you opt-out, it's still a government plan. You know, Medicaid, the program for the poor now, states can opt-out of that, but none of them have. I think if you have any kind of government insurance program, you're going to be stuck with it and it will lead us in the direction of the European style, you know, sort of British-style, single payer, government run system. And those systems are known for delays, denial of care and, you know, if your particular malady doesn't fit the government regulation, you don't get the medication.

    MILLER: Right.

    MCCONNELL: And it may cost you your life. I mean, we don't want to go down that path.

    As a Harvard Medical School study found in 2009 before the passage of Obamacare, each year the path of no health insurance leads 45,000 Americans to the grave.

    Democrats Are "Sticking It to Seniors with Cuts to Medicare"

    For four years running, Mitch McConnell has been among the 40 GOP Senator voting for Paul Ryan's House budget plan to privatize and inevitably ration Medicare now used by 46 million American seniors. In the late 1990's, McConnell joined in Newt Gingrich's effort to slash almost 15 percent from the Medicare budget so that the program would "wither on the vine." But when the Affordable Care Act called for $760 billion savings from the private Medicare Advantage program used by only 15 percent of elderly beneficiaries, it was Mitch McConnell who warned seniors about the mythical danger.

    In July 2009, McConnell tried to scare America's 46 million Medicare beneficiaries by declaring, "The administration plans to use Medicare cuts to fund yet another new government program." Hoping to build on the momentum of the GOP's disgusting and demonstrably false "euthanasia" talking point, McConnell cautioned:

    "Some in Congress seem to be in such a rush to pass just any reform, rather than the right reform, that they're looking everywhere for the money to pay for it -- even if it means sticking it to seniors with cuts to Medicare."

    That salvo came just two weeks after McConnell promised to defeat health care reform in the Senate, warning America's highest turnout voting block:

    "They are going to pay for this plan by cutting Medicare, that is cutting seniors."

    Those claims, the New York Times pointed out the day after the Republicans' overwhelming triumph in the 2010 midterms elections were misleading at best and false at worst. Regardless, every version of the Ryan budget McConnell and 95 percent of Congressional Republicans voted for four years in a row contains the exact same $760 billion in savings from Medicare. But in 2010, McConnell and friends demagoguery worked.

    And so it goes.

    As Joshua Green documented in 2001 in The Atlantic, "Mitch McConnell is a master manipulator and strategist" whose "relentless tactics have made his party victorious." But that doesn't make him a truth-teller, except on those rare occasions when he reveals his true motivations. During the debt ceiling stand-off in 2011, McConnell briefly got weak in the knees at the prospect of U.S. sovereign default not because it would be a disaster for the nation, but because it could damage his Republican Party:

    "I refuse to help Barack Obama get re-elected by marching Republicans into a position where we have co-ownership of a bad economy. ... If we go into default, he will say that Republicans are making the economy worse and try to convince the public -- maybe with some merit, if people stop getting their Social Security checks and military families start getting letters saying service people overseas don't get paid. It's an argument he could have a good chance of winning, and all of the sudden we have co-ownership of a bad economy," he said. "That is very bad positioning going into an election."

    Despite Mitch McConnell's parliamentary roadblocks and pathological lying, the United States economy is now getting back on track. George Will's cheerleading aside, the restoration of dignity to the United States Senate cannot begin until he is no longer part of it. Which is why it's time for Myth McConnell to go.

    Perrspective 10:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Share

    October 26, 2014
    PBS Newshour Gets It All Wrong on Kentucky Obamacare Foe

    PBS Newshour on Friday ran a segment examining the impact of the Affordable Care Act in the hard-fought Kentucky race. As well they should: incumbent Republican Mitch McConnell wants to take away health insurance "root and branch" from 520,000 of his Blue Grass State constituents, coverage through the state's popular Kynect program that Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes wants to protect. But in turning to small business owner Charles Howard as someone supposedly harmed by Obamacare, Newshour seems to have gotten the facts completely wrong. As it turns out, not only does the ACA's not-yet-implemented employer mandate not affect his six person company, Obamacare already provides small business subsidies that probably could save Howard Metal Sales money.

    Unfortunately, the Newshour report by correspondent Renee Shaw of Kentucky Educational Television accepts at face value Mr. Howard's claim that higher premiums for one employee are all the fault of Obamacare:

    Howard says a big part of the job equation for him is the cost of health care. As an example, he says the bill to insure just one of his employees, a 51-year-old man, has increased $125 a month, and he blames Obamacare.

    "Well, wages are going up for me because if he went from $300 two years ago to $425, they haven't went up in his check, but they have went up out of our payroll, out of our expenses. So how do you give someone a price increase or a wage increase, I should say, when you're having to be hit with those increases in insurance that he needs?"

    But with Obamacare's "employer responsibility" provision not yet enforced, in all likelihood the $125, two-year jump in premiums for Howard's worker is due to the fact the man turned 50 since 2012. (Many Americans who purchase their own health coverage are familiar with the pre-Obamacare "birthday gift" their insurer sent them when they hit the half-century mark.)

    As it turns out, this isn't the first time Charles Howard blamed Obamacare for higher health care costs before the ACA even took effect. Back on November 19, 2010, the editorial board of the Times-Tribune of Corbin, Kentucky used Charles Howard as the poster child for why Republicans needed to take decisive action to undo the Affordable Care Act:

    Nelson County's Charles Howard and his wife mortgaged their home 26 years ago in order to build a 1,236-foot square hardware store. Howard's business and thousands of small businesses -- less than 10 employees -- depend on real action, not symbolism. His company, Howard's Metal Sales, located in Chaplin, used to employ six. Now it's five. Laying off employees is not "symbolic"...

    The $10,000 increase in health-insurance premiums staring him in the face for the next year is Howard's first contact with "Obamacare." It's not a symbolic tab. It's a very real 38-percent increase.

    "Who can stand that?" Howard said. "What kind of company can stand that? Nothing else has gone up 38 percent in the past year that I've thought of."

    But in 2010, those premiums increases had nothing to do with Obamacare, most provisions of which would not begin until January 1, 2014. On the contrary, as Matthew Yglesias explained in 2012, the Affordable Care Act's new incentives launched in the fall of 2010 were a great deal for small business owners:

    The bill in fact contains substantial benefits (some might even say giveaways) for small businesses. That starts with a program already under way to offer special subsidies to firms with fewer than 25 employees that want to offer health benefits. As long as your employees earn less than $50,000 on average (law firms, medical practices, and other elite professional partnership are thus ineligible), you can get a tax credit to defray 35 percent of the cost of the insurance if you're a for-profit firm, and 25 percent if you're a nonprofit. When the law really gets rolling in 2014, those subsidies rise to 50 percent for for-profits and 35 percent for nonprofits.

    As I previously documented, by early 2011 insurers were already seeing a flood of new customers from small business owners taking advantage of Obamacare's enticing subsidies. As the Los Angeles Times reported just one month after the Times-Tribune's story of Charles Howard's woe, "Now some insurers are reporting significant jumps in coverage":

    In the six months after the law was signed in March, UnitedHealth Group Inc., the country's largest insurer, added 75,000 new customers who work for companies with fewer than 50 employees. The Minnesota company called the increase notable but declined to reveal further details.

    Coventry Health Care Inc., an insurer in Maryland that focuses on small businesses, signed contracts to cover 115,000 new workers in the first nine months of this year, an 8% jump.

    In California, Warner Pacific Insurance Services in Westlake Village, a major servicer of insurance brokers, has seen business grow more than 10% this year, a company executive said.

    And Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City, the largest insurer in the Kansas City, Mo., area, is reporting a 58% jump in the number of small businesses buying insurance since April, the first full month after the legislation was signed into law."

    Now, Charles Howard has every right to dislike Obamacare and to declare, "I was born and raised a Democrat. I'm not now." He might believe it is not the government's role to enable millions of Americans to obtain health insurance. He may well believe the Affordable Care Act--and Barack Obama himself--is an affront to "freedom." (Judging by Charles Howard's Facebook page, it listing of Ted Nugent as one of his "inspirational people" and its link to "Obamacare the Game," that's probably a safe bet.) Maybe Howard doesn't have a policy for his business, but gives his workers money to buy their own. But unless I'm missing something from the PBS Newshour report, Charles Howard cannot blame Obamacare for the higher insurance costs he's encountered for a mandate he's exempted from and which, in any case, hasn't gone into effect yet. But then again, KET's Renee Shaw didn't ask any questions on that point: if she did, PBS didn't air them. And that kind of journalism isn't healthy for Kentucky voters about to decide the fate of health care for 12 percent of the entire state's population,

    (For the story of another Republican routinely cited by the media as a small business voice on everything from the minimum wage, Obamacare, a millionaire's tax and the estate tax to unemployment benefits and just about anything Democrats advocate, see "Meet Joe Olivo, GOP Poster Child for Everything.")

    Perrspective 11:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Share

    October 23, 2014
    Repeal Obamacare and 25 Million People Lose Health Insurance. Period.

    From the beginning, the magnitude of Republicans' lies about Obamacare has been directly proportional to their fears it would succeed. First it was "death panels," which Politifact cited as its 2009 Lie of the Year. In 2010, it was the Affordable Care Act's mythical "government takeover of health care," a fraud that earned the GOP Politifact's 2010 award. Now, Senate Minority Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Ohio Governor John Kasich, abetted by Forbes' health care fabulist Avik Roy, are pretending that Obamacare can repealed "root and branch" without any of their constituents losing the coverage they obtained this year. And this new Republican hoax is the most cynical and cruel lie of all: if Obamacare is repealed, over half a million Ohioans, 520,000 Kentuckians and over 25 million people across America will lose their health insurance. As a result, thousands of them will needlessly die every year.

    Period.

    The deception behind the Republicans' Obamacare shell game is a simple. The nearly $1 trillion Affordable Care Act program contains several, interconnected components. To succeed in their con, the likes of Mitch McConnell and John Kasich need voters to not grasp that inescapable truth. So, Mitch McConnell says Kentucky's Kynect web site "can continue," even though it would have no policies to sell the customers who could no longer afford them after he repeals Obamacare "root and branch." As for Kasich, he pretends nothing will happen to 330,000 new Buckeye State Medicaid recipients whose coverage is completely funded by $2.5 billion from Uncle Sam over the next three years. As Politico recounted:

    "From Day One, and up until today and into tomorrow, I do not support Obamacare," the Republican governor said on Monday evening. "I never have, and I believe it should be repealed."

    Except for the Medicaid expansion part -- which wouldn't exist without the law. Kasich thinks there ought to be a way to save it.

    "I have favored expanding Medicaid, but I don't really see expanding Medicaid as really connected to Obamacare," he said.

    At $792 billion over the next decade, the expansion of the Medicaid insurance program to lower income people who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) is the ACA's largest outlay. Thanks to the Supreme Court, states can choose to reject the Medicaid expansion and with it funds from the federal government that cover all of its costs through 2017 and 90 percent thereafter.) But that's not all. For those who make too much to qualify for Medicaid, the ACA also provides subsidies to families earning up to 400 percent of the FPL when they purchase private insurance through the exchanges (regardless of whether their state's exchange is run by the federal government or not.) And on top of that, thanks to Obamacare parents can keep their children on their family insurance policies through age 26.

    The positive impact of Obamacare on Americans' lives cannot be overstated. Gallup surveys have shown the uninsured rate plummeted from 18 percent to just over 13 percent nationwide. All told, Charles Gaba of the ACASignsups web site currently places the number of newly insured at between 24.0 and 28.7 million. As the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reported in September, 7.3 million people signed up and paid premiums for private insurance through the exchange marketplaces. Almost 80 percent of them received federal subsidies to make that purchase possible. Another 8 million, including 367,000 in Ohio and over 400,000 in Kentucky, gained insurance through the Obamacare's expansion of Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) accepted by their states. But the gains don't end there. As Gaba explains, 2.3 million Americans have been documented as having bought qualifying health plans (QHP's) off of the exchanges through brokers or directly from insurers. Another 5.7 million are also estimated to have done so. In addition, as many as 3.1 million "sub-26ers" ages 19 to 25 were added to their parents' policies.

    Obamacare's indivisible benefits to Americans also extend to robust consumer protections repeal would wipe. Patients can no longer be denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions, or face annual or lifetime benefits caps. Women cannot be charged more for insurance than men. The notorious Medicare Part D prescription drug "donut hole" has been reduced, saving seniors over $11 billion so far. The insurance carriers must now spend at least 80 percent of their premium revenue on actual patient care. And insurers can no longer drop their policyholders when the get sick, a grotesque practice known as "rescission."

    All of this is part and parcel of Obamacare, a.k.a. the Affordable Care Act. To claim otherwise when advocating its repeal is an affront to voters--and common decency. In the four-plus years since Mitch McConnell first declared the GOP's 2010 midterm campaign slogan "will be 'repeal and replace', 'repeal and replace,'" neither he nor his Republican Party have offered an Obamacare alternative to the American people. Instead, the Paul Ryan House GOP budget that McConnell and 95 percent of Congressional Republicans voted for four times repeals Obamacare, slashes Medicaid funding by 40 percent and hands over what little remains as block grants to the states. All of which is why John Kasich's simultaneous support for repealing Obamacare even while accepting the $850 million a year Medicaid expansion it made possible is so disgusting.

    If Republicans take the Senate, Kasich said, "you better believe they're gonna repeal Obamacare and I agree with that." But, he added, "there's got to be an accommodation" for Medicaid expansion.

    Lies like that may escape punishment at the polls in November, but not on Judgment Day. As Governor John Kasich once preached to Buckeye State Republicans on the need to accept Obamacare's extension of Medicaid coverage to over 300,000 of their state's residents:

    "When you die and get to the meeting with St. Peter, he's probably not going to ask you much about what you did about keeping government small, but he's going to ask you what you did for the poor. You'd better have a good answer."

    Period.

    Perrspective 10:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Share

    October 22, 2014
    Conservatives Forget Bush was America's First Cokehead-in-Chief

    The conservative commentariat is having a field day at the expense of Hunter Biden, the vice president's 44 year-old son who was discharged from the Navy after testing positive for cocaine use. For its part, the Weekly Standard decried the "limited duty" reserve commission program under which Biden achieved his rank, lamenting "the culture of entitlement in political Washington that has tarnished the Navy." Meanwhile, RedState, which claims to "loathe political dynasties," breathed a sigh of relief that Biden "might have gotten lucky and managed to avoid a drug test long enough to get the career-enhancing status of 'military veteran.'"

    But if recent history is any guide, Hunter Biden shouldn't despair too much over his current embarrassment for the same reason the right-wing echo chamber should temper its fevered case of schadenfreude. After all, George W. Bush showed that a former cokehead could still become President of the United States.

    Dubya, as the story goes, quit drinking in the mid-1980's after the Reverend Billy Graham asked him if he was "right with God" and wife Laura supposedly told him to choose "Jack Daniels or me." But it was the questions over Bush's past cocaine use which periodically threatened to blow up his political career. Which is why he and his spokesman Scott McClellan refused to answer them.

    Those refusals during 1999 and 2000 often produced comic results. Challenged about the cocaine rumors during his 1994 Texas gubernatorial race, Bush responded, "''What I did as a kid? I don't think it's relevant." As his campaign against Al Gore heated up, Bush frequently joked, "When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible." In August 1999, Bush denied using illegal drugs during the previous 25 years, even resorting to counting on his fingers when asked if he could pass an FBI background check:

    "As I understand it, the current (FBI) form asks the question, 'Did somebody use drugs within the last seven years?' and I will be glad to answer that question, and the answer is 'No,'" Bush said in the interview.

    At that 1999 same press conference, Bush fumed at what he viewed as a planted question. As the New York Times detailed:

    ''You know what happens, somebody floats a rumor and it causes you to ask a question,'' Mr. Bush said, interrupting the questioner in a rising voice, a tape recording of the news conference and a transcript provided by Mr. Bush's office showed. ''And that's the game in American politics, and I refuse to play it. That is a game, and you just fell for the trap, and I refuse to play.''

    Eventually, the Bush campaign settled on a consistent approach and a new rationale. They would not comment on Bush's alleged past use drug use, explaining that the silence was for the kids. Call it strategic ambiguity.

    First debuted in 1998, by 2000 Bush's version of plausible deniability was a standard on the stump:

    In October 1998, Mr. Bush told Newsweek magazine that he had declined to itemize his ''irresponsibility'' because he wanted to set a proper example for teen-agers. ''The question is: Have you learned from your behavior?'' Mr. Bush said in the interview. ''The answer is yes. If I were you, I wouldn't tell your kids that you smoked pot unless you want them to smoke pot. I don't want some kid saying, 'Well, Governor Bush tried it.'''

    Throughout the 2000 campaign, Governor Bush's non-denial assumed the predictable form:

    "I've told the people of this country that, over 20 years ago, I made some mistakes when I was younger. I've learned from those mistakes."

    Despite his doubts about Bush truthfulness on display in his new book, Scott McClellan then as always faithfully regurgitated the party line. In August 1999, McClellan like Bush was giving in to "political convenience":

    Scott McClellan, a Bush campaign spokesman, today characterized the issue as ''baseless allegations and ridiculous rumors.'' But Mr. McClellan added: ''What he may or may not have done in the past is not the question we should be asking. It is, 'Has he learned from his mistakes?' and the answer is yes.''

    Ultimately, Scott McClellan told much bigger lies to the American people on subjects more profound than what a young George W. Bush put up his nose. But in answering charges of Bush's cocaine use then, McClellan defended his boss by resorting to the over-arching falsehood, the sham that came to define the American tragedy that has been the Bush presidency:

    ''What Americans want to know is will he uphold the dignity and honor of the office. He will.''

    Much to his chagrin, Scott McClellan during his rocky tenure as President Bush's press secretary learned otherwise. In his 2008 memoir, McClellan worried about Bush's white lies about white lines. As ABC News reported:

    Writes McClellan: "'The media won't let go of these ridiculous cocaine rumors,' I heard Bush say. 'You know, the truth is I honestly don't remember whether I tried it or not. We had some pretty wild parties back in the day, and I just don't remember.'

    "I remember thinking to myself, How can that be? How can someone simply not remember whether or not they used an illegal substance like cocaine? It didn't make a lot of sense."

    And yet, McClellan concludes, "I think he meant what he said in that conversation about cocaine. It's the first time when I felt I was witnessing Bush convincing himself to believe something that probably was not true, and that, deep down, he knew was not true. And his reason for doing so is fairly obvious - political convenience..."

    For his part, President George W. Bush was well aware of the example he set for others. As he put it in his May 2001 commencement address at Yale, his alma mater:

    Congratulations to the class of 2001. To those of you who received honors, awards, and distinctions, I say, well done. And to the C students I say, you, too, can be President of the United States.

    As for Hunter Biden, he should take some time to relax and reflect. A good place to start would be comedian Chris Rock's classic 1990's stand-up performance, Bring on the Pain. As he joked about former Washington DC mayor and legendary crack aficionado Marion Barry:

    Marion Barry, now come on man. How are you going to tell little kids not to get high when the mayor's on crack?

    "Don't get high, won't be nothing."

    "I can be mayor!"

    Or even, as George W. Bush proved, President of the United States.

    Perrspective 11:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Share

    October 21, 2014
    GOP Wants AIDS, Schiavo Mythmaker Bill Frist as Ebola Czar

    Not content with having blocked President Obama's nominee for Surgeon General over his common sense description of gun violence as a public health issue, Republicans in and out of Congress want one of their own to be the President's point-man on Ebola. Instead of Ron Klain, conservatives including Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Steve Forbes are championing physician and former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist as their ideal Ebola Czar. But if they decry Klain as a "political hack," it's hard to imagine a worse choice than Dr. Frist to combat the deadly virus. After all, the multimillionaire GOP partisan who almost went to prison over insider trading and wrongly diagnosed Terry Schiavo also lied to the American people about the transmissibility of HIV/AIDS.

    Bill Frist's perversion of science for partisan political purposes begins, but certainly does not end, with AIDS. In December 2004, Senator Frist tried to defend a federally-funded abstinence program which claimed that HIV/AIDS could be contracted through tears and sweat. Pressed by ABC News host George Stephanopoulos, Frist was forced to recant.
    He repeatedly declined to say whether he thought HIV-AIDS could be transmitted through tears or sweat. A much-disputed federal education program championed by some conservative groups had suggested that such transmissions occur.

    After numerous challenges by Stephanopoulos, Frist said that "it would be very hard" for someone to contract AIDS via tears or sweat. The Web site of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says: "Contact with saliva, tears, or sweat has never been shown to result in transmission of HIV."

    But when it came to the case of Terri Schiavo in 2005, Dr. Frist's malpractice went from the merely pathetic to the absolutely perverse. During the height of the intense battle over Michael Schiavo's effort to honor his wife's wishes in March 2005, Doctor Frist took to the Senate floor to offer his own videotape diagnosis of a patient he had never seen. Disputing assessments that Schiavo was in a permanent vegetative state (a diagnosis later confirmed by autopsy), Frist declared:

    "I question it based on a review of the video footage which I spent an hour or so looking at last night in my office," he said in a lengthy speech in which he quoted medical texts and standards. "She certainly seems to respond to visual stimuli."

    A surprised and concerned Laurie Zoloth, director of bioethics for the Center for Genetic Medicine at Northwestern University, noted of Doctor Frist's statements, "It is extremely unusual -- and by a non-neurologist, I might add. There should be no confusion about the medical data, and that's what was so surprising to me about Dr. Frist disagreeing about her medical status." Democratic strategist Marshall Wittman was much less charitable:

    "I suspect that Senator Frist has his eye more on the Iowa caucus than the Hippocratic Oath."

    Frist's political uses of science cut both ways. In 2001, Senator Frist strongly supported President Bush's draconian curbs on stem cell research. But in the wake of his disastrous intervention in the Schiavo case, the would-have-been presidential candidate Frist decided discretion was the better part of valor and switched sides. After his Schiavo debacle, Frist no doubt concluded the reversal on stem cells was necessary for the 2008 general election. Calling him a "sell-out" and "Dr. Duplicity", his former friends on the religious right made it clear he would never survive the GOP primaries.

    As it turns out, Doctor Frist's dubious medical ethics both predated and followed his time in elected office. As a student, Frist was a frequent visitor to animal shelters where the future physician adopted cats only to dissect them later as part of his learn-at-home medical studies. Later, Senator Frist's World of Hope faith-based charity may have won awards for its work on AIDS, but its fundraising also filled the coffers of many of Frist's closest associates. And in 2007, Frist narrowly avoided insider trading charges in connection with his sale of stock from the HCA business started by his father and brother.

    And if the name HCA sounds familiar, it should. As I documented two years ago, Hospital Corporation of America has been the nexus of wrongdoing by some of the biggest names in Republican politics. One of the nation's largest for-profit hospital firms, HCA was facing scrutiny for suspect billing practices, unnecessary procedures and questionable profit-taking that increased following its 2009 buyout by private equity firms including Mitt Romney's former firm, Bain Capital.

    Before the giant chain came to operate 163 hospitals nationwide, it was owned by the family of former Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. In the 1990's, the Hospital Corporation of America founded by Frist's father merged with Columbia Healthcare Corporation, a group then led by current Florida Governor Rick Scott. Scott was later forced off the board after HCA was forced to pay a staggering $1.7 billion penalty for Medicare fraud. For his part, in 2007 Doctor Frist was eventually cleared of insider trading involving his supposedly blind trust's sale of HCA stock.

    To be sure, Bill Frist has contributed his time, money and expertise to help the needy and the sick. (Two weeks ago, he penned an op-ed offering his own advice on how to handle the Ebola crisis.) But he long ago disqualified himself as a leader in public health policy when repeatedly placed the needs of his Republican Party over patients. That's why the conservative campaign to crown Dr. Bill Frist as Ebola Czar deserves the same response as his disgusting performance in the Schiavo case. AS Democratic strategist Jim Jordan put it at the time:

    "It's quackery. It'd be hilarious if it weren't so grotesque."
    Perrspective 11:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Share

    October 20, 2014
    It's Time for the President's Emergency Program for Ebola Relief (PEPFER)

    The President's Emergency Program for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) was arguably President George W' Bush's single greatest achievement. Thanks to American leadership and over $50 billion in U.S. funding committed since President Bush launched the initiative in 2003, millions of lives have been saved and millions more HIV/AIDS cases prevented in 15 African countries targeted for international action. During his July 2013 trip to Africa, President Obama rightly called PEPFAR one Bush's "crowning achievements" and used their joint 2013 visit to Tanzania to "thank him on behalf of the American people for showing how American generosity and foresight could end up making a real difference in people's lives." As Bill Clinton put it in 2012:

    "I have to be grateful, and you should be too, that President George W. Bush supported PEPFAR. It saved the lives of millions of people in poor countries."

    That's why it's once again time for the United States to step up with a new multi-year, multi-billion dollar commitment, this time against Ebola. With over 4,500 already dead and tens of thousands more at risk in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, it's not simply (as Bill Clinton is so fond of saying) "the right thing to do. In this case, charity does not begin at home: Americans' health and safety requires America to go all in--in Africa.

    While the U.S. media fuel panic over the one fatality and handful of Ebola cases here, the need for urgent, global mobilization to save West Africa cannot be overstated. As CNN reported on Friday:

    Liberia, meanwhile, which is hardest hit by the virus, says it requires 2.4 million boxes of protective gloves -- and 85,000 body bags, to be able to fight the virus in the next six months. Currently, it only has 18,000 boxes of gloves and less than 5,000 body bags.

    Let that second number sink in.

    Eight-five thousand body bags needed.[Emphasis original.]

    As Liberian President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson put it bluntly in her plea for international action, the Ebola virus "respects no borders."

    "We all have a stake in the battle against Ebola. It is the duty of all of us, as global citizens, to send a message that we will not leave millions of West Africans to fend for themselves."

    And the United States has only begun to fight.

    So far, Congress has approved $750 million in Pentagon spending to be redirected to President Obama's relief mission. The U.S. has also pledged over $200 million to a United Nations fund hoping to raise $988 million. But the resources will be only a fraction of what will be needed not only to combat the current Ebola outbreak, but to fight and prevent future epidemics. African economies devastated by Ebola and the wholly inadequate public health infrastructures in most will require global aid and partnerships for years to come.

    That's why President Obama should announce the President's Emergency Program for Ebola Relief (PEPFER), committing $25 billion over the next five years. Those dollars will build hundreds of clinics, buy thousands of ambulances, create stockpiles of protective gear, fund the deployment of hundreds of doctors, nurses, technicians and other public health professionals. New "clean" room emergency facilities should be rolled out in the U.S., in Europe and in sub-Saharan Africa to handle individual cases in order to head off future contagions. Critically, PEPFER should invest in new treatments and vaccines for Ebola. And the global program should help set up "trust funds" for African governments to ensure future "recurring" funding for doctors and nurses as well as maintenance for hospitals, clinics and equipment. (As I learned first hand in The Gambia in the late 1980's, the "recurrent cost problem" after initial foreign aid dries up is one of the great pitfalls on international assistance to developing economies.)

    Despite the current epidemic of conservative political opportunism, Barack Obama should be able to demand bipartisan support for the President's Emergency Program for Ebola Relief. Americans in general and Republicans in particular may hate foreign aid, but they hate Ebola even more. And there can be no question of how to come up with $25 billion over five years. After all, President Bush and his GOP allies never required new taxes or spending cuts as a "pay for" for PEPFAR. And as the CBO recently reported, the federal budget deficit for FY 2014 didn't just decline to its lowest level since 2007; it was $20 billion than the nonpartisan budget agency forecast in August.

    So, the United States can definitely afford the President's Emergency Program for Ebola Relief. As the horrifying body count in Africa and the disturbing demagoguery here show, America can't afford to not do PEPFER. As President Bush told the nation when he unveiled his historic campaign against HIV/AIDS during the 2003 State of the Union Address:

    Ladies and gentlemen, seldom has history offered a greater opportunity to do so much for so many. We have confronted, and will continue to confront, HIV/AIDS in our own country. And to meet a severe and urgent crisis abroad, tonight I propose the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a work of mercy beyond all current international efforts to help the people of Africa.

    As Monica Nyawo, a counselor at an AIDS clinic near Durban who is HIV positive put it in June 2013, "I am alive because of the ARVs [anti-retroviral drugs]I received through the PEPFAR funding." And as President Obama declared of countless others like her:

    "President Bush deserves enormous credit for that. It is really important. And it saved lives of millions of people."

    It's now time for the United States to take action on a grand scale against Ebola. It's not just enlightened self-interest to protect Americans here at home. With so many at risk in Africa, it's simply the right thing to do.

