Saturday, August 15, 2009

Who's Behind The Costly Teabagger Spontaneity?


It's a lot easier for the media-- especially cable "news"-- to show a bunch of worked-up-into-a-lather maniacs parading around in tri-corner hats and calling themselves Jeffersonians, unaware that he was the epitome of a progressive in his day, than it would be to do the slightesy bit of analysis. Serious analysis might not be what their owners want to see on the TV screens anyway. When Obama told the town hall meeting in Belgrade yesterday that some insurance companies are trying to undermine his plans for overhauling health care by “funding in opposition,” he wasn't just making it up.
He was responding to an insurance salesman who challenged him on why the White House had decided to “vilify the insurance companies” by shifting its strategy from talking about reshaping health care to emphasizing changes in health insurance.

“O.K., that’s a fair question,” Mr. Obama told the salesman, Marc Montgomery of Helena. He went on to say that some companies have “been constructive,” citing Aetna, whose chief executive, Ronald A. Williams, is a major Obama supporter. Mr. Obama then criticized other companies, though not by name.

“Now, I want to just be honest with you, and I think Max will testify,” Mr. Obama said, referring to Senator Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, who is spearheading the Senate legislation. “In some cases what we’ve seen is also funding in opposition by some other insurance companies to any kind of reform proposals.”

The exchange underscored the delicate line Mr. Obama is walking in taking on the insurers. As public forums held by members of Congress have grown raucous this week, many Democrats have accused insurers-- who oppose Mr. Obama’s call for a government-sponsored plan-- of sending protesters to the events.

It was the last question and the president specifically asked for a skeptic. Watch the interaction:

Today the McClatchy papers asked who exactly is behind the attacks, organized attacks by demonstrators who have been well-drilled with GOP/Insurance Industry talking points memorized, against health care reform. And they attempted to answer that question as well. Believe me, this isn't something you can expect to see on CNN let alone Fox. Over $10 million has been spent on TV and radio ads so far and much more than that on lobbying, legalized bribes to members of Congress and astro-turf activities across the country's media markets by GOP front operations like Patients First, Patients United, Americans for Prosperity, Conservatives for Patients' Rights, FreedomWorks, 60 Plus, and, of course, Club for Growth.
Much of the money and strategy behind the so-called grassroots groups organizing opposition to the Democrats' health care plans comes from conservative political consultants, professional organizers and millionaires, some of whom hold financial stakes in the outcome.

If President Barack Obama and Congress extend health insurance coverage to millions of uninsured Americans, raise taxes on the wealthy to pay for it, and limit insurers' discretion on who they cover and what they charge, that could pinch these opponents.

Most of them say they oppose big government in principle. Despite Obama's assurances to the contrary, many of them insist that the Democrats' legislation is but the first step toward creation of a single-payer system, where the federal government hires the doctors, approves treatments, sets the rules and imperils profit.

...Conservatives for Patients' Rights is led by health care entrepreneur Rick Scott, the co-founder of Solantic urgent care walk-in centers, which he's spread across Florida and is looking to expand. While 80 percent of its patients have at least some insurance, Solantic also bills itself as an alternative to emergency-room care and a resource for patients with no insurance.

Scott left his job as CEO of the Columbia /HCA hospitals during a federal Medicare fraud probe in 1997 that led to a historic $1.7 billion settlement. He wasn't prosecuted and got a golden parachute.

Solantic's growth, Scott said in a telephone interview, is due in part to the trend in which "deductibles and co-payments are going up. As that happens, more people want us."

Scott said he wasn't concerned that the Democrats' proposed revisions would undercut his business: "It's irrelevant to us." Instead, he said he opposes the Democrats' plans because he doesn't believe that government involvement will contain health care costs. He sees it killing off the best private insurance plans and ultimately leading to a single-payer system, which he predicted would lead to waiting lists and denial of treatments.

Scott said he supports some government intervention-- such as preventing insurers from dumping sick patients. Those who can't afford coverage on their own should get vouchers or tax credits, he said.

FreedomWorks, which has been advocating against the overhaul but has not launched TV ads, is chaired by Dick Armey, the former Republican majority leader of the House of Representatives from Texas.

But also noteworthy are the group's other backers and board members. They include billionaire flat-tax proponent and former GOP presidential candidate Steve Forbes; Richard J. Stephenson, who founded Cancer Treatment Centers of America, which offers alternative as well as standard therapies, sometimes not covered by insurance; and Frank M. Sands, Sr., chief executive officer of an investment management firm whose offerings include a Healthcare Leaders portfolio.

"They're on our board because they support lower taxes, less government and more freedom," said FreedomWorks spokesman Adam Brandon.

Matt Kibbe, the chief executive officer of FreedomWorks, said its members believe that "the government is already way too involved in the nation's health care system" and that government is to blame for health-cost inflation.

Kibbe acknowledged that private insurance is out of reach for many small businesses and individuals, but he contended that can be dealt with without creating a government-managed exchange. Like Scott, he expressed concern that more government interference would lead to a single-payer system, which would "inevitably" impose rationing of treatments to contain costs.

Patients First and Patients United are creations of a larger group called Americans for Prosperity. AFP's Web site describes a grassroots organization with more than 700,000 members that advocates "for public policies that champion the principles of entrepreneurship and fiscal and regulatory restraint."

It was started by billionaire David Koch, of the Koch Industries oil family, one of the country's top donors to conservative, free-market causes. The foundation's board includes Art Pope, a former North Carolina legislator also involved in conservative causes, whose family owns hundreds of discount stores.

Tim Phillips, AFP's president, is a former Republican congressional staffer who helped former Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed start up the consulting firm Century Strategies in the 1990s. Clients paid the firm to build Christian grassroots support for various business causes. That included work for since-convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The group, along with FreedomWorks, was involved in promoting the anti-tax "tea parties" earlier this year. AFP also is organizing a campaign "exposing the ballooning costs of global warming hysteria."

In an interview, AFP's Phillips said that he couldn't think of anyone on his board with a direct financial stake in the health care industry. "It's more freedom-based," he said. "They have a deep interest in protecting economic freedoms." He also said that no one in his organization believes that more government involvement in health care will lead to reduced costs for taxpayers.

By Labor Day, he said, his group will have organized 600 rallies on health care.

"Americans are looking at these rallies that are happening and the town-hall turnouts, and they say, 'No one group out of thin air could do that,'" Phillips said. "The American people can see through the attacks on the other side, where they try to vilify these groups as being corporate groups or front groups. They're believing it is in fact a broad groundswell.

"We're out here saying the truth, which is costs are going to go up and quality is going to go down. And what's the other side saying? 'Oh, these are front groups, these are all rich people.' The attack route's not going to work. It's not so far."

Two other grassroots groups have financed ads targeting peoples' fears that more government involvement would hurt seniors and hasten end-of-life decisions.

One of them, Club for Growth, which advocates lower taxes, is led by president Chris Chocola , a former Republican congressman from Indiana who lost his re-election bid in 2006. Club for Growth this week announced a $1.2 million ad campaign against a health care overhaul, to run in North Dakota, Colorado, Arkansas and Nevada.

The other, 60 Plus Association, is a conservative senior advocacy group that wants to abolish the estate tax. Singer Pat Boone is the group's national spokesman. Chairman Jim Martin started the group in 1992 with fund-raising help from conservative direct mail guru Richard Viguerie. It spent $1.5 million on TV ads opposing a healthcare overhaul in the last week.

Martin declined to identify his major donors.

Re-reading Rick Perlstein's brilliant opus, Nixonland, last night, I came across an old quote from then Michigan's popular Republican Governor, George Romney (father of Mitt): "America's the cult of rugged individualism [is] 'nothing but a political banner to cover up greed.'" He was right then but he'd be even more right today; it's a lesson his greed-obsessed son never learned though. And it flies in the face of a Republican Party committed to the status quo and to serving the interests of the country's wealthy elites.

But if Nixonland's 850-some-odd pages is too daunting for a summer read, you might consider Perlstein's article in tomorrow's Washington Post, In America, Crazy Is a Preexisting Condition, putting the anti-health care hysteria ginned up by desperate Republican Party officials and greed-obsessed Medical-Industrial Complex executives into historical context.
So the birthers, the anti-tax tea-partiers, the town hall hecklers-- these are "either" the genuine grass roots or evil conspirators staging scenes for YouTube? The quiver on the lips of the man pushing the wheelchair, the crazed risk of carrying a pistol around a president-- too heartfelt to be an act. The lockstep strangeness of the mad lies on the protesters' signs-- too uniform to be spontaneous. They are both. If you don't understand that any moment of genuine political change always produces both, you can't understand America, where the crazy tree blooms in every moment of liberal ascendancy, and where elites exploit the crazy for their own narrow interests.

