Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for May 11th, 2009

CIA lawyer on defense

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Interesting story by Spencer Ackerman in the Washington Independent:

A CIA lawyer implicated in a Senate report as a key figure in the spread of abusive interrogation techniques angrily defended his reputation in a letter to senators — but declined to dispute the key points raised in the report.

Jonathan Fredman, formerly the chief counsel for the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, wrote to the Senate Armed Services Committee on November 17, 2008 to dispute the characterization of him in documents the committee had released that spring. Those documents — the minutes of an October 2, 2002 meeting Fredman attended as a CIA representative at Guantanamo Bay — helped shape the narrative of the committee’s December 2008 report into the Bush-era Pentagon’s interrogation and detention regimes. That report, declassified on April 21, portrays Fredman as musing to his Guantanamo counterparts about, among other things, how threatening to kill detainees “should be handled on a case by case basis.”

Fredman denied that characterization in his letter to the committee. “I did not say the obscene things that were falsely attributed to me at the Senate hearing,” Fredman wrote. “The so-called minutes misstate the substance, content and meaning of my remarks; I am pleased to address the actions that I did undertake, and the statements that I did make.” The full letter was released to TWI after it filed a Freedom of Information Act request for it on April 22 with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, where Fredman still works.

The Senate committee staff would not comment for this article. But Senate sources said that the account of the Guantanamo Bay meeting given in the minutes was corroborated by numerous attendees of the meeting and others familiar with it. For the committee, the salient fact about the letter — which it received the day senators were scheduled to vote on the completed narrative of the report — was that it confirmed Fredman’s travel to Guantanamo to discuss CIA interrogation techniques and their legality with military personnel, which contributed to the Defense Department’s adoption of similar policies. Fredman’s letter appeared to be an attempt to clear his name, rather than a substantive refutation of his role in the spread of the torture techniques.

Before the October 2, 2002 meeting at Guantanamo Bay, the Defense Department was unaware that …

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11 May 2009 at 1:22 pm

Stem-cell research fight moving to states

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Interesting report by Peter Dizikes in Salon:

When Barack Obama removed George W. Bush’s ban on federal funding for new embryonic stem cell research in March, the president cast his decision as part of a larger effort to remove politics from science. No longer would research, Obama said, be shackled by a "false choice between sound science and moral values."

It turns out the president cannot separate politics and science so easily. No sooner had Obama issued his order than conservative lawmakers in state legislatures began proposing new restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, ranging from criminal penalties to bans on state-level funding. In fact, Obama’s decision has emboldened conservatives to increasingly link stem cell research to abortion. Far from conceding the issue, they are in it for the long haul.

But the stem cell battle is not just a high-profile clash of values. The dispute provides a sharp focus on how science may help reshape America. Several states have set aside billions of dollars to support stem cell research, and the new federal money Obama is promising will generally flow to those areas. That means states supporting stem cell research will experience an economic windfall while attracting highly educated technology workers who tend to vote Democratic. The more conservative states restricting stem cell research will attract fewer funds and fewer socially liberal voters. In short, a state’s stem cell policy will influence electoral results and help determine whether a state turns red or blue.

At the moment, stem cell science mirrors November’s electoral map. Twelve states allow the use of public money to fund stem cell research — and Obama won them all in 2008. Four states have moved to either restrict stem cell research or limit public expenditures for it since Obama’s announcement — and they all voted for John McCain. But now that map could change.

In stem cell politics, key battlegrounds include Georgia, Texas and Arizona — red states where Obama and the Democrats made inroads. These are places that have significant academic and scientific infrastructures but that Republicans control politically. Restrictions on science there could slow the kind of economic growth associated with Democratic support. At the same time, the GOP is putting its popularity at risk by curbing research that most voters support. The new regional political dynamic of the stem cell war is set…

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11 May 2009 at 1:18 pm

Deal reached on credit card legislation

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Congressional Quarterly:

The top two members of the Senate Banking Committee have reached a deal on what will constitute the underlying language of a bill designed to crack down on the credit card industry.

