Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Blackwater Founder Implicated in Murder THANKS G W BUSH!

The Nation by Jeremy Scahill

A former Blackwater employee and an ex-US Marine who has worked as a security operative for the company have made a series of explosive allegations in sworn statements filed on August 3 in federal court in Virginia. The two men claim that the company's owner, Erik Prince, may have murdered or facilitated the murder of individuals who were cooperating with federal authorities investigating the company. The former employee also alleges that Prince "views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe," and that Prince's companies "encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life."

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In their testimony, both men also allege that Blackwater was smuggling weapons into Iraq. One of the men alleges that Prince turned a profit by transporting "illegal" or "unlawful" weapons into the country on Prince's private planes. They also charge that Prince and other Blackwater executives destroyed incriminating videos, emails and other documents and have intentionally deceived the US State Department and other federal agencies. The identities of the two individuals were sealed out of concerns for their safety.

These allegations, and a series of other charges, are contained in sworn affidavits, given under penalty of perjury, filed late at night on August 3 in the Eastern District of Virginia as part of a seventy-page motion by lawyers for Iraqi civilians suing Blackwater for alleged war crimes and other misconduct. Susan Burke, a private attorney working in conjunction with the Center for Constitutional Rights, is suing Blackwater in five separate civil cases filed in the Washington, DC, area. They were recently consolidated before Judge T.S. Ellis III of the Eastern District of Virginia for pretrial motions. Burke filed the August 3 motion in response to Blackwater's motion to dismiss the case. Blackwater asserts that Prince and the company are innocent of any wrongdoing and that they were professionally performing their duties on behalf of their employer, the US State Department.

The former employee, identified in the court documents as "John Doe #2," is a former member of Blackwater's management team, according to a source close to the case. Doe #2 alleges in a sworn declaration that, based on information provided to him by former colleagues, "it appears that Mr. Prince and his employees murdered, or had murdered, one or more persons who have provided information, or who were planning to provide information, to the federal authorities about the ongoing criminal conduct." John Doe #2 says he worked at Blackwater for four years; his identity is concealed in the sworn declaration because he "fear[s] violence against me in retaliation for submitting this Declaration." He also alleges, "On several occasions after my departure from Mr. Prince's employ, Mr. Prince's management has personally threatened me with death and violence."

In a separate sworn statement, the former US marine who worked for Blackwater in Iraq alleges that he has "learned from my Blackwater colleagues and former colleagues that one or more persons who have provided information, or who were planning to provide information about Erik Prince and Blackwater have been killed in suspicious circumstances." Identified as "John Doe #1," he says he "joined Blackwater and deployed to Iraq to guard State Department and other American government personnel." It is not clear if Doe #1 is still working with the company as he states he is "scheduled to deploy in the immediate future to Iraq." Like Doe #2, he states that he fears "violence" against him for "submitting this Declaration." No further details on the alleged murder(s) are provided.

"Mr. Prince feared, and continues to fear, that the federal authorities will detect and prosecute his various criminal deeds," states Doe #2. "On more than one occasion, Mr. Prince and his top managers gave orders to destroy emails and other documents. Many incriminating videotapes, documents and emails have been shredded and destroyed."

The Nation cannot independently verify the identities of the two individuals, their roles at Blackwater or what motivated them to provide sworn testimony in these civil cases. Both individuals state that they have previously cooperated with federal prosecutors conducting a criminal inquiry into Blackwater.

"It's a pending investigation, so we cannot comment on any matters in front of a Grand Jury or if a Grand Jury even exists on these matters," John Roth, the spokesperson for the US Attorney's office in the District of Columbia, told The Nation. "It would be a crime if we did that." Asked specifically about whether there is a criminal investigation into Prince regarding the murder allegations and other charges, Roth said: "We would not be able to comment on what we are or are not doing in regards to any possible investigation involving an uncharged individual."

The Nation repeatedly attempted to contact spokespeople for Prince or his companies at numerous email addresses and telephone numbers. When a company representative was reached by phone and asked to comment, she said, "Unfortunately no one can help you in that area." The representative then said that she would pass along The Nation's request. As this article goes to press, no company representative has responded further to The Nation.

