Specter Cancels Appearance at Free Speech Conference, CAIR Claims Credit

Sen. Arlen Specter backed out of speaking at a Tuesday conference on the global effort to silence speech critical of Islam, citing a scheduling conflict, but the Council on American-Islamic Relations has taken credit for his decision.

In February Specter introduced legislation in the U.S. Senate aimed at protecting American authors who have been sued under plaintiff-friendly libel laws overseas. He was scheduled to speak about the trend, known as “libel tourism,” at a Washington conference being sponsored by the Legal Project of the Middle East Forum, the Federalist Society Center for National Security Law, and the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression.

CAIR branded it an “anti-Islam” conference and launched a petition drive last Friday protesting Specter’s appearance, and on Monday the pressure group took credit for getting him to cancel. 

But Brooke Goldstein*, who organized the conference in her role as director of the Middle East Forum’s Legal Project, said that Specter had canceled his scheduled appearance two days before CAIR launched its online petition. The group issued a press release responding to CAIR this morning, noting that Specter has not changed his support for the legislation he co-sponsored with Sens. Chuck Schumer and Joe Lieberman.

Specter’s office wrote in an email to TAS that “he had several hearings and constituent meetings scheduled for this morning.”

One of the speakers at the conference, James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal, noted:

We do not have a strong opinion as to whether, as CAIR puts it, “American Muslims are involved in a concerted effort to suppress free speech on Islam.” Running a petition to pressure an elected official not to participate in a conference on the subject would seem, however, to  fit that description.

Other speakers included Daniel Pipes, Alan Dershowitz, Frank Gaffney, and Andrew McCarthy. More on the conference itself to come.

*Brooke Goldstein is an occasional contributor to The American Spectator.

Hersh Accuses Cheney of Ordering the Hit on Bhutto UPDATE: Hersh Denies Report

The Pakistani newspaper the Nation reports that:

Former prime minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto was assassinated on the orders of the special death squad formed by former US vice-president Dick Cheney, which had already killed the Lebanese Prime Minister Rafique Al Hariri and the army chief of that country.”

The squad was headed by General Stanley McChrystal, the newly-appointed commander of US army in Afghanistan. It was disclosed by reputed US journalist Seymour Hersh while talking to an Arab TV in an interview.

Hersh said former US vice-president Cheney was the chief of the Joint Special Operation Command and he clear the way for the US by exterminating opponents through the unit and the CIA. General Stanley was the in-charge of the unit.

I guess we should expect a forthcoming New Yorker article featuring anonymous high-ranking officials who deliver quotes that fit perfectly into Hersh’s story. The problem is, while I can laugh at Hersh’s claims, when he makes them to an Arab audience where he is billed as a “reputed US journalist,” it can actually have a damaging effect and add fuel to anti-Americanism.

UPDATE: Seymour Hersh is denying he made this accusation:

LAHORE: US journalist Seymour Hersh on Monday contradicted news reports being published in South Asia that quote him as saying a “special death squad” made by former US vice president Dick Cheney had killed Benazir Bhutto. The award-winning journalist described as “complete madness” the reports that the squad headed by General Stanley McChrystal — the new commander of US army in Afghanistan — had also killed former Lebanese prime minister Rafique Al Hariri and a Lebanese army chief. “Vice president Cheney does not have a death squad. I have no idea who killed Mr Hariri or Mrs Bhutto,” Hersh said. “I have never said that I did have such information. I most certainly did not say anything remotely to that effect during an interview with an Arab media outlet.” He said Gen McChrystal had run a special forces unit that engaged in “high value target activity”, but “while I have been critical of some of that unit’s activities in the pages of the New Yorker and in interviews, I have never suggested that he was involved in political assassinations or death squads on behalf of Mr Cheney, as the published stories state.” He regretted that none of the publications had contacted him before carrying the report. “This is another example of blogs going bonkers with misleading and fabricated stories and professional journalists repeating such rumours without doing their job — and that is to verify such rumours.” staff report.

Though back in March, Keith Olberman ran a story that Hersh claimed Cheney was running a “covert executive assassination ring.”

