2010 - %3, May

Red States Refuse to Insure High-Risk Patients

| Mon May 3, 2010 11:31 AM EDT

Though their campaign to repeal Obama’s Affordable Care Act has failed to gain much traction in Congress, Republican officials are already seizing upon ways to opt out of the new health law. At least 15 states—all but three led by Republicans—have decided against creating insurance pools for Americans with pre-existing conditions, forcing the federal government to step in and establish the high-risk pools itself. By contrast, at least 28 states—all but seven led by Democrats—will help the federal government by creating the pools themselves. It’s the first major decision for states to make under the new law. And the Republican-led refusals are the latest sign that red states will be far less willing to play nice as health reform gets underway.

In opting out of the high-risk pools, state officials criticized the federal government for not providing enough money to set up the program, claiming that states would end up being responsible for the shortfall. Texas Governor Rick Perry, for one, faulted the federal government for pushing "the aggressive implementation" and "the lack of assurances on financial solvency of the program." Such barbs echo other Republican-led attacks on the new health law, including the big expansion of Medicaid that states will help support—backed by a huge injection of federal money.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Poles Not Worried About Iranian Missiles

| Mon May 3, 2010 11:28 AM EDT

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski spoke to Foreign Policy's Josh Rogin last week about his country's cooperation with American missile defense plans. The Bush administration's plans to put missile defenses in Poland was sold—as these things generally are—as a bulwark against missile launches by a rogue state (in this case, Iran.) As Rogin explains, this was all poppycock: the interceptors were designed to shoot down long-range missiles and would have had a lot of trouble shooting down anything launched by Tehran. And as it turns out, Sikorski isn't all that worried about the Islamic Republic nuking Warsaw. "If the mullahs have a target list we believe we are quite low on it," the foreign minister told Rogin. 

All this reminds me of Rep. Barney Frank's (D-Mass.) arguments against spending gobs of money on missile defense in Europe. Frank likes to talk about Prague, not Warsaw, but the analogy holds. "I will confess that I am not a regular reader of Iranian-issued fatwahs," Frank quipped last year. "And probably one of the ones I missed was the one where they threatened devastation against Prague. We plan to spend several billion dollars to protect the Czech Republic against Iran. That's either a great waste of money or a very belated way to make up for Munich." Is Sikorski thinking along the same lines?

BP Disaster a Case of Spilt Milk?

| Mon May 3, 2010 11:18 AM EDT

If you haven't heard of Mississippi congressman Gene Taylor (and odds are you haven't), then here's a doozy of a first impression: In an interview with a Biloxi television station, Taylor compared the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to a mere case of spilt chocolate milk. According to a transcript of the interview posted by ThinkProgress, Taylor downplayed the seriousness of the BP spill—which is releasing 210,000 gallons of crude oil daily into the gulf, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—saying, "This isn't Katrina. This is not Armageddon." Taylor goes on to say:

I did this for the Coast Guard many years ago. Yeah, it’s bad. And it’s terrible that there’s a spill out there. But I would remind people that the oil is twenty miles from any marsh...That chocolate milk looking spill starts breaking up in smaller pieces...It is tending to break up naturally.

Naturally, ThinkProgress points out, Taylor is a supporter of offshore oil drilling and voted against the House's comprehensive energy bill last year. He also counts the energy and natural resources industries among his top donors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. While the extent of the spill is still elusive to government officials, who've had little success getting the leaking oil under control, a chocolate milk spill is hardly how they or the Gulf coast residents, soon to have their wetlands and beaches coated in oil, would characterize what the president himself has described as a national emergency.

Ethics Hearings for Ensign?

| Mon May 3, 2010 11:13 AM EDT

It's not clear to my why this has taken so long, but apparently Senate Democrats are at least considering holding ethics hearings on Sen. John Ensign (R–Nev.):

“If it is true that indeed he did make these payoffs and all that kind of stuff, then I would think the honorable thing would be to resign,” Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said in an interview.

....Harkin’s public declaration — the first of its kind by a sitting senator — comes as Ensign’s Senate colleagues stand to make life more difficult for him. The bipartisan Senate Ethics Committee is not ruling out holding public hearings in the case, a move that some believe could help drive Ensign from office. A number of senators signaled to Politico they’d be supportive of seeing Ensign sit before a public forum to address the allegations, something that has not been done since the Keating Five scandal in 1991.

....Other Democratic senators are supportive of such a step. West Virginia Sen. John Rockefeller, who backed public hearings on Packwood, said he “would have to be consistent” with Ensign. “Situations change, but people don’t,” he said.

