Later On

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

Archive for March 29th, 2010

"Self-Indulgence" as defined by Robert Samuelson

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Steve Benen at Political Animal:

Now I remember why I stopped reading Robert Samuelson’s columns.

In his latest piece, the conservative columnist argues that the money the Obama administration and congressional Democrats intend to use to pay for health care should actually be used to reduce the deficits left by Bush/Cheney, rather than extending health care coverage to 32 million Americans. As Samuelson sees it, President Obama prioritizing the needs of those 32 million people is "self- centered" and his policy initiative "self-indulgent."

Got that? If the president thinks of the needs of those who are struggling, he’s necessarily thinking of himself. This is how Robert Samuelson perceives recent events.

Jon Chait is unimpressed with the argument.

"Self-indulgent" — what an interesting phrase. Let’s consider both words, starting with the end. It contains the assumption that some basic health insurance is an "indulgence," rather than a necessity. I defy anybody to make a careful study of the actual conditions of people who lack health insurance — such as can be found in Jonathan Cohn’s book "Sick" — and come to this conclusion.

Next, there’s the word "self." Self-indulgent is when you spend money to indulge yourself. The Bush tax cuts, which massively enriched George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, could be described as self-indulgent. Samuelson supported those, incidentally. President Obama and the Democrats who enacted health care reform all have insurance. Even if you consider providing basic medical care to people who lack it an "indulgence," they are not indulging themselves. They are "indulging" others.

Ezra added, "And before you think this is all about Samuelson, consider that Charles Krauthammer calls coverage ‘candy.’ There’s an absence of empathy here that borders on a clinical disorder."

So far as I can tell, most conservatives are completely devoid of compassion.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2010 at 1:33 pm

Health insurance CEOs conspire to blame Democrats for increasing premiums

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Since passage of the Affordable Care Act, health insurance companies have begun laying the groundwork to blame Democrats for the increased health care costs that they plan to impose on consumers. Last Tuesday, CIGNA CEO David Cordani told Neil Cavuto that health care premiums will continue to increase despite the new health care law. And in an interview with Charlie Rose, Aetna CEO Ron Williams said that his company also plans to jack up rates:

ROSE: Will insurance premiums go up?

WILLIAMS: The answer is yes, and some of the things that will drive those premiums are significant additional taxes the industry will ultimately have to pay in the first year.

Williams is lying. In fact, the health care law does not tax insurance issuers until 2014. Moreover, as Igor Volsky writes, insurers are disingenuously trying to point the fingers at hospitals and doctors to avoid a conversation about their own failed efforts to control costs while raking in profits.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2010 at 1:31 pm

Deportation quotas at ICE

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Who ordered that? Julissa Treviño in the Washington Independent:

James M. Chaparro, director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Office of Detention and Removal Operations, apparently implemented his own plan to increase the number of deportations of undocumented immigrants, The Washington Post reported Saturday. This announcement was made in a Feb. 22 memo to field directors around the country after he explained the number of deportations this year will be about 20 percent behind last year’s numbers, “well under the Agency’s goal of 400,000 [deportations].”

From the Post:

Beyond stating ICE enforcement goals in unusually explicit terms, Chaparro laid out how the agency would pump up the numbers: by increasing detention space to hold more illegal immigrants while they await deportation proceedings; by sweeping prisons and jails to find more candidates for deportation and offering early release to those willing to go quickly; and, most controversially, with a “surge” in efforts to catch illegal immigrants whose only violation was lying on immigration or visa applications or reentering the United States after being deported.

That same day the Post revealed the memo, ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton released a statement saying that portions of Chaparro’s message did not reflect ICE’s policies and had been sent out without authorization. “We are strongly committed to carrying out our priorities to remove serious criminal offenders first,” Morton concluded, “and we definitively do not set quotas.”

Still, the memo hasn’t been overlooked as an isolated, individual action.

