As we approach the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, we're sure to start seeing some brief nods toward the event in the mainstream media: photos of people stranded on rooftops and bridges, maybe some re-runs of Anderson Cooper's on-air breakdown, along with a few heartwarming stories of survival and rescue to keep us from feeling too guilty about having abandoned an entire city of poor people to their fate.

What's less likely to receive much coverage is the aftermath of the storm--the years of neglect, the government-approved corporate ripoffs, and the ongoing suffering that persists to this day. A concise reminder appeared today in the form of a "Katrina Pain Index" compiled by Davida Finger and Bill Quigley. (Now at the Center for Constitutional Rights, Quigley formerly ran the Loyola Law School legal clinic in New Orleans, and provided powerful reports from the disaster.) I'm quoting some highlights, but the list is well worth reading in full on Counterpunch:

0. Number of renters in Louisiana who have received financial assistance from the $10 billion federal post-Katrina rebuilding program Road Home Community Development Block Grant – compared to 116,708 homeowners....

1.  Rank of New Orleans among U.S. cities in murders per capita for 2008.

1.  Rank of New Orleans among U.S. cities in percentage of vacant residences.  

2.  Number of Katrina cottages completed in Louisiana as of beginning of 2009 hurricane season under $74 million dollar federal program.

33.  Percent of 134,000 FEMA trailers in which Katrina and Rita storm survivors were housed after the storms which are estimated by federal government to have had formaldehyde problems....

50.  Ranking of Louisiana among states for overall healthcare....

27,279. Number of Louisiana homeowners who have applied for federal assistance in repair and rebuilding after Katrina who have been determined eligible for assistance but who have still not received any money.

30,396. Number of children who have not returned to public school in New Orleans since Katrina.  This reduction leaves the New Orleans public school population just over half of what it was pre-Katrina.

63,799. Number of Medicaid recipients who have not returned to New Orleans since Katrina....

143,193. Fewer people in New Orleans than before Katrina, according to the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center estimate of 311,853, the most recent population estimate in Orleans.  

9.5 Million.  Dollar amount of federal Medicaid stimulus rejected outright by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal which would have expanded temporary Medicaid coverage for families who leave welfare and get a job.  

98 million:  Dollar amount of unemployment federal stimulus dollars rejected by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal that was available to bolster the unemployment compensation funds to assist 25,000 families in Louisiana.

900 Million:  Dollar amount paid to ICF International, the company that was hired by the State of Louisiana to distribute federal Road Home rebuilding dollars....

On Monday, as bruising battles over health care, financial regulation, and climate change dominate the news cycle, the Obama administration's ambitious—yet often troubling—public education agenda made a rare A1 appearance in the New York Times. The story concerned the Department of Education's "Race to the Top Fund," a multi-billion-dollar initiative that doles out stimulus funds to encourage innovation, boost student and teacher performance, and close acheivement gaps among different student populations. At first glance, the initiative—usually a second-fiddle subject to sexier topics—seems a laudable, sorely needed program.

Yet just how the Education Department and its secretary, long-time Obama buddy Arne Duncan, plan to use those billions raises some serious questions about their vision for U.S. public schools. Indeed, the Obama administration's education-related announcements to date, which emphasize test-focused and charter-heavy reforms, is painfully reminiscent of the Bush administration's top-down, data-driven approach to education reform. It is exactly what a good many educators and administrators did not want to see from Duncan and Co.

Big Bang Healthcare

I know, I know, healthcare can get tiresome.  But as part of the great debate over whether we need revolutionary change all at once vs. something "good enough" that we can build on, I think it's worth pointing out that most of the great universal healthcare systems of Western Europe took the latter route.  The French, for example, began covering lost wages from illness in the late 20s, and then began constructing a genuine national healthcare system shortly after World War II.  But that was just a start.  It took nearly 50 years before it became truly universal.  Here's the timeline from Wikipedia:

1947: extended social security to government workers.

1948: established three retiree insurance programs for non-salaried, non-farm employees (artisians, industrial and commercial workers, and among the liberal professions).

1952: established mandatory retiree insurance program for farmers, managed by the mutualité sociale agricole (MSA).

1961: established mandatory health insurance for farmers, allowing them choice among providers.

1966: established maternity health insurance for non-salaired, non-farm workers, managed by the CANAM.

1966: established mandatory insurance programs for farm-related accidents, non-work related accidents, and work-related sicknesses with free-choice of provider.

1972: protection enforcement of salaried farm-workers against work-related accidents, written into law.

1975: universalized retiree insurance mandatory for working population.

1978: establishment of unique program for ministers, religious congregation members, and personal insurance other non-covered persons.

1999: the complete institutionalization of universal health care.

2001: additional assistance provided for families who need help with daily tasks.

2002: compensation established for all medical-related accidents whether fault is found or not.

Even now, not everything is covered.  Above the lowest income levels, patients are required to pay 20-30% of the costs of care up to a certain amount, and private insurance is widely used to cover this gap.  There's a similar story in most other countries.  You can find a brief summary of Germany's evolution here, for example.

This is just some food for thought.  All countries are constrained in what they can do by past experience, existing institutions, and powerful interest groups.  But the important thing, I think, is to pass a law that makes the principle of universal coverage the law of the land.  Once that's in place, there's no going back even if the first pass is highly imperfect.

David Roberts says that Netroots Nation was more subdued this year than last.  That's hardly a surprise.  But it's not just the fact that 2008 was an election year and 2009 isn't:

The sense, rather, is that we are witnessing a tsunami of progressive enthusiasm, organizing, and, um, Hope crash on the shoals of the status quo ... and the status quo isn’t budging. Bit by bit, the giddy high of those days following Obama’s election is dissipating. It’s dispiriting.

For what it's worth, this isn't just a liberal problem.  9/11 and the Iraq war masked a lot of this during George Bush's first term, but conservatives ended up feeling the same way before long.  They wanted a revolution, but instead they got NCLB.  And a wimpy stem cell compromise.  And Sarbanes-Oxley.  And McCain-Feingold.  And a huge Medicare expansion. And complete gridlock on Social Security.

Not exactly what they signed up for.  The tax cuts were great, of course, but what about abortion and gay marriage and entitlement reform and slashing the size of government and ANWR and the Endangered Species Act and everything else on the conservative wish list?  They got most of what they wanted on the national security front (missile defense, big Pentagon budget increases, a couple of nice wars), but on the domestic front most of them felt like Bush ended up delivering almost nothing.

It wasn't quite that bad, of course.  They did get the tax cuts, after all.  And they got a new bankruptcy law and a bunch of right-wing judges.  But for the most part, their domestic agenda crashed on the shoals of the status quo too.  Washington DC is a tough place to get anything done.

Today on its website, Greenpeace grudgingly congratulates Mickey D's on its latest eco-accomplishment: The burger giant recently opened its first restaurant with hydroflourocarbon-free (read: ozone-friendly) refrigeration in Denmark.

Strange bedfellows, sure. But it's not the first time they've teamed up. Back in 2007, the Washington Post reported that members of the two groups worked together—sharing a tiny boat on the Amazon, no less—to stop deforestation in the Brazilian rainforest:

The eight were in the rainforest together on a mission to see firsthand where farmers were cutting down virgin forest to grow soy beans for, among other customers, McDonald's. And though Greenpeace had not long ago been accusing McDonald's of complicity in the deforestation, by the time of the Amazon trip in January, the eight officials were calling each other partners.

Those weren't just words. The ubiquitous fast-food company and the global environmentalists had already jointly pressured the biggest soy traders in Brazil into placing an unprecedented two-year moratorium on the purchase of any soy from newly deforested areas.

Obviously, this partnership is great PR for McDonald's (and make no mistake: The company milks it on its environmental site). But it's also a bonanza for Greenpeace. This kind of who-woulda-thunk-it tidbit is blogosphere/Twitter gold.

Via Triple Pundit.

Robert Novak has died at the age of 78, after battling brain cancer for the past year. There are plenty of remembrances of the legendary conservative columnist popping up (see here, here, and here), but Think Progress has unearthed a priceless quote from Novak discussing his vision of the hereafter in 2007: “I’m going to a place where there are no blogs.”

District 9

I saw District 9 the other day, and it was.....odd.  More below the fold if you don't mind reading some spoilers.

60 Votes

Quick background: Republicans will filibuster any healthcare bill that reaches the floor of the Senate, and it takes 60 votes to break a filibuster.  If a healthcare bill includes a public option provision, it's vanishingly unlikely that we can find those 60 votes.  But budget reconciliation bills can't be filibustered, so an alternative is to include the public option but then introduce the bill via the reconciliation process, where it needs only 50 votes to pass.

So then: A couple of days ago I asked what would happen if Democrats did this.  The reconciliation process can only be used to pass provisions with direct budget impact, so the question is: which provisions would be deemed to have no budget impact and therefore get tossed out?  Stan Collender is a serious budget wonk of many years' standing, but it turns out that even he really doesn't have any idea:

The question isn't at all clear cut.  Is a provision a line in a bill, a phrase in a line, a whole section of legislation, etc.?  Even if a section of a bill doesn't affect outlays or revenues and, therefore, seems to qualify under #1 to be excluded, is it integral to other parts of the legislation that do change outlays or revenues and, therefore, should be allowed to stay.

As I said, this is complicated and will be extremely controversial.  There are budget experts on both sides of the aisle and this is more of a judgment call than the application of a hard and fast rule.

So to Kevin Drum...if you think you have questions now, just wait.

I don't know if Harry Reid can find 60 votes to break a filibuster of a bill that contains a public option provision.  But if he can't — something that seems pretty likely — and he has to try the reconciliation route, we're in terra incognita.  And once we get to that point, the shape of the bill won't be a matter of negotiating skill, or liberal spine, or presidential leadership, or backroom deal cutting.  It will be a matter of the Senate parliamentarian tossing out provisions randomly based on his good faith understanding of the rules.

Call me gutless, call me chicken, call me whatever.  But that's a process that won't turn out well.  It's just not a realistic option to take a big, complex piece of legislation, toss out individual provisions here and there, and expect to have anything other than a complete hash of a bill that will end up so unworkable it can't pass at all.  Like it or not (and I don't!), we need 60 votes to get healthcare through the Senate.  The question is how best to do that.

In the fight against terrorism, some of the most indispensable weapons are the most ordinary of objects: A scrap of paper with a name scrawled on it, found in the pocket of a suspected insurgent; or his cellphone, programmed with numbers. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, Special Operations forces have stepped up efforts to collect anything that might broaden its understanding of insurgent and terrorist networks—so-called pocket litter, documents, and computer hard drives. But according to a report from a House commiteee, they lack the capability to actually do anything with the material they gather.

This troubling observation is buried deep in the House Appropriations committee's 476-page report on the FY2010 defense budget, which notes that Special Operations personnel have, on multiple occasions, informed lawmakers that they need better technology to quickly process intelligence finds in Iraq and Afghanistan and share the resulting information with relevant agencies. "The Committee is concerned about the urgent need for the modernization of Special Operations Forces' (SOF) capabilities to process, exploit, and disseminate critical operational intelligence from deployed locations overseas," the report says. "[W]ithout specialized expeditionary processing, this information becomes inacessible and of no value to SOF in immediate urgent operational missions, and over the longer term to the war fighter, the intelligence community and others in need of access."

To address this shortcoming, the appropriations committee added an extra $14 billion to help Special Operations Forces analyze and share the intelligence it collects before it becomes useless. I've called the committee for details, and will post an update if I learn more.

h/t: Secrecy News.

 

Vodka's good in screwdrivers, cosmopolitans, and Cape Codders. It also works for:

1. Cleaning eye glasses: Wipe your lenses a soft, clean cloth dampened with vodka for dust- and bacteria-free specs.

2. Preserving razors: Soak your razors in vodka after use to clean them and prevent rusting.

3. Removing bandaids: Alcohol dissolves the sticky material. No painful rrrip!

4. Scrubbing the tub: Fill a spray bottle with vodka and spray caulking, let sit 5-10 minutes, and wash clean.

5. Perking up flowers: Mix vodka, sugar and water and pour in a vase to keep your aging flowers looking fresh.

Thanks, AltUse.com. Look for five creative ways to use common products every Tuesday here on the Blue Marble.