2009 - %3, November

Afghanistan Endgame

| Sun Nov. 8, 2009 1:30 PM EST

The gang at McClatchy say their sources tell them that Obama has made up his mind about Afghanistan. He plans to increase troop levels by 34,000:

As it now stands, the administration's plan calls for sending three Army brigades from the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky. and the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, N.Y. and a Marine brigade, for a total of as many as 23,000 additional combat and support troops.

Another 7,000 troops would man and support a new division headquarters for the international force's Regional Command (RC) South in Kandahar, the Taliban birthplace where the U.S. is due to take command in 2010. Some 4,000 additional U.S. trainers are likely to be sent as well, the officials said.

The first additional combat brigade probably would arrive in Afghanistan next March, the officials said, with the other three following at roughly three-month intervals, meaning that all the additional U.S. troops probably wouldn't be deployed until the end of next year. Army brigades number 3,500 to 5,000 soldiers; a Marine brigade has about 8,000 troops.

But apparently Team Obama wants some more time to work on their PR campaign before they announce this publicly.  "This is not going to be an easy sell, especially with the fight over health care and the (Democratic) party's losses" of the governors' mansions in New Jersey and Virginia last week, according to one unnamed source.  I'll buy that.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Healthcare Wins in the House

| Sun Nov. 8, 2009 12:51 AM EST

I decided to watch football today instead of following the healthcare debate in the House, and I think I stand by that decision.  It turned out to be a close call, though: USC almost gave me a heart attack against lowly Arizona State, but the Democrats would have nearly given me a heart attack against the lowly Republicans if I'd been watching them.

In the end, though, both eked out a win.  For some good background on the horrible last-minute abortion amendment, see Amy Sullivan here.  Sounds like some bad play calling there.  Still, congratulations to Nancy Pelosi.  She only won by a couple of votes, but a win is a win.  Now, on to the Senate.

House Passes Health Care Reform

| Sat Nov. 7, 2009 11:03 PM EST

Update: The Democrats' health care reform bill passed the House on Saturday night by a vote of 220-215. Rep. Joseph Cao (R-La.), who represents a district that voted 75% for President Barack Obama, was the only Republican to vote in favor. Thirty-nine Democrats voted against the bill. All the focus is now on the Senate, where Harry Reid has to find 60 votes to fend off a filibuster and allow the bill to move forward.

Despite all the compromises that have been made, this is a historic achievement for Democrats. This is the farthest that universal health care has ever gotten, and the stakes get even higher with each step forward.

Here's my original post from early Saturday evening, before the bill passed:

The House of Representatives is voting on health care reform tonight. Right now, there's a vote on Rep. Bart Stupak's (D-Mich.) amendment that would prevent people who receive subsidies to help them buy health insurance from purchasing plans that cover abortion. Stupak and his supporters say that they are maintaining existing law by prohibiting federal funding for abortion; pro-choice members of Congress point out that the amendment would mean that most private health insurance plans would have to stop covering abortion if they hoped to compete. The amendment is expected to pass. UPDATE: It passed.

You can follow this action and more from on twitter, where MoJoers are covering the action. I'm @nickbaumann@rachel_c_morris and @davidcorndc are also providing frequent updates. Check out what we are tweeting and follow the staff of @MotherJones with one click.

Obama's Unhealthy Victory

| Sat Nov. 7, 2009 10:33 PM EST

Despite all the town hall protests, the astroturf campaigns and the hysterical talk of death panels, Democrats made history on Saturday night when their health care bill passed the House by a nail-biting margin of 220-215. But while Republicans may have lost this battle, they continue to draw blood in the larger war. And that doesn't bode well for prospects of  health care reform now that the action is moving on to the Senate.

One after another, GOP members of Congress on Saturday denounced the Democratic health care plan as a socialistic plot that will bankrupt the country. Many also blamed Democratic policies for rising unemployment and other problems caused by the recession. It’s the height of gall, of course, for the Republicans to lay any of our economic woes at the feet of the current administration. The frenzy of deregulation and speculation that has left a reported 10 percent of Americans jobless (with the real unemployment figure running over 17 percent) can be traced directly to conservative policies, which got a leg-up during the Clinton years and flourished under Bush. So why can’t the Democrats seem to fight back? In part, perhaps, it's because they aren’t willing to engage in the kind of brazen, incendiary lying that’s become de rigeur within the GOP. But there are other reasons as well.

I know the prevailing opinon among the mainstream punditocracy is that Obama is in trouble because he is trying to do too much, too fast. I think it’s the other way around. The Democrats are vulnerable to conservative attacks because they have no compelling message of their own to offer—certainly nothing that matches the soaring rhetoric of the Obama campaign. Instead, they tiptoe cautiously down the middle of the road, and wonder why no one feels terribly inspired to follow them.

GOP Health Care Gives Us All Munchausen Syndrome

| Sat Nov. 7, 2009 1:54 AM EST

Going into the House health care debate today, it pays to keep in mind what the Republican party has identified as the real problem with American health care. Steve Benen in the Washington Monthly sums it up succinctly, quoting former Congressman Dick Armey, the guru of the tea party crowd: “The largest empirical problem we have in health care today is too many people are too overinsured.”

There it is, the right’s philosophy on American health care in 17 words. Most of us think the problem with the existing system is that we pay too much, get too little, and leave too many behind. Dick Armey sees the existing system and thinks we’d all be better off with less coverage....

Just two months ago, Reps. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) and Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal making the same case. “When was the last time you asked your doctor how much it would cost for a necessary test or procedure?” they asked, making the case that consumers need more “control … over their care.”

It’s all premised on the notion that health insurance encourages medical treatments. If we have coverage, we might get tests and procedures that we wouldn’t get if weren’t so darned insured. Less coverage means fewer costs.

This last point highlights an enduring myth about health care that has yet to be seriously challenged, even by Democrats, in the current debate. It’s the idea that if people had better access to health care, it would lead to “overuse,” and therefore to increased cost. That’s why we can’t have single-payer or any other reform that makes free or low-cost health care more available to more people---because without financial barriers, everyone would be running to the doctor every time they sneezed.

This myth treats medical procedures as if they were enjoyable leisure activities that everyone would like to partake of more often if only they were given the chance: “Gosh, I’ve got some free time today–-I think I’ll go sit in my doctor’s waiting room” or “Wow, I’d love to have another colonoscopy this month” or “Hey, why don’t I have my hip replaced---after all, it’s free.” The overuse myth suggests that a large portion of the U.S. population is suffering from Munchausen syndrome---or at the very least, that we are masochistic hypochodriacs.

In reality, there’s scant evidence that better access leads to overuse---although the opposite is certainly true. And the meteoric rise in health care costs, beginning in the 1990s, has no apparent relationship to greater access. As Physicians for a National Health Program pointed out several years back:

Pundits Versus Data, the 5-Minute Smackdown

| Fri Nov. 6, 2009 9:34 PM EST

Ever wondered just how partisan or bipartisan Congress is now compared to then? Well, here's a series of visual representations of just that, thanks to Andrew Odewahn, who calculated Senatorial affinities over time and plugged the data into GraphViz.

This is another typically fun and speedy Ignite presentation: 1 speaker, 5 minutes, 20 slides auto-advancing every 15 seconds, whether the speaker keeps up or not. Thanks to my friend Sara Winge at O'Reilly Media, the home of Ignite, for the heads up on the video.

 

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Cool Chart: How Movie Stars Stack Up

| Fri Nov. 6, 2009 4:23 PM EST

This story first appeared at Miller-McCune.

Metacritic.com is an acclaimed Web site that combines thousands of media reviews of entertainment offerings — movies, games, books and albums — into a Metascore, a sort of weighted average of critics' reviews that ranges from zero to 100. Analysis of just a small subset of the site's information shows the power of numbers to confirm — or defy — expectation.

The Actors
The colored horizontal bars on this chart present a graphical representation of the distribution of scores given to movies in which each of the listed actors appear. The numbers inside the bars represent the average of review scores for those movies; the actors listed are the top 50 and the bottom 10, in terms of those averages. Note that the reviews are primarily from the last decade; no consideration is given to the magnitude of the actor's role; and a high average rating could indicate acting skill, the ability to pick good projects (or good trilogies), reviewer bias or just luck. To the extent that the ordering of the actors appears generally reasonable, some unexpected placements may inspire a rethinking of subjective assessments (or, in the case of Viggo Mortensen's rating above Clint Eastwood, a good long laugh).

The Critics
This scatterplot shows 25 prolific movie critics in terms of the favorability with which they rate films, and the degree to which their reviews tend to agree with those of other critics, scaled to reflect their volume of reviews written. If you want to get a sense of the zeitgeist but can only read one review, you might prefer Rene Rodriguez, whose low standard deviation from the mean review score makes him very nearly a living critical average. If you are interested in an alternative perspective, Mick LaSalle's high standard deviation places him further from the critical pack than any of these peers. Reviews from both Michael Wilmington and Marc Savlov are so regularly and respectively positive and negative that they should perhaps be taken with a grain of salt.

The Movies
A "smoothed" plot of movie scores over time is depicted, highlighting the expected seasonal peaks in mid-summer and at the end of the year, along with the mid-winter and early autumn doldrums. Also listed are some of the more influential movies of their eras, in terms of number of reviews, along with their mean scores. Might the poorly reviewed summer of 2002 be attributed to releases delayed in the wake of 9/11? Does the relative lack of troughs from 2003 to 2006 reflect a real or imagined streak of high-quality films?

Friday Cat Blogging - 6 November 2009

| Fri Nov. 6, 2009 3:52 PM EST

On the left, Domino is snoozing the morning away while Inkblot ponders his options.  After I took this picture I hopped in the shower, and when I got out Domino was gone and Inkblot had buried himself under the blankets.  What happened in between?  Is that a guilty look on his face?  As with Schrödinger's cat, no human will ever know.

Chart of the Day

| Fri Nov. 6, 2009 3:33 PM EST

I barely even understand this chart, but it looks pretty cool, doesn't it?  It's an analysis of the Senate vote on Tom Coburn's screwball amendment to defund political science research, which failed 36-62.  The dark blue and dark red are nay votes, while bright blue and bright red are yea votes.  Brendan Nyhan:

Each senator is placed at their estimated ideal point in the ideological space. The diagonal cutting line, which represents the best-fitting line dividing yes from no votes in the space, indicates that the vote reflected both the primary ideological division between the parties (in this case, cutting "wasteful" government spending) and the second "social issues" dimension (feelings toward pointy-headed academics?).

Sure.  I guess I'll buy that.  More charts for other votes here.

Actually, though, I think I'm more interested in the placement of senators themselves.  Democrats are almost all bunched into a single grouping, with only four outliers.  Republicans, by contrast, are spread through considerably more space on both the economic and social dimensions.  That doesn't seem intuitively right to me, but it strikes me as more complimentary toward Republicans than Democrats.  So tell me again why they want to defund pointy-headed political scientists?

Coal Propaganda for Kids

| Fri Nov. 6, 2009 3:32 PM EST

The coal industry seems to be taking an ever-greater interest in children—not their future, natch, but what they're coloring. A few months ago we highlighted a "clean coal" coloring book aimed at developing youthful enthusiasm for coal-generated power. Today we find yet another coloring book homage to the industry featuring anthropomorphized lumps of coal.

This one comes from the West Virginia Coal Association, "a trade association representing more than 90 percent of the state's underground and surface coal mine production" (see a list of members here.)

It explains that coal is a major source of electricity (without, however, noting that it's not the only form of electricity). It also features lumps of coal bathing and being cleaned off by a dog—which I'm fairly certain is an entirely new definition of "clean" coal. Actually, it kind of undermines the idea that coal is clean if it has to be washed, no? 

 

Think Progress has more.