Need To Read: October 5, 2009

Today's must-reads are ready for a floor debate on health care reform:

Get more stuff like this: Follow me on twitter! David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, also tweets, as does awesome new MoJo blogger Kate Sheppard. So do my colleagues Daniel Schulman and Rachel Morris and our editors-in-chief, Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein. Follow them, too! (The magazine's main account is @motherjones.)

Econundrum: Household Conservation Smackdown

Q: If I could only choose one thing to do in my lifetime to reduce my carbon footprint, what should it be?

A: Switch out your bulbs. Insulate your house. Recycle. Cinderelly, Cinderelly. Frankly, it’s all a little overwhelming. Wouldn't it be great to know which personal conservation activities get you the most carbon-reducing bang for your buck? Researchers at Oregon State University calculated the lifetime impact of a few popular ones. Here’s what they found:

  • Recycling newspaper, magazines, glass, plastic aluminum, and steel cans: 19 tons of CO2 saved
  • Replacing old refrigerator with energy-efficient model: 21 tons saved
  • Replacing ten 75-w incandescent bulbs with 25-w Energy-efficient lights: 40 tons saved
  • Replace single-glazed windows with energy-efficient windows: 133 tons saved
  • Reducing miles driven from 231 to 155 per week: 162 tons saved
  • Increasing car’s fuel economy from 20 to 30 mpg: 163 tons saved

So: If you can't afford to replace your fridge (or you're emotionally attached to your avocado green late '70s model), drive 10 fewer miles a week. If you rent and can't persuade your landlord to upgrade your windows, drive 62 fewer miles a week (um, time to buy a bike).

The bottom line: Keep recycling. Switch out those lightbulbs. But whatever you do, cut down on your car time, and if you must drive, do it in a fuel-efficient car.

 

I’ve written many times about how Americans of all ages have been set up for a fake intergenerational battle over supposedly scarce health care resources. The purpose of this phony competition is to distract us from the fact that the resources wouldn’t be so scarce to begin with if we would only reduce the profits of the insurance and drug industries.

It’s an old bait and switch tactic, and the mainstream media have fallen for it hook, line, and sinker. So instead of talking about greedy drug companies that gouge people for drugs they need to survive, or greedy insurance companies that let people die to keep up their share prices, we’re all talking about the greedy old farts on Medicare who don’t want their services cut to pay for younger people’s insurance.

The latest take on all of this, as described in over the weekend in the New York Times, pits the old (over 65) against the not-so-old (50-64). The article focuses on the conflict within AARP, which has spent several decades hitting people up for membership the day after their 50th birthdays, and now includes members from both these warring age groups:

Its 40 million members are split about evenly between those who have access to Medicare, the federal government’s health program for the elderly, and those who are too young to be eligible for such benefits. The younger members, or those between the ages of 50 and 64, sometimes face terrible choices in the private insurance market, with age and declining health status making premiums high and benefits poor. But members 65 and older get among the most secure medical benefits in the country, and many are in no mood to share.

So this is what it’s come to in the American health care system: Sickly 60-year-olds just trying to hold out until they can get their Medicare cards. Cranky old folks hoarding their Medicare benefits against the encroaching middle-aged mob. People eyeing each other suspiciously across the 65-year age divide, fearing and resenting one another.

Music Monday: Meet the Accessible Daniel Johnston

Daniel Johnston
Is And Always Was
Eternal Yip Eye Music

 
It has been more than a decade since cult figure Daniel Johnston went missing in New York, prompting members of Sonic Youth to troll the streets all night to find him. It's been 29 years since Johnston distributed his first cassette, Songs of Pain (followed by More Songs of Pain), and six years since his last new album. This week marks the release of Is And Always Was, which could end up being one of Johnston's most widely appreciated works. It’s full of solid rock songs the average listener can love without having to fast-forward through awkward moments of extreme honesty, which is maybe Johnston's best-known calling card. Always Was is still honest, but it’s more fun than awkward.

Johnston's hallmark lyricism is in full force on this album as he weaves gruesome tales of lost love, death, and despair. But this time they are backed by a full-bodied sound that's more produced than his legacy of low-fi recordings. A few tracks include faux doo-wop melodies and Jonathan Richman-like plotlines that are told with Johnston’s interminable lisp and involve characters like “Queenie the Doggie.” In one track, in which Johnston goes to the lost and found to retrieve his brain, he identifies it as “a cute little bugger…but warped from the rain.” “Thank you, ma’am,” he sings. “I’m always losing that dang thing.”

Music Monday: Doc Watson's Enduring Appeal in a New World

There were two distinct personalities in attendance at San Francisco’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival this weekend. One was comprised of old bluegrass standards and quick-tempo banjo melodies popular among the older crowd of free spirits. The other, favored by the twentysomething folk enthusiasts in skin-tight jeans, was a hip hybrid of blues riffs, funky instruments, and alternative style. Though noticeably distinct, the two personas were married by the unbeatable combination of light beer and cheap bourbon.

The crowd that came out to hear Doc Watson’s signature old-school flatpicking seemed less energetic than the audiences for the Old 97s, Gillian Welch and Galactic, which all market a watered-down variety of the pure stuff to a younger audience. Although he remains a legendary fixture of bluegrass, a surprising number of onlookers sitting near me at the festival's Banjo stage were surprised to hear Doc was on the schedule, even as he took the stage. But Watson, despite being 86 years old and blind for 85 of those years, knows how to get a festival crowd excited; he's been entertaining people for more than half a century, after all.

For Watson, music is a family affair. He played almost exclusively with his son Merle for 15 years, until Merle's untimely death in 1985. For the past two decades, Doc has played with a number of close friends, notably David Holt, with whom he shared the stage yesterday. Holt is known for his plucky banjo solos and narrative songwriting style. Doc was also joined by his grandson Richard, who announced to rousing and emotional applause that he recently became a grandfather, which makes Doc a great great (!) grandfather. The importance of Doc’s family in his music was most apparent when he crooned the mountain love song "Shady Grove" in honor of Rosa Lee Carlton, his wife of 64 years. And Doc gave his late sister Ethel a callout when he introduced his penultimate tune, "Sitting on Top of the World," a popular 1930s tune about a boy trying to cheer himself up after his girl leaves him.

You know how football games now have cameras suspended directly above the field of play so you can get an aerial view of the action?  That's what you're getting today in cat coverage.  On the left, Inkblot is staring upward at the camera suspended high in the sky above him.  On the right, the camera descends to field level for a rare shot of Inkblot and Domino together.  As you can guess, this display of brotherly love lasted about five seconds.

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I don't really care much about the Olympics, and the fact that Obama's brief trip to Copenhagen got saturation coverage in the press this week struck me mostly as yet another testament to the modern media's fundamental unseriousness.  The triumph of gossip over substance continues its inexorable march.

That said, I hopped back over to The Corner a few minutes ago, and the Olympics are by far the biggest topic of conversation there this morning.  But The Corner is a gossipy place, so that's not such a big deal.  What is stunning, though, is just how openly thrilled they are that America lost its bid.  All because a president they don't like decided to make a direct pitch for his adopted hometown.  Ditto for the Weekly Standard, apparently.  It sure doesn't take much to turn these guys against their country, does it?

UPDATE: Much, much more here and here.  I honestly had no idea things had gotten this deranged.  Jesus.

 In the 1970s, an antiwar demonstrator found himself at New York City’s Rikers Island jail facility for a couple of months on a disorderly conduct charge. The demonstrator, who happened to be a friend of mine, met a handful of young men from the Bronx in his unit who were deaf.

They were having trouble communicating with anyone but themselves. My friend knew a little sign language and, after a few conversations, discovered they were illiterate. With the idea of helping them improve their communication skills, he asked prison authorities for permission to order books on sign language from the publisher. The wardens refused, saying that they did not want anyone in that prison using a “language” they could not understand.

Things may have changed a little for the better since then. But not by much.

I first wrote about the deaf in the late 1960s in the New Republic and so I know something of the background which is what really informs this article. While researching stories about solitary confinement at Angola Prison for Mother Jones, I came upon an article in Prison Legal News about widespread violations against deaf prisoners. Remembering the people and culture I had caught a glimpse of in the 60s, I got in touch with the article’s author, McCay Vernon. Luckily he remembered my earlier writing, and promptly agreed to help me.

The letters quoted below are from deaf prisoners to different people in the free world, who are seeking to help them, to advocate their cause. I have disguised the advocates, prisoners and prisons to keep the inmates from getting reprisals—reprisals which they fear on a daily basis. You have to remember that a deaf person can’t hear the chatter among other inmates, can’t hear the person sneaking up behind, is unintelligible in his cries for help during a rape.

After Rio beat out Chicago for the 2016 Olympics games—despite President Barack Obama's up-close-and-personal intervention—I asked Andrew Jennings, a British journalist who has spent years investigating the International Olympics Committee (IOC) and digging up much dirt on its members and practices, for his reaction. He didn't hold back:

Serve you right, suckers! Allowing yourselves to be judged by a bunch of third-rate nobodies and C-list European royalty [on the IOC] who care more about their comfort than the dreams of the athletes.
 
How can you do business with an organisation that has 106 members – only 16 are women?
 
Could it be that corruption in Brazilian sport and society is rampant – and offers all kinds of opportunities to screw the multi-billion dollar budget?
 
Chicago has a bad reputation for corruption – but at least a lot of the malefactors get caught and go to jail. That is not an Olympic dream at the IOC. At the BBC a few years ago, we did a sting on an IOC member with hidden cameras and taped him asking for a bribe. They are now very wary where they go.
 
We all know the Feds do stings – good bye Windy City.
 
The good news is that Madrid’s loss shows the diminishing influence of the IOC’s last president, Juan Antonio Samaranch. He was IOC president from 1980 to 2001 and gave the games to Beijing. Perhaps that was because he felt at ease with the media restrictions – similar to the Franco regime he served for 37 years, right arm always in the air.
 
When the fuss dies down – perhaps we can investigate and see if bribes were paid? They always were – the delicious bit being that members would trouser the kickback and vote for a rival candidate.

That certainly puts today's news in a different perspective.
 
You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.
 
 

Out of Work

There are lots of different measures of unemployment.  One of the best and most consistent is the civilian employment-population ratio, which shows the percentage of the workforce currently employed.  The series below, from the St. Louis Fed, shows this measure for the past 60 years and it highlights just how bad our current recession is.  Here's the drop in the ratio in past recessions, measured in percentage points from peak to trough:

• 1948 — 2.2%
• 1953 — 3.1%
• 1958 — 2.5%
• 1960 — 1.4%
• 1969 — 1.9%
• 1974 — 2.4%
• 1979 — 3.0%
• 1990 — 2.0%
• 2000 — 2.7%

The worst recession of the past half century, the 1980-82 double dip, produced a drop of only 3.0 percentage points.  I don't think anybody has ever used the modifier "only" to describe that recession before, but it fits now: the current recession has produced a drop of 4.6 percentage points so far.  That's double the postwar average.  The drop from the previous peak in 2000 is 5.9 percentage points.  So far.  The job scene is simply devastating right now.  More from Andrew Samwick here and Brad DeLong here.