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“From Irish Radical To Muslim Inquisitor”

For Representative Peter T. King, as he seizes the national spotlight this week with a hearing on the radicalization of American Muslims, it is the most awkward of résumé entries. Long before he became an outspoken voice in Congress about the threat from terrorism, he was a fervent supporter of a terrorist group, the Irish Republican Army.

“We must pledge ourselves to support those brave men and women who this very moment are carrying forth the struggle against British imperialism in the streets of Belfast and Derry,” Mr. King told a pro-I.R.A. rally on Long Island, where he was serving as Nassau County comptroller, in 1982. Three years later he declared, “If civilians are killed in an attack on a military installation, it is certainly regrettable, but I will not morally blame the I.R.A. for it.”

As Mr. King, a Republican, rose as a Long Island politician in the 1980s, benefiting from strong Irish-American support, the I.R.A. was carrying out a bloody campaign of bombing and sniping, targeting the British Army, Protestant paramilitaries and sometimes pubs and other civilian gathering spots. His statements, along with his close ties to key figures in the military and political wings of the I.R.A., drew the attention of British and American authorities.

A judge in Belfast threw him out of an I.R.A. murder trial, calling him an “obvious collaborator,” said Ed Moloney, an Irish journalist and author of “A Secret History of the I.R.A.” In 1984, Mr. King complained that the Secret Service had investigated him as a “security risk,” Mr. Moloney said.

In later years, by all accounts, Mr. King became an important go-between in talks that led to peace in Northern Ireland, drawing on his personal contacts with leaders of I.R.A.’s political wing, Sinn Fein, and winning plaudits from both Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, the former president and the British prime minister.

But as Mr. King, 66, prepares to preside Thursday as chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee at the first of a series of hearings on Muslim radicalization, his pro-I.R.A. past gives his many critics an obvious opening. The congressman’s assertions that 85 percent of leaders of American mosques hold extremist views and that Muslims do not cooperate with law enforcement have alarmed Muslim groups, some counterterrorism experts and even a few former allies in Irish-American causes.

Mr. King, son of a New York City police officer and grand-nephew of an I.R.A. member, offers no apologies for his past, which he has celebrated in novels that feature a Irish-American congressman with I.R.A. ties who bears a striking resemblance to the author.

Of comparisons between the terrorism of the I.R.A. and that of Al Qaeda and its affiliates, Mr. King said: “I understand why people who are misinformed might see a parallel. The fact is, the I.R.A. never attacked the United States. And my loyalty is to the United States.”

He said he does not regret his past pro-I.R.A. statements. The Irish group, he said, was “a legitimate force” battling British repression — analogous to the African National Congress in South Africa or the Zionist Irgun paramilitary in British-ruled Palestine. “It was a dirty war on both sides,” he said of I.R.A. resistance to British rule.

As for the hearings, he noted that counterterrorism officials from the Obama administration have often spoken, especially since a string of largely homegrown plots since 2009, of the threat from American Muslims who take on radical views. “Al Qaeda is recruiting from the Muslim community,” he said. “If they were recruiting from the Irish community, I’d say we should look at that.”

Mr. King’s witnesses at the hearing will feature a fellow House Republican, Frank Wolf of Virginia; Representative Keith Ellison, Democrat of Minnesota, who is Muslim; Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, a Muslim physician and activist who has been sharply critical of some fellow Muslims; and two family members of young men who embraced extremist violence. (The committee’s top Democrat, Representative Bennie G. Thompson of Mississippi, has invited Leroy Baca, the sheriff of Los Angeles County, who has praised Muslim assistance to law enforcement, and Representative John D. Dingell, Democrat of Michigan, who has many Muslim constituents.)

The furor about the hearing is less about the witness lineup, which does not seem especially incendiary, than about statements by Mr. King that appear to spread blame for terrorism to the entire population of American Muslims.

“This hearing is not focusing on the acts of a criminal fringe but is broad-brushing an entire community,” said Alejandro J. Beutel, policy analyst at the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Washington.