Doe #2 states in the declaration that he has also provided the information contained in his statement "in grand jury proceedings convened by the United States Department of Justice." Federal prosecutors convened a grand jury in the aftermath of the September 16, 2007, Nisour Square shootings in Baghdad, which left seventeen Iraqis dead. Five Blackwater employees are awaiting trial on several manslaughter charges and a sixth, Jeremy Ridgeway, has already pleaded guilty to manslaughter and attempting to commit manslaughter and is cooperating with prosecutors. It is not clear whether Doe #2 testified in front of the Nisour Square grand jury or in front of a separate grand jury.

The two declarations are each five pages long and contain a series of devastating allegations concerning Erik Prince and his network of companies, which now operate under the banner of Xe Services LLC. Among those leveled by Doe #2 is that Prince "views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe":

To that end, Mr. Prince intentionally deployed to Iraq certain men who shared his vision of Christian supremacy, knowing and wanting these men to take every available opportunity to murder Iraqis. Many of these men used call signs based on the Knights of the Templar, the warriors who fought the Crusades.

Mr. Prince operated his companies in a manner that encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life. For example, Mr. Prince's executives would openly speak about going over to Iraq to "lay Hajiis out on cardboard." Going to Iraq to shoot and kill Iraqis was viewed as a sport or game. Mr. Prince's employees openly and consistently used racist and derogatory terms for Iraqis and other Arabs, such as "ragheads" or "hajiis."

Among the additional allegations made by Doe #1 is that "Blackwater was smuggling weapons into Iraq." He states that he personally witnessed weapons being "pulled out" from dog food bags. Doe #2 alleges that "Prince and his employees arranged for the weapons to be polywrapped and smuggled into Iraq on Mr. Prince's private planes, which operated under the name Presidential Airlines," adding that Prince "generated substantial revenues from participating in the illegal arms trade."

Doe #2 states: "Using his various companies, [Prince] procured and distributed various weapons, including unlawful weapons such as sawed off semi-automatic machine guns with silencers, through unlawful channels of distribution." Blackwater "was not abiding by the terms of the contract with the State Department and was deceiving the State Department," according to Doe #1.

This is not the first time an allegation has surfaced that Blackwater used dog food bags to smuggle weapons into Iraq. ABC News's Brian Ross reported in November 2008 that a "federal grand jury in North Carolina is investigating allegations the controversial private security firm Blackwater illegally shipped assault weapons and silencers to Iraq, hidden in large sacks of dog food." Another former Blackwater employee has also confirmed this information to The Nation.

Both individuals allege that Prince and Blackwater deployed individuals to Iraq who, in the words of Doe #1, "were not properly vetted and cleared by the State Department." Doe #2 adds that "Prince ignored the advice and pleas from certain employees, who sought to stop the unnecessary killing of innocent Iraqis." Doe #2 further states that some Blackwater officials overseas refused to deploy "unfit men" and sent them back to the US. Among the reasons cited by Doe #2 were "the men making statements about wanting to deploy to Iraq to 'kill ragheads' or achieve 'kills' or 'body counts,'" as well as "excessive drinking" and "steroid use." However, when the men returned to the US, according to Doe #2, "Prince and his executives would send them back to be deployed in Iraq with an express instruction to the concerned employees located overseas that they needed to 'stop costing the company money.'"

Doe #2 also says Prince "repeatedly ignored the assessments done by mental health professionals, and instead terminated those mental health professionals who were not willing to endorse deployments of unfit men." He says Prince and then-company president Gary Jackson "hid from Department of State the fact that they were deploying men to Iraq over the objections of mental health professionals and security professionals in the field," saying they "knew the men being deployed were not suitable candidates for carrying lethal weaponry, but did not care because deployments meant more money."

Doe #1 states that "Blackwater knew that certain of its personnel intentionally used excessive and unjustified deadly force, and in some instances used unauthorized weapons, to kill or seriously injure innocent Iraqi civilians." He concludes, "Blackwater did nothing to stop this misconduct." Doe #1 states that he "personally observed multiple incidents of Blackwater personnel intentionally using unnecessary, excessive and unjustified deadly force." He then cites several specific examples of Blackwater personnel firing at civilians, killing or "seriously" wounding them, and then failing to report the incidents to the State Department.

Doe #1 also alleges that "all of these incidents of excessive force were initially videotaped and voice recorded," but that "Immediately after the day concluded, we would watch the video in a session called a 'hot wash.' Immediately after the hotwashing, the video was erased to prevent anyone other than Blackwater personnel seeing what had actually occurred." Blackwater, he says, "did not provide the video to the State Department."

