2009 - %3, July

Cats and Dogs Sleeping Together

| Wed Jul. 29, 2009 1:44 PM PDT

Andrew Sullivan responds to my post last night suggesting that in the long run community rating is more important than having a public option in the healthcare reform bill:

But how do you contain costs after you have mandated coverage? The health care industry will make more money if everyone is covered. If you don't make them commit to serious concessions, such as the public plan, this time around, how are you going to do that in the future? The answer, I'm afraid, is: you won't. Onto receivership for the US! But more people will be healthy as the dollar collapses and the economy implodes.

Let me get this straight.  Andrew Sullivan is arguing for greater federal intervention in the healthcare market?  Because that's the only way to hold down costs?

I feel like I'm living in Bizarro world.  But hey — I'm all for a public option.  I suspect it would have only a modest effect on long-term healthcare costs — which is pretty much the way I feel about every other proposal to rein in spending too — but modest is still better than nothing.  In any case, I guess this means Andrew, Mickey, and I are all in agreement on something.  Weird.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Gay Gamer Wins EA Promo, Says No Thanks

| Wed Jul. 29, 2009 1:23 PM PDT

EA's "Sin to Win" promotion at Comic Con proved to be an epic fail. The sanctioned #lust Twitter tag is so swamped with critiques that its hard to find even one actual submission of an "act of lust." The original poster for the contest has been removed from Twitpic and replaced with an apology that refers to "booth babes" as "costumed reps."

In an effort to spin the promotion away from the assumption that all of their consumers are heterosexual men, EA "randomly" chose a gay gamer, who subversively submitted a photo of himself and a "booth bear."

The winner, PixelPoet, refused the runner up prize and posted the email he sent to EA about his decision on GayGamer.net, a site he invited EA to explore "as perhaps a first step in getting to know your many customers outside of the fratboy demographic this contest was seemingly designed to attract." He also gave EA several suggestions as to what should be done with the refused $240 gift card prize:

1)A new sexual-harassment training video/seminar

2) Another PR team to try to spin this whole debacle of a contest into a positive light

3) A direct phone line to EA's legal depart to use before you try anymore PR stunts

4) Six copies of your game when it releases, since I know you've lost at least that many fans with this stunt

5) Or the next time you go to Hooters (for the wings, of course), leave a $240 tip for your waitress in a karmic way of balancing out what has been done to the booth babes of SDCC due to this contest

Personally, I would love to see EA enact options 1, 4, and 5. PixelPoet at least deserves a free copy of the game, though perhaps instead of patronizing Hooters, the "costumed reps" would appreciate a $240 bonus for having to deal with the few attendees who thought the promotion was a good idea. And since, as PixelPoet points out, the promo happened on the heels of an EA event with GLAAD, it looks like they could use another sexual-harassment and safe space training.

Can You Get Sued for Tweeting About Mold?

| Wed Jul. 29, 2009 12:44 PM PDT

The latest from my neck of the woods has Chicago realty group Horizon suing a former tenant $50,000 in damages over a tweet. On May 12, Amanda Bonnen tweeted the following:Realty TweetSeemingly innocuous right? It's the kind of content that a stream-of-consciousness oriented medium might be expected to produce. And hey, it could be a worse.

Apparently it can't be. Horizon released a statement yesterday that contained the following sentence:

As you can imagine, allegations of mold are taken very seriously by our organization.

And earlier in the week Jeff Michael, whose family owns the company, told the Chicago Sun-Times the Horizon Realty Group was "a sue first, ask questions later kind of an organization." It doesn't matter that Bonnen had only 20 followers at the time of her tweet or that her account has since been deleted. (See the Google cached version here.)

This story reminds me of a lawsuit that came up in a recent Mother Jones investigation. In the July/August issue of Mother Jones, Adam Matthews writes about the evils of big property owners Stellar Management. When former residents of Stellar's San Francisco Parkmerced complex anonymously complained about the facilities and management on ApartmentRatings.com, Stellar subpoened the website for the identities of the commenters. Good thing they didn't check out Yelp!, where, coincidentally, many of the complaints focus on the apparently prohibitive mold situation.

