Justice Integrity Project
We can learn a lot from the public-relations drubbing that Republicans are inflicting on Jonathan Gruber. He is the recently humbled MIT economist who has been a much-cited expert on the Obama administration’s health care plan.
Close attention to the scandal teaches how Affordable Care Act (ACA), aka “Obamacare,” was passed in part by money-grubbing elitists who operated with an "ends justifies the means" mentality that's counter-productive when exposed.
Part of the image is persistent spin by political opponents of expanded health care. But part is all too true.
Gruber, shown in a photo from his faculty website at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), apparently made millions of dollars little known to the general public -- a group he has described with disdain.
More important, his secrets remind us how President Obama's major domestic achievement was shaped right from the beginning by technocrats who relied heavily on public relations strategies to outwit not simply Republicans but also progressives advocating universal health care that could have used a lower cost "public option" method of delivery like Medicare or systems used in other nations.
Right now, Republicans are gloating over what they call "Gruber-gate." Democrats are playing defense for a program that sought to extend coverage to an estimated 36 million Americans who could not afford health care.
There exists another and largely un-reported perspective these days worth remembering. The Obama White House secretly sabotaged from the beginning simpler, cheaper and more progressive alternatives to its complicated ACA, which was cobbled together to appease important special interests. Thus, Gruber and his arrogant behavior were just small parts of a larger PR spin machine.
Earlier this month, a GOP-led House committee attacked Gruber for his recently revealed statements to lecture audiences.
Most disturbing, the professor confided to fellow technocrats during a 2013 conference at the University of Pennsylvania that ACA's passage required “the stupidity of the American voter.”
The conservative advocacy group American Commitment last month revealed the tapes showing Gruber making the disparaging comments as he described the narrow congressional passage of the ACA in 2010. The video clip shows Gruber saying “lack of transparency is a huge political advantage.” Gruber added that “the stupidity of the American voter . . . was really critical for the [ACA] to pass.”
Gruber issued many apologies at a House hearing Dec. 9 by the House Government Operations Committee.
Setting the stage for future brow-beating in the next Congress, outgoing Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), right, demanded that Gruber cough up his financial records so the public could learn how much he has made in grants. Such funding, ostensibly awarded on a merit basis, can serve also as a control/reward system for academics and their institutions.
During the run-up to ACA passage in 2010, the Obama administration urged news outlets to quote Gruber because he was a supposedly independent expert who had calculated why ACA would meet its financial and other performance goals, including estimates reviewed by the influential Congressional Budget Office.
Far from being independent, Gruber was in the process of making at least $392,000 from two "sole-source" U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) grants, according to a 2010 report by progressive blogger Marcy Wheeler of FireDogLake.
When the scandal broke last month about Gruber’s arrogant comments to fellow economists, President Obama downplayed Gruber’s role in the health care field. In a brief remark Nov. 16 during a trip to Australia, the president called Gruber, “some adviser who never worked on our staff.”
However, extensive background exists showing that the president knew and admired Gruber, whom he cited in an April 2006 speech before the Hamilton Project, a prestigious start-up think tank under the wing of the Brookings Institution.
Republicans have gone overboard also. Several, including Issa, have called Gruber an "architect" of Obamacare. But that description exaggerates Gruber's role, as Factcheck.com reported in The ACA-Gruber Connection. The true architects were White House staff, a few major lobbyists and Senate staffers.
Congress, despite its flaws and unpopularity, remains the country’s best hope for the major reforms that the United States requires.
That was the message of two longtime counter-terrorism experts, Jeffrey and Michele Steinberg, who spoke Dec. 17 to the McClendon Group speaker society at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.
McClendon Chairman John Edward Hurley introduced them by saying, "Executive Intelligence Review Magazine has two of the best counter-intelligence writers in Washington. A husband and wife team, they have been hunting down the oligarchical enemies of the United State for more than 40 years."