Mr. Beutel, who has compiled a database of terrorist incidents since 2001, said the problem of radicalization of young Muslims is serious, and his group has helped counter it with a number of measures, including a video featuring nine imams speaking against extremism that has become a Web hit. But he said broadly accusing Muslims of complicity in terrorism will hamstring the fight to prevent extremism, which depends on tips from citizens willing and unafraid to contact authorities.

Even Mr. King’s critics acknowledge a fundamental difference between the violence carried out by the I.R.A., which usually sought with varying success to minimize civilian casualties, and that of Al Qaeda, which has done the opposite. The I.R.A. was responsible for 1,826 of 3,528 deaths during the Northern Irish conflict between 1969 and 2001, including those of several hundred civilians, said the historian Malcolm Sutton.

“King’s exactly right to say there’s a difference of approach between the I.R.A. and Al Qaeda,” said Tom Parker, a counterterrorism specialist at Amnesty International and a former British military intelligence officer. “But I personally consider both of them terrorist groups.”

Mr. Parker was at a birthday party for a friend in London in 1990 when the I.R.A. tossed a bomb onto the roof of the rented hall, a historic barracks. Many people, including Mr. Parker, were injured, but none died, by lucky chance of location and quick medical response, he said.

What troubles him, Mr. Parker said, is that Mr. King “understands the pull of ancestral ties. He took a great interest in a terrorist struggle overseas. He’s a guy who could bring real insight to this situation.” Instead, he said, “he is damaging cooperation from the greatest allies the U.S. has in counterterrorism.”

Some who have been close to Mr. King agree. Niall O’Dowd, an Irish-born New York publisher and writer who worked with him on the peace process in the 1990s, broke publicly with him Monday on his Web site,, describing Mr. King’s “strange journey from Irish radical to Muslim inquisitor.”

In Northern Ireland, Mr. O’Dowd said, they saw a Catholic community “demonized” by its Protestant and British critics and worked to bring it to the peace table. Seeing his old friend similarly “demonize” Muslims has shocked him, he said.

“I honestly feel Peter is wrong, and his own experience in Northern Ireland teaches him that,” Mr. O’Dowd said. “He’s a very honest, working-class Irish guy from Queens who’s had an amazing career. Now I see a man turning back on himself, and I don’t know why.”

By: Scott Shane, The New York Times, March 8, 2011. Original Post: For Lawmaker Examining Terror, a Pro-IRA Past

March 9, 2011 Posted by | Democracy, Homeland Security, Islam, Islamophobia, Muslims, Politics, Religion | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s Not Just Entitlements, The Real Issue: Controlling All Health Care Costs

The current cry to reduce Federal deficits and debt growth by reducing Medicare and Medicaid entitlements is totally missing the key issue: the need to moderate all health care inflation. This should be the time for a national debate on how to best tackle the underlying cost problem, for the sake of our future, the economy, and access to health care.

The June 13-19, 2009 Economist editorialized: “America has the most wasteful [health] system on the planet. Its fiscal future would be transformed if Congress passed reforms that emphasized control of costs as much as the expansion of coverage that Barack Obama rightly wants.”

Health reform failed to get an adequate handle on all health care costs. Now there are constant calls by various expert commissions and many in Congress for entitlement spending reductions.  Such cuts will create enormous new problems by failing to address the underlying, real problem of health costs and inflation.

Cutting just Medicare and Medicaid without addressing the whole problem is like squeezing a balloon—the balloon starts looking very strange very fast. While it is difficult to tell how much cost-shifting may occur and it will vary from market-to-market, some Medicare and Medicaid cuts probably get passed through in higher costs to the private sector—hardly a helpful action. (Congressional Budget Office, December 2008, Key Issues in Analyzing Major Health Insurance Proposals, p. 116) Cuts that are too deep in Medicare will also end up causing providers to be reluctant to see seniors and people with disabilities—as happens all too often today in Medicaid. In time, quality may be threatened.

And Medicare and Medicaid are not particularly driving the problem of soaring health care costs. As various studies have shown, over the long haul, Medicare has probably inflated slightly less rapidly for a comparable package of services than the private sector has. Recent reports by the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) show that high quality, efficient hospitals have made a little money on Medicare, while private insurers have often failed to control costs, and have paid less effective hospitals 132 percent of the costs of running an efficient hospital. (See, for example, MedPAC’s March 2009 Report to Congress, Section 2A.)

A Comprehensive Approach To Health Care Cost Containment  

It is past time for a comprehensive solution to ensure the affordability of a fundamental need: access to health care. We should say that access to reasonably affordable health care is a basic national need, like access to clean water and air, and treat it like a regulated utility—like your water–where cost growth is kept within a reasonable range and where a reasonable quality service is widely available (but if you want to go buy Perrier, you can).

Instead of squeezing one part of the health care cost balloon (Medicare and Medicaid), we need an “all saver” system. Under this system, any provider in the health care sector which inflates its billings faster than the growth in the CPI plus, say, one percent (adjusted for changes in population, new technologies, increased productivity, and changes in the severity of the cases that provider treats) would owe a rebate of the excess amount to its customers—both private and public. If the rebate were not provided, that excess income would face a 100 percent tax. The Federal government could do this under the Commerce clause, or, to enable providers and patients to opt out, could require participation by those accepting payment from Medicare, Medicaid, and payers claiming tax-deductible medical expenses.

How would the plan work? Complicated? Yes, but soon very doable with today’s health information technology systems and the coding systems developed by Medicare and others. It would take several years to set the system up, but it would work like this. Let’s say a hospital in a base year of 2013 had $100 million worth of billings. If consumer inflation were 4 percent and if the system allowed another 1 percent (just because we do highly value health care and some extra growth is a reasonable choice), then in 2014, the hospital could bill $105 million. (Let’s assume that an expensive new technology is available that costs an extra $1 million, but let’s also assume that increase is coincidentally offset by a national increase in productivity of 1 percent that saves about $1 million.)

If the hospital bills its customers $110 million in 2014, yet those customers are no sicker or more complicated to treat than in 2013 (as proven by the audited billing codes or adjusted for coding creep), the hospital will owe its customers $5 million in rebates. If Medicare paid 40 percent of the bills ($44 million), it would receive back 40 percent of the $5 million excessive inflation ($2 million). If a large employer’s health plan paid 20 percent of the provider’s bills, it would get $1 million back, and so forth.

If a provider did not want to participate, they could insist on only after-tax cash customers, and individuals would be free to use such doctors and hospitals.

Changing The Debate

Instead of focusing on Medicare/Medicaid cuts, Congress should be debating ideas of how to moderate all health care spending while minimizing interference in the practice of medicine. The plan I’ve described is just one option, and of course it would have to be adjusted to deal with many complexities. For example:

  • How could the plan be made fair to new doctors and facilities with one-time extra start-up costs and no history of billings?
  • How could the plan use quarterly payments or rolling averages to avoid many providers shutting down in December?
  • How could society encourage further innovation, perhaps by offering more inflation for drugs certified as breakthroughs by the Food and Drug Administration?
  • What cosmetic-type services could or should be exempt?
  • What MedPAC-like advice and constitutional governance would be best?

Of course, if over the next decade reforms such as electronic medical records, comparative effectiveness research, and new bundling of the way we pay for services sufficiently ‘bends’ the spending curve downward, this system could be suspended. But it is doubtful those changes will do enough, and it is time to act on a comprehensive solution.

Incidentally, slowing all health care inflation would not only save enormous amounts in Medicare and Medicaid; over time it should achieve huge extra CBO/Joint Tax scorable savings, because the private sector and individuals will claim less in tax-deductible expenses for health care.

Budget reform that gets a handle on all health care inflation will solve most—or at least the toughest–of the ‘entitlement and future debt problems facing the nation. The entitlement problem is overwhelmingly a Medicare problem, driven not so much by more seniors or an aging population as by constantly soaring per capita costs of care. If we try to solve the entitlement problem just by cutting Medicare and Medicaid, we will destroy those programs. We need a total solution, because soaring health care costs are distorting the economy and our future as a successful nation.

Now is the time for this debate.

By: William Vaughan, Health Affairs Blog, Originally published March 3, 2011

March 9, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Health Care Costs, Health Reform, Individual Mandate, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Are Peter King’s Hearings So Loathsome? Let Us Count The Ways

Some people seem to have great difficulty in understanding why U.S. Rep. Peter King’s hearings on radicalization of American Muslims, set to open this Thursday, are seen as so loathsome by so many. Let me try to explain.