Doe #2 expands on the issue of unconventional weapons, alleging Prince "made available to his employees in Iraq various weapons not authorized by the United States contracting authorities, such as hand grenades and hand grenade launchers. Mr. Prince's employees repeatedly used this illegal weaponry in Iraq, unnecessarily killing scores of innocent Iraqis." Specifically, he alleges that Prince "obtained illegal ammunition from an American company called LeMas. This company sold ammunition designed to explode after penetrating within the human body. Mr. Prince's employees repeatedly used this illegal ammunition in Iraq to inflict maximum damage on Iraqis."

Blackwater has gone through an intricate rebranding process in the twelve years it has been in business, changing its name and logo several times. Prince also has created more than a dozen affiliate companies, some of which are registered offshore and whose operations are shrouded in secrecy. According to Doe #2, "Prince created and operated this web of companies in order to obscure wrongdoing, fraud and other crimes."

"For example, Mr. Prince transferred funds from one company (Blackwater) to another (Greystone) whenever necessary to avoid detection of his money laundering and tax evasion schemes." He added: "Mr. Prince contributed his personal wealth to fund the operations of the Prince companies whenever he deemed such funding necessary. Likewise, Mr. Prince took funds out of the Prince companies and placed the funds in his personal accounts at will."

Briefed on the substance of these allegations by The Nation, Congressman Dennis Kucinich replied, "If these allegations are true, Blackwater has been a criminal enterprise defrauding taxpayers and murdering innocent civilians." Kucinich is on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and has been investigating Prince and Blackwater since 2004.

"Blackwater is a law unto itself, both internationally and domestically. The question is why they operated with impunity. In addition to Blackwater, we should be questioning their patrons in the previous administration who funded and employed this organization. Blackwater wouldn't exist without federal patronage; these allegations should be thoroughly investigated," Kucinich said.

A hearing before Judge Ellis in the civil cases against Blackwater is scheduled for August 7.

Keith Olbermann COMMENTS on Health care

HART KIRCH comment on KO's comment:

"I think is a little to shrill and angry and somewhat disrespectful but his points are valid" A little more calm would be much more effective."

* * * * * * * broadcast 8-3/09 MSNBC * * * * * * *

OLBERMANN: Tonight's special comment on the politicians of both parties holding up health care reform and the health sector companies to whom they have sold their souls. This's next, but first time for COUNTDOWN's number two story, tonight's worst persons in the world, brought to you tonight by Fixed News, celebrating six days without having fired Glenn Beck, even after he called the president of the United States a racist, and even after they basically claimed he didn't really work for them.

The bronze to Brian Stelter of the "New York Times." Front page story

front page story Saturday about a, quote, deal in which, as the headline read, voices from above silence a cable TV feud. Problem, Mr. Stelter asks me at least twice last week if there was such a deal, and I told him, on and off the record, there was not. And told I rather obviously would have to be a party to such a deal. And I told him that not only wasn't I, but I had not even been asked to be by my bosses.

And he printed it anyway. And I had even written to him that this was merely a misinterpretation of an announcement I made here on June One, that because Bill Reilly at Fox News had abetted the assassination of Dr. George Tiller, he had become too serious to joke about, and I would thus stop doing so, an announcement that would obtain unless and until, of course, I felt like changing the rule again later since this is not the US Constitution here. It's a half baked television news cast and I make all the rules.

So-tonight's runner-up, Bill-O the clown. After the arrest of Professor Gates, the Frank Burns of news went back to his excursion two years ago to meet some black people. "Remember when I went up to Sylvia's and had dinner with Al Sharpton and said on my radio show, you know, Sylvia's is just like any other restaurant in America. It's a nice place with nice people. I got served great. Then the left wing turned it into I was denigrating, saying oh, he didn't think Sylvia's was going to be nice."

Yes. That's not what you said. Bill-O on September 19th, 2007: "I couldn't get over the fact that there was no difference between Sylvia's restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City. I mean, it was-it was exactly the same, even though it's run by blacks. Primarily black patronship. It was the same. That's really what this society is all about now. There wasn't one person in Sylvia's who was screaming, MFer, I want more iced tea. You know, I mean everybody was-it was like going into an Italian restaurant in an all white suburb, in the sense that people were sitting there and they were ordering and having fun. And there wasn't any kind of craziness at all."

Bill thought there might be a human sacrifice between the salad and the entree. Racist clown. Imagine dinner shade Bill-O, I'm happily surprised you haven't stabbed me with the steak knife, dear.

