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It's Not Just Wall Street That's Happy To See Spitzer Go

| Mon Mar. 24, 2008 1:58 PM EDT

Last fall, former New York governor Eliot Spitzer appointed a task force to address the state's high rates of malpractice by hospitals and doctors. The task force was also charged with making recommendations for lowering doctors' med mal premiums, which soared 14 percent last year. The insurance industry and doctors' groups seized the opportunity to press for new restrictions on medical malpractice lawsuits, which they claim would reduce the premiums. As other states have learned, though, such limits usually only result in windfall profits for insurance companies while leaving injured patients with no recourse should their doctor, say, amputate the wrong leg.

Consumer groups in New York had long suspected Spitzer of siding with the doctors on this issue, largely because his brother is a downstate neurosurgeon. Their suspicions were confirmed when Spitzer stacked his medical liability task force with more than 20 representatives from the hospital, medical and insurance industries, while consumer protection and patient safety groups got just three spots. The consumer reps have largely been shut out of the task force deliberations, and despite repeated demands, they've been denied access to the insurance industry data, which supposedly justified the limits on lawsuits. Recently, the consumer members learned from local newspapers that the task force had drafted a major reform proposal that would be released soon. None of them had ever seen it.

Now that Spitzer has resigned, the groups are hoping his replacement, Governor David Patterson, will open up the process. In a letter today, representatives from NYPIRG, the Center for Justice and Democracy, the Center for Medical Consumers and others wrote Patterson, "We refuse to be mere window dressing, to be used as stage props to create the illusion of inclusion, while proposals that affect the life and safety of every health care consumer in our state are drafted in secret. We hope you will redirect the state's efforts towards reducing the deaths and injuries caused by a tiny fraction of the state's physicians, rather than enabling error, negligence, and malpractice to be subsidized by taxpayers."

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Presidential Candidates Want Foxes Guarding the Henhouse

| Mon Mar. 24, 2008 11:11 AM EDT

In his column today, Paul Krugman notes that former Sen. Phil Gramm, a major advocate for de-regulation of the financial services industry and thus one of the two men perhaps most responsible for the current economic crisis, is John McCain's chief economic adviser.

Aside from Gramm, Krugman's main scapegoat is Alan Greenspan, who Sen. Hillary Clinton now wants to appoint to a "an emergency working group on foreclosures" to "recommend new ways to confront the nation's housing finance troubles," according to the Associated Press. Barack Obama, like Clinton, has received oodles of money from Wall Street. Krugman says those donors "surely believe that they're buying something in return." Let's hope all three candidates are not as beholden to the financial services industry as they seem.

Kristol: Giving McCain a Pass for Campaigning with an Anti-Islam Bigot

| Mon Mar. 24, 2008 10:31 AM EDT

If Barack Obama accepted the endorsement of a minister who called for eradicating Judaism, praised that minister, and campaigned with that minister, what would the media reaction be? Would Fox News not go nuts over that--especially if there were video? Would CNN and MSNBC not provide plenty of air time to outraged commentators demanding that Obama denounce this minister and reject his support? Would The New York Times and The Washington Post not devote inches of columns to news stories and columns dissecting the relationship between Obama and the minister and use the occasion for big-think articles probing the relationship between blacks and Jews?

With that in mind, let's turn to an exchange between Chris Wallace and Bill Kristol from this Sunday on Fox News:

WALLACE: With all the talk about Obama and Reverend Wright, I got a bunch of email this past week from viewers who said: "Why don't you ever talk about McCain and the evangelical -- some of the evangelical ministers who have endorsed him?" And let's put up a couple of these: Reverend John Hagee, who has called the Catholic Church a "false cult," and Reverend Rod Parsley, who has attacked Islam and said that Allah was a "demon spirit." Do you think it's fair, Bill, to compare McCain's, quote, "ministers" to Obama's pastor?
KRISTOL: No, because these are just individuals who've endorsed Senator McCain. I think, actually, some of the attacks, especially on Reverend Hagee, are unfair. But leaving that aside, no. This would be like attacking Obama because random individuals in the Democratic Party have endorsed him. Obama and Wright have a close relationship. Obama chose, not just to join Reverend Wright's church, but to stay there over 20 years. And that's what hurts him.

Talk about intellectual honesty--or the lack thereof. Kristol is right (to a degree) that the Obama case and the McCain case are different. Obama had a long and personal relationship with Wright (which, depending on your view, might make the matter better or worse). But McCain, out of political expedience, made common cause with Hagee (a well-known anti-Catholic, who called Catholicism the "great whore" and a "false cult system") and with Parsley, who has called for western Christian nations, in particular the United States, to destroy (literally) the "false religion" of Islam. McCain sought and accepted the endorsement of each of these fundamentalist pastors. He campaigned with Parsley before the Ohio primary and called him a "spiritual guide."

