In the USA....NSA illegally collected thousands of emails before Fisa court halted program
Declassified court ruling from 2011 found government 'disclosed substantial misrepresentation' of data collection program
Spencer Ackerman in Washington
theguardian.com, Wednesday 21 August 2013 22.27 BST
The secretive court that oversees surveillance programs found in 2011 that the National Security Agency illegally collected tens of thousands of emails between Americans in violation of the fourth amendment to the US constitution.
The foreign intelligence surveillance (Fisa) court ruling stemmed from what intelligence officials told reporters on Wednesday was a complex technical problem, not an intentional violation of American civil liberties.
In his 86-page opinion, declassified on Wednesday, Judge John Bates wrote that the government informed the court that the "volume and nature of the information it has been collecting is fundamentally different from what the court had been led to believe".
The ruling is one of three documents released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and comes amid growing public and congressional concern over the scope of NSA surveillance programs.
An intelligence official who would not be identified publicly described the problem to reporters during a conference call on Wednesday.
"If you have a webmail email account, like Gmail or Hotmail, you know that if you open up your email program, you will get a screenshot of some number of emails that are sitting in your inbox, the official said.
"Those are all transmitted across the internet as one communication. For technological reasons, the NSA was not capable of breaking those down, and still is not capable, of breaking those down into their individual [email] components."
If one of those emails contained a reference to a foreign person believed to be outside the US – in the subject line, the sender or the recipient, for instance – then the NSA would collect the entire screenshot "that's popping up on your screen at the time," the official continued.
"On occasion, some of those [emails] might prove to be wholly domestic," the official said. If a foreign person being targeted is in contact with an American, "you can get all that US person's screenshot" from his or her inbox.
The Fisa court estimated, based on models provided by the NSA, that the surveillance agency was collecting up to 56,000 purely domestic communications a year in the three years before the court ruling, as the Washington Post first reported.
Somewhere between "2,000-10,000" of those involved multiple communications acquired in single collections, such as the e-mail inbox screenshots. Approximately 46,000 involved collections of single emails or other internet communications.
"NSA has acquired, is acquiring, and if the certifications and procedures now before the Court is approved, will continue to acquire, tens of thousands of wholly domestic communications," Bates wrote in his ruling.
The exact total remained a mystery to the court. "The actual number of wholly domestic communications acquired may still be higher," Bates wrote.
The Court had more precise visibility into the NSA's total internet acquisitions annually. NSA consumed 250 million internet communications each year, according to an assessment by Bates in 2011. Some 9% of that was collected as the communications transit across the internet, a process known as "upstream" collection. The remaining 91% comes to NSA from its internet service provider partners.
It was the NSA's handling of data collected upstream that the Fisa court found to be constitutionally problematic.
Wholly domestic communications are banned from the NSA's collection under section 702 of the 2008 Fisa Amendments Act. An NSA document leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden and published by the Guardian on August 9 referred to an October 2011 change in the rules, by which the NSA must purge data it improperly collected but that said the NSA could still search its so-called "702" databases for "certain US person names and identifiers," though not until an "effective oversight process" was implemented.
Senator Ron Wyden, a member of the intelligence committee, refers to the NSA's still-current authorities to query those databases for US person information as a "backdoor search" loophole.
Intelligence officials on Wednesday's conference call said that the Fisa court paused the program but found that it was "technologically impossible to prevent this from happening". The court found the NSA's procedures for purging wholly domestic communications "needed to be beefed up, and that's what was done," an official said.
Intelligence officials released the post-2011 so-called "minimization" procedures they developed after the court paused the program. They included "post-acquisition technical means to segregate transactions that were most likely to contain US person information." Those that couldn't be were subjected to other restrictions that "significantly limited the government's ability to use or disseminate" information about Americans.
The officials also said the NSA can now retain upstream data for only two years rather than five.
But the interception of email mailbox "screenshots" that can contain wholly domestic communications apparently continues.
The declassified ruling gives a glimpse of the court's apparent frustration over the accuracy of information it was given about NSA programs.
In a footnote, Bates wrote that the court was "troubled that the government's revelations regarding the NSA's acquisitions of internet transactions mark the third instance in less than three years in which the government has disclosed a substantial misrepresentation regarding the scope of a major collection program".
In 2009, Bates wrote, the court found that its approval of a government interpretation of section 215 of the Patriot Act to justify the bulk collection of all Americans' phone records – a different authority than section 702 of the Fisa Amendments Act – was substantially flawed.
That approval was "premised on a flawed depiction" of how the program operated, Bates wrote, "buttressed by repeated inaccurate statements in the government's submissions" to the court.
The court concluded in 2009, Bates said, that the standards the government used to search the phone records databases for threats to national security were "so frequently and systemically violated that it can be fairly said that this critical element of the overall … regime has never functioned effectively".
Wyden said the disclosed Fisa Court ruling – which he first revealed existed last year – pointed to the need to close the "backdoor search" loophole.
"The ruling states that the NSA has knowingly acquired tens of thousands of wholly domestic communications under section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, even though this law was specifically written to prohibit the warrantless acquisition of wholly domestic communications," Wyden said.