A third Democratic senator, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he’d back public hearings on Ensign as well, “but I would hope he would do the right thing before then, which is to [resign].”

The craziness of the 90s gave both sides pause about the use of ethics charges as political weapons, and I get that nobody is thrilled about diving into that particular cesspool again. But come on. This isn't just an affair or an undeclared golf trip or something like that. There's considerable evidence to suggest that Ensign not only had an affair with an aide's wife and covered it up, but that he deliberately paid off the aide in a way calculated to evade IRS disclosure laws and then used his influence to try and get his aide outside employment. This is crazy bad stuff. If the ethics committee can't hold hearings on that, they might just as well disband themselves.

What Was Halliburton's Role in the Gulf Spill?

| Mon May 3, 2010 11:11 AM EDT

The probe into what exactly caused the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon and the subsequent environmental catastrophe has expanded to Halliburton, which poured the cement for the drill hole. House investigators want to know what role the energy services giant may have played in the rig explosion.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee has requested that Halliburton president and CEO David J. Lesar "provide the Committee with any documents in your possession or that you have prepared that relate to the causes or potential causes of the Deepwater Horizon rig incident." Lesar has been called to testify at a May 12 hearing on the explosion. Also appearing at the hearing will be Lamar McKay of BP America Inc. and Steve Newman of Transocean Ltd.

"Halliburton continues to assist in efforts to identify the factors that may have lead up to the disaster, but it is premature and irresponsible to speculate on any specific causal issues," the company said in a statement. The company also said that "the cement slurry design was consistent with that utilized in other similar application" and that "tests demonstrating the integrity of the production casing string were completed."

Halliburton also poured the cement for a rig that caused a major spill into the Timor Sea off the coast of western Australia last August. That spill continued for months, and the rig eventually caught fire. Ultimately, 1.2 million gallons of oil seeped into the surrounding sea.

The Drug Army That Could Take Out the Taliban

| Mon May 3, 2010 10:01 AM EDT

I've made it two weeks without a Burma post, but I'm going to let myself off my well-deserved Burma leash to talk about this bit of news:

China's army has moved 5,000 troops to its side of the Burma border. Why? Because tensions are running high between the Burmese army and the 25,000-soldier United Wa State Army, one of the world's largest insurgent groups. Scared civilians have been scattering in case a war erupts, which apparently the Chinese government also thinks is a possibility. I know, it's just a civil war between a government and rebels and that happens all the time without impacting our lives and certainly not our media, but it makes me ache a little that the world has never heard of the Wa, because their backstory is sooo good. Allow me to plagiarize myself liberally:

The Wa are former headhunters (official open season was March to April) who claim as their ancestors not, like most peoples, gods or majestic sea creatures or rainbows or whatever, but slimy tadpoles and ogres. In colonial times, one European visitor to this mountain-dwelling collection of tribes said that they were so dirty that the only thing that kept them from getting dirtier was that more dirt couldn’t stick to how much dirt was already on their bodies. They were naked. They were pretty much the closest existing things on earth to actual bogeymen, and the British were terrified of them and left them largely alone, as the Wa couldn’t guarantee they wouldn’t kill white people who wandered into their territory, their towheads being quite the catch on the headhunting scene. [...] Now the Wa just have the biggest nonstate army in Burma, which they fund by running probably the biggest drug army in the world, a commander of which is wanted by the US government for druglording. So if you want to collect $2 million from the State Department, find out where Wei Hsueh-kang is.

Sometimes another Burma geek and I like to geek out by speculating about what would happen if the United States paid the Wa to take on the Taliban. They're totally natural adversaries, as Burma and Afghanistan have long vied for the title of World's Top Opium Producer, and these groups have a history of controlling big pieces of those countries' respective drug pies. My friend contends that the fight between these powers would rip the universe apart, and then we laugh, in the way that geeks laugh at jokes no one else would think were funny.

Anyway, the United Wa State Army is my pick for ethnic insurgency to watch this year. It's always had a cease-fire with the Burmese government, but its forming alliances with other local insurgencies and getting bigger than its already-huge britches could force serious military action on the part of the junta. Which could force the involvement of China, which is friendly with both the ruling Burmese and the Wa, and is close enough to Wa territory to bear the brunt of any resulting refugee crisis or even stray fire. So maybe the Wa won't remain unknown to the world after all.

 

Advertise on MotherJones.com

HAMP Architect Bails from Treasury

| Mon May 3, 2010 9:46 AM EDT

Seth Wheeler, a top adviser in the Treasury Department, has left his post in Obama administration, Debtwire reported (pdf), a noteworthy fact because Wheeler was an architect of the administration's poorly designed, ineffective, and much maligned homeowner relief program that experts say has been a bust. A holdover from the Bush administration, Wheeler played a large role is designing the $75 billion Home Affordable Modification Program, the administration's flagship effort to slow the pace of new foreclosures across the country.

HAMP, however, has been roundly blasted by lawmakers, congressional watchdogs, and outside experts. Initially expected to help 3 to 4 million homeowners, a mere 230,000 homeowners had received permanent modifications to their mortgage payments; by contrast, there were 2.8 million foreclosure filings in 2009, and nearly 3 million are projected for 2010. The latest report from the special inspector general for the bailout, known as SIGTARP, said, "Until Treasury fulfills its commitment to provide a thoughtfully designed, consistently administered, and fully transparent program, HAMP risks being remembered not for catalyzing a recovery from our current housing crisis, but rather for bold announcements, modest goals, and meager results."

It's unclear why Wheeler left the Treasury just over a year into HAMP. One investor told Debtwire, "It looked like he just couldn't get things done, and he was very frustrated." Interestingly, Wheeler tendered his resignation on April 15, Debtwire notes, a day after an April 14 hearing held by the House financial services committee in which HAMP was more or less eviscerated by committee members. Was the onslaught of criticism in that hearing the final straw for a frustrated Wheeler?

Can Women Peacekeepers Stop Haiti's Rape Crisis?

| Mon May 3, 2010 9:01 AM EDT

An all-woman police unit from Bangladesh has been dispatched to UN headquarters in Haiti, to the relief of groups trying to curb the epidemic of rape in post-quake tent cities. "It's a whole world of difference for women who have been victimized to see women police, and we see the reporting of cases of gender-based sexual crimes increase when they are there," a UN worker said. I hope the UN releases some photos of them in the field; I love this picture of the UN's first female peacekeeping force, which was sent to Liberia with similar objectives in 2007.

Calling BS on YouTube's M.I.A Censorship

| Mon May 3, 2010 7:30 AM EDT

I don't want to fight with YouTube. My relationship with YouTube has been one of the more fulfilling and reliable ones in my life. Hence my deep disappointment that it not only buried (rather than deleted, as originally reported) MIA's "Born Free" video—in which American-flag-wearing troops embark on the rounding up, detaining, and killing of redheads—but couldn't come up with some better excuse for doing so than the video's "gratuitous violence."

The clip reminds the Prospect's Silvana Naguib of Arabs being rounded up and caged in The Siege. It reminds me of the scene in Rambo part four where Burmese soldiers toss Claymores into a rice paddy and force ethnic Karen civilians to run through it at gunpoint. Of course, it also evokes images of real US military activities that, as pointed out in MTV's rave review, we'd rather "pretend don't happen." YouTube's PR machine could have at least admitted that the censorship was political rather than hiding behind the pretense of how, though Americans have the right to watch stuff like this, YouTube has an obligation to protect the children. Because while it's true that MIA's video is awfully disturbing, and shouldn't be available to children, you can easily find lots of stuff like this on YouTube (see below), where, for example, Rambo IV is available in its entirety. Is YouTube's gratuitous-violence policy nullified in the event that the clip doesn't question US aggression, or the bad guys are dark and slanty-eyed rather than corn-fed WASPS?

Flying Lotus' Cosmic Collage

| Mon May 3, 2010 7:02 AM EDT

Flying Lotus
Cosmogramma
Warp

From its jarring, video-gamey first 10 seconds (which transition into lovely harp music driven by clickity electronic beats and buzzing atmospheric sounds, for a distinct opening track just over a minute long) to the sampled table-tennis game of its penultimate ditty, every moment of this experimental effort from producer and laptop musician Flying Lotus smacks of the weird, the wondrous, and the well-collaged.

Unquestionably psychedelic (FlyLo and friends took over Dublab Studios in Los Angeles on April 20th to produce a tripped-out radio special), the LP is a sprawling, visionary landscape of dreamy strings, cartoonish synthesis, the occasional scissored-up Thom Yorke vocal, and much, much more. It's quite a tangled thicket, and all the more delightfully ensnarling for it.

FlyLo, who is responsible for a lot of the bumper music during Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, already demonstrated a virtuosic talent for divergent musical tinkering with 1983 and Los Angeles. Cosmogramma, a work of high style and innovation, shows him continuing to push his sound into otherworldly, wildly imaginative territory.

Listen: