Republican Holy Grails and Ideological Fixations

Shorter Question Everything

Aug 9, 2013 – President Obama Holds a Press Conference [transcript] [PDF]

On the NSA:

…four specific steps — not all inclusive, but some specific steps that we’re going to be taking very shortly to move the debate forward.

First, I will work with Congress to pursue appropriate reforms to Section 215 of the Patriot Act — the program that collects telephone records. As I’ve said, this program is an important tool in our effort to disrupt terrorist plots. And it does not allow the government to listen to any phone calls without a warrant. But given the scale of this program, I understand the concerns of those who would worry that it could be subject to abuse. So after having a dialogue with members of Congress and civil libertarians, I believe that there are steps we can take to give the American people additional confidence that there are additional safeguards against abuse.

For instance, we can take steps to put in place greater oversight, greater transparency, and constraints on the use of this authority. So I look forward to working with Congress to meet those objectives.

Second, I’ll work with Congress to improve the public’s confidence in the oversight conducted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, known as the FISC. The FISC was created by Congress to provide judicial review of certain intelligence activities so that a federal judge must find that our actions are consistent with the Constitution. However, to build greater confidence, I think we should consider some additional changes to the FISC.

One of the concerns that people raise is that a judge reviewing a request from the government to conduct programmatic surveillance only hears one side of the story — may tilt it too far in favor of security, may not pay enough attention to liberty. And while I’ve got confidence in the court and I think they’ve done a fine job, I think we can provide greater assurances that the court is looking at these issues from both perspectives — security and privacy.

So, specifically, we can take steps to make sure civil liberties concerns have an independent voice in appropriate cases by ensuring that the government’s position is challenged by an adversary.

Number three, we can, and must, be more transparent. So I’ve directed the intelligence community to make public as much information about these programs as possible. We’ve already declassified unprecedented information about the NSA, but we can go further. So at my direction, the Department of Justice will make public the legal rationale for the government’s collection activities under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. The NSA is taking steps to put in place a full-time civil liberties and privacy officer, and released information that details its mission, authorities, and oversight. And finally, the intelligence community is creating a website that will serve as a hub for further transparency, and this will give Americans and the world the ability to learn more about what our intelligence community does and what it doesn’t do, how it carries out its mission, and why it does so.

Fourth, we’re forming a high-level group of outside experts to review our entire intelligence and communications technologies. We need new thinking for a new era. We now have to unravel terrorist plots by finding a needle in the haystack of global telecommunications. And meanwhile, technology has given governments — including our own — unprecedented capability to monitor communications.

On healthcare and GOP intransigence:

With respect to health care, I didn’t simply choose to delay this on my own. This was in consultation with businesses all across the country, many of whom are supportive of the Affordable Care Act, but — and many of whom, by the way, are already providing health insurance to their employees but were concerned about the operational details of changing their HR operations, if they’ve got a lot of employees, which could be costly for them, and them suggesting that there may be easier ways to do this.

Now, what’s true, Ed, is, is that in a normal political environment, it would have been easier for me to simply call up the Speaker and say, you know what, this is a tweak that doesn’t go to the essence of the law — it has to do with, for example, are we able to simplify the attestation of employers as to whether they’re already providing health insurance or not — it looks like there may be some better ways to do this; let’s make a technical change to the law. That would be the normal thing that I would prefer to do.

But we’re not in a normal atmosphere around here when it comes to “Obamacare.” We did have the executive authority to do so, and we did so. But this doesn’t go to the core of implementation. Let me tell you what is the core of implementation that’s already taken place. As we speak, right now, for the 85 percent of Americans who already have health insurance, they are benefiting from being able to keep their kid on their plan if their kid is 26 or younger. That’s benefiting millions of young people around the country, which is why lack of insurance among young people has actually gone down. That’s in large part attributable to the steps that we’ve taken.

You’ve got millions of people who have received rebates, because part of the Affordable Care Act was to say that if an insurance company isn’t spending 80 percent of your premium on your health care, you get some money back. And, lo and behold, people have been getting their money back. It means that folks who have been bumping up with lifetime limits on their insurance, that it leaves them vulnerable. That doesn’t exist.

Seniors have been getting discounts on their prescription drugs. That’s happening right now. Free preventive care — mammograms, contraception. That’s happening right now. I met a young man today on a bill signing I was doing with the student loan bill who came up to me and said thank you — he couldn’t have been more than 25, 26 years old — thank you; I have cancer, thanks to the Affordable Care Act working with the California program, I was able to get health care and I’m now in remission. And so right now people are already benefiting.

Now, what happens on October 1st, in 53 days, is for the remaining 15 percent of the population that doesn’t have health insurance, they’re going to be able to go on a website or call up a call center and sign up for affordable quality health insurance at a significantly cheaper rate than what they can get right now on the individual market. And if even with lower premiums they still can’t afford it, we’re going to be able to provide them with a tax credit to help them buy it. And between October 1st into March there will be an open enrollment period in which millions of Americans for the first time are going to be able to get affordable health care.

Now, I think the really interesting question is why it is that my friends in the other party have made the idea of preventing these people from getting health care their holy grail, their number-one priority. The one unifying principle in the Republican Party at the moment is making sure that 30 million people don’t have health care and, presumably, repealing all those benefits I just mentioned — kids staying on their parents’ plan; seniors getting discounts on their prescription drugs; I guess a return to lifetime limits on insurance; people with preexisting conditions continuing to be blocked from being able to get health insurance.

That’s hard to understand as an agenda that is going to strengthen our middle class. At least they used to say, well, we’re going to replace it with something better. There’s not even a pretense now that they’re going to replace it with something better.

The notion is simply that those 30 million people, or the 150 million who are benefiting from the other aspects of Affordable Care, will be better off without it. That’s their assertion — not backed by fact, not backed by any evidence. It’s just become an ideological fixation.

Well, I tell you what, they’re wrong about that. There is no doubt that in implementing the Affordable Care Act, a program of this significance, there are going to be some glitches. No doubt about it. There are going to be things where we say, you know what, we should have thought of that earlier. Or this would work a little bit better. Or this needs an adjustment. That was true of Social Security. That was true of Medicare. That was true of the Children’s Health Insurance Program. That was true of the prescription drug program, Part D, that was rolled out by a Republican President and supported by Republicans who are still in the House of Representatives. That’s true, by the way, of a car company rolling out a new car. It’s true of Apple rolling out the new iPad.

Obama Torches GOP’s ‘Ideological Fixation’ With Obamacare

Obama offers to reform the secret foreign intel court: President Barack Obama has signaled he is open to major changes in how the surveillance programs operate. “Given the history of abuse by governments, it’s right to ask questions about surveillance,” Obama said at a press conference Friday afternoon. “It’s not enough for me as president to have confidence in these programs, the American people need to have confidence in them as well.” At the heart of Obama’s plan is what he described as “appropriate” reforms to section 215 of the Patriot Act. He said he would support the addition of a public advocate who would argue against the government’s surveillance requests made to the secret foreign intelligence surveillance court.

Stupid things rightwingers say

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford Wandered the Streets of His City Drunk Tonight. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who was filmed smoking crack cocaine, paid a visit to Toronto’s Taste of Danforth Street festival tonight. He apparently got loaded. Above is a video of Ford posted to YouTube tonight, in which he protests to passersby that he hasn’t been driving, stops for some photos, and mumbles some other unintelligible things.

Oklahoma: Although Freshman Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) believes President Obama may secretly be a Kenyan who forged his birth certificate, he thinks it’s too late to do anything about it.

Sheriff Joe requires all deputies to carry AR-15s 24/7. Sheriff Joe Arpaio requires all deputies to carry AR-15 assault rifles 24/7, fight crime while off duty.

Armed Gun Advocates Descend Upon Starbucks In Newtown, Across U.S.: Open carry groups are holding “Starbucks Appreciation Day” rallies across the country on Friday, including in Newtown, Connecticut, where a gunman killed 26 people eight months ago. Starbucks currently allows customers to carry their guns in states with open carry. Gun advocates have taken this move as encouragement to stage “appreciation days,” like the one on Friday. As many as two dozen gun advocates have stopped by the Newtown coffee shop so far today.

White Nationalist-Linked Immigration “Expert” Now Writing for Politico: Remember Jason Richwine, the Heritage Foundation analyst who published articles on a repulsive white nationalist website, and was forced to resign from Heritage when it came to light? The guy who argued in his Harvard thesis that America should discourage immigration by non-whites because their IQs are lower? Well, he may have been too radioactive for the Heritage Foundation (amazingly), but Jason Richwine now has a byline at Politico: Opinion: Why Can’t We Talk About IQ? – Jason Richwine.

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) on Thursday told a group of business leaders that he opposed comprehensive immigration reform that did not deal with “radical Islamists” who were taking Spanish lessons “because we don’t have any fear of Hispanics coming into the country.”

Xenophobic Australian quits election race after Islam gaffe: A candidate for Australia’s anti-immigration One Nation party dropped out of the election race Saturday after a blundering interview in which she referred to Islam as a country. Stephanie Banister, 27, had been campaigning for just 48 hours when she gave the interview to the Seven Network which quickly went viral online and saw her labelled “Australia’s Sarah Palin”, who was pilloried for her gaffes as US vice-presidential candidate in 2008.

In other news

What’s the Pentagon Hiding at a Georgia Military Base?: Activists battle the military over its refusal to release the names of trainees at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. In recent years, the Pentagon has kept the public from finding out the names of Latin American security forces being trained at an army base in Georgia. And it wants to keep it that way. From 1994-2004, the U.S. military, in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, disclosed the nationalities of the security forces it was training at the school. But soon after the feisty activists from School of the Americas Watch (SOAW) shed light on how the U.S. was training known human rights abusers from Latin America in 2004, the Department of Defense stopped telling the public who was attending the institution. It was a bid to keep the public from finding out whether the U.S. continued to facilitate human rights abuses in Latin America through that training, which would be a violation of U.S. law. Now, the military is doubling down on that position and is embroiled in a court battle with SOAW over the disclosure of names of trainees at what is now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC). (In 2001, after bad publicity was heaped on the institution, the school’s name was changed from School of the Americas to WHINSEC.)

Pakistan: “The U.S. Consulate in the Pakistani city of Lahore was shut on Friday with only emergency staff remaining on duty following ‘specific threats,’ officials said. The State Department also advised U.S. citizens against traveling to Pakistan. Most American diplomats and staff based in Pakistan’s second-largest city were ordered to stay home.”v

Bitumen leak cleanup underway near Cold Lake, Alta.: The president of an oilsands company now cleaning up a serious leak near Cold Lake, Alta., says his company should have done more to communicate with the public. Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (CNRL) first reported the leak of bitumen emulsion into boreal forest land owned by Canada’s military in May. On Thursday, the company led a media tour of two of the four leak sites, where 200 workers are now on hand to help with the cleanup. “We don’t want to see this damage occurring,” said CNRL president Steve Laut. “We’re very sorry it’s happened and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure it’s cleaned up.” A representative for the company said CNRL has contained the one million litres that has leaked so far, but, it still remains unclear what caused the problem in the first place, or when it will stop.

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