Just over .0001 percent.
In terms of annual spending by the federal government, which totaled $3.5 trillion in fiscal year 2014, the cost for implementing the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act each year would have accounted for around .0001 of the U.S. budget. Over five years, the recently proposed veterans mental health bill would have cost $22 million, or $4.4 million each year.
Yet after passing the House on a simple voice vote, a truly remarkable accomplishment in today's historically gridlocked environment, the bill was blocked by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK). Claiming it duplicates already existing services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs, that the bill "throws money and it doesn't solve the real problem," and its costs aren't offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget, Coburn, a medical doctor himself, on Monday refused to allow the health care bill to be voted on.
And because the Senate session was quickly coming to a close, the bill's backers didn't have time to make a procedural end-run around Coburn. The senator retires this year and veterans' supporters say they'll start the process all over in the next Congress, and spend months trying to pass the bill that would increase the number of psychiatrists at VA hospitals, speed up access to mental health care to veterans, and expands peer support networks. (The Clay Hunt bill is named after a Marine veteran who committed suicide in 2011 after being diagnosed with PTSD.)
Veterans' advocates were stunned by the Republican's stalling maneuver. "It's a shame that after two decades of service in Washington, Sen. Coburn will always be remembered for this final, misguided attack on veterans nationwide," said Paul Rieckhoff, CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
Even for a Congress defined by its dysfunction and the hardened, radical obstructionism that has permeated the session, Coburn's decision, at the eleventh hour, to single-handedly block the Veterans Suicide Prevention Act, represented a disturbing, and newsworthy low.
Keep in mind, in Coburn's home state of Oklahoma, "veterans and active-duty military personnel are killing themselves at twice the rate of civilians, despite increased efforts to address the problem," according to a 2013 report in Oklahoma Watch.
Obviously, the blocked bill wasn't a major one in terms of size and scope. (As Wonkette noted, $22 million would have covered the cost of the Iraq War at its height for just three-and-half hours.) Still, here was an effort to address dire mental health concerns for American veterans and to deal specifically with the growing concern of veteran suicide, yet the bill wasn't even allowed to come up for a final vote?
Also note that Coburn, so concerned about budget restraints, supported the Iraq War ("Going to Iraq was exactly the right thing"), despite the fact the languishing effort drained more than $2 trillion from U.S. Treasury coffers. But today, Coburn's drawing the budgetary line in the sand over suicide prevention for veterans and $4.4 million-per year costs associated with the new program?
That, by any definition, represents news. Except many journalists didn't see it that way. Instead, they have averted their gaze from the obstructionist train wreck. And yes, we've seen this act before where the Beltway press produced a collective shrug of the shoulders when members of the Republican Party engaged in extraordinary bouts of interference.
After nine years at the helm of The Colbert Report, where he turned his brilliant right-wing persona into a sprawling marketing empire (see your grocery's freezer section), explained super PACs to everyday Americans, enlightened us about divinity, and added "truthiness" to the nation's vocabulary, Stephen Colbert says his farewell to the Colbert Nation this week to become CBS's new Late Night host. (Sans persona.)
For nearly ten years and more than 1,400 episodes, Colbert remained a constantly amusing and insightful part of our national dialogue. "Fans of the show and its indomitable host (only now defeated by the real-life lure of late-night respectability) have good reason to mourn," noted The New Yorker earlier this year, while Salon recently crowned Colbert "one of the most important figures in U.S. political comedy of all time."
By embracing the absurd and truly embodying it, Colbert has made politics and public policy uproariously funny, while providing much-needed bouts of sanity for devoted news junkies.
His satirical voice won't be gone completely, of course. Colbert's late-night colleague Jon Stewart continues to soldier on with The Daily Show, that show's alumni John Oliver is doing fine work at HBO, while another, Larry Wilmore, readies his turn to take over Colbert's late-night Comedy Central slot.