Now obviously the only reason Amanda Bonnen's story has garnered so much attention is because Twitter was involved. Look past the Twitter craze, however, and there is something at stake about the way we live now. For young professionals and students, the internet is increasingly the beginning, middle, and end of the apartment search. Horizon Group Realty acknowledges as much with the online lease application and rent pay apps featured on their website. As with so many other things, the internet has shone a bright ray of information into a formerly dark corner. In this case, it found mold. Whether or not Bonnen ends up forking over the 50k, are you going to be more careful about what you tweet? I didn't think so...

Creationist Says Oil's From God

| Wed Jul. 29, 2009 12:38 PM PDT

While most scientists agree that oil is abiogenic, or formed from biomass, creationist John D. Matthews (credentials unknown) has a different theory: Oil comes from God. In Answers Research Journal, which is published by the creationist ministry Answers in Genesis (the same folks who reported on the creationist Girl Scout) Matthews argues that God made petroleum in right after he made the Earth, and that the oil moved during the great flood.

As evidence for his theory, Matthews offers Noah's Ark:

Some kind of oil derivative was used by Noah to waterproof the Ark. We also have to recognize that, in the pre-Flood landscape (although we do not have detailed descriptions in the book of Genesis), we do know that a wide range of minerals were available for human use. We read of gold, onyx, soil, building materials for cities, bronze and iron. The wide range of vegetation and the number of animal kinds also point to God who was liberal with his creative activity. So that although oil is not something simple (see earlier), the idea of God directly creating oil is not unreasonable when compared with other aspects of the young-earth creationist model.

Right. Read the Mother Jones story on evangelical oil prospecting here.

HT J-Walk blog.

Coast Guard: Still in Deep Water?

| Wed Jul. 29, 2009 12:30 PM PDT

You might remember that the Coast Guard's 25-year, $25 billion modernization program, Deepwater, has had a lot of problems. Eight ships that contractors tried to extend from 110 feet to 123 feet ended up completely unusable, for example. But the Coast Guard plowed ahead with the construction of eight 418-foot "National Security Cutters" that are set to be the crown jewels of the service's revamped fleet. Last week, the Coast Guard kicked off construction of the Stratton, the third NSC, engraving the initials M.O. into the ship's keel in honor of Michelle Obama. But critics of the new ships maintain that their communications systems are likely vulnerable to interception, and Deepwater still faces a lot of problems. Read all about it here.

More News From Planet Obvious

| Wed Jul. 29, 2009 12:06 PM PDT

It turns out that texting while driving, in addition to being profoundly stupid, is linked to truck crashes. Who would have guessed?

What you might not have guessed is that the government withheld information on the dangers of cell phone use while driving. Mother Jones reported that last October. Mike Mechanic has the details.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Countrywide Probe Puts Rep. Towns in Tight Spot

| Wed Jul. 29, 2009 11:56 AM PDT

Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House oversight committee, has some deep thinking to do. By week's end, he tells The Hill, he'll render a verdict on whether his committee will launch a full-scale investigation into failed subprime lender Countrywide Financial. It's an investigation the committee's minority staff, under Darrell Issa, has been pursuing for more than a year, with a particular focus on the company's "Friends of Angelo" VIP loan program. But in order to take his probe to the next level, Issa needs the backing of the full committee to subpoena records from Bank of America, which took over Countrywide following its epic collapse. And Issa has been pressing hard for Towns' cooperation. Towns, meanwhile, has been dragging his heels on this. Why? One potential reason is because this investigation could shed unflattering light on the favorable financing some congressional lawmakers received through Mozilo's VIP program.