In the early 1950s, Republicans referred to the presidencies of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman as "20 years of treason" and accused the men who led the fight against fascism of deliberately surrendering the free world to communism. Mainline Protestants published a new translation of the Bible in the 1950s that properly rendered the Greek as connoting a more ambiguous theological status for the Virgin Mary; right-wingers attributed that to, yes, the hand of Soviet agents. And Vice President Richard Nixon claimed that the new Republicans arriving in the White House "found in the files a blueprint for socializing America."

When John F. Kennedy entered the White House, his proposals to anchor America's nuclear defense in intercontinental ballistic missiles-- instead of long-range bombers-- and form closer ties with Eastern Bloc outliers such as Yugoslavia were taken as evidence that the young president was secretly disarming the United States. Thousands of delegates from 90 cities packed a National Indignation Convention in Dallas, a 1961 version of today's tea parties; a keynote speaker turned to the master of ceremonies after his introduction and remarked as the audience roared: "Tom Anderson here has turned moderate! All he
wants to do is impeach [Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl] Warren. I'm for hanging him!"

Before the "black helicopters" of the 1990s, there were right-wingers claiming access to secret documents from the 1920s proving that the entire concept of a "civil rights movement" had been hatched in the Soviet Union; when the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act was introduced, one frequently read in the South that it would "enslave" whites. And back before there were Bolsheviks to blame, paranoids didn't lack for subversives-- anti-Catholic conspiracy theorists even had their own powerful political party in the 1840s and '50s.

The instigation is always the familiar litany: expansion of the commonweal to empower new communities, accommodation to
internationalism, the heightened influence of cosmopolitans and the persecution complex of conservatives who can't stand losing an argument. My personal favorite? The federal government expanded mental health services in the Kennedy era, and one bill provided for a new facility in Alaska. One of the most widely listened-to right-wing radio programs in the country, hosted by a former FBI agent, had millions of Americans believing it was being built to intern political dissidents, just like in the Soviet Union.

...The orchestration of incivility happens, too, and it is evil. Liberal power of all sorts induces an organic and crazy-making panic in a considerable number of Americans, while people with no particular susceptibility to existential terror-- powerful elites-- find reason to stoke and exploit that fear. And even the most ideologically fair-minded national media will always be agents of cosmopolitanism: something provincials fear as an outside elite intent on forcing different values down their throats.

That provides an opening for vultures such as Richard Nixon, who, the Watergate investigation discovered, had his aides make sure that seed blossomed for his own purposes. "To the Editor... Who in the hell elected these people to stand up and read off their insults to the President of the United States?" read one proposed "grass-roots" letter manufactured by the White House. "When will you people realize that he was elected President and he is entitled to the respect of that office no matter what you people think of him?" went another.

Liberals are right to be vigilant about manufactured outrage, and particularly about how the mainstream media can too easily become that outrage's entry into the political debate. For the tactic represented by those fake Nixon letters was a long-term success. Conservatives have become adept at playing the media for suckers, getting inside the heads of editors and reporters, haunting them with the thought that maybe they are out-of-touch cosmopolitans and that their duty as tribunes of the people's voices means they should treat Obama's creation of "death panels" as just another justiciable political claim. If 1963 were 2009, the woman who assaulted Adlai Stevenson would be getting time on cable news to explain herself. That, not the
paranoia itself, makes our present moment uniquely disturbing.

It used to be different. You never heard the late Walter Cronkite taking time on the evening news to "debunk" claims that a proposed mental health clinic in Alaska is actually a dumping ground for right-wing critics of the president's program, or giving the people who made those claims time to explain themselves on the air. The media didn't adjudicate the ever-present underbrush of American paranoia as a set of "conservative claims" to weigh, horse-race-style, against liberal claims. Back then, a more confident media unequivocally labeled the civic outrage represented by such discourse as "extremist"-- out of

The tree of crazy is an ever-present aspect of America's flora. Only now, it's being watered by misguided he-said-she-said reporting and taking over the forest. Latest word is that the enlightened and mild provision in the draft legislation to help elderly people who want living wills-- the one hysterics turned into the "death panel" canard-- is losing favor, according to the Wall Street Journal, because of "complaints over the provision."

Good thing our leaders weren't so cowardly in 1964, or we would never have passed a civil rights bill-- because of complaints over the provisions in it that would enslave whites.

So far in the still very early current election cycle the Insurance Industry has been the 8th biggest donor of thinly veiled bribes to members of Congress. They've given just over $7 million out to senators and House members-- where they have lots of friends, having spent $319,651,132 on direct "donations" since 1990 plus another $1,269,279,506 on lobbying just since 1998! Look at that number again-- over 1.2 BILLION dollars. Why do you think they're spending that kind of money? Because they're patriotic and civic minded? Among the top 15 biggest recipients in the Senate are all the most vocal opponents of reform: Chuck Grassley (R-IA- $73,650), Richard Shelby (R-AL- $61,550), Robert Bennett (R-UT- $59,900), Evan Bayh (DLC-IN- $57,400), Blanche Lincoln (DLC-AR- $55,250), Mike Crapo (R-ID- $54,400), Richard Burris (R-NC- $46,950), Jim DeMint (R-SC- $45,800), John Ensign (R-NV- $45,526), and, despite not even being up for re-election next year, Insurance Industry's biggest shill, Ben Nelson (DLC-NE- $36,000).

You have a similar situation in the House, where of the 15 biggest recipients nine are either leading the charge against reform or working behind the scenes to sabotage it:
Melissa Bean (D-IL- $78,050), Earl Pomeroy (Blue Dog-ND- $69,500), Paul Kanjorski (D-PA- $66,500), Eric Cantor (R-VA- $65,400), John Boehner (R-OH- $64,800), Ron Kind (D-WI- $62,350), Spencer Bachus (R-AL- $47,500), Ed Royce (R-CA- $43,900), and Michele Bachmann (R-MN- $41,750).

Don't assume we're saying every single one of these sell-out corporate scumbags should be lined up against a wall, etc. We report; you decide.

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At 12:58 PM, Blogger Distributorcap said...

with the enormous profits the insurance industry is making - what else can they do with that money except block real reform

what a clusterf**k

At 6:08 PM, Blogger tracyJ said...

whenever both sides can grow up and get serious about this issue, maybe then we can have some real discussion.
the Left has been droning on and on and on about how the Right is "busing it in" and "it's all astroturf".... let's talk about the buses full of ACORN drones (mostly from Pittsburgh) who showed up in a small town of Kittanning, Pennsylvania... not in their district!! ....lets talk about the woman, a delegate for Obama at last year's Dem Convention, who PRETENDED TO BE A DOCTOR @ D Rep Sheila Jackson's town hall in Houston.
Let's Talk About these and all the other bullcrap.... admit that there's room for finger pointing on both sides AND then get down to some REAL discussion. Let's take our freakin time and do some Careful Study of the systems of other nations, like the Netherlands as the Pres sited today in CO, and go about this reform in an intelligent thoughtful way. We DONT need to rush poorly written legislation through Congress like there's no tomorrow. Let's GET REAL! ....for the love of God.

At 6:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A silver bullet was indeed promised: Mult-millionaire Michael Moore said vote Obama, who would tax the rich into providing all the funds needed to support free and universal health care for all, regardless of race, creed, color.

To parapharase Moore himself: Dudes, wheres my money?

At 7:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What would Mr. Obama gain by trying to help Americans with problems which have not been addressed for years, decades? This is an American President who cares enough to go out and talk to and with citizens to clear the air dirtied by stupid repugs like Palin, and to put forward an honest effort to find ways to help us all.
We don't deserve him as our leader. We are more mentally in tune with chimps and evil criminals like bush/cheney.

At 8:20 PM, Anonymous Balakirev said...

'let's talk about the buses full of ACORN drones (mostly from Pittsburgh) who showed up in a small town of Kittanning, Pennsylvania... not in their district!! ...."


Let's talk about the fact that you don't know the difference between ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, and Acorn Industries. And that the videos on the Web simply show buses leaving the area--not a single indication they had anything to do with ACORN.

You know, if you want to create a sense of false equivalency, you're going to have to work at it. These days, we can do all sorts of checking relatively easily.


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