The agreement between Sens. Christopher J. Dodd , D-Conn., and Richard C. Shelby , R-Ala., the chairman and ranking member of the panel, is likely to clear the way for the bill’s passage in the Senate this week.

The compromise, reached over the weekend, is based on language in Dodd’s original bill that would have prohibited card issuers from raising rates on the existing balances of consumers, even those late on payments. The compromise agreement would allow credit card companies to increase the rates after 60 days of delinquency.

The substitute amendment will be introduced on the Senate floor Monday, with votes on amendments occurring as soon as Tuesday.

Dodd, in a statement, said that the agreement reached with Shelby probably marked the final compromise he would be willing to make on the legislation he has been pushing hard this year…

Continue reading. Seems like a reasonable compromise.

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11 May 2009 at 1:14 pm

Torture boosts terrorism

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Daphne Eviatar of the Washington Independent:

This probably won’t come as a huge surprise to most readers, but since it still might to former Vice President Dick Cheney or former National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, both of who’ve been going around asserting that the Bush administration’s torture and abuse tactics as have saved America from another terrorist attack, it seems worth a post.

As the Raw Story reports, a new study by James Walsh and James Piazza of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, forthcoming in Comparative Political Studies, analyzes the influence of human rights abuses on terrorism, and finds that countries’ respect for “physical integrity rights” correlates with a reduced incidence of terrorist attacks. Their hypothesis is that physical abuse makes it more, rather than less, difficult for authorities to gather reliable information about terrorists, and therefore makes it more difficult for authorities to thwart an attack before it occurs.

Although as Ryan Sager at True/Slant points out, their study proves correlation, not causation, it’s still something the Sunday talk-show hosts might want to point out to Cheney the next times he makes his case that torture works and President Obama’s commitment to end it will lead directly to the next attack on U.S soil.

Instead, as James Walsh, one of the study’s authors puts it: The study “suggests that a surprisingly easy and morally unambiguous counterterrorism strategy is to be nice to people. Being mean (like, say, torturing) seems to annoy some victims, who go on to become or serve as examples to new terrorists.”

Written by Leisureguy

11 May 2009 at 1:10 pm

Posted in Terrorism, Torture

Obama’s rich supporters fight to keep tax havens

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Well, I guess they would. I’d like a tax haven myself. Jane Hamsher has a good post on this:

One of the most bold and impressive aspects of Obama’s budget plan is the decision to plug the huge loopholes that allow American companies to hide assets and evade paying their taxes, and hire 800 IRS agents to enforce it.

You would think the fiscal responsibility hawks would be delighted at the prospect to reduce the budget deficit by $210 billion over the next ten years, but alas it’s not to be:

Barack Obama’s rich supporters fear his tax plans show he’s a class warrior

A top Obama fundraiser and hedge fund manager said: "I’m appalled at the anti-Wall Street rhetoric. It was OK on the campaign but now it’s the real world. I’m surprised that Obama is turning out to be so left-wing. He’s a real class warrior."


Among those affected by such changes would be some of Mr Obama’s most powerful supporters in the election, such as Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO, and other "Silicon Valley" executives whose profits are mostly made abroad. They were taken aback when the President blasting companies for "shirking" their responsibilities by avoiding tax.

The plan to end tax breaks for US multinational companies has also drawn the ire of Democrats. Max Baucus, the powerful Montana Democrat who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, declared that "further study" was needed within minutes of the president announcing his proposals.

A report by the General Accounting Office found that 83 of the largest 100 publicly traded US companies had subsidiaries in tax havens or "financial privacy" jurisdictions, as do 63 of the largest US federal contractors (PDF).

Joe Conason wrote earlier this year about the tax havens of bailed out banks around the world. "Don’t expect to find out from Fox News Channel or the New York Post, because News Corp. has its own constellation of strange subsidiaries, including 33 in the Caymans alone," he notes…

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11 May 2009 at 1:06 pm

Did the US use white phosphorus in Afghan bombings

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Very interesting post. It looks as though the answer may well be, "Yes."