"The FISA Court has noted that this collection violates the spirit of the law, but the government has failed to address this concern in the two years since this ruling was issued. This ruling makes it clear that FISA Section 702, as written, is insufficient to adequately protect the civil liberties and privacy rights of law-abiding Americans and should be reformed."
Mark Udall, another critic of the NSA's bulk collection efforts who sits on the intelligence committee, said: "I am glad the NSA is taking this step at owning its mistakes, but it is also a sign that we can and must do more to protect innocent Americans with no connection to terrorism from being monitored by our government — whether intentionally or not. I will keep fighting to ensure that the NSA is not violating Americans' privacy rights."
In the nearly three months since the Guardian began reporting on NSA surveillance programs, US intelligence officials have frequently said their violations of laws and rules involving American data are simply technical problems – something Wyden and Udall criticized as misleading in late July.
Bates' 2011 opinion criticized the NSA for a similar swearing to the court. "There is nothing in the record to suggest that NSA's technical means are malfunctioning or otherwise failing to operate as designed," he wrote.
The current Fisa court presiding judge, Reggie Walton, told the Washington Post last week that the Fisa court remains reliant on government assurances, rather than its own independent oversight capabilities, to determine that the NSA and the government is in compliance with surveillance law and agreed-upon procedures.
In a covering letter published alongside the documents, the director of national intelligence James Clapper said the decision to declassify, which followed Barack Obama's order for the intelligence community to be more transparent, was "not done lightly" but the "harm to national security is outweighed by the public interest".
August 21, 2013 04:00 PMObama Administration Wants Warrantless Searches On Our Cell Phones
By John Amato
So much for the fourth amendment. Is it time to bring back rubber hoses?
If the police arrest you, do they need a warrant to rifle through your cellphone? Courts have been split on the question. Last week the Obama administration asked the Supreme Court to resolve the issue and rule that the Fourth Amendment allows warrantless cellphone searches. In 2007, the police arrested a Massachusetts man who appeared to be selling crack cocaine from his car. The cops seized his cellphone and noticed that it was receiving calls from “My House.” They opened the phone to determine the number for “My House.” That led them to the man’s home, where the police found drugs, cash and guns.
The defendant was convicted, but on appeal he argued that accessing the information on his cellphone without a warrant violated his Fourth Amendment rights. Earlier this year, the First Circuit Court of Appeals accepted the man’s argument, ruling that the police should have gotten a warrant before accessing any information on the man’s phone. The Obama Administration disagrees. In a petition filed earlier this month asking the Supreme Court to hear the case, the government argues that the First Circuit’s ruling conflicts with the rulings of several other appeals courts, as well as with earlier Supreme Court cases. Those earlier cases have given the police broad discretion to search possessions on the person of an arrested suspect, including notebooks, calendars and pagers. The government contends that a cellphone is no different than any other object a suspect might be carrying.
But as the storage capacity of cellphones rises, that position could become harder to defend. Our smart phones increasingly contain everything about our digital lives: our e-mails, text messages, photographs, browser histories and more. It would be troubling if the police had the power to get all that information with no warrant merely by arresting a suspect.
Nowadays many of us use our cell phones just like our personal computers. Is the Obama administration arguing that it's OK to search your computer? And even if you don't use it like a computer, I bet you access your email account on it and if the courts agree with the White House then any thoughts of protections from the police are over. I bet Ray Kelly believes that in a Stop and Frisk situation, it's just dandy if a cop then searches through your cell phone fishing for information that can lock you up as well. It makes sense, doesn't it?
Digby writes: They really want to get to your private information:
This would conveniently make it so that the local, state and federal police can just seize someone's phone to get all that lovely personal data without having to make up some phony rationale about it being related to terrorism. (That whole thing's getting a little touchy, dontcha know?)
If the courts ultimately side with the Obama administration, anyone can be arrested on a trumped up charge, their cell phone seized, their email and other personal info accessed all without probable cause. And heck, if they just happen to find something ... well, that's your bad luck isn't it? If you don't have anything to hide ...
This has nothing to do with keeping the babies safe and everything to do with a government that has decided that the 4th Amendment is getting in its way and that an expectation of privacy is an anachronism that only a bunch of irrelevant cranks or criminals care about. I don't see how you can interpret their actions any other way.
And as Duncan always says: Shit Is F*&ked Up And Bullshit.
And the point is that getting access to your "cellphone" is no longer about having access to your contact list, phone logs, and a few voicemails you failed to delete, it's about having access to a big chunk of how you interact with the world in every way.
**************Bradley Manning's sentence: 35 years for exposing us to the truth
This was never a fair trial – Obama declared Manning's guilt in advance. But Manning's punishment is an affront to democracy
theguardian.com, Wednesday 21 August 2013 15.29 BST
Link to video: Bradley Manning: 35 years in jail for an outsider who had trouble fitting in – videohttp://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2011/may/27/bradley-manning-wikileaks-iraq-video
As of today, Wednesday 21 August 2013, Bradley Manning has served 1,182 days in prison. He should be released with a sentence of time served. Instead, the judge in his court martial at Fort Meade, Maryland has handed down a sentence of 35 years.
Of course, a humane, reasonable sentence of time served was never going to happen. This trial has, since day one, been held in a kangaroo court. That is not angry rhetoric; the reason I am forced to frame it in that way is because President Obama made the following statements on record, before the trial even started:
President Obama: We're a nation of laws. We don't individually make our own decisions about how the laws operate … He broke the law.
Logan Price: Well, you can make the law harder to break, but what he did was tell us the truth.
President Obama: Well, what he did was he dumped …
Logan Price: But Nixon tried to prosecute Daniel Ellsberg for the same thing and he is a … [hero]
President Obama: No, it isn't the same thing … What Ellsberg released wasn't classified in the same way.
When the president says that the Ellsberg's material was classified in a different way, he seems to be unaware that there was a higher classification on the documents Ellsberg leaked.
A fair trial, then, has never been part of the picture. Despite being a professor in constitutional law, the president as commander-in-chief of the US military – and Manning has been tried in a court martial – declared Manning's guilt pre-emptively. Here is what the Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg had to say about this, in an interview with Amy Goodman at DemocracyNow! in 2011:
Well, nearly everything the president has said represents a confusion about the state of the law and his own responsibilities. Everyone is focused, I think, on the fact that his commander-in-chief has virtually given a directed verdict to his subsequent jurors, who will all be his subordinates in deciding the guilt in the trial of Bradley Manning. He's told them already that their commander, on whom their whole career depends, regards him [Manning] as guilty and that they can disagree with that only at their peril. In career terms, it's clearly enough grounds for a dismissal of the charges, just as my trial was dismissed eventually for governmental misconduct.
But what people haven't really focused on, I think, is another problematic aspect of what he said. He not only was identifying Bradley Manning as the source of the crime, but he was assuming, without any question, that a crime has been committed.
This alone should have been cause for the judge in the case to rethink prosecutors' demand for 60 years in prison. Manning himself has shown throughout the trial both that he is a humanitarian and that he is willing to serve time for his actions. We have to look at his acts in light of his moral compass, not any political agenda.
Manning intentions were never to hurt anyone; in fact, his motivation – as was the case for Ellsberg – was to inform the American public about what their government was doing in their name. A defense forensic psychiatrist testified to Manning's motives:
Well, Pfc Manning was under the impression that his leaked information was going to really change how the world views the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and future wars, actually. This was an attempt to crowdsource an analysis of the war, and it was his opinion that if … through crowdsourcing, enough analysis was done on these documents, which he felt to be very important, that it would lead to a greater good … that society as a whole would come to the conclusion that the war wasn't worth it … that really no wars are worth it.
I admit that I share the same hopes that drove Manning to share with the rest of the world the crimes of war he witnessed. I am deeply disappointed that no one has been held accountable for the criminality exposed in the documents for which Manning is standing trial – except him. It shows so clearly that our justice systems are not working as intended to protect the general public and to hold accountable those responsible for unspeakable crimes.
I want to thank Bradley Manning for the service he has done for humanity with his courage and compassionate action to inform us, so that we have the means to transform and change our societies for the better. I want to thank him for shining light into the shadows. It is up to each and everyone of us to use the information he provided for the greater good. I want to thank him for making our world a little better. This is why I nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize, for there are very few individuals who have ever brought about the kind of social change Manning has put in motion.
The wave of demands for greater transparency, more accountability, and democratic reform originate with Manning's lonely act in the barracks in Iraq. He has given others – such as Edward Snowden – the courage to do the right thing for the rest of us. The heavy hand dealt Bradley Manning today is a massive blow against everything many of us hold sacred – at a time when we have been shown how fragile and weak our democracies are by the revelations of, first, Manning, and now, Snowden.
There is no such thing as privacy anymore; nor is there such a thing as accountability among our public servants. Our governments do not function for the benefit of the 99%. If Manning had received a fair sentence that was in proportion to his supposed crime – which was to expose us to the truth – then there would have been hope.
Instead, we are seeing the state acting like a wounded tiger, cornered and lashing out in rage – attacking the person who speaks the truth in order to frighten the rest of us into silence. But to that, I have only one answer: it won't work.
**************Bradley Manning: a sentence both unjust and unfair
Pfc Manning sought to hold his country to the values it claims to uphold, yet his prison term dwarfs other military convictions
The Guardian, Wednesday 21 August 2013 20.15 BST
Bradley Manning has received a prison sentence that was 10 years longer than the period of time after which many of the documents he released would have been automatically declassified. The military judge handed down the longest ever sentence for a leak of US government information.
Mr Manning, according to this logic, did more harm than the soldier who gave a Jordanian intelligence agent information on the build-up to the first Iraq war, or the marine who gave the KGB the identities of CIA agents and floorplans of the embassies in Moscow and Vienna. Mr Manning did three times as much harm in transmitting to WikiLeaks in 2010 the war logs or field reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, as Charles Graner did. He was the army reserve corporal who became ringleader of the Abu Ghraib abuse ring and was set free after serving six and a half years of his 10-year sentence.
Among the 700,000 classified documents Mr Manning downloaded while stationed in Iraq was a video that showed a US Apache helicopter in Baghdad opening fire on a group of Iraqis, including two Reuters journalists and their children, who had attempted to rescue a severely injured man. More devastating than the film was the cockpit chatter of the soldiers who joked as they shot people in the streets.
"Look at those dead bastards," said one. "Nice," said another.
The Apache crew has never been charged with any offence (all their adult targets were listed as insurgents) and neither has any other individual as a result of Mr Manning's revelations. But the shortened 17-minute version of the video has been viewed more than 3m times on YouTube.
So, the central question to answer in judging the proportionality of this sentence is whether the desire to punish a whistleblower driven by moral outrage stems from the alleged harm he did US military and diplomatic interests, or whether it derives more from sheer embarrassment. The judge presiding, Col Denise Lind, had already thrown out the gravest charge, that of "aiding the enemy". Col Lind had also limited the admissibility of evidence regarding the "chilling effects" that Mr Manning's actions had on US diplomacy by releasing 250,000 state department cables. A military witness conceded there was no evidence that anyone had been killed after being named in the releases.
Mr Manning's recent apology for his actions does not, and should not, detract from the initial defence he gave for them, when he spoke of his shock at the "delightful bloodlust" displayed by that helicopter crew, or his belief that stimulating a debate about the wars was the right thing to do. We know what his motives as a whistleblower were and we have applauded them. They are certainly not akin to treachery or any act fit to be judged – if anything is – by an espionage act rushed onto the statute book in 1917 after America entered the first world war.
Mr Manning exposed the abuse of detainees by Iraqi officers under the watch of US minders. He showed that civilian deaths during the Iraq war were much higher than the official estimates. If they were published today, these claims would be uncontentious. They have already slipped into the official history of this war. But the author of this orthodoxy will continue to pay for the record he helped establish by a prison term that he will serve well into the next decade, which is when the first date for his parole application becomes due. Mr Manning was seeking to hold his country and its army to the values they claim to uphold.
It is unclear what the US military hopes to achieve by securing a sentence that dwarfs those of other military convictions. Deterrence features large in its thinking. Whistleblowing will not only endanger your career, it wants to say, but your freedom – for most of your adult life. In 2008, one could have hoped that the US had a president whose administration would distinguish between leaks in the public interest and treason. But this sentence tells a different story. Mr Manning's sentence, which is both unjust and unfair, can still be reduced on appeal. Let us hope that it is.
**************Bradley Manning to request pardon from Obama over 35-year jail sentence
Manning says 'It's OK – I'm going to get through this' after military judge hands down stiff penalty for WikiLeaks disclosures
• Six things we learned from Manning's court martial
• Bradley Manning was a lonely soldier with a troubled past
• Editorial: A sentence both unjust and unfair
Paul Lewis at Fort Meade
theguardian.com, Wednesday 21 August 2013 20.30 BST
Link to video: Bradley Manning's defence attorney reacts to 35-year sentencehttp://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2013/aug/22/bradley-manning-defence-attorney-reacts-sentence-video
Bradley Manning will send a personal plea to Barack Obama next week for a presidential pardon after he was sentenced on Wednesday to 35 years in prison for passing hundreds of thousands of classified military documents to WikiLeaks.
August 22, 2013After Sentencing, Manning Says, ‘I Am Female’
By BRIAN STELTER
Pfc. Bradley Manning, the Army private who pleaded guilty to leaking government files to WikiLeaks and was sentenced on Wednesday to 35 years in military prison, said in a statement Thursday that “I am female” and wants to begin living life that way.
In a letter to supporters titled “The Next Stage of My Life,” Private Manning wrote, “I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition.”
The letter went on to request that Private Manning’s supporters “refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun (except in official mail to the confinement facility).” It was signed, “Chelsea Manning.”
In the past Private Manning has described himself as gay, and some supporters described him as transgender. In an online chat conversation, published by the Web site of Wired magazine in 2010, Private Manning told the man who eventually turned him in to the authorities, Adrian Lamo, that “I wouldn’t mind going to prison for the rest of my life, or being executed so much, if it wasn’t for the possibility of having pictures of me plastered all over the world press as a boy.”
Private Manning’s apparent struggles with gender identity were invoked by the defense team at the trial. A widely circulated photograph showed Private Manning wearing lipstick and a blonde wig; Private Manning had e-mailed the photo to an Army psychologist with the subject line, “My Problem.”
In an interview on the “Today” show on Thursday, Private Manning’s lawyer, David Coombs, said his client waited to speak publicly about being a woman until after the sentencing.
“Chelsea didn’t want to have this be something that overshadowed the case,” Mr. Coombs said.
Private Manning’s comments on Thursday were the first since the 35-year sentence was handed down on Wednesday. Private Manning, 25, did not speak at the short sentencing hearing.
Private Manning provided more than 700,000 government files to the WikiLeaks organization, which then shared some of the files with media companies, including The New York Times, and the public. The files contained diplomatic cables, incident reports from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and dossiers about detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Some proved to be deeply embarrassing to the American government, while many others were seemingly innocuous.
Mr. Coombs said on “Today” that what drove Private Manning to leak the files was a “strong moral compass.” He said he expected his client to be pardoned by President Obama. Private Manning’s supporters, who are well-organized online, are now concentrating their efforts around calls for a presidential pardon.