Imagine, for starters, if another congressman — say, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, a Democrat and the first Muslim elected to Congress — decided to hold hearings on the Christian fundamentalist community and the radicalization of some of its members. After all, it is undeniably fundamentalists who have formed the bulk of the extremists who have burned or bombed hundreds of abortion clinics and murdered eight providers or their assistants. The vast majority of these people have been motivated, as most have said themselves, by their interpretations of Christianity.

Well, I think you can see where this is going. You wouldn’t have time to snap your fingers before outraged Americans, metaphorically speaking, surrounded the Capitol carrying pitchforks and torches, demanding the heads of their representatives. Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck, to mention just a couple of the far-right talking heads, would erupt before their Fox News audiences. After all, just think back to the self-righteous hullabaloo that broke out when a leaked 2009 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) report on the radical right suggested that hate groups were interested in recruiting returning veterans with military skills. Conservatives around the country went into outrage mode, shouting to the skies that the perfectly accurate report was calling all veterans potential Timothy McVeighs. The political right is the first to scream “demonization” when it feels it is being targeted.

There’s another very good reason why the hearings organized by King, a Republican from New York who chairs the Homeland Security Committee, amount to what an editorial in today’s New York Times called “Mr. King’s show trial.” Peter King does not come to the question of radical Islam with clean hands.

This is a man who has said that 80% to 85% of American mosques are run by extremists — jihadists — and who told a reporter that “unfortunately, we have too many mosques in this country.” He says that Al Qaeda is aggressively recruiting Muslims in this country. Last month, he was the first guest on a cable television show hosted by Brigitte Gabriel, the founder of the aggressively anti-Muslim ACT! for America group and one of the more obnoxious Muslim-bashers around (the Times reported Monday that she claims radical Muslims have “infiltrated” the CIA, FBI, Pentagon and more). He claims that the vast majority of American Muslims and their leaders have refused to cooperate with law enforcement investigations of jihadists — but then says he can’t reveal his law enforcement sources.

In fact, like virtually all King’s claims, that last is baloney. As a study last month from the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security revealed, 48 of the 120 Muslims suspected of plotting terror attacks in the United States since 9/11 were turned in by fellow Muslims. What’s more, leaders of virtually all responsible law enforcement groups report that most Muslims are highly cooperative.

King is holding his version of the McCarthy hearings at a time when extremist groups in the United States — hate groups, antigovernment “Patriot” zealots and extremist vigilante organizations — are expanding dramatically. Just last month, a new Southern Poverty Law Center report showed that the number of three strands of the radical right went from 1,753 groups in 2009 to 2,145 last year. In January, authorities arrested a neo-Nazi apparently planning a bomb attack on the Arizona border; found a powerful bomb set to explode by a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade; and seized a man apparently about to bomb a Michigan mosque. And  just last week, a large group of Muslim-haters screamed a litany of insults against Muslims at a California fundraisers, terrifying their cowering children, as can be seen in video of the event.

But King has no interest in these threats. To him, Islam is the enemy.

The reality is that King’s hearing are about demonizing Muslims, and they are, unfortunately, very likely to accomplish that goal. After all, they come in the midst of a renewed bout of Islamophobia — a round of hatred and fear that began last summer when other opportunistic politicians ginned up alarm about the Islamic center planned for lower Manhattan. They follow by just a few months the adoption of an absurd Oklahoma law designed to prevent the introduction of Islamic religious law in the state’s courts — a law that is now being emulated elsewhere.

Ultimately, this kind of demonization leads to violence against the targeted minorities. President George W. Bush understood that, and that is why, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, he gave a number of speeches saying that Muslims and Arabs were not our enemies — Al Qaeda was. As a result, anti-Muslim hate crimes, which had spiked up an astounding 1,700% after the attack, dropped by two thirds the following year. Bush may have made many mistakes as a president, but he clearly understood that demonizing minorities ultimately leads to violence.

Words have consequences — unfortunately, even Peter King’s.

By: Mark Potok, Southern Poverty Law Center, March 8, 2011

March 9, 2011 Posted by | Islam, Islamophobia, Muslims, Religion | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


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