Hurley is a former White House correspondent with the late Sarah McClendon's DC-based news service and is a director of the Justice Integrity Project. Among his many other civic pursuits, he organizes near-weekly gatherings that provide a venue for experts whose messages are bold and often under-reported, at least outside their normal audiences.
Among past guests have been Accuracy in Media founder Reed Irvine, Ralph Nader, Helen Thomas, future Obama National Security Director James Clapper (shown with the president at right in a White House photo), former congressional representatives Ron Paul (R-TX), Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) and Charles Wilson (D-TX), and former Pentagon-CIA liaison Fletcher Prouty. The latter, referenced on this cite multiple columns in recent months, became in 1973 one of the first insiders ever to document the CIA's vast abuses of power. Prouty alleged, for example, that the CIA played a key role in the 1963 murder of President Kennedy.
This week Hurley introduced the Steinbergs by predicting they would show that President Obama "is nothing more than a Bush-Cheney neo-con in sheep's clothing."
The couple alternated in their remarks, speaking in a low-key style to a dinner audience convened around a one large rectangular table.
The speakers asserted that the United States faces extreme threats of economic contraction, war, and massive corruption. The problems, they argued, are fostered by top leaders in both major parties and the oligarchs who wield great and near-unaccountable influence over government.
The threats are so dire, they stated, that a reinvigorated Congress operating under the Constitution is the best option for serious reformers -- even though a Gallup poll this month showed the body with an approval rating in the low 20s.
Congress obtained 90 co-sponsors this term for a re-enactment of Glass-Steagall Depression-era protections for bank depositors, the researchers noted. “It’s not bad for a start,” said Jeff Steinberg, even though he recognized the number as far short of the 218 representatives needed to pass a bill in the House to reverse the 1999 bipartisan removal of Depression-era protections for bank customers.
“If you want to bankrupt the oligarchs,” he continued, “then you forbid the taxpayer from having to fund their ‘gambling’ losses.”
The Senate's revelations last week of CIA torture abuses should anger the public and prompt action against the higher-ups responsible for such disgraceful policies and cover-up.
But the report is unlikely to do so despite its documentation of horrors.
Even so, Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), right, and President Obama provided lax oversight for years. They enabled crimes to go unreported for the most part during the five years of the investigation, and for many outrageous practices to continue at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, and in secret prisons the CIA funded in allied nations with vast payoffs to complicit officials.
The Senate report shows far worse crimes than those exposed in the 2003 Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq. Revelations from the prison in Iraq's capital prompted punishment that included a 10-year prison sentence for guard Charles Graner. He is shown standing above a mound of seven naked prisoners in a personal photo at left, which the Associated Press later distributed.
Yet Graner and all but one of the others punished were low-level guards with little relevant training. One convict was Graner's colleague and lover Lynndie England, shown in the photo. England, a West Virginia high school junior when she enlisted in the Army Reserves, was scapegoated with a three-year prison sentence.
No American leader dares take the next step of seeking censure much less prosecution for those at higher levels. We can now say with confidence they were criminally responsible for the more serious and widespread actions that the Senate documented in the 500-page summary of the still-classified 6,700-page report.
The actions reported on the basis of confidential CIA documents are forbidden by U.S. treaty and the morality of all civilized nations. Once upon a time, the United States opposed and punished torture, most famously during the post-World War II Nuremberg trials that resulted in execution of war criminals.
Far from seeking accountability regarding the torture as United Nations officials last week demanded, few American leaders are willing to connect the torture issue to other institutional lapses. These include last week's other major government disgrace -- rushed passage by a lame-duck Congress of a $1.1 trillion annual federal budget bill. Few members could have read the bill. It had been devised largely in secret in negotiations with leadership and lobbyists, not the "regular order" of hearings.
The bill creates giveaways to bankers and other wealthy, elite "one-percenters."
Obama plans to sign the bill, which raises campaign finance limits to $1.5 million for an individual donor to a party ($3 million for a couple), a ten-fold increase in the current limit.
Among its many dubious provisions, the bill enables funding cutbacks for pension recipients who had more than one employer and reduces Pell grants from college students, many of them minorities. Those groups are among those who will pay for last week's largesse to banks, defense and intelligence contractors, and others who possess enough clout to attract the goodwill of DC lawmakers.
More generally, torture will resonate as a moral and political issue only if the public understands how it stems from our misguided pro-war culture, which has been destroying the middle class. In various ways, that's where funding has been come from to fund overseas military adventures and the surveillance/police state, including the torture sector.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D), left, promoted her reputation among liberals by objecting to bank-friendly and reputedly bank-drafted provisions. These mandate that taxpayers automatically bail out banks whose profiteering leads them into risky investments, as in the 2007-2008 financial crisis and before the 2010 Dodd-Frank legislation.
But Warren and other senators failed to filibuster the budget bill. Neither do they appear ready to fight against separate legislation to enable the CIA and its allies in a Republican-led Congress to initiate new wars in the Mideast and Ukraine with scant legislative control.
In the new Congress beginning in January, key Senate committees will be led by the body's most ardent interventionists, including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), right, on the Armed Services Committee.
Democrats emerged from the weekend with a few crumbs, including the likelihood of a few patronage confirmation votes early this week.
One nomination catching our eye was that of Northern District of Texas U.S. Attorney Sarah Saldaña to become assistant Homeland Security Secretary, thereby running the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) had opposed her on the grounds that she would be a rubber stamp for the president's claim he had the power to shield from deportation five million people in the country illegally. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) planned to put her nomination to a vote early this week. Ironically, Cruz's tactics over the weekend provided a tactical opening for a confirmation vote.
Cruz's attack carries special resonance to those who saw Saldaña moderate a panel last year broadcast by C-SPAN entitled, JFK Assassination: Warren Commission Findings. "Rubber stamp" and "glad-handing careerist" describe her fatuous role in giving unreserved endorsement to the Warren Commission staffers and their dubious findings voiced on the panel.
The federal prosecutor's remarks showed that she regarded her role as an opportunity to ingratiate herself with attendees, not to raise substantial points. The locale was her alma mater, Southern Methodist University in Dallas, coincidentally the home of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum. The site exemplified the unity of both political parties, academia and the justice system behind deeply flawed if not corrupt Warren Commission findings, as described in our 22-part Readers Guide to the JFK Assassination.
All panelists in the two SMU sessions (including faculty) and all members of the audience expressed support for the Warren Commission's findings. Also, Dallas authorities used an advance ticket system to prevent any critics of the Warren Commission from attending an open-air memorial at Dealey Plaza to commemorate the nation's most important and controversial murder of the century.
In sum, Saldaña used the unique occasion of the 50th anniversary of the president's death and an unprecedented panel of surviving investigators to bestow the prestige of federal law enforcement on a biased program, feathering her own nest in the process. She helped ensured that no one would be offended and no one would learn anything substantial. That is the kind of official the system promotes to higher office.
Why Does the Public Keep Losing?
Let's take a step back to reflect on why the military hawks, banks, mega-donors, and craven public officials always seem to win, as do cover-up artists and careerists.
Very few Americans knowingly voted last November for new wars in the Ukraine against Syria's government at enormous cost. In the case of arming the Ukraine, historically part of Russia, the neo-conservatives and their neo-liberal/corporate Democrat allies dominating today's foreign affairs establishment in both parties are obtaining their long-sought confrontation with Russia to shatter its power -- but one that has the potential for armed conflict against a nuclear power.
A commentator caught the Obama White House playing public relations word games regarding the president's so-called "Executive Order" changing immigration law last month.
Author and World Net Daily (WND) senior reporter Jerome R. Corsi reported Dec. 3 that the White House never issued an "order" despite widespread news coverage repeating the term that President Obama had used Nov. 20 to announce his plan.
The president's legal advisers and many reporters who seek friendly access to the White House have avoided the story. Why? To shield the Obama White House from embarrassment and legal and political accountability, according to Corsi, right, a best-selling author with conservative viewpoints.
The situation is worth exploring. It exemplifies the public relations shenanigans, constitutional brinkmanship, secretive decision-making, and lapdog reporting that pervade Washington.
These factors were especially apparent this month. Major issues have been crammed into a lame-duck, post-election period. Elected officials are thus avoiding much of the accountability to the public that the lawmakers should face for their last-minute decision-making and do-nothing performance much of the rest of the year.
This week the House rapidly approved of the nation's one trillion dollar budget. The House cobbled together the bill in secret for the most part. The budget kowtows to bankers, militarists and multi-million-dollar campaign donors. The bill reinstates in advance a federal bailout if large banks return to speculation and face ruin if their bets fail. Among those hurt by the budget, at least in the short term, are pension recipients who had more than one employer during their working years and college students dependent on Pell grants. Dec. 13 Update: Senate Passes $1.1 Trillion Spending Bill, Joining House.
The bill does not make a major financial issue out of the president's immigration initiative. That battle was postponed for another day.
Corsi described his views to me in a meeting Tuesday at the National Press Club after Rush Limbaugh and the Drudge Report had echoed his scoop earlier this week.
We spoke also about how independent reporters, as in this instance, frequently scoop the "beat reporters" from mainstream news organizations regarding information embarrassing to officials on sensitive topics. For example, Corsi is the author of a bold and insightful new e-book on President Kennedy's assassination, Who Killed John F. Kennedy?
Regarding the immigration order, my check of White House websites and clippings confirmed the basics of Corsi's allegation. The White House site contains separately an Obama "memorandum" on immigration Nov. 21,"Modernizing and Streamlining the U.S. Immigrant Visa System for the 21st Century."
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence issued on Dec. 9 a long report describing the CIA’s Bush-era torture program as not "effective" and damaging to U.S. interests.
The inquiry begun in 2009 made 20 key findings about the program launched during the Bush-Cheney administration, according to an analysis by the Washington Post. President George W. Bush (2001-2009) is shown in his official photo.
Update: UN officials demand prosecutions for US torture, as reported by the Associated Press.
The program, the senate oversight panel said, was:
1 “not an effective means of acquiring intelligence”
2 “rested on inaccurate claims of their effectiveness”
3 “brutal and far worse than the CIA represented”
4 “conditions of confinement for CIA detainees were harsher”
5 “repeatedly provided inaccurate information”
6 “actively avoided or impeded congressional oversight”
7 “impeded effective White House oversight”
8 “complicated, and in some cases impeded, the national security missions”
9 “impeded oversight by the CIA’s Office of Inspector General”
10 “coordinated the release of classified information to the media”
11 “unprepared as it began operating”
12 “deeply flawed throughout the program's duration”
13 “overwhelmingly outsourced operations”
14 “coercive interrogation techniques that had not been approved”
15 “did not conduct a comprehensive or accurate accounting of the number of individuals it detained”
16 “failed to adequately evaluate the effectiveness”
17 “rarely reprimanded or held personnel accountable”
18 “ignored numerous internal critiques, criticisms, and objections”
19 “inherently unsustainable”
20 “damaged the United States' standing in the world”
The CIA's obstruction of all three major government probes of President Kennedy's 1963 assassination helps explain the agency's success thus far in blocking Senate oversight of CIA-run torture.
The agency this fall is fighting publication of a Senate report on torture while it also avoids for the most part adverse news coverage and government inquiry regarding Kennedy's death.
Update: The Senate released on Dec. 9 its findings, summarized by the Washington Post in 20 key findings about CIA interrogations.
The CIA has sought on national security grounds major edits in the Senate probe of agency torture of terror suspects.