UPDATE II: Transcript corroborates Hersh; the Pakistani report was erroneous.

Bibi’s Visit

President Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu today, but thus far nothing that has emerged from news reports is very surprising. Obama is pressuring Netanyahu on settlements and Palestinian statehood and Netanyahu is agreeing to immediate peace talks and pushing for a tougher line on Iran. But neither issue is easily resolved: the Palestinian leadership is fractured and there’s no viable peace partner — peace talks will go nowhere anytime soon, even with all of Obama’s lofty rhetoric about Netanyahu’s “historic oppourtunity.” And talking with the Iranians, as Obama plans to, is not going to convince Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

Dowd Gets the Talking Points Memo

In her column yesterday, Maureen Dowd offered the following observation:

“More and more the timeline is raising the question of why, if the torture was to prevent terrorist attacks, it seemed to happen mainly during the period when the Bush crowd was looking for what was essentially political information to justify the invasion of Iraq.”

The thing is, it bears an uncanny similarity to this passage that liberal blogger Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo wrote last Thursday:

“More and more the timeline is raising the question of why, if the torture was to prevent terrorist attacks, it seemed to happen mainly during the period when we were looking for what was essentially political information to justify the invasion of Iraq.”

When confronted, Dowd offered the school girl excuse that:

josh is right. I didn’t read his blog last week, and didn’t have any idea he had made that point until you informed me just now. i was talking to a friend of mine Friday about what I was writing who suggested I make this point, expressing it in a cogent — and I assumed spontaneous — way and I wanted to weave the idea into my column. but, clearly, my friend must have read josh marshall without mentioning that to me. we’re fixing it on the web, to give josh credit, and will include a note, as well as a formal correction tomorrow.

So, somehow, she was talking to her friend, and she managed to casually jot down –not just the general thoughts — but the word for word language, with commas.

NOTE: The column has been update online to credit Marshall, but the print edition did not.

A Fissure in the Grand Alliance?

On Monday, along with others, I raised questions about the mystery $2 trillion in savings that the health care industry pledged in a deal with Obama. At the time, despite the absurdity, the agreement nonetheless seemed like a public relations coup for the White House, evidence of the grand alliance among insurers, doctors, hospitals, drug companies and unions for national health care. But now I see this New York Times report:

WASHINGTON – Hospitals and insurance companies said Thursday that President Obama had substantially overstated their promise earlier this week to reduce the growth of health spending.

Mr. Obama invited health industry leaders to the White House on Monday to trumpet their cost-control commitments. But three days later, confusion swirled in Washington as the companies’ trade associations raced to tamp down angst among members around the country.

After meeting with six major health care organizations, Mr. Obama hailed their cost-cutting promise as historic.

“These groups are voluntarily coming together to make an unprecedented commitment,” Mr. Obama said. “Over the next 10 years, from 2010 to 2019, they are pledging to cut the rate of growth of national health care spending by 1.5 percentage points each year – an amount that’s equal to over $2 trillion.”

Health care leaders who attended the meeting have a different interpretation. They say they agreed to slow health spending in a more gradual way and did not pledge specific year-by-year cuts.

“There’s been a lot of misunderstanding that has caused a lot of consternation among our members,” said Richard J. Umbdenstock, the president of the American Hospital Association. “I’ve spent the better part of the last three days trying to deal with it.”

Nancy-Ann DeParle, director of the White House Office of Health Reform, said “the president misspoke” on Monday and again on Wednesday when he described the industry’s commitment in similar terms. After providing that account, Ms. DeParle called back about an hour later on Thursday and said: “I don’t think the president misspoke. His remarks correctly and accurately described the industry’s commitment.”

I find this via Michelle Malkin, who cites it as another example of Obama inflating the promises of private industry, as he did with Caterpillar during the stimulus debate. But I’m not so ready to pin this one on Obama. If you go back and read the actual letter the groups sent him on Monday, it states:

As restructuring takes hold and the population’s health improves over the coming decade, we will do
our part to achieve your Administration’s goal of decreasing by 1.5 percentage points the annual
health care spending growth rate–saving $2 trillion or more.

