2011 - %3, April

Mission Continues to Creep in Libya

| Thu Apr. 21, 2011 3:32 PM EDT

It's been a busy week in Libya news. First Britain announced that it was sending in some advisors. Then France began pushing for a 1000-person "humanitarian" force to be shipped in to protect aid shipments. A day later France and Italy both joined the advisor brigade. Simultaneously the United States announced it was sending $25 million in "non-lethal aid" to the rebels. And today we got this:

President Barack Obama has approved the use of armed Predator drone aircraft in Libya to improve the precision of low-level attacks on ground targets, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday.

The first Predator mission since Obama’s go-ahead was flown Thursday but the aircraft — armed with Hellfire missiles — turned back early due to poor weather conditions, Marine Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a news conference with Gates....Cartwright did not specify what targets the aborted Predator mission Thursday was intended to strike.

As Adam Weinstein says, what could go wrong?

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DOD: Predator Drone Attacks, Regime Change in Libya

| Thu Apr. 21, 2011 2:41 PM EDT

Pentagon tweets: Killer drones are headed to Libya to effect regime change.

Reaction No. 1: Well, that didn't take long.

Reaction No. 2: What could go wrong?

(Here are the stats, by the way, on what a bang-up job US drones have done in Pakistan.)

Since Fukushima, Chernobyl Tourism on the Rise

| Thu Apr. 21, 2011 2:26 PM EDT

Via Der Spiegel, I learned a fun Earth-Day's-Eve fact: At Chernobyl's infamous defunct nuclear power plant, you can take a tour that includes a Geiger counter and lunch in the plant cafeteria. This spectacle attracts a particular kind of tourist:

For her visit to the danger zone, Margarita from Italy has chosen to wear leopard-print linen shoes and pink lipstick. Her eyebrows are dyed lime green, her dark hair blond. "I lead a dangerous life," says Margarita, who is in her mid-twenties, in a breathy voice. "All the dye in my hair is also harmful to my health."

And in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, more and more edgy tourists like Margarita are flocking to Chernobyl: According to Der Spiegel, tours have been sold out since Japan's nuclear problems began.


The Hagiography of Paul Ryan

| Thu Apr. 21, 2011 1:33 PM EDT

Matt Miller has gotten a lot of kudos this morning for his column pointing out that "The House Republican budget adds $6 trillion to the debt in the next decade yet the GOP is balking at raising the debt limit." I don't really read Miller much or know anything about him, but I gather that the reason he's getting a lot of attention for this unremarkable observation is that (a) he's normally a "a mellow, straight-laced guy," but (b) today's column is evidence that "the budget debate has driven him stark, raving mad." (That's Jon Cohn's take.)

Bob Somerby likes the column, but he's annoyed that Miller says he doesn't understand why the rest of the press corps keeps giving Paul Ryan and his congressional colleagues a pass on this. The problem, Somerby says, is that "it's fairly clear that he does understand":

Early in his column, Miller says he doesn’t understand why the press corps won’t criticize Republicans on this point. He doesn’t understand why they present Ryan as “courageous,” as “visionary.” And then, a mere six paragraphs later, Miller shows that he does understand! He says there’s a “meme,” a hunk of “conventional wisdom,” driving the press corps’ conduct. Miller doesn’t explain just what this “meme” is, nor does he explain how it got “established” as conventional wisdom. But presumably, he is referring to the Standard Press Novel in which Republican budget cutters like Ryan are inevitably said to be “courageous,” “bold” and “honest”—in which their contradictions and errors, no matter how severe, end up on the cutting-room floor.

These “memes” have been ruling much of our “journalism” for a good many years. To see this Standard Press Novel at work, just read through Jeff Zeleny’s “Political Memo” in today’s New York Times.

Hmmm. Yes. The Zeleny hagiography is worth reading. If you don't feel like instantly canonizing Ryan after you're done, you just haven't read it closely enough. You'd barely know the guy is even a politician, let alone a standard issue conservative ideologue pandering to his base at every opportunity and waving around all the usual bogus Heritage Foundation crap that all the rest of them do. That piece of the Paul Ryan Story just isn't part of the narrative.

Skin in the Game

| Thu Apr. 21, 2011 12:11 PM EDT

Paul Krugman points out that healthcare "consumers" aren't really consumers at all in the traditional sense of the word:

Medical care is an area in which crucial decisions — life and death decisions — must be made; yet making those decisions intelligently requires a vast amount of specialized knowledge; and often those decisions must also be made under conditions in which the patient is incapacitated, under severe stress, or needs action immediately, with no time for discussion, let alone comparison shopping.

....The idea that all this can be reduced to money — that doctors are just people selling services to consumers of health care — is, well, sickening. And the prevalence of this kind of language is a sign that something has gone very wrong not just with this discussion, but with our society’s values.

But Niklas Blanchard objects that not all of medicine is practiced under life-and-death circumstances:

The actual truth of the matter is that the bulk of medical spending of the average person does not involve death at all...just nagging, often temporary, quality of life issues. In fact, outpatient care (which includes routine and sick visits to the doctor and same-day hospital visits), drugs and non-durables (which includes things like wheelchairs and other medical supplies), and administration account for ~2/3rds of all medical spending in the US.

This is true, but I think it still underestimates just how much knowledge consumers can bring to bear on medical decisions. Take me. By coincidence, the last few months have been absolutely stuffed with visits to the medical-dental-industrial complex. My doctors keep getting worried about things and insisting that I should have some test or other done. On Monday I'll have yet another — easily the most disagreeable of the lot — and I fully expect that it will show exactly the same thing as all the others: nothing. This has collectively cost thousands of dollars and annoyed me endlessly, especially since I've been certain the entire time that there was nothing wrong with me.

Of course, the fact that I'm certain there's nothing wrong with me doesn't mean there's actually nothing wrong with me. I don't know squat about medicine, after all, and a few days on the internet isn't really going to make me any more qualified to decide if I ought to get a followup ultrasound to check out those spots on my gall bladder. None of this has been life and death, and I wasn't under any special pressure to figure out what to do, but that made no difference. As a practical matter, getting a second opinion would have been more expensive than just having the tests done, and trying to otherwise second guess my doctor would have been pretty stupid.

I think there are plainly some areas where forcing people to think harder about medical care (i.e., asking them to fork over some of their own money) can make sense. But it has to be done smartly, since the impact of foregone medical care is often just higher expenses down the road. As an example, we might very well be better off if we not only didn't charge copays for statins and blood pressure meds but actually paid people to take them. They're that cheap and effective, and the bigger problem here isn't overuse, it's getting people to take the damn things when they're told to.

So yes: let's work on incentives, at both the patient, doctor, hospital, and insurance level. But I don't think we should kid ourselves into thinking that this will affect two-thirds of medical care. More likely, it's something like ten or twenty percent. For the rest, like it or not, we just have to follow our doctor's advice.

WATCH: Our Adventure Fact-Checking the Infamous Hockey-Stick Graph

| Thu Apr. 21, 2011 11:59 AM EDT

We thought recreating the famous hockey-stick climate graph for Kate Sheppard's piece on the Climategate scandal would be easy. Boy were we wrong. Here's a video by MoJo fact checker Jaeah Lee and staffer Jen Phillips about the strange case of one very elusive graph:

 

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The Annoying Hypocrisy Trope

| Thu Apr. 21, 2011 11:00 AM EDT

Gregg Easterbrook:

Obama said last year that itemized deductions for the wealthy should be phased out — then on his own tax return, claimed a huge itemized deduction. Until those who advocate higher taxes for the well-off practice what they preach, the national debt situation may only get worse.

This is one of the most annoying tropes in existence, on both the left and the right. The point of laws is to provide a level playing field, and no one is a hypocrite for following existing law even if they think it should be changed. That goes for congressmen who accept earmarks even though they think earmarks should be banned, it goes for drivers who park for free on city streets even though they think parking meters should be installed, and it goes for rich people who pay taxes at the current rate even though they think that rate is too low.

No one is obligated to be a sucker. The whole point of taxation is that it's a collective enterprise: I'm willing to pay my taxes for the common good as long as everyone else is doing it too. But until then, there's no reason that I should impoverish myself (or my constituents) while everyone else is merrily taking full advantage of current law. Fairness matters, and that ain't fair.

The Tennessee Mosque Lawsuit That Just Won't Die

| Thu Apr. 21, 2011 10:25 AM EDT

Remember that whole brouhaha last year about the folks who were suing to block the construction of an Islamic center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee? To refresh your memory: The plaintiffs argued, in part, that the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro was not protected by the First Amendment, because Islam is a totalitarian ideology and not a religion (the Justice Department disagreed). The stakes were high. As the plaintiff's attorney Joe Brandon Jr. explained, construction of a new house of worship in central Tennessee was part of the Muslim Brotherhood's plan to, eventually, raise the "flag of Sharia" over the White House and subjugate the citizenry. A county judge found this argument unpersuasive, and ruled that construction could continue on the Islamic center.

Brandon, however, promised that very day that Murfreesboro had not seen the last of Joe Brandon Jr. And now, the mosque opponents are back in court, with a fresh set of complaints, 14 new plaintiffs, and a legal argument we'll diplomatically call "novel." Per the Murfreesboro Daily News Journal:

They contend that [plaintiff Kevin] Fisher has standing because he's an African American Christian who'd be discriminated against and subjugated as a second-class citizen under Shariah law and be denied his civil rights; [plaintiff Lisa] Moore has standing because she's a Jewish female who's targeted in a Muslim call to kill Jews in "jihad" in support of Palestine and as a woman whose rights would be subordinate to those of men in Shariah law; and [plaintiff Henry] Golczynski, who lost a son killed while serving in the U.S. Marines in a combat in Fallujah, Iraq, by insurgents pursuing jihad as dictated by Shariah law.

In other words, they're suing Muslims in central Tennessee for future crimes they might commit, because of past actions taken by Muslim insurgents in...Iraq. I see no way this can fail.

But wait, this story gets more interesting. The plaintiffs have also raised concerns about the presence of security cameras at the site of the Islamic center's construction site. Brandon alleged that the cameras violated his right to privacy, because they were able to film his car every time he drove by (one can only imagine the intrusion he endures every time he uses an ATM). The cameras were placed there by the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), which launched a hate-crime investigation last summer into a case of suspected arson at the mosque site.

GOPer Behind Ohio's Botched 2004 Election Eyes Senate Run

| Thu Apr. 21, 2011 10:09 AM EDT

Remember Ken Blackwell? He was Ohio's secretary of state in 2004 who was accused of throwing the presidential vote in that crucial swing state in favor of George W. Bush and overseeing "massive and unprecedented voter irregularities and anomalies" that disenfranchised tens of thousands of voters. Now Blackwell's back—and he's eyeing a place in the US Senate.

Roll Call reports today that Blackwell, who unsuccessfully ran for Ohio governor in 2006, has talked with the National Republican Senatorial Committee and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), a heavy-hitter among Senate GOPers, about challenging Democrat Sherrod Brown in the 2012 election. Blackwell said he won't make a final decision about his political future until after his forthcoming book, "Resurgent: How Constitutional Conservatism Can Save America," comes out in late May.

There are plenty of reasons why Blackwell's idea is a bad one. First, he'd be joining two other GOP contenders, among them Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel. And Brown is fairly popular in Ohio. He handily defeated incumbent Sen. Mike DeWine in 2006 by 12 points, and in a recent survey by Public Policy Polling, Brown led all potential opponents by double digits. "Sherrod Brown appears to be in a much stronger position now than he was just three months ago," said Dean Debnam, who heads Public Policy Polling.

Then, of course, there's Blackwell's 2004 debacle. An investigation by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Democratic committee staff concluded that Ohio's voting disaster in 2004 was "caused by intentional misconduct and illegal behavior, much of it involving Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell." Long lines, faulty voting machines, onerous barriers for voter registration, a rigged recount—anything that could go wrong in Ohio did on Election Day 2004.

Here's how Rolling Stone put it in a 2006 story:

Blackwell—now the Republican candidate for governor of Ohio—is well-known in the state as a fierce partisan eager to rise in the GOP. An outspoken leader of Ohio's right-wing fundamentalists, he opposes abortion even in cases of rape and was the chief cheerleader for the anti-gay-marriage amendment that Republicans employed to spark turnout in rural counties. He has openly denounced Kerry as "an unapologetic liberal Democrat," and during the 2004 election he used his official powers to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Ohio citizens in Democratic strongholds. In a ruling issued two weeks before the election, a federal judge rebuked Blackwell for seeking to ''accomplish the same result in Ohio in 2004 that occurred in Florida in 2000."

"The secretary of state is supposed to administer elections—not throw them,'' says Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a Democrat from Cleveland who has dealt with Blackwell for years. "The election in Ohio in 2004 stands out as an example of how, under color of law, a state election official can frustrate the exercise of the right to vote."

The most extensive investigation of what happened in Ohio was conducted by Rep. John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. Frustrated by his party's failure to follow up on the widespread evidence of voter intimidation and fraud, Conyers and the committee's minority staff held public hearings in Ohio, where they looked into more than 50,000 complaints from voters. In January 2005, Conyers issued a detailed report that outlined "massive and unprecedented voter irregularities and anomalies in Ohio." The problems, the report concludes, were "caused by intentional misconduct and illegal behavior, much of it involving Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell."

"Blackwell made Katherine Harris look like a cupcake," Conyers told me. "He saw his role as limiting the participation of Democratic voters. We had hearings in Columbus for two days. We could have stayed two weeks, the level of fury was so high. Thousands of people wanted to testify. Nothing like this had ever happened to them before."

With a record like that, why even bother running? For the voters who were shut out by Blackwell and his cronies, I'll bet the memory of 2004 still stings.

The Teachers You Loved

| Thu Apr. 21, 2011 10:00 AM EDT

"I am 47 years old and I still carry, tucked away in my briefcase, the note Mrs. Charlene Snyder wrote in my yearbook when I graduated from high school. 'Please know,' she wrote, 'what a fine person you are and the great ability you possess. A little confidence never hurt anyone.' Whenever I read it, I remember how I felt. Those words gave me wings. I strive to live up to her view of me every single day." —Peyton Taylor, Public Insight Network

As the editor of Mother Jones' Mission High School series, I've developed a new respect for how hard many teachers work to help the kids in their care. I started wondering: What moments do kids and parents remember years later about the teachers they loved or respected? In what ways did these educators change people's lives? Below, teacher tales from Mother Jones' recently launched Public Insight Network (join here to help MoJo reporters with a range of future stories):