Mojo - March 2007

2006 Congressional Vote Ratings Released

| Fri Mar. 2, 2007 12:29 PM EST

I'm going to spoil the big surprise up front: Barack Obama is more liberal than Dennis Kucinich.

Now the context. National Journal has put out a series of lists in which they rate every lawmaker in the House and Senate on how they voted in 2006. (There's a link on the Mother Jones News and Politics page, your home for 2008 presidential coverage and general Washington news.) You can see the most liberal and most conservative members of Congress. You can see where Lieberman stands (not the most conservative Dem). And perhaps most interestingly, you can see where the presidential candidates fall.

The New York Times political blog dug a little deeper and found lifetime ratings. The results?

On a scale of one to 100, with 100 being the most liberal, here are the Dems:

Senator Barack Obama: 84.3
Representative Dennis Kucinich: 79.4
Senator Christopher J. Dodd: 79.2
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton: 78.8
Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr.: 76.8

On a scale of one to 100, with 100 being the most conservative, here are the Republicans:

Representative Duncan Hunter: 82.5
Senator Sam Brownback: 81
Representative Tom Tancredo: 75.9
Senator John McCain: 71.8
Senator Chuck Hagel: 71.5
Representative Ron Paul: 51.7

Due to lack of votes in Congress, certain contenders for the nominations are left off.

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Without Question, the Best Story of the Day

| Fri Mar. 2, 2007 11:07 AM EST

Headline spotted on Wonkette:

"Swiss Accidentally Invade Liechtenstein"

Classic. From the story itself:

What began as a routine training exercise almost ended in an embarrassing diplomatic incident after a company of Swiss soldiers got lost at night and marched into neighboring Liechtenstein.
...
Interior ministry spokesman Markus Amman said nobody in Liechtenstein had even noticed the soldiers, who were carrying assault rifles but no ammunition. "It's not like they stormed over here with attack helicopters or something," he said.
Liechtenstein, which has about 34,000 inhabitants and is slightly smaller than Washington DC, doesn't have an army.

Man, can you imagine being a PR guy and getting a call in the middle of the night from some military official who says, "Listen, we just accidentally invaded a defenseless little postage stamp of a country; go explain it to the press." You know you're in for a rough day.

Widespread Support for Universal Health Care Amongst American Voters: Poll

| Fri Mar. 2, 2007 8:25 AM EST

Yesterday I blogged about a new health care plan from Oregon senator Ron Wyden. He's helping push along the universal health care trend by proving that coverage for all is economically feasible and morally necessary.

And it looks like more and more Americans are seeing it that way, too. A new poll from the New York Times says that 84 percent of Americans support expanding a government program to make sure all children have health care -- universal health care jr., as it were. Support lags just slightly on the subject of adults. "Sixty percent, including 62 percent of independents and 46 percent of Republicans, said they would be willing to pay more in taxes" to pay for universal health care for every American. "Half said they would be willing to pay as much as $500 a year more."

Americans are even willing to forego future tax cuts. "Nearly 8 in 10 said they thought it was more important to provide universal access to health insurance than to extend the tax cuts of recent years; 18 percent said the tax cuts were more important." That 18 percent really loves their money. And I'm assuming they already have some pretty decent health care.

By the way, the fact that Obama, Clinton, and Edwards have all expressed support for universal health care while the Republicans have remained silent has really made this the Democrats' issue. If you remember, in Bush's State of the Union he had a fairly reasonable health care proposal. That seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

Only 24 percent said they were satisfied with President Bush's handling of the health insurance issue, despite his recent initiatives, and 62 percent said the Democrats were more likely to improve the health care system.

Also, it's worth pointing out that Romney helped state Democrats pass a form of universal health care in Massachusetts, but because of his recent rightward shift that he thinks is necessary to attract the Republican base, he has dropped any mention of the effort from his campaign. Might want to rethink that one, Mitt.

New in Mother Jones: Don't Blame the Internet for Killing Newspapers

| Fri Mar. 2, 2007 12:05 AM EST
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Here's one of the mysteries of the media world: Newspaper chains routinely make profits that Fortune 500 companies only dream of—we're talking 20% plus here—and yet everyone says newspapers are about to go the way of the horse and buggy. What's up with that? As Eric Klinenberg explains in "Breaking the News," in our current issue, there's actually no disconnect between fat profits and the demise of the great American newspaper. In fact, the cutting back on reporting and content to wring more money from newspapers is what's killing them. Nope, the Internet isn't to blame. (Though newspapers—and magazines [ahem]—still have a thing or two to learn about making money online.) Klinenberg, the author of the just-published Fighting for Air, takes a close look at the ongoing Los Angeles Times debacle, a case study in how to turn a world-class newspaper into a shadow of its former self, all in the name of satisfying shareholders and equity-chasing investors.