Written by Leisureguy

11 May 2009 at 1:03 pm

Posted in Afghanistan War

Mark Kleiman does some strange arithmetic

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UPDATE: Sorry. The error was in the first paragraph: the bill would impose a tax of $50 per oz, after all. But then there were other oversights. So let me just refer you to the post itself. Generally speaking, the projected revenue is too great by a factor of 3 or 4. Read his (current) analysis.

Take a look at this post. Dr. Kleiman is off by a factor of 28. Note his basic error (highlighted below):

If cannabis were legalized at the federal level, the Ammiano bill would impose a tax of $50 per gram. The article quotes the Board of Equalization as estimating that such a tax would produce $1.3 billion in annual revenue for the state.


So a $50/oz. tax is supposed to produce $1.3B/yr.

Once he has altered the tax for $50/gram to $50/oz, it all goes to hell.

— and since I used the wrong tax, my own figures are meaningless.

Written by Leisureguy

11 May 2009 at 12:58 pm

Posted in Daily life, Drug laws

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Excellent analysis of the OLC situation

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Christy Hardin Smith, a lawyer once blogging as Reddhedd, has an excellent post. It begins:

Dawn Johnsen is one of the premiere scholars — on the left or right — on the subject of presidential power, constitutionality and the rule of law.

She, along with several other former OLC lawyers from all sides of the political aisle, crafted a document which lays out limitations on presidential power and conduct under our nation’s laws shortly after the OLC torture memos started surfacing. And that is at the root of GOP opposition to her nomination.

For, as this says, there are some boldfaced limitations to "whatever the President says goes," and the OLC lawyers not only knew that, but had a duty to say so:

OLC’s core function is to help the President fulfill his constitutional duty to uphold the Constitution and “take care that the laws be faithfully executed” in all of the varied work of the executive branch. OLC provides the legal expertise necessary to ensure the lawfulness of presidential and executive branch action, including contemplated action that raises close and difficult questions of law. To fulfill this function appropriately, OLC must provide advice based on its best understanding of what the law requires. OLC should not simply provide an advocate’s best defense of contemplated action that OLC actually believes is best viewed as unlawful. To do so would deprive the President and other executive branch decisionmakers of critical information and, worse, mislead them regarding the legality of contemplated action. OLC’s tradition of principled legal analysis and adherence to the rule of law thus is constitutionally grounded and also best serves the interests of both the public and the presidency, even though OLC at times will determine that the law precludes an action that a President strongly desires to take.

The question is not why Dawn Johnsen would believe that even the President must adhere to the rule of law. Because that is and always has been the standard to which we, in this nation, have held our leaders in a republic which was founded on the very notion that this is a nation of laws, not men.

The question truly is why have some people allowed political expedience to trump the rule of law in their public pronouncements?

That is the root of GOP opposition to Dawn Johnsen. Because once that is exposed for the fraud it has been on the American public, that all the fear mongering and lawless macho posturing has been a sham to provide CYA for behavior they knew — KNEW — was unlawful?

Then accountability begins to knock.

Powerline’s Paul Mirengoff has been the public voice of the Federalist Society oppo against Dawn Johnsen since she was nominated by President Obama to OLC.  One of his recent posts asked this: …

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11 May 2009 at 12:40 pm

Democratic lobbyists working against Obama

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Jane Hamsher has a good rundown on the lobbyists doing the most damage. Well worth reading. It begins:

In his weekly radio address, President Obama called on the Senate to pass the Credit Card Holders Bill of Rights. He is also on record supporting the Employee Free Choice Act and the ability of judges to write down mortgages in bankruptcy.

It’s a shame that Democratic lobbyists are working overtime (and getting rich) opposing him.

We’ve been doing an analysis of where the lobbying money is going in the first quarter of 2009, which lays an interesting map of how power is being parlayed in the new Democratic era: …

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11 May 2009 at 12:37 pm


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Joe Klein tells a good story that illustrates Rumsfeld’s personality:

McKiernan’s departure gives me the opportunity to tell one of the most infuriating stories of the Donald Rumsfeld Era. After McKiernan reached Baghdad, Rumsfeld decided to fly out to Iraq for a victory tour. When the SecDef arrived in Baghdad, McKiernan had been up for three days straight–and, as soon as they got into the C-130 for the flight to Basra (I think it was Basra), the General fell asleep. Rumsfeld was so angered by this–hah!–insubordination that he told his staff that McKiernan would never receive another command so long as he was SecDef. And McKiernan never did: he didn’t get the Afghanistan command until Robert Gates replaced Rumsfeld.