All of the groups met with Obama in the White House on Monday, and flanked him as he gave a speech touting the proposed savings, which were then blasted all over the news. And somehow, amid all of this, his claims went unchallenged by the groups until now. A much more likely explanation is that the groups received a lot of complaints from their members over the agreement, and so now they are trying to backtrack.

Whichever side you choose to believe, however, this episode is sure to breed mistrust among the players. And remember, the fact that all of these groups were coming together to cooperate was seen as evidence that the environment is a lot different this time than it was in 1993/94, when the industry groups actively opposed HillaryCare. But Monday’s publicity stunt will have backfired if public finger pointing starts to break this alliance apart.

Gallup: More Americans Pro-Life Than Pro-Choice

For the first time since Gallup began asking the question in 1995, more Americans now identify themselves as pro-life than pro-choice, by a 51 percent to 42 percent margin. Certainly, there should be a note of caution about the survey since some people may define the term “pro-life” a lot differently than others. A minority of the population stakes out the absolutist positions, with 23 percent saying abortion should be illegal in all circumstances, and 22 percent saying it should be legal in all circumstances; by contrast, 53 percent of those polled say that it should be allowed “only under certain circumstances.” That leaves a wide range of possibilities. Does that mean they think abortions should be allowed during the first trimeste? Only in cases or rape/incest? Or only if the life of the mother is in danger?

With that said, this polling result does undercut the favored media narrative that the reason why the GOP is losing is that it’s been captured by social conservatives who are overly obsessed with abortion.

More Details on Dems Health Care Plans

James C. Capretta has posted slides from a 6-hour meeting held today by the Senate Finance Committee outlining options for health care legislation. Capretta provides a good summary of why the situation is as bad as imagined — including proposals for four variations of a new government-run plan and subsidies that would extend to people at 400 percent of the poverty line.

But it’s worth highlighting the regulatory regime, which would force insurers to cover those with preexisting conditions while determing how much they can charge, and mandating what type of coverage they have to offer:

All plans must provide

– Primary care and first dollar coverage for preventive care; emergency services; medical / surgical care; physician services; hospitalization; outpatient services, day surgery and related anesthesia, diagnostic imaging and screenings, including x-rays; maternity and newborn care; prescription drugs; radiation and chemotherapy; mental health and substance abuse services
– No lifetime limits on coverage or annual limits on benefits

It’s ironic that the above is included on a slide entitled, “Making Coverage Affordable,” because these are the very policies that when enacted at the state level, have driven up the cost of insurance coverage by 20 to 50 percent, according to the Council for Affordable Health Insurance. They also deny younger, healthier, Americans the ability to choose high-deductible policies with cheaper monthly premiums.

Following the meeting, Charles Grassley, who Democrats and the White House are actively courting, wrote on Twitter, “public option (backdoor to Canada health system) scares me.”

Yes, Medicare Is a Problem

Robert Reich opines:

Social Security is a tiny problem. Medicare is a terrible one, but the problem is not really Medicare; it’s quickly rising health-care costs.

I see this via Tyler Cowen, who correctly responds that, “if Medicare were less generous, much less would be spent on health care.”

A good demonstration of that point is to check out a pair of studies by MIT economist Amy Finkelstein, who found that in the first five years of Medicare’s implementation, U.S. hospital spending soared 37 percent without a “discernible impact on elderly mortality.” Medicare did reduce the out of pocket medical expenses of the elderly, but the result has been a massive burden on the younger generation that is threatening to bankrupt our country.

As it pertains to the current health care debate, there’s an argument to be had about what government’s role is in providing health care to Americans, but if we’re going to have that debate, it would be nice if the other side were honest about the costs of what they’re proposing. Simply put, providing subsidized health care to everybody will not lower spending, it will drastically increase spending unless the government rations care, which the other side isn’t willing to admit either.

I was chatting with a friend of mine about the entitlement crisis the other day, and he compared Obama to Nero, fiddling while Rome burns. But personally, I think we’d be better of with Nero — Obama isn’t fiddling, he’s dousing everything with kerosene.