Klinenberg's article is worth checking out even if your fingers haven't been smudged with newsprint for years. Because even if you're an online-only, blog-reading, indy media type, you still need newspapers whether you realize it or not. Love 'em or hate 'em, they're doing the kind of reporting that blogs can't. Or as Kevin Drum explains in his companion piece, "Why Bloggers Need the MSM":

In fact, blogs and the MSM [mainstream media] are symbiotic. Blogs at their best improve on MSM reporting both by holding reporters to account and by latching onto complex topics and talking about them in a conversational style that professional reporters just can't match. But the blogosphere would shrivel and die without a steady diet of news reporting from paid professionals.

Even if newspapers printed on dead trees disappear, we're still going to have to get our daily news somewhere. Back to Klinenberg:

"What's really at risk here is not the future of newspapers but of the news itself. While our democratic culture could survive the loss of the daily paper as we know it, it would be endangered without the kinds of reporting that it provides. It's the journalism, not the newsprint, that matters."

These stories are just part of a larger package that includes Sridhar Pappu's look at the implosion of the LA Times, plus an interview with former LAT editor Dean Baquet, and a nifty chart [PDF] of media mergers and acquisitions from AOL-TimeWarner to Google-YouTube. Check it all out here.

Largo, Florida Moves To Dismiss Transsexual City Manager

| Thu Mar. 1, 2007 9:13 PM EST

On Tuesday, the city commissioners in Largo, Florida voted to dismiss City Manager Steve Stanton because he is in the process of changing from a man to a woman. The mayor of Largo and one commissioner voted to retain Stanton, but the other five commissioners voted to fire him. According to the Human Rights Campaign, this move is in direct violation of the city's own non-discrimination policy, which prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and expression.

Stanton has served as City Manager for fourteen years, and was apparently a respected employee. Pam's House Blend points out that the leader of the campaign to get Stanton dismissed was Pastor Charlie Martin of the First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks. First Baptist brags about being racially diverse, but obviously draws the line at other types of diversity. It's mission statement includes "We are all made in the spiritual image of God," but maybe that needs to be modified just a tad.

Martin believes that if his congregants have to call Steve "Susan" (were they really calling him "Steve"?), the religious freedoms of Christians will be compromised. Another minister said, "If Jesus was here tonight, I can guarantee you he'd want him terminated. Make no mistake about it." These members of the clergy have company among Largo's citizens. Or, as one person said, "As a resident of Largo for over 40 years, I'm very disturbed that our city manager is planning a sex change. In my view this would be disruptive to Steve Stanton's ability to conduct city business."

You figure it out. He was fine when he was Steve, but as Susan, he will not be competent. Of course, all women are accustomed to hearing they are not as competent as men, but this particular case is as extreme as it can get.

No news yet as to whether Stanton will take action against the Largo city commission.

U.S. Attorney Says Firing Was Politically Motivated

| Thu Mar. 1, 2007 2:57 PM EST

iglesias.jpgThe Bush Dept. of Justice finds itself in even deeper doo-doo today, as Former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias has charged that weeks before the November election, members of the New Mexico congressional delegation asked him to turn up the heat on the investigation of a Democrat for corruption. Iglesias declined and was fired, effective yesterday. (The reasons given include frequent absence, to which Iglesias responded that he serves in the Navy Reserve.)

Iglesias won't name the members of Congress unless subpoenaed, but the only New Mexico delegates who haven't categorically denied involvement are Rep. Heather Wilson and Sen. Pete Domenici, both Republicans. Domenici is, moreover, the White House's state contact for the U.S. attorney in the state.

Congressional Democrats have indicated that they will issue subpoenas.

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Enticing New Health Care Plan from Little Known Corner of Congress

| Thu Mar. 1, 2007 2:21 PM EST

A new Slate article by Jacob Weisberg examines that state of American health care, from the status quo to Bush's plan to John Edwards' plan to... Ron Wyden's plan?

Yup. The Democratic senator from Oregon has a plan, and it sounds mighty attractive. Imagine if the giant, Byzantine mess that is the current health care system in this country was reduced to this:

Under Wyden's plan, employers would no longer provide health coverage, as they have since World War II. Instead, they'd convert the current cost of coverage into additional salary for employees. Individuals would use this money to buy insurance, which they would be required to have. Private insurance plans would compete on features and price but would have to offer benefits at least equivalent to the Blue Cross "standard" option.

And Wyden is serious about the "universal" aspect of universal health insurance. From a summary of his plan: "Every time an individual interacts with state, local and federal government — registering their car, enrolling their children in school, applying for a driver's license or paying their taxes — they can be required to verify their enrollment in a private health insurance plan." Also, I'm sure this is music to some people's ears: "Previous and existing health problems, occupation, genetic information, gender and age will no longer be allowed to impact eligibility or the price paid for insurance."

Now you might say, "That's very well and good, but what about the unemployed, low-wage workers, and freelance bloggers? If they can't afford private health insurance now, why would they be able to afford it under the Wyden plan?" Wyden's website is stocked with information on the subject, and in all the "Before Wyden Plan"/"Under Wyden Plan" scenarios you can find there, previously uninsured individuals pay for private insurance at affordable rates. But how? From the same summary:

Employers who do not currently provide health benefits will be required to begin making phased in "Employer Shared Responsibility Payments." These payments will be used to ensure that everyone can afford their health plans by funding premium reductions.

After two years, all employers will pay these "Employer Shared Responsibility Payments," driving down the cost of premiums for employees across the country, the semi-employed, and the unemployed.

Now it's just a matter of getting this thing off the ground. As Weisberg writes in Slate, it might actually have a chance to succeed because Wyden is building support methodically and effectively.

He has support from CEOs, labor leaders, and even one maverick health-insurance executive. And instead of trying to flatten the opposition, as the Clintons did in 1994, Wyden is courting Republicans. He recently got five of the most conservative men in the Senate to join him and four other Democrats as co-signers of a letter to Bush responding to the White House proposal. The letter endorses the principles of universal coverage and cost containment, and proposes that they all work together on a compromise.

Godspeed.

Seriously Mixed Signals from the Commanders in Baghdad

| Thu Mar. 1, 2007 12:06 PM EST

About a week ago I highlighted an important story in Newsweek that explained how completely different the discussion about Iraq in America is from the reality on the ground. Congress may be debating (kind of) how to end the war, but over in Baghdad, Gen. Petraeus is embedding our troops with the Iraqi citizenry and "putting down roots." We're in it for the long haul, said Newsweek. Petraeus is trying to fight the war over again from scratch.

But today the Guardian reports that Petraeus and the Brainy Bunch are giving themselves six months to turn things around.

An elite team of officers advising the US commander, General David Petraeus, in Baghdad has concluded that they have six months to win the war in Iraq - or face a Vietnam-style collapse in political and public support that could force the military into a hasty retreat.

This could mean several things. (1) That Petraeus really does have a long-term strategy but he will scrap it if there is no discernable progress in the next six months. (2) This Guardian story is just a bit of masterful PR by the Army to show that the new commander is aware of the war's failing support back home, and the long-term strategy moves forward unimpeded. Or (3) one of the two stories is wrong.

I'm guessing some combination of all three. But Petraeus -- who was basically set up to fail -- appears to have an even more impossible situation.

What Doug Feith Left Off His New Website

| Thu Mar. 1, 2007 11:56 AM EST

Doug Feith, the former undersecretary of defense who helped set up the Pentagon operation that stovepiped bad intel about WMD and Saddam-Al Qaeda links to the White House, has been trying to clear his name recently. Now he says he was just asking "tough questions" about the CIA's work, not trying to peddle bogus theories to justify an invasion of Iraq. Just a skeptical public servant holding those in power accountable. And if you believe that, I have a war to sell you. Feith's latest effort in name-clearing is a website that promises to challenge the "media myths" and offers glowing quotes about his character from Donald Rumsfeld and General Peter Pace. Funny, but Feith has conspicuously left off what's probably the most memorable quote about him by a military man he used to work with. Here, let us fix that:

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Democrats Will End War in Iraq with... Pork?

| Thu Mar. 1, 2007 11:52 AM EST

With John Murtha's plan to slowly end the war in Iraq mired in controversy and unable to get broad support, and the Democratic leadership's plan to rewrite the 2002 authorization for war going nowhere, the Democrats have turned to a different tactic.

Loading a war spending bill with pork.

Seriously, that's the best the Dems, who control both houses of Congress, can do. From today's Washington Post:

While Democrats try to restrict how President Bush can spend the $100 billion he wants for Iraq, they also hope to load his measure up with $10 billion in add-ons...
Lawmakers from the Great Plains are pressing for about $4 billion in disaster aid for farmers suffering under drought conditions.
The California delegation is demanding help for citrus, avocado and other Central Valley farmers facing $1.2 billion in losses from a devastating January freeze.

And so on and so on. Mind you, the idea here isn't to pump the bill so full of special interest spending that Bush has to veto it. No, the idea is to take advantage of the fact that Bush and Congressional Republicans would never have the cojones to stop a war spending bill, and thus push through a lot of favorite projects.

What? Seriously, what? Talk about having a tin ear. Didn't the Democrats ride into Congress promising to end the march of bills swollen on earmarks and Republican pork barrel projects? Are they seriously proposing this right now?