2009 - %3, August

On Accepting Apologies

| Thu Aug. 6, 2009 12:44 PM EDT

In an episode of "Mouthpiece Theater" last week, Dana Milbank and Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post joked about what brands various luminaries might be served at future beer summits.  For Hillary Clinton, they suggested "Mad Bitch."

Ha ha ha!  Well, Mouthpiece Theater has been cancelled and Milbank and Cillizza have apologized.  But Bob Somerby isn't happy:

We’ve long been aware of Milbank’s oddness. But you haven’t seen “corporate media clueless chic” until you read the apology the bosses beat out of Cillizza. Each fellow was required to feign regret; below, you see how Christopher did it. So you’ll know, his blog at the Post is called “The Fix:”

CILLIZZA (8/5/09): I would like to personally apologize for the content in last Friday's video as it was inconsistent not only with the Post brand but, more important and personal to me, the Fix brand which I have worked so hard to cultivate.

Good God, that’s awful! Calling a woman a “bitch” is, at this level, remarkably stupid. Unless you’re a modern, upper-end “journalist,” in which case the practice is inconsistent with a long string of brands! Never mind the denigration of the woman in question! The real harm here was carelessly done to Cillizza’s beloved Fix brand!

This is something that bugs me.  I'm not quite as willing to forgive and forget this episode as MoJo's editor is, but neither do I think it was exactly a hanging offense.  Jokes go awry all the time.  More to the point, though, Cillizza apologized.  But these days, that's never good enough.  Either it's a "non-apology apology" or it's not groveling enough or it's not sincere enough or it came too late or it's an unforgivable crime and no apology can ever erase the stain.

Or something.  Get over it, folks.  Cillizza screwed up, but he groveled plenty for my taste. "I would like to personally apologize" is admirably direct, and there's nothing wrong with also acknowledging that his reputation is going to take a hit from this.

I've mentioned this before, but I sometimes wonder why anybody ever bothers to apologize for anything anymore since it never seems to do any good.  I remember that someone in comments to that post suggested that apologies should be done for their own sake, not in hopes of getting forgiveness.  That's an admirable sentiment, but it's also fabulously innocent of human nature.  Like it or not, public apologies are hard to do, and people hope to get something out them.  If all they get instead is more grief, they'll quit bothering with them.  Learning how to accept an apology is as important as learning how to give one.

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Crappy Mac?

| Thu Aug. 6, 2009 12:14 PM EDT

The Washington Post reports today that the Obama administration is considering reorganizing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the giant government-backed mortgage lenders. The plan calls for a "good bank-bad bank" structure, where toxic assets and bad liabilities would be stripped from Fannie and Freddie and put in a government-backed "bad bank," leaving "two healthy financial companies with a clean slate." 

Back in January, Citibank split in what some characterized as a good bank-bad bank move. The "bad bank," Citi Holdings, promptly acquired a (very obvious) nickname. What should the very bad bank that will hold all of Fannie and Freddie's bad assets be called? I suggest "Crappy Mac." You?

Inside the Sausage Factory: Blackwater Edition

| Thu Aug. 6, 2009 12:01 PM EDT

McClatchy's Mark Seibel and the News & Observer's Jay Price probably wish their email thread, discussing whether to cover the latest Blackwater allegations, didn't wind up splashed on the front page of Gawker, but I'm kinda glad it did. It offers a peek inside the sausage factory into the very real struggle reporters are having over whether—and how—to cover this story, which seems more like the plot of last season's 24 than a real-life crime drama. We're talking charges that Blackwater founder Erik Prince not only is out on a religious crusade to kill Muslims, but had informants whacked; allegations of child prostitution and gun-running; accusations of a wife-swapping and sex ring run out of the company's Moyock, North Carolina compound. Compared to this, allegations of tax evasion and money laundering seem downright tame.

These accusations were contained in the anonymous declarations of two ex-Blackwater employees, filed in connection with a series of civil suits brought on behalf of Iraqi civilians. These ex-employees say their identities must not be revealed because they fear retribution if their names are made public. But if we don't know who these guys are, we can't parse their motivations for coming forward, or whether they are really in a position to know what they say they do. John Does 1 and 2 say they've learned from former colleagues that "one of more persons who have provided information, or who were planning to provide information, about Erik Prince and Blackwater have been killed in suspicious circumstances." Yet they provide no details of who these victims were, omitting the most important clues for reporters who want to pursue this wild tale. Frankly, it's tough to know what to believe, which is likely convincing many journos to give this story a wide berth.

Are Health Care "Co-Ops" Good Enough?

| Thu Aug. 6, 2009 11:53 AM EDT

I just got booted from a conference call with Jacob Hacker, the Yale political scientist widely considered to be the brain behind the "public option" component of health care reform. Ayo, I'm tired of using technology. But before I was so rudely and abruptly removed, I got a chance to listen to Hacker slam the so-called health care "co-ops," which the Senate Finance committee is reportedly considering as an alternative to the public option.

Hacker said the public plan is a "crucial linchpin" of health care reform, and "co-ops should not be seen as a substitute for the public plan because they are not a serious way to provide public option's three main goals." Those three main goals, Hacker says, are the "three Bs": a Benchmark for prices, a Backup for patients, and a Backstop for cost-control.

Hacker argues that co-ops wouldn't be able to meet his goals for the public option because they "won't be effective in competing with private insurance plans." That, of course, is the larger point of the public option—competing with private insurance. But not everyone (especially not the insurance companies) wants the private plans to have to compete with anything. They barely compete with each other now. So co-ops that would face huge problems entering the market might be just the thing—if you want to keep the insurance companies happy.

Feeding the Beast

| Thu Aug. 6, 2009 11:33 AM EDT

Who's to blame for conservatives gaining traction with ridiculous arguments like Betsy McCaughey's that Democratic healthcare proposals will make it easier for government bureaucrats to kill old people?  Brendan Nyhan says it's not Obama:

Who's to blame for this problem? I largely fault the media. While the Obama administration's message strategy has hardly been perfect, it's absurd to say, as Cynthia Tucker did on This Week, that Obama "allowed the opposition [to health care reform] to scare people" (my emphasis). In a polarized political system, the McCaughey/Taitz approach to concocting and promoting misinformation probably would have worked no matter what the White House did. As Kevin Drum and Matthew Yglesias recently argued, it's extremely difficult to myth-proof a bill or to effectively counter these claims once they are made. Until the media stops giving airtime and column inches to proponents of misinformation, the playbook is going to keep working.

James Ridgeway elaborates:

In recent weeks, variations of this argument have been sprouting up all over the conservative ecosystem. Rush Limbaugh has been laying it on particularly thick for his 22 million listeners. "People at a certain age with certain diseases will be deemed not worth the investment, and they will, just as Obama said, they'd give them some pain pills, and let them loop out till they die and they don't even know what's happened…They're preparing you to die," he said on one show. (A caller who said she was 66 responded, "You know, Rush...they want to get rid of the old people so they can insure the illegal aliens for their voting base.") And it gets even more sinister: Rahm Emanuel’s brother Ezekiel, a physician and White House health care policy adviser is, Limbaugh says, a "central figure" who believes it’s a "waste of money to invest in health care in the elderly. " Plus, he plans to expand hospice care. And we all know what that means!

Fox News host Sean Hannity has also taken up the cause, as has [Randall] Terry, the former head of anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, who has been railing against the President's "death care." Donny Ferguson at the libertarian Small Government Times writes that Obama's plan "sends government employees to your home to monitor your parenting…and forces the sick and elderly to submit to 'end of life counseling.'" According to the Washington Post, Betsy McCaughey, the former New York politician who played a major role in derailing the Clinton health care initiative, told former GOP senator and failed presidential contender Fred Thompson on his radio show that the health care reform bill contained mandatory counseling sessions for seniors "to end their life sooner" by showing them how to "decline nutrition...and cut your life short."

Hmmm.  So this is getting lots of play in the conservative media — places like talk radio and the Wall Street Journal editorial page — but how much play has it been getting in the mainstream media?  I'm not saying it hasn't, but I'm curious abut this since I don't watch much of it.  Outside of Fox, has the "Democrats want to kill granny" meme gotten much play?  Help me out here in comments.