The agency's delaying tactics would lack credibility if not for previous cover-ups of alleged CIA crimes. This fall marks the 50th anniversary of the Warren Commission’s dubious claim that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone to kill JFK. Serious questions remain about the agency's role in the cover-up and the killing.
The CIA-friendly Obama White House is deferring to the agency in a torture scandal that began during the Bush administration, and prompted a Senate probe beginning in 2009.
“Continued White House foot-dragging on the declassification of a much-anticipated Senate torture report is raising concerns that the administration is holding out until Republicans take over the chamber and kill the report themselves,” according to Dan Froomkin, writing “Is Obama Stalling Until Republicans Can Bury the CIA Torture Report?” for First Look / Intercept. “Senator Dianne Feinstein’s intelligence committee sent a 480-page executive summary of its extensive report on the CIA’s abuse of detainees to the White House for declassification more than six months ago.”
Froomkin’s analysis might puzzle those who believe in conventional wisdom about Obama: That he and his White House operate far to the left of the CIA-friendly Feinstein, the California Democrat shown at right. She chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
The senator and her staffers became angry earlier this year because CIA Director John Brennan initially refused to apologize after his team was caught spying on agency staff, who represent the elected senators who ostensibly oversee the agency. McClatchy reported the reasons in CIA admits it broke into Senate computers; senators call for spy chief’s ouster.
Brennan, a well-connected career CIA officer who was a White House advisor during Obama's first term, is shown below at far right in an official photo of his nomination ceremony Jan. 7, 2013. Former Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska was nominated at the same time to become secretary of defense. In the photo, he is shown at the left, not to the president.
My opinion column below, the 22nd segment in the Justice Integrity Project's “JFK Assassination Readers Guide” series, amplifies my recent lecture carried on C-SPAN3's American History TV, The JFK Murder 'Cover-up' Still Matters.
Many of the previous segments in our series provided updated research tools regarding JFK-focused books, films and archives. But the historian at some point needs to provide also conclusions, as my Cornell professor Alan Bloom taught long ago in assigning his class Friedrich Nietzsche's Use and Abuse of History.
In this instance, the torture issue is one of the better-documented of the inherently secret power struggles within the intelligence/defense communities. Another recent example is the forced resignation of last week of Hagel, a Republican, for unexplained reasons we shall illuminate in a separate column.
The torture report is particularly important. It centers on core values of United States democracy.One is the ability of elected leaders to oversee a hidden government represented by the CIA, as reported in previous segments of this series.
Moreover, rendition and torture of suspects -- often without the protections of a criminal process or prisoner-of-war status -- undermines both the morality and effectiveness of United States war-making that the CIA increasingly undertakes in covert operations.
With that background, we examine three big secrets that decipher the Senate-CIA-White House impasse:
Secret number One: Obama is a product of the intelligence community's centrist wing, but also fears it. The CIA's allied organizations include the Ford Foundation when it was run by Lyndon Johnson's former National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy. They fostered the careers of both of Obama's parents and the young Obama. The future president's first job after college graduation in 1983 was with the CIA front company Business International Corp. My book Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney and Their Masters documented this family background in part by citing pioneering researchers whose findings are ignored by the mainstream media.
Second, Obama, like his White House predecessors, is undoubtedly aware that the Warren Commission’s account of the Kennedy killing was a cover-up. Similarly, he as a black man and his top advisors surely know the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s ostensible killer, Jame Earl Ray, was a patsy imprisoned in a set-up scenario similar to Oswald's. Our JFK Readers Guide has documented that the CIA acts at times on behalf of a “High Cabal” of private sector potentates, and has been implicated in the Warren Commission whitewash if not the killing. It is now well-documented that government personnel who opposed JFK's policies relied on the mob, Cuban exile community and government allies on a need-to-know basis to deliver government control to the president's CIA-friendly Vice President Johnson, whom some best-selling authors now allege to have helped plan JFK's murder.