Private Manning is expected to serve time at the Army prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. In the run-up to Private Manning’s sentencing, some supporters wondered whether he would be able to receive sex reassignment treatment in prison. A spokeswoman for Fort Leavenworth told Courthouse News that “the Army does not provide hormone therapy or sex-reassignment surgery for gender identity disorder.”
Mr. Coombs acknowledged as much on “Today.” He said that his client had not signaled an interest in sex-reassignment surgery, but he is hopeful that Fort Leavenworth will “do the right thing” and provide hormone therapy. Such therapeutic regimens can help people with male physical features turn those features more feminine.
Mr. Coombs said that if the military did not provide hormone therapy willingly, “then I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure they are forced to do so.”
When asked whether Private Manning’s ultimate goal was to be housed in prison with women, instead of men, Mr. Coombs said, “No, I think the ultimate goal is to be comfortable in her skin and to be the person that she’s never had an opportunity to be.”
Television presenters, including the one who interviewed Mr. Coombs, NBC’s Savannah Guthrie, weren’t immediately sure how to tell the name-change story; Ms. Guthrie, for instance, used the pronoun “she” to refer to Private Manning throughout most of the interview, but used “he” when trying to emphasize the change had just been announced.
The Caucus - The Politics and Government blog of The New York Times
August 21, 2013, 2:36 pmSenior House Democrat Sues I.R.S. Over Tax Exemptions
By JONATHAN WEISMAN
Representative Chris Van Hollen filed suit in Federal District Court on Wednesday to force the Internal Revenue Service to block tax-exempt “social welfare” organizations from engaging in any overt political activity.
The suit, joined by the campaign watchdog groups Democracy 21, Public Citizen and the Campaign Legal Center, signaled that forces for increased campaign finance regulation may be regaining their footing after the controversy over the I.R.S.’s targeting of political groups had put them on the defensive for months.
But the battleground appears to be shifting from Congress to the courts.
For decades, the I.R.S. has struggled with defining the meaning of “social welfare” when determining whether a group should be eligible for tax-exempt 501(c)(4) status. The government has generally said a group’s “primary” purpose should be social welfare, allowing a significant amount of its work — roughly 49 percent — to be partisan politics. And those groups do not have to publicly disclose their donors.
With the Supreme Court’s deregulation of campaign finance laws, the issue has become more controversial. In 2012, 501(c)(4) groups pumped $256 million into the presidential campaign cycle, triple the amount spent in the 2008 cycle and 33 times the $7.6 million they spent in 2004.
The lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia and citing the tax law that created such tax exemptions, says the I.R.S. should rule that the exemptions should go only to groups exclusively engaged in social welfare work. That would prohibit any tax-exempt activity aimed at electing or defeating specific political candidates.
Many Democrats have sought legislative remedies to force more disclosure amid the flood of money to outside political groups. But the scandal over the I.R.S.’s targeting of political groups — conservative and liberal — for extra scrutiny has diminished the already low prospects of any such legislation.
Advocates of the lawsuit said the case law was clear. Congress never intended a 501(c)(4) to be buying attack ads aimed at candidates. And they said Republicans should back the effort if they really believe the I.R.S. should not be trying to determine the lawful balance between “social welfare” and political activities.
“If you agree the I.R.S. should not be in the business of looking into the activity of every organization to determine how much is political versus social welfare, then you should welcome this,” said Mr. Van Hollen, a senior House Democrat from Maryland.
By and large, Republicans have reached a similar conclusion but with an opposite remedy. The I.R.S., they say, should simply leave the groups alone and not infringe on their activities at all.
*************Obamacare Turns Republicans Against Insurance
By: Crissie Brown
Aug. 21st, 2013
Republicans have not proposed a replacement for the Affordable Care Act, and won’t, because Obamacare has turned the GOP base against insurance itself.
Earlier this month the Republican Study Committee said they would soon roll out a comprehensive replacement for the Affordable Care Act. But don’t hold your breath. While House Republicans have held 40 votes to repeal Obamacare, they have yet to offer a replacement as part of their “repeal and replace” mantra.
“Health insurance is now tainted by Obamacare”
In fact, back in April the House GOP caucus rejected Majority Whip Eric Cantor’s proposal to ensure coverage for people with preexisting conditions … because the proposal seemed to support part of Obamacare.
And that, Jonathan Bernstein argues, is why we’ll never see a GOP replacement plan:
But conservatives have decided that no policy overlap with Obamacare is acceptable. Tea Partiers have chosen to oppose not only Obamacare but any policy which even faintly resembles any piece of that omnibus legislation. We saw this in the House defeat of Eric Cantor’s high-risk poll bill this spring, when conservatives revolted against his effort to propose a GOP plan protecting those with preexisting conditions.
But that refusal to accept any of the substance of Obamacare has run Republicans right into a brick wall. Thanks to the way that the ACA was put together – it really is a mammoth omnibus bill which incorporated practically every plausible policy idea out there – it turns out that practically everything you can do to provide health insurance is now tainted by Obamacare.
“Declare victory or declare war”
The problem, as Ezra Klein explains, is that Obamacare began as a Republican plan:
Of course, as Gingrich correctly points out, the Republicans have no idea what is it is they’ll do – save for undoing what the Democrats did. But for all Gingrich’s bluster on the subject, the simplest way to understand that policy vacuum is to understand Gingrich’s pre-Obamacare health-care plan: It was Obamacare.
“We should insist that everyone above a certain level buy coverage (or, if they are opposed to insurance, post a bond),” he wrote in his 2008 book, Real Change. “Meanwhile, we should provide tax credits or subsidize private insurance for the poor.”
So that’s an individual mandate plus tax subsidies to purchase insurance. That’s the core of Obamacare. And it’s no surprise Gingrich supported it. Lots of Republicans did. Gov. Mitt Romney even signed a plan like that into law in Massachusetts.
But once President Obama proposed it, Republicans flipped to oppose it:
Conservative elites had two options when Democrats began to adopt their policy ideas: Declare victory or declare war. Key figures like Gingrich could’ve stepped before the cameras and chortled about Democrats giving up on single payer and slinking towards conservative solutions. For Hillary Clinton to run in 2008 with Bob Dole’s health-care plan was an amazing moment in American politics. For Barack Obama to reverse himself on the individual mandate and embrace the Heritage Foundation’s approach to personal responsibility was further proof that Democrats had lost the war of ideas here. Republicans could have declared victory and, by engaging constructively, pushed the final product further toward their ideal.
They chose war instead. And that meant eradicating any trace of support for the policies they had come up with.
Indeed Ed Kilgore writes that Republicans have now turned against the very idea of insurance:
But the GOP’s problem on health policy goes deeper than having to erase their own tracks. There are three persistent obstacles to the development of a conservative “replacement” for Obamacare.
(1) A growing tendency to oppose the very idea of redistribution of risk and cost, which is essential not just to public health reform efforts, but to private health insurance. Conservatives often seem to want to go back to those days when patients paid doctors with cash or did without health care altogether. That’s “personal responsibility” with a vengeance.
A new ‘study’ by David Hogberg of the conservative National Center for Public Policy Research encourages young, health Americans – Hogberg calls them “Young Invicibles” – to not buy health insurance at all:
This study finds that in 2014 many single people aged 18-34 who do not have children will have a substantial financial incentive to forego insurance on the exchanges and instead pay the individual mandate penalty of $95 or one percent of income. About 3.7 million of those ages 18-34 will be at least $500 better off if they forgo insurance and pay the penalty. More than 3 million will be $1,000 better off if they go the same route. This raises the likelihood that an insufficient number of young and healthy people will participate in the exchanges, thereby leading to a death spiral.
But as Jonathan Bernstein writes, this ‘study’ completely ignores that health insurance offers benefits:
Hogberg seems to understand that even young, healthy people have occasional medical needs; he cites figures that “those aged 18-34 average about 2.7 physician visits per year” and that women in that age group use the health-care system more than men do. And yet he doesn’t account for that at all in his cost calculations. He just looks at premiums, subsidies and the “mandate” penalty for going without. It’s probably true that the healthiest of the young healthies, especially men, can go years between doctor visits (and would do so even if insurance covered everything). But even young healthies get the flu, or sprain an ankle, or otherwise need a bit of medical attention. Some even want regular check-ups just to be safe! Those visits cost money; any proper study of costs and benefits would take them into account.
The “Young Invincibles” are not, in fact, invincible. Hogberg’s response?
In a market without guaranteed issue, consumers run the risk of insurers not selling them policies when they get seriously ill. But that risk is largely gone under the exchanges. For instance, a young person who gets a serious illness in June only has to wait until October to sign up for insurance and then wait until January 1 of the next year to receive coverage.
So if you’re a “Young Invincible” and you get in a car accident in June, either pay for the hospital visit yourself, or lie beside the road until January and call for an ambulance once your new insurance kicks in.
“They’re going to become older not-so-healthies”
Even that ignores the deeper problem, as Bernstein explains:
There’s a larger issue here, too. While Hogberg is focused only on the immediate financial incentives for young healthies (which is fine; it’s a real and important question), there’s also a question about the long-term interests of this cohort. Because the one thing that’s going to happen to most young healthies is that they’re going to become older not-so-healthies, and at that point most of them are going to be very happy to have a functioning insurance market. Those who are young and childless may, before all that long, become parents — again, parents who badly want to buy insurance. And those young healthies may even have a major financial stake in what happens to their 40- and 50-something parents; they may care quite a bit that their parents aren’t wiped out financially by health care before they are Medicare-eligible.
The whole point of health insurance is that premiums paid by healthy people fund benefits paid for sick or injured people. Yes, over an average lifetime, you will pay more in premiums than you receive in benefits. That’s how insurance companies pay their employees. But by paying premiums every month – in a well-regulated and effective insurance market – you avoid (most of) the short-term cash crunch of a serious illness or injury.
“It’s not a positive development for the Republican opponents”
As it happens, most Americans recognize that reality and do buy health insurance, and the USA TODAY reported that states now expect participation in the Obamacare exchanges to exceed expectations:
Estimates from 19 states operating health insurance exchanges to help the uninsured find coverage show that at least 8.5 million will use the exchanges to buy insurance, a USA TODAY survey shows. That would far outstrip the federal government’s estimate of 7 million new customers for all 50 states under the 2010 health care law.
“For the most part, that’s a very good thing,” said Paul Ginsburg, president of the Center for Studying Health System Change. “First, these are people who need health insurance. And second, the scenario that only sick people will enroll is less likely.”
“It’s not a positive development for the Republican opponents who would like to see this fail,” Ginsburg said. “But it’s still very early in the process.”
Of course conservatives are predicting that most of those 8.5 million will be sick people who couldn’t get other insurance, or workers whose bosses are cutting health insurance benefits. And some will be. But most Americans – even “young invicibles” – know they’re not really invincible.
Republicans’ intransigence has left them arguing that people should lie beside the road for six months before calling an ambulance. Except of course Republicans don’t actually say that. Instead they say, truthfully, that emergency rooms will treat you even if you don’t have health insurance.
In other words, the “party of personal responsibility” advocates … free-riding on publicly-funded emergency room care.
Reflexive partisan opposition has left them no other choice.
***************Disaster for the GOP as Republicans Are Flocking to a Key Obamacare Benefit
By: Jason Easley
Aug. 21st, 2013
The Republican effort to repeal Obamacare may hit a brick wall in their own party as 62% of young Republicans are signing up and staying on their parents’ health insurance
According to a study by The Commonwealth Fund, “While public opinion polls have consistently shown a partisan divide in views of the health reform law, the survey finds that young adults who identified themselves as Republicans enrolled in their parents’ policies in greater numbers than young adults who identified themselves as Democrats. In March 2013, 63 percent of Republican young adults had enrolled in a parent’s policy in the past 12 months, compared with 45 percent of Democrats.”
The study also found that the Republican misinformation campaign about Obamacare has been a failure, “Starting in September 2010, the Affordable Care Act required all insurance plans offering dependent coverage to offer the same level of coverage at the same price to their enrollees’ adult children up to their 26th birthday. The survey finds that increasing numbers of young adults over the period 2011 to 2013 became aware of this requirement. By March 2013, 62 percent of the age group eligible to join a parent’s policy were aware of the provision. In particular, awareness increased among young adults with low income and those with a high school education or less, as well as among those who considered themselves Republicans and 23-to-25-year-olds.”
Remember when pundits and so called experts on both the left and right were proclaiming that President Obama was wasting his time trying to educate people about the ACA? They were certain that Republicans had won the battle, and that the ACA was going to be unpopular forever. It turns out that those critics were wrong.
President Obama has so effectively gotten his message out about the benefit of parents being able to keep their kids on their health insurance through college that nearly 2/3 of Republicans are taking advantage of this. It turns out that the president wasn’t wasting his time. He was pushing back against a Republican misinformation campaign, and he won.
The problem that Republicans are facing is best illustrated by this graphic from The Commonwealth Fund:
Young adults, including young Republicans, want health insurance. The strategy of repeal and don’t replace is pushing them away from the Republican Party. The GOP message on the ACA appeals mostly to the existing base of older white voters who are most likely already on Medicare.
In other words, the endless Republican campaign to repeal all of Obamacare is hurting them with young voters, young members of their own party, parents who are Republicans, and the country in general. Republicans haven’t caught on yet that there are parts of the ACA that the American people really, really like.
The tide has definitely turned on Obamacare. Republicans believed that Obamacare was their greatest weapon, but their opposition to the ACA might end up being the cause of their greatest defeat.
***************Republicans Have Lost Their Grip on Reality and Are Disregarding the Constitution
Aug. 21st, 2013
A mental or psychiatric disorder is a psychological pattern reflected in behavior that is generally not considered part of normal development. Generally, mental illness is defined by a combination of how a person feels, acts, thinks or perceives, and can be associated with particular functions of the brain that causes the sufferer to be hostile to or disruptive of the established social order and engaging in behavior that violates accepted mores. The danger is that the mentally afflicted believe their condition, regardless how severe, is normal and that anyone who disagrees with them is their mortal enemy including their allies; such is the current iteration of the Republican Party.
It is reasonable to assume that racism, extremist religion, and disbelief in reality are manifestations of Republican psychiatric disorders and they are particularly rampant in the extremist tea party wing. It is generally agreed by mental health experts that mental illness is not contagious, but they have not yet conducted in depth studies into the plague ravaging the Republican Party. It is unfair to blame the lunacy rampant in Republican ranks solely on delusional teabaggers because what was once regarded as extreme is the new normal for the GOP from the leadership to freshman representatives in Congress and state legislatures. It is true there are a small number of Republicans who have not yet fallen victim to teabagger insanity, but they are being called upon by the psychologically demented to either get out or they will be replaced.
After the electoral loss in 2012, while the RNC’s internal studies revealed extremism coupled with their anti-women and anti-minority policies were major contributing factors to their loss, a segment of the party countered that the problem was the party was not extreme enough. The mindset among extremists was that if Republicans had convinced voters they really wanted lunatics ruling in Washington, the people would have overwhelmingly supported intemperate conservatives Republicans have become. Last Friday, a coalition of teabagger groups sent a letter to Senator Lamar Alexander demanding his retirement because “our great nation cannot afford compromise” that exposes teabaggers concrete thinking that is a symptom of mental illness. Yesterday, a teabagger decided to challenge Alexander in the Tennessee Republican primary because Alexander is not extreme enough and teabaggers are tired of him compromising as part of governing.
Former senator Jim DeMint, current president of the Heritage Foundation and extreme teabagger told attendees at a town hall that “Republicans too afraid to shut down the government over health care reform should “be replaced” and it exposes another break from reality as well as teabagger’s willingness to create more distress for Americans because their unrealistic demands are unmet. DeMint also said that if Republicans were successful passing a budget defunding the health law under threat of a government shutdown that “we don’t know if Obama will sign a bill to defund Obamacare” suggesting the President will actually sign a bill abolishing his signature health law. It is the height of insanity to think for one second that threats from lunatics on the right will force the President to sign a bill reinstating lifetime limits, pre-existing conditions, and exorbitant fee increases, not to mention removing access to health insurance for 30 million uninsured Americans to prevent Republicans from shutting down the government. Another indicator of mental illness is obsessive compulsion Republicans have displayed over the Affordable Care Act, and their obsession has cost taxpayer millions of dollars voting to repeal the health law despite it will never get past the President’s veto pen.
Yesterday it was reported here that some extremists in Republican ranks left the party because they “can no longer associate ourselves with a political party that goes out of its way to continually restrict our freedoms and liberties,” and they were not talking about the DNC. That is how extreme most Republicans have become regardless their policies are having a profoundly damaging effect on all aspects of the nation. In fact, it was reported here that American businesses are suffering the consequences of madmen obstructing sound economic policies championed by Republican extremists and it was just a matter of time before the lunatics laying waste to the American people would affect the business world. Republican extremism has touched all aspects of society now and still, they are ramping up insane policies that are driving one of their most dependable voting blocs, senior citizens, to turn sharply against the GOP.
In the same manner that mental disorders are not contagious, they are not necessarily caused by any event. However, when the American people elected an African American man as President it drove the current crop of Republicans and their teabagger cohort mad, and like crazy people are wont, they took out their raging psychosis on innocent bystanders; the American people. President Obama is, at best, a left-leaning centrist, but he is a Black left-leaning centrist and his race drove the conservative movement’s decline into insanity with valuable assistance by non-stop ranting that this Black man was taking their guns and religious freedoms. There has been no dearth of paranoia that the President is on a crusade to destroy Christianity because of the religious right’s delusional belief he is a Muslim and it contributed to the rise of extremism that is now the Republican Party.
There are many on the left describing the mental state of Republicans and the resulting internal war to seize control of the conservative movement as the beginning of the end of the GOP’s relevance in American politics and that may be true. However, Republicans still control the nation’s purse strings and they are using their five week recess to marshal support for the upcoming budget and debt limit battles. The extremists are single-minded in shutting down the government and as dangerous as that prospect, the real peril lies in their threat to block a debt limit increase over funding the health law. There are some in Congress who suggest permanently denying a debt limit rise regardless the certain worldwide financial crisis that would ensue and it exposes them for the truly insane people they are.
Republicans have lost their grip on reality and it manifest itself their blatant disregard for the Constitution save the 2nd and 10th Amendments. Their obsession with the President has motivated them and their supporters to discuss impeaching Obama despite they have no grounds, and many of the lunatics still consider the ACA an unconstitutional breach of power. America likely had a few crazy politicians in office throughout its history, but the level of insane extremism has never permeated an entire party or posed a profoundly serious threat to the nation. There is no cure for mental illness and even if there were the insanity ravaging the conservative movement is as untreatable as it is boundless. Obviously, the majority of American people are not insane and certainly do not support the lunacy rampant in the conservative movement, but there is little they can do now and the GOP is just sane enough to prevent them from voting the crazy out of Congress and state legislatures in coming elections. Maybe the GOP insanity will be the party’s undoing, but in the meantime Americans are paying dearly for sitting home and allowing raving racists, disillusioned religiosos, Obamacare obsessed fanatics, and crazed economic extremists to rise to power.
*************Prozac Needing John Boehner Tells Interns You Are Not Here To Change The World
By: Jason Easley
Aug. 21st, 2013
A drunk House Republican intern left their manual at a house party, and now the world learns that John Boehner’s inspires the youth by telling them not to try to change the world.
The internship manual was obtained by Gawker, and really all you need to know about Boehner is how he “inspires” his interns:
Those rules listed above my be the Boehnerest Boehner things ever written. It is easy to see why the Republican Party is so downtrodden and defeatist after reading these supposed rules for success. Who outside of Homer Simpson has ever told young people not to try to change the world?
The Republican Party’s culture of negativity is woven into the fabric of everything that they do. Speaker Eeyore has embraced the dark cloud attitude of entire party. Of course, what else would you expect from a Speaker who wants the House judged not on the laws that they passed but on the laws that they repealed. (Newsflash: Boehner is a failure on both counts.)
We can only imagine some of Boehner’s other advice to his interns that ended up on the cutting room floor. The Speaker of the House told America’s next generation that:
* There is nothing in this world worth fighting for.
** If you think things are bad right now, remember this is as good as it gets.
*** Why bother getting out of bed?
**** Trying just sets you up for disappointment after you fail.
***** Don’t give 100% effort when you can get by with 10%.
****** Seriously, why bother?
We already knew that Boehner couldn’t lead. Now it is clear that the man can’t inspire.