Written by Leisureguy

11 May 2009 at 12:34 pm

McChrystal’s liabilities

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Very good post at

The Pentagon just announced the surprise replacement of General David McKiernan with Lt. General Stanley A. McChrystal, who commanded JSOC from 2003-2008. The replacement, which comes eleven months into a typically 24-month tour for McKiernan, is very sudden, and potentially indicative of a serious lack of confidence in McKiernan’s abilities by the Obama administration.

LTG McChrystal received much praise for his command of the Joint Special Operations Command, which was credited with the capture of Saddam Hussein in December of 2003, and the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2006. As such, he carried a great deal of clout for his methods in prosecuting what many saw as the somewhat scattered successes of pre-Surge Iraq. Bob Woodward also credits JSOC under McChrystal’s command with lowering violence before and during the Surge.

General McChrystal carries with him a dark side as well. One unit under his command, the now-notorious Task Force 6-26, which was assigned to find HVTs, or High Value Targets in Iraq, is credited with the ultimate death of Zarqawi. The problem is, along the way they faced accusations of running a secret camp that tortured prisoners, and they were implicated in at least two detainee deaths during torture sessions. Their camp, called Camp Nama, became something of a lightning rod after a “computer malfunction” destroyed upwards of 70% of their records and an investigation into their conduct stalled out.

More relevant to Afghanistan is GEN McChrystal’s involvement in the shameful cover-up of Pat Tillman’s friendly-fire death. While he was named among the list of high-ranking military personnel believed to have covered up the circumstances of Tillman’s death, GEN McChrystal was “spared because he had apparently drafted a memo urging other officials to stop spreading the lie that Tillman died fighting the Taliban. He drafted that memo, however, after signing the award for Tillman’s posthumously-awarded Silver Star, the commendation for which claims, in part, that he was leading the charge against a Taliban assault. GEN McChrystal has never clarified why he signed an award for Tillman dying under enemy fire right before begging his colleagues and superiors to stop lying about Tillman dying under enemy fire.

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11 May 2009 at 12:29 pm

Posted in Army

Excellent Outlook add-on: Sender’s Time Zone

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Read about it here.

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11 May 2009 at 12:24 pm

Posted in Daily life, Software

More on Chinese and non-Chinese education

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I’m really enjoying James Fallows’s posts of communications from his readers about education in China and elsewhere. Today there’s another. Just to get you started:

From a Chinese person teaching in America; then an American teaching somewhere else; and finally the man who kicked the whole thing off, Randy Pollock himself. (Previously here.)
First, from a Chinese reader:

I had a pretty low opinion on Chinese education when I was in China. Certain subjects such as history and Marxist philosophy are just crammed in without any critical discussion. But when I came to US and worked as TA for a top state university, I changed my mind a bit. Almost none of my students (first-year economics) are interested in understanding the materials critically. Most of them are just looking for a good grade. Also the math preparation some of my students received are so inadequate, I doubt they would be able to graduate from high school in China, not mentioning entering a top university. My classmate told me a story that one of his student could not do 7*7 by hand. From what I read in newspapers about quality of inner city schools in US, the situation may be even worse than I see. So the conspiracy theory one of your reader talked about that the poor quality of rural area schools is set on purpose by Chinese government to keep people ignorant is far-fetched. Compared with some of the public schools in US where so much resource are spent with so few results, I think the education system in China is not so bad.

I don’t think Nobel Prize is a valid measure to compare different education systems. Most of the best scientific talents in China are attracted to US, studying and working here. This alone can make any comparison meaningless. Also scientific research in US was weak till 20th century. I remember reading Schumpeter’s discussion about why there were so few first-rate American economists till very late in the 19th century, his explanation was that the best talents in US were attracted to entrepreneurial adventures in a fast growing economy. Similar things may be happening in China right now.

Next, from an American expat: …

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Written by Leisureguy

11 May 2009 at 12:19 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education

Cut the military budget

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It seems clear on the face of it that the US spends way too much on its military:


The chart is from this post by Matthew Yglesias, which is well worth reading on its own. From that post:

If we decided to take the threats Cornyn names seriously and spend double the combined budgets of China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran then that would imply large cuts in our current levels of spending. And keep in mind that under such a scenario we’d still be able to call on allies such as South Korea, Japan, and our friends in NATO. The west would still have an overwhelming preponderance of military power.

Written by Leisureguy

11 May 2009 at 12:15 pm

Posted in Business, Congress, Military

Interesting: the CIA went well beyond torture guidelines

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I never thought I’d be writing about the US having "torture guidelines," but there it is. And the CIA did not follow them. The story is here. One obviously important point:

The issue has attracted scrutiny because of President Obama’s statement April 22 that those involved would be immune from prosecution if they "carried out some of these operations within the four corners of legal opinions or guidance that had been provided from the White House."

Maybe we’ll see prosecutions of some of the torturers—those who became too enthusiastic in their torture. (Certainly those who tortured prisoners to death should be prosecuted.)

Read the whole story.

Written by Leisureguy

11 May 2009 at 12:10 pm

Obesity epidemic due to overeating…

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Interesting post by Jennifer Warner at WebMD:

Blame the refrigerator rather than the gym for Americans’ ever-expanding waistlines. A new study shows that overeating alone can account for the obesity epidemic in America.

Researchers say that until now no one has quantified the contributions of overeating and decreases in physical activity to the rise in obesity in America since the 1970s.

“There have been a lot of assumptions that both reduced physical activity and increased energy intake have been major drivers of the obesity epidemic,” says researcher Boyd Swinburn, chair of population health and director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention at Deakin University in Australia, in a news release.

“This study demonstrates that the weight gain in the American population seems to be virtually all explained by eating more calories. It appears that changes in physical activity played a minimal role.” …

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11 May 2009 at 12:04 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Medical

The politics of the economy

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Very interesting article by Mark Schmitt in The American Prospect, which begins:

On June 11, 1962, John F. Kennedy delivered the commencement address at Yale. After some Harvard-Yale jocularity, he put forward the most memorable definition of that triumphal moment in what historians now call the era of liberal consensus: "What is at stake in our economic decisions today is not some grand warfare of rival ideologies … but the practical management of a modern economy." Economic problems of the 1960s, Kennedy said, are "subtle challenges for which technical answers, not political answers, must be provided."

According to Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., the speech was the work of a supergroup of Camelot intellectuals that included himself, John Kenneth Galbraith, Theodore Sorenson, and McGeorge Bundy. Its calmly persuasive, sensible pragmatism would sound familiar coming from our current president, and Kennedy’s argument that concern about federal budget deficits was based on "myths" (marking his turn toward Keynesianism) would be at home in this magazine today.

And yet, one can recount the history of the subsequent decades largely as a chronicle of the political error of that speech. It was short-sighted in …

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11 May 2009 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Business, Democrats

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To organize more efficiently, don’t leave the room

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Interesting tips for organizing. They sound good to me.

Written by Leisureguy

11 May 2009 at 11:57 am

Posted in Daily life

Hypocrisy re: journalists

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Interesting contrast:

An Iranian appeals court this morning announced that it was reducing the sentence and ordering the immediate release of Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi, who was convicted by an Iranian court last month of spying for the U.S. and sentenced to eight years in prison.  Saberi’s imprisonment in January became a cause célèbre among American journalists, who — along with the U.S. Government — rallied to demand her release.  Within minutes of the announcement, several of them — including ABC News‘ Jake Tapper, Time‘s Karen Tumulty, The Atlantic‘s Marc Ambinder — posted celebratory notices of Saberi’s release.