    Perrspective 7:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Share

    October 16, 2014
    New York Times Exposes Another Bush WMD Deception

    The New York Times had published a new report detailing the numerous cases of American and Iraqi soldiers accidentally exposed to chemical agents from Saddam Hussein's decaying Gulf War era weapons. But as disturbing as the fact that there were "17 American service members and seven Iraqi police officers who were exposed to nerve or mustard agents after 2003" is the secrecy the U.S. government has maintained ever since. To put it another way, first the Bush administration lied to the American people about the weapons of mass destruction Saddam did not have, only then to stay silent about the chemical munitions he actually had hidden or abandoned many years earlier.

    But as the Times makes clear, far from confirming ongoing conservative claims that Iraq possessed stockpiles of WMD ready for use in 2003, the new revelations prove the reverse:

    The discoveries of these chemical weapons did not support the government's invasion rationale.

    After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Bush insisted that Mr. Hussein was hiding an active weapons of mass destruction program, in defiance of international will and at the world's risk. United Nations inspectors said they could not find evidence for these claims.

    Then, during the long occupation, American troops began encountering old chemical munitions in hidden caches and roadside bombs. Typically 155-millimeter artillery shells or 122-millimeter rockets, they were remnants of an arms program Iraq had rushed into production in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war.

    All had been manufactured before 1991, participants said. Filthy, rusty or corroded, a large fraction of them could not be readily identified as chemical weapons at all. Some were empty, though many of them still contained potent mustard agent or residual sarin. Most could not have been used as designed, and when they ruptured dispersed the chemical agents over a limited area, according to those who collected the majority of them.

    "'Nothing of significance' is what I was ordered to say," said Jarrod Lampier, an Army major whose unit discovered 2,400 nerve-agent rockets unearthed in 2006 at a former Republican Guard compound. And as the Times C.J. Chivers explained:

    Participants in the chemical weapons discoveries said the United States suppressed knowledge of finds for multiple reasons, including that the government bristled at further acknowledgment it had been wrong. "They needed something to say that after Sept. 11 Saddam used chemical rounds," Mr. Lampier said. "And all of this was from the pre-1991 era."

    Bush's war may be over, but his insults to the American people continue. The decrepit weapons were built during Iraq's war with Iran, with assistance from the U.S. and Germany. As U.S. troops happened upon decaying shells, neither the American public nor Congress were informed. Told to keep word of their discoveries and medical conditions quiet, American servicemen did not get the treatment they required. As the Times lamented, "First, the American government did not find what it had been looking for at the war's outset, then it failed to prepare its troops and medical corps for the aged weapons it did find." And now the fear is that some of these decades-old munitions will fall into the hands of the Islamic State.

    In August 2002, Vice President Dick Cheney warned, "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us." But as Karl Rove later wrote in his memoir Courage and Consequences, his own greatest failure was not pushing back harder against the allegation that President George W. Bush had taken the country to war under false pretenses. As Peter Baker explained in the New York Times in 2010 ("Rove on Iraq: Without W.M.D. Threat, Bush Wouldn't Have Gone to War"):

    "Would the Iraq War have occurred without W.M.D.? I doubt it," he writes. "Congress was very unlikely to have supported the use-of-force resolution without the W.M.D. threat. The Bush administration itself would probably have sought other ways to constrain Saddam, bring about regime change, and deal with Iraq's horrendous human rights violations."

    He adds: "So, then, did Bush lie us into war? Absolutely not." But Mr. Rove said the White House had only a "weak response" to the harmful allegation, which became "a poison-tipped dagger aimed at the heart of the Bush presidency."

    As it turned out, President Bush's WMD deception was a poison-tipped dagger aimed at the heart of American democracy. And for the 4,500 Americans who died in Iraq, the 30,000 wounded--including those sickened and suffering from accidental exposure to the remnants of Saddam's decrepit, decaying and obsolete pre-Gulf War chemical arsenal--the poison is still very much with us.

    Perrspective 9:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Share

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    "Some of Them Seem Willing to Fight for You"
    October 29, 2014
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    October 21, 2014
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    It's Time for the President's Emergency Program for Ebola Relief (PEPFER)
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    New York Times Exposes Another Bush WMD Deception
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    McConnellCare: Take Health Insurance Away from 520,000 and Send Them to the ER Instead
    October 15, 2014
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