Democracy Now! today reported that the memo sets a quota for non-criminal deportations, even though the administration promised to focus on cases that actually pose threats: …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2010 at 11:58 am

The Get Out of Jail Free Card for Torture

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John Sifton in Slate:

On Sunday, Adam Goldman of the Associated Press broke new details about a 2002 torture-homicide of an Afghan CIA detainee at the infamous "Salt Pit" near Kabul, one of several that occurred in CIA custody from 2002 to 2004. The new report raises questions about the investigation of the death and about accountability generally for past CIA abuses.

The Washington Post first reported on the homicide in2005, but until now it was only known that the man killed was an Afghan and that he had possibly died of exposure to cold. AP now reveals his name—Gul Rahman—and that he had been through several weeks of interrogation when, shackled and half-naked, he died of hypothermia early in the morning of Nov. 20, 2002. We also learn that Rahman was not a member of al-Qaida, but rather an Afghan insurgent in Hizb-i-Islami, a mujahedeen group headed by the warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. (Ironic twist: Hekmatyar’s group received hundreds of millions of dollars in CIA assistance in the 1980s; it was one of the CIA’s most favored mujahedeen groups. It’s also in the news now for offering Karzai a peace plan.)

The facts of Rahman’s death suggest at least a negligent homicide, but as AP reports, it appears no one was ever punished for Rahman’s death. Why not? The answer may lie with an obscure word in a little-noticed footnote in a recently declassified memo sent to a Department of Justice Office of Professional Responsibility. Page 29, Footnote 28 of the memo, submitted in 2009 by lawyers for former administration lawyer Jay Bybee, refers to a "declination memorandum prepared by the CIA’s Counterterrorism Section regarding the death of Gul Rahman."

The word pops up in other sections of the OPR report and other declassified documents, also in the context of interrogations. On Page 38 of the OPR report, one can read about the CIA in early 2002 asking for an "advance declination" from the criminal division of the Justice Department, for proposed interrogation techniques for Abu Zubaydah, the CIA’s first detainee, including mock burial, binding in painful positions, deprivation of sleep for multiple days, being thrown into walls, and water-boarding. Marcy Wheeler lists on Emptywheel other documents in which lawyers discuss "declination letters," "pre-activity declination memos," and "declination decisions" in the context of proposed interrogations of other so-called high-value detainees (see one example here).

What’s a declination? The answer—in the context of the CIA, torture, and homicides—is troubling. The word declination in law is similar to the word indulgence in Catholicism; it’s about avoiding eternal damnation by obtaining forgiveness for your sins.

Declinations are typically used in garden-variety criminal cases when potential defendants who have survived investigation wish to confirm that they won’t be indicted. An attorney for a business client might seek a declination from DoJ in the context of a tax case. With, say, a client under investigation for using a dodgy tax shelter, a lawyer might say: "Hey, let’s ask the prosecutors about you, if they’re formally declining to prosecute, we’ll get something in writing"—a declination letter—and you can sleep at night." (Declinations to prosecute can also be part of plea agreements.) The business is somewhat shady: The very fact a client needs a declination letter can suggest legal shenanigans occurred. Prosecutors can still choose to indict later if new facts emerge, but the declination itself, once given, serves as exculpatory in the hands of a good defense attorney.

In the context of interrogation, torture, and homicide, the word becomes even more sinister. The declination memo "regarding Gul Rahman’s death" was essentially an after-the-fact blessing for Rahman’s killer, in the form of a memo stating that DoJ would not prosecute the officers responsible…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2010 at 11:54 am

The Pope Is Not Above the Law

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Christopher Hitchens at Slate:

One by one, as I predicted, the pathetic excuses of Joseph Ratzinger’s apologists evaporate before our eyes. It was said until recently that when the Rev. Peter Hullermann was found to be a vicious pederast in 1980, the man who is now pope had no personal involvement in his subsequent transfer to his own diocese or in his later unimpeded career as a rapist and a molester. But now we find that the psychiatrist to whom the church turned for “therapy” was adamant that Hullermann never be allowed to go near children ever again. We also find that Ratzinger was one of those to whom the memo about Hullermann’s transfer was actually addressed. All attempts to place the blame on a loyal subordinate, Ratzinger’s vicar general, the Rev. Gerhard Gruber, have predictably failed. According to a recent report, “the transfer of Father Hullermann from Essen would not have been a routine matter, experts said.” Either that—damning enough in itself—or it perhaps would have been a routine matter, which is even worse. Certainly the pattern—of finding another parish with fresh children for the priest to assault—is the one that has become horribly “routine” ever since and became standard practice when Ratzinger became a cardinal and was placed in charge of the church’s global response to clerical pederasty.

So now a new defense has had to be hastily improvised. It is argued that, during his time as archbishop of Munich and Freising, Germany, Ratzinger was more preoccupied with doctrinal questions than with mere disciplinary ones. Of course, of course: The future pope had his eyes fixed on ethereal and divine matters and could not be expected to concern himself with parish-level atrocities. This cobbled-up apologia actually repays a little bit of study. What exactly were these doctrinal issues? Well, apart from punishing a priest who celebrated a Mass at an anti-war demonstration—which incidentally does seems to argue for a “hands-on” approach to individual clergymen—Ratzinger’s chief concern appears to have been that of first communion and first confession. Over the previous decade, it had become customary in Bavaria to subject small children to their first communion at a tender age but to wait a year until they made their first confession. It was a matter of whether they were old enough to understand. Enough of this liberalism, said Ratzinger, the first confession should come in the same year as the first communion. One priest, the Rev. Wilfried Sussbauer, reports that he wrote to Ratzinger expressing misgivings about this and received “an extremely biting letter” in response.

So it seems that 1) Ratzinger was quite ready to take on individual priests who gave him any trouble, and 2) he was very firm on one crucial point of doctrine: Get them young. Tell them in their infancy that it is they who are the sinners. Instill in them the necessary sense of guilt. This is not at all without relevance to the disgusting scandal into which he has now irretrievably plunged the church he leads. Almost every episode in this horror show has involved small children being seduced and molested in the confessional itself. To take the most heart-rending cases to have emerged recently, namely the torment of deaf children in the church-run schools in Wisconsin and Verona, Italy, it is impossible to miss the calculated manner in which the predators used the authority of the confessional in order to get their way. And again the identical pattern repeats itself: Compassion is to be shown only to the criminals. Ratzinger’s own fellow clergy in Wisconsin wrote to him urgently—by this time he was a cardinal in Rome, supervising the global Catholic cover-up of rape and torture—beseeching him to remove the Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy, who had comprehensively wrecked the lives of as many as 200 children who could not communicate their misery except in sign language. And no response was forthcoming until Father Murphy himself appealed to Ratzinger for mercy—and was granted it.

For Ratzinger, the sole test of a good priest is this: …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2010 at 11:51 am

Posted in Daily life, Law, Religion

Pentagon shutters program to help military spouses because it’s too popular!

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Tom Ricks at The Best Defense:

This is a great way to slap around military spouses: Start up a program to help them with college tuition, and then shut it down a few months later when it proves unexpectedly popular.

Not only are they rejecting new applicants, they left existing participants in the lurch on future payments. The Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts program recently has been re-started but still isn’t accepting new applicants. Secretary Gates said the project could cost as much as $2 billion — that is almost as much as one submarine or B-2 bomber. Which do you think helps national security more — getting one more platform, or making tens of thousands of military spouses happier with their lot?

It is almost like, hey, your husband is deployed to Afghanistan? You’re losing sleep over IED fears? We’ll distract you by giving you something else to worry about!

The logic of this is amazing: It turned out there was a huge demand for this, so we had to stop doing it. That’s like taking a car off the market because so many people wanted to buy it. Time for a senior official to step up and make this right, first with a public apology. Congrats to McClatchy Newspaper for breaking this story. Les Blumenthal’s article is chockablock with great quotes. Here is one, from Sen. Patty Murray (D., Wash.): "How they have handled this is infuriating. This is crazy."

This is just another reason why military spouses are so sick of lip service that praises their sacrifice, but fails to follow through by making their problems a top priority. Are you listening, Mrs. Obama?

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2010 at 10:38 am

More on the Legion of Christ and other problems

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John Amato of Crooks & Liars has a good report, along with a couple of videos. Take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2010 at 10:12 am

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