Obama Fires Up OFA's Engine

| Thu Aug. 6, 2009 11:33 AM EDT

Organizing for America, Barack Obama's campaign organization, seems to be finally coming to life. OFA sent out emails this morning to supporters urging them to call their members of Congress to express support for health care reform. From the email:

Members of Congress have been home for just a few days, and they're already facing increased pressure from insurance companies, special interests, and partisan attack organizations that are spending millions to block health insurance reform.

These groups are using scare tactics and spreading smears about the President's plan for reform, trying to incite constituents into lashing out at their representatives and disrupting their events.

More important, OFA has been encouraging some members to attend their representative's town halls to counteract the anti-reform forces' strategy of disrupting the town halls. Here's what one of the emails looks like:

So OFA's organizing engine is definitely roaring to life after lying largely dormant since the election. Will it make a difference? That depends on whether anyone actually reads the emails, makes the calls, or attends the town halls. Sending out emails is easy. Actually getting people to agitate for reform is hard.

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Would You Like Some Rocket Fuel With That Tap Water?

| Thu Aug. 6, 2009 10:49 AM EDT

The Environmental Protection Agency has announced that it's considering regulating perchlorate, an additive used in rocket fuel which has seeped out from military and industrial sites into water supplies around the country. MoJo DC bureau chief David Corn wrote about the intense lobbying effort by perchlorate companies to keep the chemical unregulated here. You can read more about the EPA's move here.

The EPA vs. the Perchlorate Lobby, Take Two

| Thu Aug. 6, 2009 10:03 AM EDT

Earlier this year MoJo bureau chief David Corn looked at the fierce tug-of-war in Washington over an obscure chemical called perchlorate. Over the years, perchlorate, which is used in rocket fuel and fireworks, has leaked from industrial and military sites into the water supply of as many as 40 million Americans. It's been linked to neurological problems in small children, and the Environmental Protection Agency has deemed it hazardous to humans. For many years environmental advocates have wanted the government to establish limits on how much perchlorate can safely be present in drinking water. And for many years, perchlorate manufacturers have resisted, hiring the top-dollar help of lobbyists like former Nevada Democratic senator Richard Bryan. Thanks to their assistance, the EPA under the Bush administration refused to regulate perchlorate, even though the agency's own scientists had urged that it do so.

On Tuesday, however, the EPA set the stage for another big perchlorate showdown: It announced that it is considering regulating the chemical and is particularly concerned about its health effects on children. The agency's new chief, Lisa Jackson, is already on record favoring a standard of five parts of perchlorate per billion parts of drinking water. But as David shows in his piece, the lobbyists for perchlorate firms are well-funded and skilful—and those with Democratic ties, like Bryan, will arguably wield more influence in Obama's Washington than they did during the era of Republican dominance. They'll doubtless be working hard behind the scenes to head off the EPA's new regulatory enthusiasm. We'll let you know how this plays out.   

Need To Read: August 6, 2009

Thu Aug. 6, 2009 7:04 AM EDT

The web content you should be checking out today:

Like most bloggers, I also use twitter. I mostly use it to send out links to interesting web content like the stuff above. You can follow me, of course. David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, is also on twitter. So is my colleague Daniel Schulman, and our editor, Clara Jeffery. Follow them, too! (The magazine's main account is @motherjones.)

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 6, 2009

Thu Aug. 6, 2009 7:00 AM EDT

Sgt. Alica Keppley, Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 13 aviation supply specialist, holds her daughter Arrianna, 2, after returning home to the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Ariz., from a seven-month deployment with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard the USS Boxer July 31, 2009. Approximately 100 Marine Attack Squadron 214 and MALS-13 Marines and sailors returned to Yuma. While deployed, the Marines aided in counter-piracy operations off the coast of Africa, near the Gulf of Aden, including the recovery of Richard Phillips, a civilian cargo ship captain who was taken hostage by Somali pirates. (Marine corps photo by Lance Cpl. Austin Hazard.)