But there's no denying Colbert's exit from Comedy Central marks a cultural and political milestone of sorts. The exit is disheartening not only because the genuine laughs will be missed, but because Colbert's satirical work has been instrumental in spearheading progressive arguments and critiques for years.
Colbert's departure also reminds us how hollow conservative comedic efforts have been, as they fail to play catch-up in the cultural war of political satire. Humor remains a rhetorical weapon that American conservatives simply cannot harness.
Maybe that's because political comedy usually doesn't work well when it's anchored in seething hatred or even casual contempt, the type that conservatives hold for President Obama. Political satire works best when it's fueled by curiosity, bewilderment, annoyance, and with a dash of self-righteousness mixed in. And for nine years, Colbert has been deftly mixing that cocktail on The Colbert Report.
Remember when Fox News contributor Sarah Palin joked about torture?
Last spring, Palin appeared before an NRA convention crowd and laughed about how liberals supposedly coddle America's mortal adversaries. "Oh, but you can't offend them, can't make them feel uncomfortable, not even a smidgen," said Palin. "Well, if I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists," The NRA audience roared with approval, but even some conservative commentators who saw the tape of Palin's wisecrack took offense, upset that she had linked bodily torture with a Christian sacrament. ("It's disgusting.")
Palin, of course, hardly stands alone among conservative media commentators who have spent years not only downplaying the grievous practice of torture adopted by the Bush administration, but who have routinely made light of the cruel tactic previously banned by the United States.
"If you look at what we are calling torture, you have to laugh," Rush Limbaugh once announced, and claimed "if somebody can be water-tortured six times a day, then it isn't torture." At the time of the Abu Ghraib scandal, Limbaugh routinely mocked the claims of prisoner abuse, which were confirmed by horrific photographs: "Here we have these pictures of homoeroticism that look like standard good old American pornography, the Britney Spears or Madonna concerts or whatever." Limbaugh dismissed the prison torture as a "fraternity prank," suggesting "Maybe the people who executed this pulled off a brilliant maneuver. Nobody got hurt. Nobody got physically injured."
Meanwhile, Fox News' Eric Bolling once joked that the types of interrogation techniques being described in the press ("loud music, sleep deprivation, barking dogs"), sounded like "a typical weekend at my house with my twelve-year old son."
Then-Fox News host Glenn Beck greeted 2009 news of CIA interrogation revelations with fake sobs, after noting that "[c]ritics of the Bush-approved [interrogation] methods have called them torture." And that same year, Sean Hannity laughed on the air while agreeing to be waterboarded to raise money for charity. (Two thousand days later, Hannity still hasn't done it.)
That longstanding conservative attempt to make light of torture (who does that?) is now even harder to justify in light of the disturbing details contained in the new Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's five-years-in-the-making report on the Central Intelligence Agency's detention and interrogation program. (The report is told mostly via internal CIA communications.)
Aside from what the report claimed were widespread efforts by the CIA to cover-up its practice from Congressional oversight and even from the rest of the Bush administration, and that the information extracted through torture was at times fabricated and never considered good enough to thwart an imminent terror plot or help apprehend sought-after terrorists, the key take-away remains the level of brutality inflicted as part of a systemic U.S. policy.
Like a pair of investigative bookends, two bipartisan congressional reports arrived this year -- one from the Senate Intelligence Committee released in January, the other by the House Intelligence Committee in late November. Both came to similar conclusions about the 2012 terror attack on the United States diplomatic compound in Benghazi. And both represented bad news for conservative cheerleaders of the Benghazi cover-up saga, as the tandem reports released enormous amount of air from the scandal balloons.
The Senate report in January did little to quench the political thirst of hardcore Benghazi believers. Its findings, which categorically demolished the most closely-held beliefs of Benghazi true-believers, didn't stop House Republicans from establishing a select committee in May to launch yet another investigation. (Six congressional committees and an independent State Department panel had already investigated the attack, for those keeping score.) That select committee holds its second hearing this week.
The more recent House report however, does seem to have produced a sense of creeping panic among dedicated partisans who remain committed to keeping the story alive through the 2016 presidential campaign. The House findings run so counter to what Benghazi promoters have claimed that they threaten the viability of that strategy.
And that's why, in a truly odd turn of events, the Republican-authored House report is now under withering attack from a cadre of Republicans and their allies in the right-wing media ("a classic Washington whitewash"!), who've logged thousands of hours over the last two years propping up the shaky cover-up tale and trying to turn it into a Barack Obama scandal brand.
"The House Select Committee on Benghazi has stated that it will reconvene on Dec. 10. Its work will be as important as ever," the Heritage Foundation's Daily Signal announced this week. (i.e. questions remain!) The Weekly Standard agreed, with its writers reporting that the latest Congressional report that debunked every major Benghazi conspiracy to date, simply confirms that Congress needs all the Benghazi investigations it can get.
Why? "This new Benghazi "intelligence" report is little more than a C.Y.A. attempt designed to protect incompetent politicians and government agents at the expense of justice for the victims of September 11, 2012," according to Sen. Rand Paul.
This, of course, is the language of dead-enders. It's the language of partisans with stunted capacity for reason and who won't concede the facts on the ground. Instead, they tumble further and further down into a rabbit hole of what-ifs, spending extraordinary time (and taxpayer money) trying to undermine the facts while proclaiming the next inquiry will get it just right.
In other words, a Republican-chaired committee report that debunks Benghazi conspiracies is now being used as a rallying cry for conservatives who are convinced the report raises more pressing questions.
Do you see where this closed, hermetically sealed loop is designed to lead us?
In criticizing the report, note that since the release of the report from the House Intelligence Committee, conservative critics need to find an explanation for why its Republican chairman, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), allegedly opted to tank his own committee's year-in-the-making report; why he would authorize a "messy," "bizarre and troubling" report. Did he do it protect the White House and Hillary Clinton?
Is Rogers now part of the cover-up, too?
For a "lame duck" politician who's supposed to be licking his wounds after the Democratic Party's steep midterm losses, President Obama these days probably doesn't mind scanning the headlines each morning. Instead of confirming the slow motion demise so many in the pundit class had mapped out for him, the headlines paint a picture of a president, and a country, in many ways on the rebound:
That's probably more good news for Obama in one month than he had in the previous three combined.
And that selection of headlines doesn't cover news of the most recent smooth and efficient enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act, the announcement of Obama's executive action to deal with the languishing issue of immigration, his high-profile endorsement of net neutrality, or the United States' landmark agreement with China to confront climate change.
As for Obama's approval rating, it has remained steady in recent months, just as it has for virtually all of 2014. But aren't lame ducks supposed to tumble after tough midterm defeats, the way President George W. Bush did right after the 2006 votes?
Meanwhile, the assumption that Republicans had boxed Obama in politically via their midterm momentum and would be able to bully him around (impeachment! A government shutdown!) hasn't yet come to fruition. To date, their main response to the immigration executive order that Obama issued has been for Republicans to cast a symbolic vote of disapproval. (i.e. Obama called their bluff.)
Already the bloom seems to be coming off the GOP's win. "According to the survey, 50 percent of Americans believe the GOP taking control of the House and the Senate next year will be bad for America," CNN reported this week.
None of this is to say that Obama's surging or that paramount hurdles don't remain on the horizon. But some recent developments do undercut a widely held consensus in the Beltway press that Obama's presidency effectively ended with the midterms and that his tenure might be viewed as a failed one.
Right after the election, a November Economist editorial announced, "Mr. Obama cannot escape the humiliating verdict on his presidency." Glimmers of hope after the midterms were no reason to think Obama had "somehow crawled out of the dark place that voters put him," the Washington Post assured readers. (Post columnist Dana Milbank has recently tagged Obama as a hapless "bystander" who's "turning into George W. Bush.") And a McClatchy Newspapers headline declared, "President Obama Is Now Truly A Lame Duck."
But as the facts on the ground now change, many in the press seem reluctant to drop its preferred script and adjust to the headlines that suggest Obama's second term is not shaping up to be the wreck so many pundits hinted it would be.
"Tamir Rice's father has a history of violence against women."
That was the opening sentence of a November 26 news article posted at Cleveland.com, the web portal that outlet shares with its sister company the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Together, the storied newspaper and its more recent offshoot comprise one of the largest news organizations in Ohio.
Tamir Rice was the 12-year-old African-American boy who days earlier had been shot and killed by a Cleveland police officer outside of a city recreation center. Rice had been brandishing an air gun, reportedly waving it around, when a neighbor called the cops. The caller described Rice as a "probably a juvenile," and repeatedly suggested the gun was "probably fake." But that information was never relayed to the Cleveland officers who responded to the call. One of them immediately exited his patrol car upon arriving at the park and shot Rice in the stomach from close range.
Question: What does Tamir's father's criminal record have to do with the boy's tragic killing at the hands of a police officer? And why was Tamir's father's mug shot included in a news article about Tamir being shot by the police while playing in the park? (The site's reporting was meant to "illuminate," according to one newsroom executive.)
Baffled critics, readers and even some Cleveland Plain Dealer staffers are still searching for answers to newsroom questions, such as why, in the days right after the killing, did Cleveland.com provide more critical reporting about Tamir's parents than it did about the rookie officer who killed the 12 year old?
"Depicting black/brown boys and men as violent criminals from poor upbringing is an established media narrative that Tamir didn't quite fit. But Cleveland.com, the website of the city's former paper of record, tried to make him fit into the narrow narrative anyway, by reporting on the criminal misdeeds of his parents instead," wrote former Plain Dealer reporter and columnist Afi Scruggs. "It's an old, but tired trick used by the news media, especially when it comes to a black or brown person being killed by law enforcement."
In the wake of the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the subsequent grand jury decision to not indict the white police officer who shot the unarmed teen, Tamir Rice's death has taken on national interest. And Cleveland.com's reporting has come under intense national scrutiny.
The outrage arrived just a few weeks after the news outlet became embroiled in controversy when the site suddenly yanked the video of an unflattering interview the state's Republican governor, John Kasich, gave to Plain Dealer editors in the final days of his re-election campaign. Not only was the video of the Q&A taken down without explanation, but the news site threatened to sue anyone who posted it for voters to see online. (You can watch portions of it here.)
So yes, it's been a troubling month for people concerned about newsgathering in Cleveland.
The calling cards of anger and denial have been on display since Friday afternoon when the House Intelligence Committee, led by Republican Rep. Mike Rogers, released the findings of its two-year investigation into the 2012 terror attack in Benghazi. Becoming the sixth government inquiry to come to a similar conclusion, the report found nothing to support the allegations behind Fox News' ongoing Benghazi witch-hunt. And that's where the anger and denial came in.
Appearing on CNN, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has staked his professional reputation on the endless claim of an elaborate White House cover-up, flashed irritation when he denounced the House report as being "full of crap."
Meanwhile, Fox News contributor Stephen Hayes did his best to deflate the supposedly "deeply flawed" Republican report:
I'd caution against reaching firm conclusions based on the #Benghazi report issued by the House Intel cmte. It's deeply flawed.-- Stephen Hayes (@stephenfhayes) November 22, 2014
For Benghazi conspiracy disciples, unanswered questions always remain as long as devotees say so, and as long as the answers provided by government (and Republican-led investigations) don't match up their conspiracy narrative. But apparently if the seventh investigation finds wrongdoing on the part of the administration, that's the one that will really matter?
Sorry Fox News, but six strikes and you're out.
Still, Benghazi Truthers, like Joel Pollak at Breitbart, soldiered on, claiming the exhaustive House report was no big deal [emphasis added]:
The House committee, chaired by Republican Mike Rogers (R-MI), found that there was no intelligence failure leading up to the attack, and that the CIA and military personnel present did the best they could. The crucial new finding is that there was no "stand down" order, as some there have claimed, and that no further military resources were available.
The three points Pollack mentioned that were debunked by the House report represented almost the entire basis of the "scandal" crusade. They were easily the inspiration for hundreds of Fox News programming hours over the last two years, and likely thousands of hours of talk radio attacks on Obama, Hillary Clinton and anyone connected to the administration. (Note that Fox aired 100 segments on the "stand down" allegation alone during its evening programs in the 20 months following the attack.)
While Breitbart and other right-wing media players gallantly tried to play defense (it's just a flesh wound), Fox News simply went into denial as the cable news channel essentially turned a blind eye to the story: Fox News Sunday completely ignored the topic. But it wasn't just Fox News Sunday. CBS' Face The Nation and ABC's This Week also ignored news about the latest Benghazi debunking; a Republican debunking no less.
There was something fitting about those two omissions, considering CBS and ABC likely suffered the two worst Benghazi-related black eyes within the mainstream media when their reporters, Lara Logan and Jonathan Karl respectively, flew too close to the far-right flame and got very badly burned. (Note to reporters: When your sources have to make stuff up about Benghazi, it's a pretty good indication the 'scandal' is lacking.)
And don't forget how Logan played ball with at least one vociferous Benghazi critic behind the scenes while putting her fatally flawed 60 Minutes report together. According to a May report in New York magazine, Logan met with Sen. Graham, who helped shape the Benghazi story. Then when the 60 Minutes segment aired he immediately cheered it on, calling it a "death blow" to the White House and announced he'd block every White House appointee until he got more answers about Benghazi.
In other words, the Benghazi lessons to be learned here aren't only for Fox News. Media Matters has spent the better part of two years detailing how Beltway reporters, producers and pundits who should've known better have played along with the contrived conspiracy talking points about the Democratic president and a far-reaching cover-up. (Is Benghazi to Obama what Whitewater was to Bill Clinton?)
Early in his first term, President George W. Bush addressed the nation in primetime about allowing for limited stem cell research in America and his approval for limited medical research. During the weeks leading up to the announcement, there had a been regular news coverage of the topic, as the White House let reporters know the president was deeply engaged on the issue and was meeting with an array of experts to guide him.
As Bush appeared from his ranch in Texas to make the announcement, all of the major broadcast networks joined the cable news channels in carrying his message live.
The stem cell speech didn't address breaking news and it wasn't about an imminent threat facing the nation. But at the time, network executives said they were happy to air the address. "I don't think it was a tough call because it's an issue that's received so much attention," CBS News spokeswoman Sandy Genelius told the Boston Globe. ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider agreed: "It's an important issue and one that the country is following closely." He added that Bush was "going to make news" with the speech.
A decade later the rules seem to have shifted. All four networks have announced they won't carry President Obama's address to the nation tonight about his long awaited plan to take executive action to deal with the pressing issue of immigration reform. (Two Spanish language networks, Univision and Telemundo, will carry the address live in primetime.)
Keep in mind, the issue is so paramount, and Obama's strategy supposedly so controversial, that a Republican senator yesterday warned there might be violence in the streets in response to Obama's actions. Some GOP lawmakers insisted Obama could face a flurry of legal action including impeachment proceedings, while others have urged the entire federal government be shut down if Obama goes through with his plan. Yet according to executives at ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, Obama's address isn't worth covering.
One hundred and two weeks away from the 2016 presidential elections, Fox News anchor Jon Scott this week wondered out loud if the current controversy surrounding MIT economist Jonathan Gruber and his inapt comments that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) "was written in a tortured way" to appease "the stupidity of the American voter" would still be relevant in 2016. In fact, Scott wondered if Gruber and his comments would be a "fixture" in the next presidential campaign.
Correct. Scott wanted to know whether comments Gruber made in 2013 about a law signed in 2010 for which he provided data and a microsimulation model to the Obama administration in 2009 would play a crucial role in elections held in 2016. That's how committed Fox News is to the Gruber kerfuffle: Fox is projecting (fantasizing about?) the story's implications two years down the road.
Fox News has a long history of championing stories in a purely partisan manner and pushing any news events that might cause problems for the Obama administration. Watching Fox News, of course, is to often glimpse into an alternate universe where stories deemed unimportant by most news pros are blown up to be blockbuster events, and where conversely, embarrassing stories for conservatives are quietly set aside. (See rancher Cliven Bundy's racist meltdown in April. )
After the fourth or fifth day of incessant, breathless Gruber coverage on Fox, it became increasingly clear the channel had bigger plans for the story than simply using it to embarrass President Obama, or to whip up more right-wing anger over Obamacare.
Short answer: Fox is looking for another Benghazi. It's looking for another programming tent pole that the channel can build an audience around and can return to for weeks and months, and apparently for years, to undermine the president. Fox is searching for a themed forum where it can interview a cavalcade of Republicans who will dutifully engage in deeply enraged rhetoric about what a scandalous scandal Gruber's utterances were and how they confirm every deeply held suspicion about Obamacare.
Being outraged has served as a signature for the far-right movement for nearly six years. It also fuels Fox News' entire business model: Fox News makes a pile of profits each year overreacting to imagined Obama scandals, like the Gruber one.
Just as importantly, note that the Gruber production, like Fox's long-running Benghazi production, clearly overlaps with strategies being employed by the Republican Party. From a recent report in The Hill: "Republican lawmakers are doubling down on controversial comments from ObamaCare consultant Jonathan Gruber amid an explosion of interest from conservative media."
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon on Monday issued a state of emergency and activated the National Guard in anticipation of the grand jury announcement about whether Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson will be charged with the August 9 shooting of Michael Brown.
The unarmed teen's controversial death sparked weeks worth of protests, many of which were met with overwhelming police force. The killing also inspired a national debate about police shootings and law enforcement's relationship with black Americans. (The Department of Justice is currently investigating the Ferguson police department.)
And of course since the protests prominently featured the issue of race, and since Obama's conservative media critics positioned him at the center of the story -- his administration was allegedly "orchestrating" the unrest -- the events have inspired wave after wave of attacks from Fox News and its allies in the conservative media.
Brown family advocates have been denounced as "race hustlers." Fox contributor Laura Ingraham characterized Ferguson protesters as a "lynch mob" on her radio show. And conservative author Dinesh D'Souza actually compared the Ferguson unrest to beheadings carried out by the Islamic State terrorists. "What the common thread between ISIS and what's going on in Ferguson is you have these people who basically believe that to correct a perceived injustice, it's perfectly OK to inflict all kinds of new injustices," said D'Souza.
Conservative commentators have a long history of condemning, as vile and un-American, citizens who protest on behalf of their causes, whether it's racial injustice, income equality, collective bargaining rights, raising the minimum wage, or defending public education. The spotlight on Ferguson and its supposed "lynch mob" represents just the latest example of those sweeping condemnations and attacks on civil discourse.
Keep in mind that it was Fox News, as well as the rest of the right-wing media, that championed lawless insurrectionists earlier this year in Nevada when gun-toting militia members rallied to the side of rancher Cliven Bundy, who refused for more than two decades to pay grazing fees for his cattle that fed off federal land. (Bundy's Fox-sponsored crusade imploded when he was recorded making racist comments, asking if black Americans were "better off as slaves.")
In the Fox worldview, activists are thugs and thugs are freedom fighters.