Rising Health Care Costs Killing Wages for Working Americans

| Mon Mar. 24, 2008 9:30 AM EDT

doctor-with-patient250x200.jpg The Washington Post has been front-paging some great reporting recently on the economic trials of everyday Americans. Here's another example today, about the impact of rising health care costs:

Employees and employers are getting squeezed by the price of health care. The struggle to control health costs is viewed as crucial to improving wages and living standards for working Americans. Employers are paying more for health care and other benefits, leaving less money for pay increases. Benefits now devour 30.2 percent of employers' compensation costs, with the remaining money going to wages, the Labor Department reported this month. That is up from 27.4 percent in 2000.
"The way health-care costs have soared is unbelievable," said Katherine Taylor, a vice president for Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union. "There are people out here making decisions about whether to keep their lights on or buy a prescription."
Since 2001, premiums for family health coverage have increased 78 percent, according to a 2007 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Premiums averaged $12,106, of which workers paid $3,281, according to the report.

That massive jump in premiums is one reason why, according the Post, "inflation-adjusted median family income has dipped 2.6 percent -- or nearly $1,000 annually since 2000."

LOST: Last Pre-Strike Episode Not So Striking

| Fri Mar. 21, 2008 7:00 PM EDT

kevin-johnson.jpg

Last night's episode of LOST was the last we'll see until April 24. And it was the last written before the infamous strike. Will there be a difference between pre-and post-strike shows? We can only hope so, as the "Meet Kevin Johnson" episode yesterday felt rushed and ultimately unsatisfying.

The episode takes place almost entirely in flashbacks, a trademark of the series. The flashbacks, which reveal critical stories from characters' pasts, have been an easy way for viewers to learn more about characters and their motivations in the present. But some episodes, like last nights', seem to be nearly entirely flash-backs, making it feel contrived and hard to jump back into the present and still remember what's happening. Combine it with the innovative use flash-forwards (which happened in last week's show) and you've got a recipe for confusion in an already complex TV series. Some TV shows and movies (Tarantino's Kill Bill and his inspiration Kung Fu) do flashbacks seamlessly. But it seems to me, when flashbacks start to take up more than 70 percent of an episode, you're asking for trouble.

In last night's flashback, I mean episode, the story of Oceanic flight 815 survivor Michael (aka Kevin Johnson) was interesting, since he was the first Lostie to make it off the island. But it wasn't nearly as fascinating as another character's glossed-over revelation that the alleged remains of Flight 815 found at the bottom of the ocean, were, in fact, planted. But by whom is still a mystery: Bad guy Ben's henchmen say it's industrialist Charles Widmore.

But would Widmore really put his company's real name on a purchase order to buy the same model of plane that crashed? And could a Boeing 777 commercial airliner really cost only $450, as the receipt indicates? To me, that enters the realm of fantasy more than the idea that busy businessman Widmore took 300+ bodies from a Thai cemetery, put them in a plane, and shoved them into the ocean, all so he could hide an island with special powers from the rest of the world.

Another unsatisfying detail of last night's installment was the perfunctory shooting of Danielle, mother of bad guy Ben's daughter, and Karl, boyfriend of said daughter, just before the episode ended. One can only hope the April post-strike episodes will be a bit tidier, since writers got some, er, rest during the five-months they weren't working.

Photo courtesy ABC

Bush & Company Choke on Clean Air

| Fri Mar. 21, 2008 6:37 PM EDT

ISS014-E-7738.jpg The EPA said last week it would improve air quality by cutting ground-level ozone limits from 80 parts per billion to 75 ppb. This should save thousands of lives a year. Sounds good? Well, according to New Scientist, the EPA's own scientific advisers told the agency last year of overwhelming evidence that an even tighter limit of 70 ppb would save thousands more lives. No go, said the EPA, apparently deciding those other thousands of lives are inconsequential.

Now the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) says the Bush administration wants to overhaul the whole process of setting air-quality controls by allowing political appointees to help draft advisory reports, taking the job away, at least in part, from researchers. New Scientist reports the words of Tim Donaghy of the UCS: "The administration has changed the rules along the way so that when the next administration gets into office, the role science plays in setting regulations will be greatly diminished."

This, by the way, dovetails with a call last month by the UCS for the next president and Congress to end political interference in science and establish conditions allowing federal science to flourish. "Good federal policy depends upon reliable and robust scientific work," said Francesca Grifo, director of the Scientific Integrity Program at UCS. "When science is falsified, fabricated or censored, Americans' health and safety suffer."

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MoJo Staff Picks: March 21

| Fri Mar. 21, 2008 6:20 PM EDT

mojo-staff-picks-250x200.jpgThe "staff picks" shelf at the record store sucks me in every time. My rationalization: These folks work at a record store, so they must know what they're talking about. Right? Well, we work at a magazine, so, uh...anyway, a few of us here at MoJo decided to compile our own favorites-of-the-moment list. Like it? Super. Hate it? Tell us something better to listen to. Especially if you happen to work at a record store.

We think our picks this week are worth a listen or two. But as LeVar Burton would say, you don't have to take our word for it:

1. "Along the Way," DeVotchKa: Gary saw DeVotchKa perform this song in Austin last week at SXSW, and it's been stuck in his head ever since. Old-world gypsy folk that's pretty and sad at the same time.

2. "Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks," Los Campesinos!:
Welsh indie pop band with names almost as twee as their music: Neil, Ellen, Ollie, Tom, Gareth, Harriet, and Aleks.

3. "Organism," Tommy Guerrero: At a recent live performance in San Francisco, Guerrero and his band drove through songs like this with scary precision. Hip-hop beats + thick, reggae bass lines + funky guitar = Tommy Guerrero.

4. "Zhong Nan Hai," Carsick Cars: We hear tinges of Mission of Burma and the mighty Joy Division in this Beijing band's sound. What do you hear?

Black Intelligentsia: Holla If You Hear Obama

| Fri Mar. 21, 2008 3:12 PM EDT

The ball is now in America's court. How will the country rise to Obama's challenge? Can we agree to engage each other respectfully, stand our ground only after careful consideration, and just plain fight fair? Will both sides (yes, there are many more than two but you can't do everything in one post) enter the fray knowing that others have a right to disagree and be proved wrong, if they are indeed wrong? So far, not so much. But a nation doesn't transcend race in a day.

Odd how comedians are free thinking and brave enough to confront serious issues, albeit while sporting a Steve Martinesque arrow-through-the-head get-up. So far, the white boys at the Daily Show (with an assist from its Senior Black Correspondent, Larry Wilmore) win. Granted, the Jew and the black guy overcame their angry stalemate by agreeing, in the end, to dog the white guy, but hey. It's a start. Even sadder? Confederate flag-pandering, non-evolution-believing, bring-the-Constitution-in-line-with-the-Bible Mike Huckabee is displaying more wisdom and humanity than most in what we're hearing so far.

Come on, white folks. You can do better than this: "I don't want to hear that [blacks] are blaming [whites] for [Wright] saying this"? "...they are perpetual victims and they enjoy the victim status and, by proxy, me as a white person is their victimizer. And as long as we perpetuate these divisions, we will never heal." Y'all were saying that five minutes after Lee bolted from Appomattox. There was another quote from Pennsylvania I can't find now about how blacks should be talking about the present (where things must be great for them) and not what happened 100 years ago (which must have no bearing on present racial ills. But then: see above. There are no racial ills, only an enjoyable victimology because it simply cannot be that I, a beer drinking, laid off Joe, benefit from racism or outrank anybody). Man, it must be exhausting thinking in circles like that, desperate circles that lead ever farther away from you.

But no more exhausting that the lengths blacks continue to go to to evade reconsidering their own sacred cows. So far, they aren't exactly bringing on the deep thinking either: the whites I'm dogging are refusing to admit there is racism now, or any lingering effects from past racism. The blacks I'm after are refusing to admit that, as long as racism exists, we can behave however we choose, especially intellectually. Whatever whites criticize must be defended. I know it hurts, black people. Weirdly, I've experienced more life-affecting racism in the last few years since I've been a big ol' success than I ever did as the ghetto-girl daughter of Jim Crow sharecroppers desperate to move on up. And don't even get me started on gender. Still, that makes a rigorous intellectual and moral focus more important than ever. The 70s are over. Drop the bull horns, and for the love of God stop invoking COINTELPRO (no one's bugging your tired old Third World Students Association meeting) and put your own arguments to the test before convening another kente-cloth laden panel discussion on Tuskegee.


Obama and Clinton Camps Spar Over Trust, MI/FL Situation

| Fri Mar. 21, 2008 1:58 PM EDT

Sometimes it feels like both campaigns have an endless supply of spin. On a conference call today with reporters, Obama campaign aides pushed a new Gallup polls that shows just 53 percent of Americans think Hillary Clinton is trustworthy. "To head into the general election with over half the electorate not thinking you're trustworthy is a problem," said Obama's surrogates. The campaign insisted that Clinton's campaign tactics only bolster her perceived distrustfulness. They cited her newly released First Lady schedules as evidence: The schedules show Clinton in meetings intended to sell NAFTA, seemingly contradicting current claims that she is a long-time opponent of the trade agreement.

The Clinton campaign had its own conference call a few minutes later and had responses ready. "The Obama campaign is in political hot water," said spokesman Phil Singer, referencing the ongoing controversy over Rev. Wright's sermons, "and is desperate to change the subject." The discussion about trustworthiness and the First Lady schedules is a "full assault on Senator Clinton's character," the Clinton campaign insisted. It pointed to the fact that David Gergen, who moderated one of the NAFTA meetings then-First Lady Clinton attended, has said recently "Hillary Clinton was extremely unenthusiastic about NAFTA. And I think that's putting it mildly." In response to the Gallup poll, chief strategist Mark Penn took care to point out that in poll after poll, Hillary Clinton is identified as the best potential commander-in-chief in the Democratic field. Clearly voters have some kind of trust in her, Penn argued.

And then there is the issue of Michigan and Florida.

Inflation "Walloping" Everyday Americans

| Fri Mar. 21, 2008 1:44 PM EDT

For those of you who don't get the WaPo delivered every day and didn't see this morning's front page:

Inflation is walloping Americans with low and moderate incomes as the prices of staples have soared far faster than those of luxuries.

Check it out, after the jump...