But our winner, Rupert Murdoch. How would you like to be Roger Ailes right now, or Bill Reilly, or anybody else who thinks they decide what goes on, even for a minute, on Fox News Channel? Rupert Murdoch, according to the "New York Times" piece, has muzzled Bill-O, kept him from speaking his mind because, as the Times put it, what Bill-O said, quote, could create real consequences for Fox's parent corporation."

How dare you muzzle Reilly, Mr. Murdoch? How dare you, sir? This is the essence of corporate interference in the marketplace of ideas, and it is shameful. Abast, ye mate; solidarity, Brother Bill. Free yourself from your corporate shackles. Solidarity! Rupert Murdoch, who could never get away with that here, today's worst person-aargh-in the world!


OLBERMANN: Finally tonight, as promised, a Special Comment on health care reform in this country, and, in particular, the "public insurance option."

In March of 1911, after a wave of minor factory fires in New York

City, the City's Fire Commissioner issued emergency rules about fire

prevention, protection, escape, sprinklers. The City's Manufacturers

Association, in turn, called an emergency meeting to attack the Fire

Commissioner and his 'interference with commerce.'

The new rules were delayed. Just days later, a fire broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. The door to the fire escape had been bolted shut to keep the employees from leaving prematurely. One hundred and fifty of those employees died, many by jumping from the seventh floor windows to avoid the flames.

Fire fighters setting up their ladders literally had to dodge the falling, often burning, bodies of women.

This was the spirit of the American corporation then. It is the spirit of the American corporation now. It is what the corporation will do, when it is left alone, for a week.

You know the drill. We all know the drill.

You get something done at a doctor's, at a dentist's, at an emergency room, and the bills are in your hands before the pain medication wears off. And if you're one of the lucky ones, and you have insurance, you submit the endless paperwork, and no matter whether it's insurance through your company, or your union, or your non-profit, or on your own dime, you then get your turn at the roulette wheel.

How much of it is the insurance company going to pay this time? How much of it is the insurance company-about which you have next to no choice, and against which you have virtually no appeal-how much is this giant corporation going to give you back? What small percentage of what they told you they were going to pay you will they actually pay you?

You know the answer. And, you know the answer if you don't have insurance. But do you know why that's the answer?

Because the insurance industry owns the Republican Party. Not exclusively. Pharma owns part of it, too. Hospitals and HMO's, another part. Nursing homes, they have a share. You name a Republican, any Republican, and he is literally brought to you by campaign donations from the health sector.

Senator John Thune of South Dakota? You gave the Republican rebuttal to the President's weekly address day before yesterday. You said the Democrats' plan was for "government run health care that would disrupt our current system, and force millions of Americans who currently enjoy their employer-based coverage into a new health care plan run by government bureaucrats."

That's a bald-faced lie, Senator. And you're a bald-faced liar, whose bald face happens to be covered by your own health care plan run by government bureaucrats.

Nobody would be forced into anything; and the Public Insurance Option is no more a disruption than is letting the government sell you water, and not just Poland Spring and Sparkletts.

But, as corrupt hypocrites go, Senator, at least you're well paid. What was that one statement worth to you in contributions from the health sector, Senator Thune? Five thousand dollars? Ten?

We know what you are, Sir, we're arguing about the price.

What about your other quote? "We can accomplish health care reform while keeping patients and their doctors in charge, not bureaucrats and politicians."

Wow, Senator, this illustrates how desperate you and the other Republicans are, right? Because Senator Thune, if you really think "bureaucrats and politicians" need to get out of the way of "patients and their doctors," then you support a woman patient's right to get an abortion. And you supported Michael Schiavo's right to take his wife off life support. And you oppose "bureaucrats and politicians" getting in the way. And we'll just mark you down on the pro-choice list.

That's a rare misstep for you Senator Thune. No twelve-thousand dollar payoff for that statement!

I am not being hyperbolic, am I, Senator? About the money?

Senator Thune has thus far received from the Health Sector, campaign contributions - and all these numbers tonight are from "The Center For Responsive Politics"-campaign contributions amounting to one 1,206,176 dollars. So much for Senator Thune.

How about Congresswoman Ginny Brown-Waite? Good evening Ma'am. You are the Florida representative who claimed on the Floor that Democrats had "released a health care bill which essentially said to America's seniors: drop dead."

Now those are strong, terrorizing, words. That's exactly what your

Insurance and Medical Overlords wanted to hear. But are you truly worth

every dollar of the 369,000,255 of them you have received over the years

from the Health Sector? I'd read the rest of the operative part of your

speech myself, but your rendition actually cannot be matched


REP. GINNY BROWN-WAITE ®, FLORIDA: Listen up, America, seniors have special needs. This bill ignores the-ignores the needs of Florida's health care system. We should be fixing what is broke, not disseminate-disseminating-decimating, the care of our senior population.


OLBERMANN: You can always tell, can't you, Congresswoman, when the hostage is reading her own ransom note, and when she is reading one written for her? So much for Congresswoman Brown-Waite.

There are so many other Republicans, bought and sold-like that unfortunate Congresswoman there-by the Health Sector.

Minority Leader McConnell of the Senate?

You're worth 3.1 million to the Health Sector? A million and a half just for last year's election? And I'm supposed to think you aren't a sellout, a liar, a paid spokesman, a shill, a carnival barker? So much for Sen. McConnell.

Congressman Joe Barton of Oklahoma; $2,660,000, Congressman? That's ten times what Senator Robert Byrd has accepted from the Health Sector. Congressman! What a guy! So much for Congressman Barton.

Senator McCain, 1.6?

To serve the Hospitals, and serve the Drug Companies, and serve the nursing homes? And not to serve the retirement communities of Arizona? Or the cancer survivors? Or the veterans? So much for Senator McCain.

I could go on all night and never exaggerate in the slightest.

PBS pointed out that the health and insurance industries are spending more than a 1,400,000 dollars a day, just to destroy the "public option" - the truly non-profit, wieldy, round-up and not round-down, government, from helping you pay your medical bills with about a billionth of the recklessness with which it is still paying Halliburton and its spin-offs to kill your kids.

And much of this money is going to, and through, Republicans.

But that's the real point tonight. Not all of it is going through Republicans. Because the evil truth is, the Insurance industry, along with Hospitals, HMO's, Pharma, nursing homes -- it owns Democrats, too.

Not the whole party.

Candidate Barack Obama got more than 18 million from the Health Sector just last year. And you can bet somebody in the Health Trust, somebody responsible for buying influence, got fired over what Obama's done.

No, the Democrats are not wholly owned. Hundreds of Democrats have taken campaign money from the Health Sector without handing over their souls as receipts. But conveniently, the ones who are owned have made themselves easy to spot in a crowd.

They've called themselves "Blue Dogs," and they are out there, hand-in-hand with the Republicans, who they are happy to condemn day and night on everything else, throatily singing "Kumbaya" with the men and women who were bought and sold to defend this con game of an American health care system against the slightest encroachment.

Congressman Mike Ross of Arkansas, leader of the Blue Dogs in the House. You're the guy demanding a guarantee that reform will not add to the deficit. I'm guessing you forgot to demand that about, say, Iraq.

You're a Democrat, you say, Congressman? You saw what Sandy Barham said?

Sandy Barham is 62 years old. She's got a bad heart. She's hoping her valves will hold together for three more years until Medicaid kicks in, because she can't afford insurance.

Not just for herself, mind you. For her employees. She needs the public option. So do those six people who work at that restaurant of hers, Congressman Ross.

And why should you give a crap? Because Sandy Barham's restaurant is the Broadway Railroad Cafe, and it is at 123 West First Street North in Prescott, Arkansas.

Prescott, Arkansas, Congressman Ross. Your home town. You are Sandy Barham's congressman. Hers, Sir. Not Blue Cross's and Blue Shield's, even if they do insure 75 percent of the state and they own you.

The top donor so far to Congressman Ross's bid for re-election next year? The Blue Dog PAC, ten thousand bucks. Second? Something called Invacare, 7,300. Oh, they make wheelchairs and rollers and slings. They're big in slings.

Tied for third? The American Dental Association, another grand, 5,000, as a matter of fact.

Your top donors by industry, Congressman Ross? Health professionals:

29,250. Then Pharma and health products: 12,250. And so far in your career, Congressman Ross, your total haul from the health sector is 921,000. That's 90th in the combined list of donations for the House and the Senate, sir, 90th out of 537.

You should be proud, Congressman!

Except for the fact, that before you started living off the public dime, you owned a pharmacy. And your grandmother was a nurse. And it turns out you're not Sandy Barham's congressman, after all. You're Blue Cross's. So much for Congressman Ross.

Congressman Bart Gordon of Tennessee. Congressman? Undecided on the public option? At 1,173,000 in donations from the health sector, I'm surprised. You should have already said no and loudly. The only thing you should be undecided about is whether or not you're really a Democrat. So much for Congressman Gordon.

Senator Max Baucus of Montana. Good evening, Senator.

So you're supposed to be negotiating all this out with the Republicans and the hesitant Democrats, to gain bi-partisanship with a wholly-owned subsidiary of the health sector? Bipartisanship that will get you, what? A total of no votes?

And your price has been, let's see, 414,000 dollars in donations from Hospitals; 667,000 in donations from the insurance companies, just over a million from Big Pharma, 1,300,000 from other health professional, and 237,000 from nursing homes.

When you think of getting 237,000 dollars in campaign contributions from nursing homes, Senator Baucus, do you ever think about whether they subtract that amount of money evenly from all the patients suffering and dying in the lousy ones, or just from a few of the lousy ones?

So much for Senator Baucus.

Sadly, this list could go on almost all night, too.

I could ask Blue Dog Congressman Democrat John Tanner of Tennessee if, since he's gotten 215 Grand from hospitals over the years-if I and the appropriate number of my friends were willing to make it 216 Grand, if we could buy his vote, or would there still have to be an auction?

We could bring up Senator Hagan, and Congressman Pomeroy, who at 628,000 appears to represent the insurance industry and not North Dakota. I could bring up Senator Carper and Senator Blanche Lincoln.

Senator Lincoln, by the way, considering how you're obstructing health care reform, how do you feel every time you actually see Senator Kennedy?

I could bring up all the other Democrats doing their masters' bidding in the House or the Senate, all the others who will get an extra thousand from somebody if they just postpone the vote another year, another month, another week, because right now, without the competition of a government-funded insurance company, in one hour, the health care industries can make so much money that they would kill you for that extra hour of profit.

I could call them all out by name. But I think you get the point. We don't need to call the Democrats holding this up Blue Dogs. That one word "Dogs" is perfectly sufficient.

But let me speak to them collectively, anyway. I warn you all. You were not elected to create a Democratic majority. You were elected to restore this country.

You were not elected to serve the corporations and the trusts who the government has enabled for these last eight years.

You were elected to serve the people. And if you fail to pass or support this legislation, the full wrath of the progressive and the moderate movements in this country will come down on your heads.

Explain yourselves not to me, but to them. They elected you. And in the blink of an eye, they will replace you.

If you will behave as if you are Republicans-as if you are the prostitutes of our system-you will be judged as such. And you will lose not merely our respect. You will lose your jobs!

Every poll, every analysis, every vote, every region of this country supports health care reform, and the essential great leveling agent of a government-funded alternative to the unchecked duopoly of profiteering private insurance corporations.

Cross us all at your peril. Because, Congressman Ross, you are not the Representative from Blue Cross.

And Mr. Baucus, you are not the Senator from Schering-Plough Global Health Care, even if they have already given you 76 Grand towards your re-election.

And Ms. Lincoln, you are not the Senator from DaVita Dialysis.

Because, ladies and gentlemen, President Lincoln did not promise that this nation shall have a new death of freedom, and that government of the corporation, by the corporation, for the corporation, shall not perish from this Earth.

Senator Bernie Sanders TALKS SENCE HEALTH CARE

Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, member of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

INTERVIEW on COUNTDOWN w Keth Olbermann -

OLBERMANN: the phony protests and the sycophants applauding the phony protest, do the the tactics surprise you at all?

SANDERS: No, not at all. The fact of the matter is that these people talk about freedom and what they are doing is trying to disrupt meetings, which is the absolute opposite of what freedom of discussion is about. And the reason for that is they are afraid to debate the real issues, the fact that we have a disintegrating health care system, that we have tens of millions uninsured, underinsured, 18,000 Americans die every year because they don't get to a doctor on time. We got a million Americans this year going bankrupt because of medically-related bills.

And these people are screaming and yelling so we can't have a real discussion of the real issues.

OLBERMANN: Presuming you have to win both on the issues and the screaming and yelling, how do you win on the screaming and yelling when that is spun as the rage of average Americans in most of the media?

SANDERS: Well, you know, it gets back to the media doing what they did in Iraq, which is distorting reality. You remember, during the debate in Iraq, Keith, we were told that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and Iraq was working with al Qaeda. Well, it turned out not to be true.

And what these guys are doing, what they are saying is grossly untrue. They are talking about a government takeover of health care. Untrue. They are talking-if you can believe this in 2009 -- about the president of the United States wanting to kill off older people.

So the answer is: if you want to have a real debate on the real issues, let's do it. Let's ask for example why countries around the world are providing better quality of care than we are at ½ the cost. Let's ask why we are the only nation in the industrialized world that does not have a national health care program guaranteeing all of their people. Those are the kinds of questions that we've got to be debating.

OLBERMANN: A question about Senator Enzi of Wyoming. Last week, he said he wanted a guarantee that anything that came out of the finance committee ends up in the final legislation that's passed. And today, he's rejected the September 15th deadline for his committee to reach agreement on the bill.

Is this-are we seeing the outlines of the latest Republican plan, just never let the legislation out of committee?

SANDERS: Look, let's be clear. There are virtually no Republicans in the Senate who are serious about health care reform. That's the simple reality. And what they keep doing is stalling and stalling and stalling, and trying to confuse people.

Now, the truth of the matter is, the Democrats have not been particularly effective in also saying and stating the case as to why we need real health care reform. Bottom line is: the system is disintegrating. Bottom line is: we spent twice as much as any other country. Our outcomes are worse. Bottom line is: the vast majority of people want a public option among other reforms.

OLBERMANN: Another bottom line, though, is delaying this-just delaying this victory, is that victory enough for the health industries? I mean, how many million a day do they collectively profit that would go out the window if there was this public option that would tamp down insurance prices?

SANDERS: That's absolutely right. According to the papers just today, the health care industry has spent $130 million in the last quarter. And that is the reason why our private insurance companies are reaping huge profits, why the drug companies charge the American people, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs. Of course, they don't want health care reform. Of course, they'll do everything to try to stop us.

OLBERMANN: Last question, Senator, a prediction. Is this legislation eventually going to require passage by reconciliation?

SANDERS: Reconciliation is one of the tools that we have. My hope is that every Democrat will vote against the Republican filibuster, will pick up maybe one Republican, will do something serious and real for the American people.

OLBERMANN: Amen. Senator Bernie Sanders, the great independent of Vermont-once again, great thanks for your time tonight, sir.

SANDERS: It's good to be with you.

OLBERMANN: For more on how Democrats can handle the so-called grassroots protestors, let's turn to Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis.

Chris, good evening.


OLBERMANN: Does it really take that much to hijack a town hall meeting? And how do Democratic lawmakers or other Democratic speakers combat that?

KOFINIS: Unfortunately, it doesn't take a lot to disrupt these meetings and I think that's the whole point. Listen, the Republicans and these grassroots groups are clearly being backed by Republican groups and operatives. They have a very simple strategy, which is to delay, is to disrupt, is to disturb. It's basically that you take over these town halls and make them a media spectacle and create this facade of what is opposition.

The reality is: the overwhelming majority of Americans want health care reform. There may be clear disagreements or discussions about what kind of health care reform we need, but the notion that we don't need health care reform is laughable.

Now, in terms of what Democrats, I think, need to do, listen, it's a difficult thing. When you have a town hall, 150 people, 10 or 20 can disrupt that. Listen, my perspective is, a good strategy: shame-shame them.

And the way I think you can shame them, and I would suggest to every Democratic member of Congress that has one of these town halls, bring one of your constituents who have suffered through this health care crisis that can tell you a personal story, that can start that town hall telling them, telling those people in that audience what the consequences are when an insurance company cuts their coverage and their child couldn't get the treatment they needed. And let those protestors get up and fight that. I think that is a very powerful approach.

OLBERMANN: Would it to be of any use to sort of foster a backlash against the phony backlash to say, "Look, where exactly are you from? Have you ever been in this district before? Did you come here on a bus from another state?" Is that of any use in those situations, confront them?

KOFINIS: Well, I mean, I think-I think it helps but the problem is, you know, it's one of the things that I think the media is going to have to expose. I mean, what is clearly happening here is the Republicans know that the country has moved in a different direction. That it clearly wants to tackle these issues like health care reform.

So, they're trying to slow it down. You see that both in the legislative tactics they're using in Congress and now you're saying that now in these grassroots tactics. They did the same thing I think in a weird way that's very reminiscent to what happened back with the 2000 election, and now, you're seeing the very same thing, have small groups disrupt it.