These alleged sweetheart deals, first reported last summer, have bubbled back up in the news recently. On Monday, the AP reported that a former Countrywide employee has provided some damaging information to Republican oversight investigators and members of the Senate Ethics Committee relating to VIP loans granted to Senators Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Chris Dodd (D-Conn.). According to the AP, Robert Feinberg, who worked in the company's VIP loan section, has said that Conrad and Dodd were made fully aware that they were receiving favorable treatment, a claim both lawmakers strongly deny. This scrutiny comes at a particularly inconvenient time for Dodd, who's already in serious jeopardy of losing his senate seat in the upcoming election.

This puts Towns in a tight spot. If he goes forward with an investigation, he risks tainting fellow Democrats, as well as other lawmakers who may have received Friends of Angelo financing. If he doesn't, he leaves himself open to charges that he is playing politics, forsaking his oversight role to provide cover for congressional colleagues. Issa surely isn't going to let this go quietly.

So what's it going to be Rep. Towns?

Quote of the Day

| Wed Jul. 29, 2009 11:54 AM PDT

From Dan Drezner, who's currently teaching a summer course along the banks of the Rhine in lovely Basel:

If you think the bank bailouts are unpopular in the United States, try the Swiss reaction to the Swiss federal government's bailout of UBS.  It's to the Voldermortian point where they asked me not to say "UBS" because it's so embarrassing.  We have compromised — I can now say "UBS," but must then spit three times over my right shoulder to ward off evil spirits.

Basel, of course, is the home of the famous Basel Capital Accords, which did approximately nothing to stop our late financial meltdown.  In fact, Basel II probably made things worse.  So Swiss students have every right to be embarrassed, even if they were only renting their city out to the world's central bankers, so to speak.

OTOH, Basel is also the birthplace of Roger Federer.  So they've got something to cheer for too.

Good News on Healthcare

| Wed Jul. 29, 2009 11:36 AM PDT

Today we get good news from the House:

House leaders, the White House and four Blue Dogs on the Energy and Commerce Committee reached a deal Wednesday on a health care overhaul....Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), head of the Blue Dog health care task force, said the deal would cut more than $100 billion from the Democratic health bill, increase exemptions for small businesses and prevent the public insurance option from basing reimbursements on Medicare rates.

And we get good news from the Senate:

The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, who is leading efforts to develop a compromise health care bill announced Wednesday that negotiators had pared the price-tag to under $900 billion over 10 years and that lawmakers had agreed on ways to cover the cost....Late Tuesday, Mr. Baucus had hinted that his group had mostly finished their work on how to pay for the bill. “The costs, I think, are pretty well nailed down,” he said.

Perhaps Tyler Cowen is right: a lot of the day-to-day chatter along the way to healthcare reform "is simply noise."  We won't know that for sure until we have actual bills, an actual conference report, and an actual vote, but hey — it's an odd-numbered day and I'll take whatever good news I can get.  And agreement of any kind, even without knowing the details yet, is forward progress.  That's good news.

Health Care Retort: You're Lying! No, You Are!

| Wed Jul. 29, 2009 11:32 AM PDT

It seems as if the partisan squabbling over health care reform is ratcheting up. On Wednesday, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party each accused the other side of lying about what's in the health care reform package under construction in Congress. It began with a conference call for reporters held by the RNC, in which Republican Rep. Patrick McHenry claimed President Barack Obama has been prevaricating about his plan. Within moments, the DNC zapped out a retort.

Here's how the DNC chronicled this spat:

On an RNC conference call today, Congressman Patrick McHenry accused the President of lying about the details of his health insurance reform plan. The only person lying on that call, however, was Rep. McHenry, and you don't have to take our word for it. Multiple independent fact checkers have debunked the claims McHenry and his fellow Republicans continue to make about health insurance reform. With the cost of premiums soaring for so many families and small businesses, it's disgusting that Republicans are willing to lie and use the same old Washington scare tactics to try to "kill" health insurance reform on behalf of their insurance company friends.

The DNC explained further: