In the USA...United Surveillance America..Politicians, press dodge crucial debate on surveillance
by Dan Froomkin
Al Jazeera America.
October 9, 2013 6:00AM ET
Commentary: The Snowden leaks have exposed the need for a national discussion on privacy, but it isn't happening.
Throughout all the bombshell revelations this summer about U.S. government surveillance, President Barack Obama and top intelligence officials have insisted they welcome a public debate on the balance between security and privacy.
But in reality, they could not be trying much harder to stifle it.
Thanks to the bountiful leaks from Edward Snowden to The Guardian and other newspapers, the public is finally getting an accurate sense of the vast U.S. electronic surveillance regime that collects, connects and retains massive amounts of information about all of us — although government officials are asking us to believe that almost none of it ever gets looked at by anyone.
Far from being forthcoming, however, when administration representatives have made themselves available for questions, their answers have been defensive — often vague or overly narrow, misleading or plainly untruthful. In oversight hearings, they have attacked the leaks and the leaker, made unsubstantiated complaints about press coverage, misrepresented the concerns of privacy advocates and employed scare tactics.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has been one of the few members of Congress to complain about it, raising one subterfuge in particular: "After years of stonewalling on whether the government has ever tracked or planned to track the location of law-abiding Americans through their cellphones," he said in a statement last week, "once again, the intelligence leadership has decided to leave most of the real story secret — even when the truth would not compromise national security."
The President has charged two ostensibly independent commissions to report back to him on some possible reforms, but he has indicated that he thinks the most that might be needed is some tweaks. "People may want to jigger slightly sort of the balance between the information that we can get versus the incremental encroachments on privacy that if haven't already taken place might take place in a future administration, or as technologies develop further," Obama told reporters in August.
What the nation needs, however, is not reassurance from politicians about a few secret changes to covert programs. We need an accessible public discussion of what privacy means in this new era.
Americans have historically had a reasonable expectation that the government was not watching their every move. But the kind of ubiquitous surveillance that once required a massive application of manpower is now cheap, and will soon be effortless.
Thanks to the Snowden revelations, we now know that the government already sweeps up vast amount of information about Americans, including "metadata" showing whom they talk to and email, public and commercial information including bank codes, insurance information, Facebook profiles, transportation manifests and GPS-location information.
When you add that all up — even stopping short of actually listening in on your phone calls and reading your emails — there is basically no privacy left.
So the central questions posed by the Snowden revelations are these: Is there still a right to privacy in the modern age? And if so, how far does it extend?
The nature of privacy is too important to be be determined by a small group of experts behind closed doors.
And because congressional leaders appear disinclined to call attention to their own historical submissiveness to the executive branch in this area — even though they control the funding and oversight of the intelligence agencies — the following questions will need to be addressed in public by the media, through probing journalism, on-the-record interviews, public-records requests, and town halls and other public forums that encourage citizen involvement:
Do American citizens have a right to private electronic communication? Does anyone else here or abroad? Does that right protect just the content of their communications or the metadata about those communications? Or does the government's duty to protect Americans justify the collection, storage, analysis and monitoring of every electronic communication between persons?
Although most people travel openly in public and do not take precautions about being seen, they do not thereby consent to being tracked. Nor do they expect their phones to be used as tracking devices. So should there be limits to the government use of location data gathered from cell phones, mobile apps and public video cameras?
What is permissible for other governments to do to Americans? Is the U.S. government protecting Americans from surveillance by foreign governments, or is it sharing our secrets with them? Does the U.S. intelligence community recognize any privacy rights at all for citizens of other countries?
What about attorney-client privilege? Doctor-patient confidentiality? Journalist-source secrecy? Should those be shielded from the scrutiny of U.S. intelligence — either at home or abroad? Should U.S. legislators and judges be subject to the same surveillance as everyone else?
Is the very act of collecting massive amounts of information about Americans and putting it into a giant database a violation of privacy? Or does it only matter when and if that information is accessed and used by officials?
Secure encryption protects Internet commerce, provides security and authenticates identity. Should Americans grant the government the power to undermine it? If so, under what circumstances?
And why should we trust what government officials say about surveillance programs? If nothing else, the Snowden leaks have made it painfully obvious that they have misled the public for a very long time.
Despite such dishonesty, Americans are being asked to trust that the government will access its massive databases only for legitimate investigative purposes. We are being asked to trust the intelligence community to police itself.
How can the public be confident that any of the rules meant to protect its privacy are really being enforced? How can we be confident the government can even keep track of what it is doing?
Finally, how much of the surveillance regime really needs to be secret? Al-Qaeda operatives are surely aware that the government is watching them in countless ways. What could more disclosure about the general nature of the programs tell them that they do not already surmise? How can Americans assert their rights against encroachment from such programs if they remain ignorant about them?
The Snowden revelations have been so numerous that they are still being processed, and more are to come. Predicting the public's reaction is difficult: More shocks could bring numbness and paralysis — or they could stimulate the public's desire for a coming-to-terms.
The public and the press have perhaps been cowed from demanding a more open and frank discussion of these issues in deference to national security concerns. But the Snowden revelations demand more of us.
The nature of privacy is too important to be determined by a small group of experts behind closed doors. This is the kind of debate that comes around only once in a generation, and is possibly even unique to this moment in history as our analog world transitions to a digital one.
The future of this debate depends on how the national press responds. It could allow this story to fade into just so much more background noise. Or the press could embrace its rightful role as the champion of the public interest, and make sure regular American citizens are a party to important decisions about what is private and what is not in the digital age.
Opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Al Jazeera America.
Whatever Democracy you have left in America will be finally and totally gone ... read below ...
October 8, 2013Supreme Court Again Weighs Spending Limits in Campaigns
By ADAM LIPTAK
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday seemed prepared to strike down a part of federal campaign finance law left intact by its decision in Citizens United in 2010: overall limits on direct contributions from individuals to candidates.
The justices seemed to divide along familiar ideological lines, and they articulated starkly different understandings of the role of money and free speech in American politics.
“By having these limits, you are promoting democratic participation,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said. “Then the little people will count some and you won’t have the super-affluent as the speakers that will control the elections.”
Justice Antonin Scalia responded, sarcastically, that he assumed “a law that only prohibits the speech of 2 percent of the country is O.K.”
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who probably holds the crucial vote, indicated that he was inclined to strike down overall limits on contributions to several candidates, but perhaps not separate overall limits on contributions to several political committees.
At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, President Obama said the case had the potential to destroy what was left of campaign finance regulation.
“The latest case would go even further than Citizens United,” he said. “It would say anything goes: there are no rules in terms of how to finance campaigns.”
The case, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, No. 12-536, is a sort of sequel to Citizens United, which struck down limits on independent campaign spending on television advertisements and the like by corporations and unions. The new case is an attack on the other main pillar of federal campaign finance regulation: limits on contributions made directly to political candidates and party committees.
The case was brought by Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama businessman, and the Republican National Committee. It is in one way modest and in another ambitious. It does not attack the familiar basic limits on contributions from individuals to candidates or party committees. The $2,600 cap on contributions to a given candidate in each election, for instance, is not at issue in the case.
Instead, the challengers take issue with separate overall limits of $48,600 every two years for individuals’ contributions to all federal candidates and $74,600 to political party committees. (Federal law continues to ban direct contributions to candidates or political parties from corporations and unions.)
“These limits,” said Erin E. Murphy, a lawyer for Mr. McCutcheon, “simply seek to prevent individuals from engaging in too much First Amendment activity.”
Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. responded that the aggregate limits were an important tool to prevent circumvention of the base limits. Allowing multiple contributions to interlocking political committees affiliated with candidates and parties could, he said, effectively funnel large sums from individuals to support given candidates.
“Aggregate limits combat corruption,” he said.
The court’s more liberal members outlined various ways the base limits could be avoided. Justice Elena Kagan said it would be possible to write checks for $3.5 million to various entities in the hope the money would find its way to a candidate. “You give $3.5 million,” she said, “you get a very, very special place at the table.”
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. responded that the proposed end runs were fanciful.
“What I see are wild hypotheticals that are not obviously plausible and certainly lack any empirical support,” he said.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer repeatedly suggested that the case should be returned to a lower court to develop evidence on these points, but his proposal did not seem to gain traction.
Should the court agree that some overall limits are unconstitutional, the decision could represent a reassessment of a basic distinction established in a 1976 decision, Buckley v. Valeo, which said contributions may be regulated more strictly than expenditures because of their potential for corruption.
Independent spending, the court said, is political speech protected by the First Amendment. But contributions may be capped, the court said, in the name of preventing corruption.
The effect of the distinction is to allow unlimited spending from rich people, corporations and unions so long as the spending is not coordinated with the candidate they support. Several justices suggested that it makes no sense in such an environment to limit direct contributions to candidates and parties.
“It’s not that we’re stopping people from spending big money on politics,” Justice Scalia said.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy contrasted two people.
“One person gives an amount to a candidate that’s limited,” he said. “The other takes out ads, uncoordinated, just all on his own, costing $500,000. Don’t you think that second person has more access to the candidate?”
Mr. Verrilli said the court’s campaign finance jurisprudence treated the two kinds of expenditures differently.
Justice Kagan acknowledged the point but said the solution was not to deregulate contributions. Rather, she said, it is to rein in independent spending.
“If this court is having second thoughts about its ruling that independent expenditures are not corrupting, we could change that part of the law,” she said, to laughter.
Chief Justice Roberts returned repeatedly to a possible distinction between the two kinds of overall limits. He said he accepted the possibility of circumvention where multiple committees were involved but could not see why individuals could not give to any numbers of candidates.
“The effect of the aggregate limits is to limit someone’s contribution of the maximum amount to about nine candidates,” he said. “Is there a way to eliminate that aspect while retaining some of the aggregate limits?”
Ms. Murphy did not seem eager to win only half of her case.
The chief justice asked a similar question of Mr. Verrilli. Would it be possible, he wanted to know, to address circumvention “while at the same time allowing an individual to contribute to however many House candidates he wants to contribute to?”
Mr. Verrilli conceded that the current limits forbid some contributions of that kind. “That’s true,” he said. “We can’t help but acknowledge that. It’s math.” But he said the limits were permitted by the First Amendment.
Chief Justice Roberts disagreed.
“You could not have a rule that says The Post or The New York Times can only endorse nine candidates,” he said.
Justice Alito at one point suggested he might endorse the chief justice’s approach. “These aggregate limits might not all stand or fall together,” he said.
Last year, a three-judge panel of the Federal District Court in Washington upheld the overall limits, saying they were justified by the need to prevent the circumvention of the basic limits.
“Although we acknowledge the constitutional line between political speech and political contributions grows increasingly difficult to discern,” Judge Janice Rogers Brown wrote for the court, “we decline plaintiffs’ invitation to anticipate the Supreme Court’s agenda.”
The court led by Chief Justice Roberts has so far been consistently hostile to campaign finance limits in its half-dozen decisions in argued cases on the subject so far. The five more conservative justices have voted together in all of those cases, though Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito have taken a more incremental approach than the bolder one called for by Justices Scalia, Kennedy and Clarence Thomas.
************The War on Civil Rights Goes to The Supreme Court
By: Adalia Woodbury
Wednesday, October 9th, 2013, 9:26 am
While McCutcheon v the FEC is an important case because it would finish the conservative dream of transforming our representative democracy to a corporatist dictatorship, the SCOTUS has a docket full of additional cases taking direct hits at established constitutional rights and social policy.
Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action brings affirmative action back to the Supreme Court. Unlike direct challenges to affirmative action, this case claims that states have a right to use the ballot initiative to ban it. Depending on the ruling. the Teatalitarian Party could see this case as a green light to circumvent the U.S. constitution. The question before the Supreme Court is whether an amendment banning affirmative action in a state constitution violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. constitution.
The state constitutional amendment that bans affirmative action resulted from a ballot initiative in 2006. The proposal was rejected by the 6th District Court in 2011 because “it places an unfair burden on those seeking to have race considered as one of many factors in university admissions.” Practically speaking, this means the constitutional amendment protects advocacy for white privilege while banning advocacy for greater diversity in the student body. Rick Snyder’s Attorney-General, Bill Schuette appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States which will listen to arguments for this case on October 15th.
The plaintiffs in McCullen v. Coakley claim that Massachusetts’ abortion clinic buffer zone law violates the first and fourteenth amendment rights of pro-birth activists who just want to be really close when they offer women sidewalk “counselling” the women never asked for. Of course, the pro-birth movement’s definition of “counselling” includes things like shoving pictures of aborted fetuses in women’s faces. Anyone can see you can’t do that 35 feet away.
They also like to tell the women that they will burn in hell, that abortions cause breast cancer and makes it harder to bear children later. But I digress.
The law, passed in 2000, establishes a buffer zone that keeps protestors 35 feet away from the clinics’ entrances and driveways. Originally, the law was passed following a 1994 mass shooting in which 2 abortion clinic employees were killed and several more people were wounded.
But, as the plaintiff’s lawyer explained ”You can’t stand outside 35 feet and communicate with people … You have to have eye contact.”
The plaintiffs claim the buffer law is really about “view point discrimination” directed at the pro-birth movement and they have high hopes that the court will “revisit some of its own prior precedents that led lower courts to believe that, as a matter of law, pro-life speech is less deserving of protection.”
The fact of the matter is the law keeps all protestors, regardless of viewpoint, 35 feet away from the abortion clinic. As such, the law doesn’t preclude the pro-birth movement from voicing their opinions to people who want to hear them. The fact that the pro-birth movement thinks that just because they do have a right to say whatever they want, it means they can literally force people to listen. Moreover, the extreme elements of the pro-birth movement aren’t satisfied with merely telling their lies and shoving pictures in women’s faces. As noted earlier, Massachusetts passed the abortion buffer zone law because a pro-birther shot several people outside an abortion clinic, killing two of them.
We also have the history of clinic bombings, pro-birthers harassing and killing doctors in the name of furthering their cause. In other words, this law was passed as a means to provide physical safety to patients and people who work at the clinics.
Conservatives aren’t happy with merely limiting women’s access to abortion under any circumstances, including those under which the mother’s life is at risk or the pregnancy is the result of rape. Now, they’re arguing that employers have the right to impose their religious beliefs about contraception on women they employ.
This time conservative activists are hoping the court rules in favor of employers stepping between women and their doctors in one or both of two cases. The Court will hear Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius at the request of the Federal Government. Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius is working its way through the legal system.
In Mount Holly v. Mount Holly Gardens Citizens in Action, which will be argued on December 4th, conservatives hope the court will gut the protections against racial discrimination provided under the Fair Housing Act.
In 2000, the township of Mount Holly began to buy homes in the low income and predominatly African American/Hispanic neighborhood. Most if not all of the homes were demolished and replaced with new, more expensive homes. The community sued the township, alleging that the township violated the Fair Housing Act and other anti-discrimination laws. In practical terms, they were priced out of their neighborhood and for that matter, priced out of any housing in Mount Holly, including rentals.
According to the DOJ’s amicus brief, the community presented a study during litigation, which concluded that the redevelopment plan the redevelopment plan would adversely affect 22.54% of the African-American households and 32.31% of the Hispanic households, but only 2.73% of the white households. The study also concluded that the new housing would be affordable to 79% of the entire county’s white households, but only 21% of African American and Hispanic households.
It isn’t hard to see that the township’s idea of improving the neighborhood would result in a radical change in the neighborhood’s demographics. It also isn’t hard to see why far right organizations like the CATO institute favor this form of neighborhood improvement and have joined with the Township in this case.
The Gardens’ residents can’t afford the new housing not because of their race but because of their poverty. While it’s a harsh truth that a disproportionate number of minorities live in poverty, claiming that making expensive products is racist and that these “racists” have an obligation to compensate the victims of poverty is absurd. The FHA was intended, in the words of Senator Walter Mondale, “to permit people who have the ability to do so to buy any house offered to the public if they can afford to buy it. It would not overcome the economic problem of those who could not afford to purchase the house of their choice.”
Of course, such thinking only makes sense to people who believe that laws protecting minorities from discrimination are an affront to the racial entitlement known as white privilege. Let’s face it, the same people who argue how unfortunate it is that a disproportionate number of minorities live in policy, have done everything to preserve it. They have worked to make college less accessible, eliminate protections against racism in college admissions. By creating obstacles to post-secondary education, conservatives are also denying the people affected by those policies the opportunity to get better paying jobs.
When combined with other policies that will inevitably result in creating an underclass largely comprised of racial minorities, the end result is creating more racial segregation. So while building more expensive houses is not, per se, racist, passing policies that inevitably result in racial segregation is.
***************Bernie Sanders Storms The Supreme Court to Stop the Koch Brothers Theft of Democracy
By: Jason Easley
Tuesday, October 8th, 2013, 5:28 pm
At a rally outside the Supreme Court, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) took on the Koch brothers and said, “Freedom of speech does not equal freedom to buy the United States government.”
Sen. Sanders said,
In the long history of our country people have fought and died for democracy. Democracy means one person, one vote. The fact that all of us have the opportunity to be involved in the political process to stand up for what we believe in. Three years ago, or so the Supreme Court decided that corporations are people. They decided that through independent expenditures billionaires could spend unlimited sums of money to impact elections.
Let me say one word to you right now about how relevant that is. As all of you know, the government of the United States shut down. Hundreds of thousands of workers are suffering, millions of people are not getting the services they need. Right now, as we speak, in the House of Representatives there are people who are being threatened that if they vote for a clean CR to open the government without destroying the Affordable Care Act then huge sums of money will be spent against them in the next election.
We are living in a society where a handful of people with incredible sums of money, folks like the Koch brothers and others, are undermining what this democracy is supposed to be about. The bottom line here is that if we do not want to move this nation to an oligarchic form of society where a handful of billionaires can determine the outcome of these elections, then it is imperative not only that we overturn Citizens United, but that we put a lid on how much people can contribute in elections.
Freedom of speech, in my view, does not mean the freedom to buy the United States government
Sen. Sanders was present at the Supreme Court to hear oral arguments in the case of McCutcheon vs. FEC. The Supreme Court will deciding the fate of the caps that limit how much donors can give to candidates and political organizations during a two year election cycle later in this term.
If the Supreme Court rules the caps unconstitutional, it will allow conservative billionaires to spend even more money in their attempt to execute a hostile takeover of the United States government.
The case is so dangerous to our democracy that President Obama weighed in on it today. The president called for spending limits in our elections, and spoke about the role that the conservative billionaires have played in shutting down the government.
Sen. Sanders is fighting the good fight, and if Americans want to know why the government is shutdown, all they have to is follow the money. Government shutdowns are bad, defaults are worse, but these tactics are nothing compared to the damage that the current Supreme Court is doing to our democracy.
***************Debt ceiling: Obama issues fresh warning to Republicans as stalemate drags on
President shoots down new suggestions among Republicans that US could prioritise payments to avoid lasting damage
Dan Roberts in Washington
theguardian.com, Tuesday 8 October 2013 22.46 BST
Barack Obama expresses dismay over the political impasse between Republicans and Democrats
Barack Obama has warned of immediate damage to US creditworthiness if Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling – even if the Treasury can find funds to avoid triggering a technical default in the bond market.
With billions of dollars of payments to social security, recipients and lenders competing for possible attention if such a crisis were to occur, the president shot down new suggestions among Republicans that the administration could prioritise payments to avoid lasting damage.
Dubbed the 'pay China first' strategy by some Democrat critics, the argument growing in Congress is that October 17 is not the hard and fast deadline portrayed by the White House because the US has a choice over which bills to pay first and can avoid missing market-sensitive payments.
But the notion was rejected by the president on Tuesday, who told reporters that skipping any payments would alarm markets to such an extent that the cost of borrowing for the US government was bound to go up anyway.
“What I am told is: if the markets are seeing that we are not paying our bills on time, that will affect our creditworthiness – even if bondholders are paid on time,” said Obama.
Obama refused to answer questions about the legal requirements on the US to prioritise certain financial liabilities first, although Treasury secretary Jack Lew is expected to give further details to Congress on Thursday in evidence that will be keenly scrutinised by bondholders and other international creditors already anxious about the crisis.
The last time the US was perceived as close to a default, during a similar standoff over debt limits in 2011, credit rating agency Standard & Poor's downgraded the US to AA-plus from AAA, even though a temporary deal was struck.
All three agencies would have to take immediate action if payments to bond holders were missed, but may take similar precautionary measures as soon as theOctober 17 deadline for a debt ceiling deal declared by the US Treasury is passed.
Obama again ruled out taking extreme legal steps to circumvent the deadlock in Congress, such as relying on the 14th amendment to make unilateral borrowing decisions.
"Setting aside legal analysis," the president said taking that approach would cause damage because it would end up tied up in litigation. He also insisted he was not a fan of "rolling out a big coin" to raise the debt ceiling, a reference to the idea of minting a $1tn coin to resolve the situation.
His comments came as positions hardened further between the White House and Republican leadership.
Obama reiterated that he would be prepared to accept a temporary extension of the debt limit and government spending authority as a prelude to talks with Republicans, but otherwise stuck to his position that he will not negotiate at all while Congress continues to threaten a default or maintains the shutdown.
This brought a swift, if increasingly predictable, response from House speaker John Boehner, who pointed to previous occasions when presidents have negotiated to avoid such standoff.
“What the president said today is that if there is unconditional surrender by Republicans, he will sit down and negotiate with us,” said Boehner, “Well, that's just not how our system works.”
***************Obama Slams Citizens United and the Koch Brothers for Skewing Our Politics
By: Jason Easley
Tuesday, October 8th, 2013, 3:52 pm
During his press conference today, President Obama took aim at Citizens United and the Koch brothers for causing many of the problems in Washington, and skewing American politics.
When asked about the latest Supreme Court campaign finance case that would go beyond Citizens United, the president said,
Well the latest case would go even further than Citizens United. It would essentially say anything goes. There are no rules in terms of how to finance campaigns. There aren’t a lot of functioning democracies around the world that work this way where you can basically have millionaires and billionaires bankrolling whoever they want, however they want, in some cases undisclosed. What it means is ordinary Americans are shutout of the process. And Democrats aren’t entirely innocent of this in the past, and you know I had to raise a lot of money for my campaign. There’s nobody that operates in politics that has perfectly clean hands on this issue, but what is also true is that all of us should bind ourselves to some rules that say the people who vote for us should more important than somebody who’s spending a million dollars, ten million dollars or a hundred million dollars to helps us get elected. Because we don’t know what their agendas are. We don’t know what their interests are.
And I continue to believe that Citizens United Contributed to some of the problems we’re having in Washington today. You know, you have some ideological extremist who has big bankroll and they can entirely skew our politics, and there are a whole bunch of members of Congress right now who privately will tell you, I know our positions are unreasonable, but we’re scared that if we don’t go along with the tea party agenda or some particularly extremist agenda that we’ll be challenged from the right, and the threats are very explicit, so they toe the line. That’s part of why we’ve seen a breakdown of just normal routine business done here in Washington on behalf of the American people.
The president explained that the Republicans who are in gerrymandered districts are much more worried about a tea party challenger, and that makes it harder for them to compromise.
Obama was obviously talking about the Koch brothers when he mentioned extremist billionaires who are skewing our politics. While the other right wing billionaires were active in the 2012 election, the Koch brothers are still spending hundreds of millions of dollars on repealing Obamacare efforts alone.
The reason why John Boehner has no power over the House Republicans is that they answer to the Koch brothers and other big donors first. This is why if the American people want their government to function properly and work for them again, Citizens United must be gotten rid of. Until this nation has elected leaders that answer to the people, the United States will continue to limp from one Republican created crisis to another. Because we have one political party being opposed by right wing billionaires who are trying to take over the government.
**************Are Moderate Republicans Ready to Revolt Against G.O.P. Leadership?
By: Becky Sarwate
Tuesday, October 8th, 2013, 6:41 pm
Despite a strong aversion to anyone who brands themselves a conservative in 2013, I am really starting to like New York House Republican Peter King (not to be confused with “cantaloupe calf” idiot Steve King). King apparently has no qualms at all about refuting the claims of his party’s leadership in the interest of common sense. Despite endless G.O.P attempts to brand the current government shutdown as a development of Democratic choice, King will have none of it.
See King go toe to toe with Fox News host Chris Wallace this weekend, reminding the disingenuous network that Republicans “are the ones who shut down the government.” Listen to him blame treasonous Senator Ted Cruz for foisting a “strategy doomed to failure” on House lemmings. My enthusiasm is tempered of course by the fact that King has yet to agree to join Democrats in bringing up a clean continuing resolution for a House floor vote, but I wonder how long he can hold out. New York State is definitely not Tea Party territory, and for every safe and cozy gerrymandered Representative, there is a swing state House member that has to worry about his or her position in 2014.
There are other signs that the once quiet Republican moderate voice is converting to a dull roar. One of the lead stories featured in the New York Times this week, A G.O.P. Moderate in the Middle … of a Jam, evaluates the plight of Representative Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania. Dent, who occupies the seat once held by unyielding conservative Senator Patrick J. Toomey, has demonstrated real leadership throughout this crisis. Last week he did the Tea Party unthinkable. Partnering with Democratic Representative Ron Kind of Wisconsin, Dent rolled out a bill that would reopen the government with six months of spending. The proposal included a repeal of the ACA medical device tax but stopped far, far short of demanding the defund or repeal of the Obamacare horse that has already left the barn.
Then we have sometimes maverick Arizona Senator John McCain, who was ahead of the curve in March of this year when he labeled Cruz and fellow GOP obstructionist Rand Paul (among others) a crew of “wacko birds.”
Granted, these are just three voices and I join the chorus of many pundits at both ends of the political spectrum who assert that G.O.P. leadership owns much of the blame for this sorry state of affairs. By allowing themselves to be shoved so far to the right that the party is now hanging onto relevancy by the thinnest of threads, they exposed the entire country to the empowered bullying of extremists. But if there is any good to come from the shutdown and impending debt ceiling battle (and granted, it is precious little), I suspect that a coalition of humiliated Republican lawmakers are about to go all Farrah Fawcett from The Burning Bed on their cohorts.
Politico writer Manu Raju published a story last week about the party’s growing disenchantment, with Ted Cruz and his kamikaze tactics. “At a closed-door lunch meeting in the Senate’s Mansfield Room, Republican after Republican pressed Cruz to explain how he would propose to end the bitter budget impasse with Democrats, according to senators who attended the meeting. A defensive Cruz had no clear plan to force an end to the shutdown — or explain how he would defund Obamacare, as he has demanded all along, sources said.”
I know most of us are thinking, “Yeah, let me know when they start piling on Cruz in OPEN door meetings.” But as disapproval of Republican shutdown tactics surges to 70 percent and the stalemate continues with no end in sight, the dwindling caucus of sane G.O.P. leadership is bound to revolt. After all, 21st Century politics is all about the election cycle and dominating the news of the day. And with millions of workers displaced by the shutdown across party lines, with government tasks piling up and with mounting evidence that red states are faring worst of all in the stalemate, it won’t be long before high profile Republicans decided they’d like to try to keep their jobs, even as party mates cost taxpayers theirs.
******************A Terrified John Boehner Warns House Republicans, ‘Democrats Want to Annihilate Us’
By: Jason Easley
Tuesday, October 8th, 2013, 1:28 pm
In a private meeting with House Republicans a terrified Speaker John Boehner warned his House Republicans that the Democrats, ‘want to annihilate us.’
According the National Review,
Speaker John Boehner rallied his troops this morning at a closed-door conference meeting at the Capitol. Democrats are trying to “annihilate us,” he told his members. “We can get through this if we stick together.” The Ohio Republican added that a “grand bargain” is off the table. What he wants is something that “builds on the gains we’ve made over the past three years, puts points on the board, and doesn’t raise taxes.”
John Boehner finally gets it. Democrats aren’t playing some damn game. They are taking a stand against the House Republican tactics of obstruction and hostage taking. It reveals the depths of their delusion that House Republicans consider forcing them to govern to be the equivalent of annihilation. Democrats aren’t trying to destroy the House Republicans. They are trying to get them to do their jobs.
Boehner’s language is telling. He was not speaking as a firm confident leader who was planning on victory. The use of the phrase, “we can get through this” demonstrated fear and terror. Republicans aren’t winning. They know they aren’t winning, and now they are just looking to survive.
Boehner also undercut his own claim that this isn’t a game by using the sports analogy of putting points on the board. If this isn’t a game to Republicans, why is Speaker Boehner so interested in scoring political points?
House Republicans were so certain that Democrats would cave on the government shutdown that they never considered what might happen if Democrats simply said no. The more Democrats say no, the more John Boehner tries to lower expectations. The House Republicans have gone from getting rid of the ACA, to delaying the ACA, to looking for something, anything that they can use as a symbolic victory.
Democrats aren’t going to give Boehner and his House Republicans anything. That’s why he is trying to just ride it out. Speaker Boehner now realizes what the real stakes are, and he has been reduced to hoping that the Republican House majority can survive.
October 6, 2013The Boehner Bunglers
By PAUL KRUGMAN
The federal government is shut down, we’re about to hit the debt ceiling (with disastrous economic consequences), and no resolution is in sight. How did this happen?
The main answer, which only the most pathologically “balanced” reporting can deny, is the radicalization of the Republican Party. As Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein put it last year in their book, “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks,” the G.O.P. has become “an insurgent outlier — ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”
But there’s one more important piece of the story. Conservative leaders are indeed ideologically extreme, but they’re also deeply incompetent. So much so, in fact, that the Dunning-Kruger effect — the truly incompetent can’t even recognize their own incompetence — reigns supreme.
To see what I’m talking about, consider the report in Sunday’s Times about the origins of the current crisis. Early this year, it turns out, some of the usual suspects — the Koch brothers, the political arm of the Heritage Foundation and others — plotted strategy in the wake of Republican electoral defeat. Did they talk about rethinking ideas that voters had soundly rejected? No, they talked extortion, insisting that the threat of a shutdown would induce President Obama to abandon health reform.
This was crazy talk. After all, health reform is Mr. Obama’s signature domestic achievement. You’d have to be completely clueless to believe that he could be bullied into giving up his entire legacy by a defeated, unpopular G.O.P. — as opposed to responding, as he has, by making resistance to blackmail an issue of principle. But the possibility that their strategy might backfire doesn’t seem to have occurred to the would-be extortionists.
Even more remarkable, in its way, was the response of House Republican leaders, who didn’t tell the activists they were being foolish. All they did was urge that the extortion attempt be made over the debt ceiling rather than a government shutdown. And as recently as last week Eric Cantor, the majority leader, was in effect assuring his colleagues that the president will, in fact, give in to blackmail. As far as anyone can tell, Republican leaders are just beginning to suspect that Mr. Obama really means what he has been saying all along.
Many people seem perplexed by the transformation of the G.O.P. into the political equivalent of the Keystone Kops — the Boehner Bunglers? Republican elders, many of whom have been in denial about their party’s radicalization, seem especially startled. But all of this was predictable.
It has been obvious for years that the modern Republican Party is no longer capable of thinking seriously about policy. Whether the issue is climate change or inflation, party members believe what they want to believe, and any contrary evidence is dismissed as a hoax, the product of vast liberal conspiracies.
For a while the party was able to compartmentalize, to remain savvy and realistic about politics even as it rejected objectivity everywhere else. But this wasn’t sustainable. Sooner or later, the party’s attitude toward policy — we listen only to people who tell us what we want to hear, and attack the bearers of uncomfortable news — was bound to infect political strategy, too.
Remember what happened in the 2012 election — not the fact that Mitt Romney lost, but the fact that all the political experts around him apparently had no inkling that he was likely to lose. Polls overwhelmingly pointed to an Obama victory, but Republican analysts denounced the polls as “skewed” and attacked the media outlets reporting those polls for their alleged liberal bias. These days Karl Rove is pleading with House Republicans to be reasonable and accept the results of the 2012 election. But on election night he tried to bully Fox News into retracting its correct call of Ohio — and hence, in effect, the election — for Mr. Obama.
Unfortunately for all of us, even the shock of electoral defeat wasn’t enough to burst the G.O.P. bubble; it’s still a party dominated by wishful thinking, and all but impervious to inconvenient facts. And now that party’s leaders have bungled themselves into a corner.
Everybody not inside the bubble realizes that Mr. Obama can’t and won’t negotiate under the threat that the House will blow up the economy if he doesn’t — any concession at all would legitimize extortion as a routine part of politics. Yet Republican leaders are just beginning to get a clue, and so far clearly have no idea how to back down. Meanwhile, the government is shut, and a debt crisis looms. Incompetence can be a terrible thing.
October 8, 2013Uninsured Find More Success via Health Exchanges Run by States
By ROBERT PEAR and ABBY GOODNOUGH
WASHINGTON — Robyn J. Skrebes of Minneapolis said she was able to sign up for health insurance in about two hours on Monday using the Web site of the state-run insurance exchange in Minnesota, known as MNsure. Ms. Skrebes, who is 32 and uninsured, said she had selected a policy costing $179 a month, before tax credit subsidies, and also had obtained Medicaid coverage for her 2-year-old daughter, Emma.
“I am thrilled,” Ms. Skrebes said, referring to her policy. “It’s affordable, good coverage. And the Web site of the Minnesota exchange was pretty simple to use, pretty straightforward. The language was really clear.”
The experience described by Ms. Skrebes is in stark contrast to reports of widespread technical problems that have hampered enrollment in the online health insurance marketplace run by the federal government since it opened on Oct. 1. While many people have been frustrated in their efforts to obtain coverage through the federal exchange, which is used by more than 30 states, consumers have had more success signing up for health insurance through many of the state-run exchanges, federal and state officials and outside experts say.
Alan R. Weil, the executive director of the National Academy for State Health Policy, an independent nonpartisan group, credited the relative early success of some state exchanges to the fact that they could leap on problems more quickly than the sprawling, complex federal marketplace.
“Individual state operations are more adaptable,” Mr. Weil said. “That does not mean that states get everything right. But they can respond more quickly to solve problems as they arise.”
In addition, some states allow consumers to shop for insurance, comparing costs and benefits of different policies, without first creating an online account — a barrier for many people trying to use the federal exchange.
The state-run exchange in New York announced Tuesday that it had signed up more than 40,000 people who applied for insurance and were found eligible.
“This fast pace of sign-ups shows that New York State’s exchange is working smoothly with an overwhelming response from New Yorkers eager to get access to low-cost health insurance,” said Donna Frescatore, the executive director of the state exchange.
In Washington State, the state-run exchange had a rocky start on Oct. 1, but managed to turn things around quickly by adjusting certain parameters on its Web site to alleviate bottlenecks. By Monday, more than 9,400 people had signed up for coverage. The Washington Health Benefit Exchange does not require users to create an account before browsing plans.
“The site is up and running smoothly,” said Michael Marchand, a spokesman for the Washington exchange. “We’re seeing a lot of use, a lot of people coming to the Web site. If anything, I think it’s increasing.”
Other states reporting a steady stream of enrollments in recent days include California, Connecticut, Kentucky and Rhode Island.
In Connecticut, a spokesman for the state-run exchange, Access Health CT, said users have generally had a smooth experience with the Web site other than “a couple of bumps and hiccups on the first day.”
By Monday afternoon, the Connecticut exchange had processed 1,175 applications, said the spokesman, Jason Madrak.
Daniel N. Mendelson, the chief executive of Avalere Health, a research and consulting company, said: “On balance, the state exchanges are doing better than the federal exchange. The federal exchange has, for all practical purposes, been impenetrable. Systems problems are preventing any sort of meaningful engagement.”
“By contrast,” said Mr. Mendelson, who was a White House budget official under President Bill Clinton, “in most states, we can get information about what is being offered and the prices, and some states are allowing full enrollment. All the state exchanges that we have visited are doing better than the federal exchange at this point.”
In California, Peter V. Lee, the executive director of the state-run exchange, said that more than 16,000 applications had been completed in the first five days of open enrollment. Mr. Lee said that while the consumer experience “hasn’t been perfect,” it has been “pretty darn good.”
Some state-run exchanges have run into difficulties because they rely on the federal marketplace for parts of the application process, like verifying an applicant’s identity. Minnesota, Nevada and Rhode Island are among the states that have reported problems with the “identity-proofing” process, which requires state-run exchanges to communicate with the federal data hub.
Brandon Hardy, 31, of Louisville, Ky., was one of the first to sign up for health insurance through Kentucky’s state-run exchange, working with an application counselor who guided him through the process last Wednesday. Mr. Hardy, who is uninsured and has epileptic seizures that land him in the hospital every few months, spent about 45 minutes filling out the online application, and learned that he would be eligible for Medicaid under the health care law.
“It was pretty easy,” Mr. Hardy said of the process. “What I really need is a neurologist, and now hopefully that will happen. This is like a huge relief.”
Attempts to sign up for coverage through the federal marketplace have often proved more frustrating.
Bruce A. Charette, 60, of Tulsa, Okla., said he had been trying to log onto the Web site for the federal exchange since last Wednesday, but had not been able to see the available plans or their rates.
Mr. Charette said he was asked verification questions that did not appear to match his identity. One question, he said, asked about the name of a pet for which he had purchased health insurance two years ago. “I don’t have any pets,” he said.
“It’s obvious that the site is overloaded,” said Mr. Charette, an electrician who works in the aviation industry and said he did not have health insurance. “I am not going to stare at a computer screen for 45 minutes, waiting for a response. It looks as if the Web site is freezing up.”
Still, some groups helping people sign up for insurance through the federal marketplace said they were finally able to complete applications on Tuesday, a week into open enrollment.
“This was the first day that I have been able to get onto the Web site and sign people up,” said Laura Line, corporate assistant director for Resources for Human Development in Philadelphia, which has a contract to help people in Southeastern Pennsylvania enroll in health plans through the federal exchange. “We have been setting appointments and answering a ton of phone calls now that we are able to do something.”
Katie Thomas and Jennifer Preston contributed reporting from New York.