I think, exposing them is a good thing, but it's not enough. I think you have to tackle it head on, basically disprove their lies and their falsehoods, because the reality is, when you explain to the American people the enormous benefits of this health care reform, it's going to control costs, that it's going to expand coverage, that we basically are going to tackle a problem that we cannot ignore anymore, people will support it-but you can't let a small group dominate the agenda or dominate that town hall in that case.

OLBERMANN: All right. If you take the August recess as kind of a collective town hall and media perceptions of town halls, you've got those, you've got TV/radio ads, you got stunts we probably can't even imagine, you got Rush Limbaugh who might as well be funded by the Republican Party reading whatever it is they hand him. Could this slip into a groove that cripples health care reform?

KOFINIS: Well, it's possible but, you know, I'm going to be optimistic about it. I think what you're seeing from the Democrats in terms of the strategy that's coming out of Congress, as well as the strategy out of the White House is a very aggressive strategy on multiple levels, both in the grassroots, the media, in terms of using, you know, OFA, which is the grassroots arm of the Obama campaign, as well as other progressive groups.

But let's make no mistake about it. This really is a battle for health care reform and in terms of the next four, six, eight weeks, it is the groups that are going to fight the hardest that I think are going to have an incredible influence in terms of who wins the agenda both at the media level as well as the legislative agenda.

So, this is a real challenge, I think, to progressive groups, Democrats, to go out there and fight for the health care reform we all know this country needs.

OLBERMANN: The Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis-as always, Chris, great thanks for your time tonight.

KOFINIS: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Behind all of this, of course, is the money. And the great struggle in this American experiment: the people versus the corporation. As I suggested in my question to Senator Sanders, if the health care giants can afford to spend a reported $1,400,000 per day to thwart the public insurance option, how much are they making per day? And to whom is that money going?

Sadly, it is going to our politicians and in carload lots. Your assumption about the Republicans is correct, but there are also Democrats who have sold their soul, and I will call them out by name tonight in a "Special Comment" on health care.

Olbermann's Non-Denial and His Good Move

On his show last night, Keith Olbermann essentially issued a non-denial denial about the GE-MSNBC-Fox story, saying that he himself was "party to no deal" - exactly what he said in the original New York Times article. There's no reason to doubt Olbermann - however, as journalism prof Dan Kennedy suggests (h/t Glenn Greenwald & Jay Rosen), Olbermann's own personal lack of involvement in a "deal" is far less important than the simple fact that GE started trying to give blatant news-content orders to MSNBC's newsroom - orders that may have been followed in places well beyond Olbermann's control.

Certainly, the fact that Olbermann resisted those orders is good news - but again, as I said in my original post, this story wasn't an indictment of Olbermann - it was an indictment of the entire corporate-news structure of the networks in question.

Indeed, in Olbermann's non-denial denial last night, he didn't refute the quotes from General Electric management, he didn't refute that MSNBC execs told its producers that they "wanted the channel's other programs [to] restrain from criticizing Fox directly," and he didn't refute this report from TV Newser saying that the parent companies for Fox and MSNBC have been in negotiations for months.

Where Olbermann really shined yesterday is in his DailyKos blog post. After MSNBC management said they'd be happy to still have on corporate PR spokesman Richard Wolffe as a "political analyst" - a blatant insult to journalism ethics - Olbermann put his foot down:

As to Richard Wolffe I can offer far less insight. I honor Mr. Greenwald's insight into the coverage of GE/NewsCorp talks, and his reporting on Richard's other jobs. I must confess I was caught flat-footed. I do not know what the truth is; my executive producer and I have spent the last two months dealing with other things (see above) but what appears to be the truth here is certainly not what Richard told us about his non-news job.
I am confident his commentary to this point has not been compromised - he has been an insightful analyst and a great friend to this show - but until we can clarify what else he is doing, he will not be appearing with us. I apologize for not being able to prevent this unhappy set of circumstances from developing.

As I said originally, beyond the benefit of MSNBC providing a much-needed counterweight to Fox News, it's clear there are definitely individuals at MSNBC like Olbermann and Rachel Maddow who have a healthy respect for journalism ethics. And it's good to see them using the leverage they have to try to make sure those ethics are publicly respected. Though they cannot pretend that the media's corporate parents have no influence in news decisions, they can - as Olbermann has in the Wolffe matter - do their part to root avoid the worst transgressions.

So in sum, on the non-denial denial, I'm not that impressed. But on the journalism ethics score, I'd say good on ya, Keith. Oh, and especially good on ya for your health care Special Comment last night.