Saberi’s release is good news, as her conviction occurred as part of extremely dubious charges and unreliable judicial procedures in Iran.  And, as Ambinder suggested, her release most likely is a positive by-product of the commendable (though far from perfect) change in tone towards Iran specifically and the Muslim world generally from the Obama administration.  But imprisoning journalists — without charges or trials of any kind — was and continues to be a staple of America’s "war on terror," and that has provoked virtually no objections from America’s journalists who, notably, instead seized on Saberi’s plight in Iran to demonstrate their claimed commitment to defending persecuted journalists.

Beginning in 2001, the U.S. held Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj for six years in Guantanamo with no trial of any kind, and spent most of that time interrogating him not about Terrorism, but about Al Jazeera.  For virtually the entire time, the due-process-less, six-year-long imprisonment of this journalist by the U.S. produced almost no coverage — let alone any outcry — from America’s establishment media, other than some columns by Nicholas Kristof (though, for years, al-Haj’s imprisonment was a major media story in the Muslim world).  As Kristof noted when al-Haj was finally released in 2007:  "there was never any real evidence that Sami was anything but a journalist"; "the interrogators quickly gave up on asking him substantive questions" and "instead, they asked him to spy on Al-Jazeera if he was released;" and "American officials, by imprisoning an Al-Jazeera journalist without charges or meaningful evidence, have done far more to damage American interests in the Muslim world than anything Sami could ever have done."

In Iraq, we imprisoned Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein — part of AP’s Pulitzer Prize-winning war coverage — for almost two years with no charges of any kind, after Hussein’s photographs from the Anbar province directly contradicted Bush administration claims about the state of affairs there.  And that behavior was far from aberrational for the U.S., as the Committee to Protect Journalists — which led the effort to free Saberi — documented: …

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11 May 2009 at 11:46 am

Fighting healthcare

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Several posts have taken notice of the guy leading the fight against healthcare reform. Mark Kleiman, for example:

The man who ran Columbia/HCA when it was overbilling Medicare and Medicaid so atrociously that it wound up paying $1.7 billion in fines,. and who eventually got canned by his own board, is afraid of the Obama health care plan, and is spending money on the Swiftboaters’ ad agency to spread fear about it.

If I were a Republican, I don’t think this is the ally I’d want to have out front.

Steve Benen has a more detailed post at Political Animal:

I’m going to guess that in the not too distant future, conservatives are going to regret letting Rick Scott lead the way on health care.

The television ads that began airing last week feature horror stories from Canada and the United Kingdom: Patients who allegedly suffered long waits for surgeries, couldn’t get the drugs they needed, or had to come to the United States for treatment.

"Before government rushes to overhaul health care, listen to those who already have government-run health care," intones Rick Scott, founder of a group called Conservatives for Patients’ Rights. "Tell Congress to listen, too."

Scott, a multimillionaire investor and controversial former hospital chief executive, has become an unlikely and prominent leader of the opposition to health-care reform plans that Congress is expected to take up later this year. While disorganized Republicans and major health-care companies wait for President Obama and Democratic leaders to reveal the details of their plan before criticizing it, Scott is using $5 million of his own money and up to $15 million more from supporters to try to build resistance to any government-run program.

Scott has hired the public-relations firm behind the Swiftboat lies from 2004, and together they’ve already produced an ad campaign with a message that isn’t even close to reality.

More important, though, is the dynamic of pitting Rick Scott against policy makers committed to reform. Mark Kleiman noted last night, "If I were a Republican, I don’t think this is the ally I’d want to have out front." Given Scott’s background, he’s making this easy.

The effort has alarmed many Democrats and liberal health-care advocates, who are pushing back with attacks highlighting Scott’s ouster as head of the Columbia/HCA health-care company amid a fraud investigation in the 1990s. The firm eventually pleaded guilty to charges that it overbilled state and federal health plans, paying a record $1.7 billion in fines.

In an ad broadcast in the Washington area and in Scott’s home town of Naples, Fla., last week, a group called Health Care for America Now says of Scott: …

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Written by Leisureguy

11 May 2009 at 11:37 am

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