Mojo - January 2009

Blackwell Acolyte Distraught at Steele Endorsement, Victory

| Fri Jan. 30, 2009 3:26 PM PST

At a critical juncture in the voting for the new RNC Chair, former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, one of the most conservative figures in the race, realized he was behind and endorsed eventual winner Michael Steele, who was the most moderate. The move left one Blackwell devotee, a conservative Ohio-based blogger named Matthew Naugle, stunned and angry. I have emailed with Naugle before about the GOP's push to modernize it's approach to technology. Here are his thoughts on Blackwell's endorsement and Steele's victory:

...all the technology in the world is meaningless without the right conservative message.
I run Ken Blackwell's Facebook page and Twitter page. I was also Ken Blackwell's campaign blogger and web guy in 2006. Ken Blackwell is my hero- my idol- my Goldwater...... but I couldn't be more disappointed in his endorsement today. No candidate was more un-Blackwell than Michael Steele.
Steele is new to the language of conservatism, and he was certainly the most liberal candidate running. He expressed his view that the Supreme Court should follow what stare decisis is on Roe V. Wade, has run GOPAC into the ground, and was actively involved with Christine Todd Whitman's Republican Leadership Council.
The Republican Party, with a John McCain candidacy, tried to win on a "big tent" platform and in the process lost its soul. Now, with the election of Steele, they have lost their mind.

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Economy Killing Abusive Teen Programs

| Fri Jan. 30, 2009 3:03 PM PST

Below is a guest blog entry by MoJo author Maia Szalavitz:

There is a silver lining to this bleak economy: Abusive and ineffective "tough love" programs for teens are failing right and left.

In just the last few weeks, the notorious Tranquility Bay program in Jamaica, Spring Creek Lodge in Montana, and Pathway Family Center in Detroit and Ohio have all been shuttered.

Tranquility Bay was known for making kids kneel on concrete for days, using "restraint" so harsh that it broke bones. Both Tranquility Bay and Spring Creek Lodge were part of a network called the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools (WWASP or WWASPS)—and the group's philosophy involves constant use of emotional attacks and humiliation in a rigid, structured day in order to break teens' spirits.

Spring Creek was notorious for a frigid, small isolation room called "the Hobbit"—sometimes teens were left there for months.

From Pathway—which was descended from the infamously abusive Straight Inc.—I received two separate accounts of suicide attempts by girls which were not reported to their parents, and many stories of the usual attack therapy and humiliation. Unfortunately, neither WWASP nor Pathway is completely dead yet: WWASP still has centers operating in the US and abroad, and Pathway has sites in Indiana: Porter and Indianapolis.

The media tends to present these closures as sad examples of needed services being cut—but in fact, teens are better off with no treatment than with treatment that often divides families and has characteristics known to produce post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Family support tends to be crucial to long term recovery—and PTSD doubles the odds that a drug problem will become a lasting addiction.

Troubled teen programs were yet another sign of the bubble economy. Many were financed by mortgage and home equity loans because they cost thousands of dollars a month and because insurers, quite correctly, don't usually pay for programs that aren't proven to help.

Since there are proven alternatives for teens with drug and other problems that do not carry the risks of "tough love," we should greet the closings of these centers with glee.
And those who care about this issue should keep the pressure on so that the wounded programs finally die. After all, there are still teens suffering inside, being "treated" without dignity or respect—some of whom were just transferred from closed programs to other similar, sites.

Legislation to ban the most egregious practices is coming—and may well be strengthened now that the Democrats control Congress and the White House. But an even better outcome would be for the "troubled teen" industry to wither and be replaced by what the evidence shows works: community-based, family-centered, minimally restrictive, and youth-driven care.

Maia Szalavitz is the author of "Help At Any Cost: How the Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids," and Senior Fellow at stats.org.

New RNC Chair Michael Steele's Hypocrisy on Barack Obama (Video)

| Fri Jan. 30, 2009 2:36 PM PST

michael_steele250x200.jpg It turns out that Michael Steele — elected the first African-American chair of the Republican National Committee earlier this afternoon — has a situational opinion of Barack Obama and what his accomplishments mean for race in America. How else to explain the fact that when Steele talks about Obama, his thoughts change depending on his audience?

Here's Steele fielding a question about Obama from Tavis Smiley at the Black State of the Union conference, held in New Orleans in February 2008. Steele is speaking to a predominantly black audience. Video to your right.

I'm very proud to see Barack Obama do what Barack Obama has done and is doing. I am philosophically polar opposites with the man. But it doesn't change the fact that we are from the same community. And it doesn't diminish nor weaken my pride in what he's done. I would hope that all of us would be just as proud of an African-American Republican achieving such success.

Now here is Steele discussing Obama with NewsBusters.org, a conservative online news outlet, at the Republican National Convention. Video to your right, again.

Q: I wanted to get your take on the media coverage of Obama…
MS: It's been a joke, quite frankly. To put it bluntly. There's been no coverage. There's been coronation, there's been facilitation of his agenda….

Ken Salazar: The Interior Department's New Sheriff

| Fri Jan. 30, 2009 1:25 PM PST

salazar.jpg Remember the Interior Department's sex, drugs, and oil scandal? After investigating, the Interior Department released a September 2008 report that concluded Minerals Management Service (MMS) employees "frequently consumed alcohol at industry functions, had used cocaine and marijuana, and had sexual relationships with oil and gas company representatives." Several employees were terminated, but only there were only two subsequent convictions. (Read more about MMS corruption here and here.)

Well, the new Interior Secretary Ken Salazar plans to reopen the MMS investigations. From the Denver Post:

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Thursday that he has ordered a re-examination of the scandalized Interior Department division based in Lakewood, including why the U.S. Justice Department did not pursue more criminal prosecutions....

Salazar stressed that he wants to examine why Bush administration prosecutors in the public-integrity unit didn't pursue criminal cases against others.

"There's a new sheriff in town," Salazar said during a news conference at the MMS complex. "We will be visiting with the new U.S. attorney general and take a new look at it."

As TPMMuckraker notes, Salazar also mentioned re-opening investigations into the Steven Griles affair, in which the Interior Department's No. 2 was convicted in connection to the Jack Abramoff scandal.

Salazar's Wild West bluster, complete with bolo tie and cowboy hat, is certainly a welcome change to the industry sweetheart deals of the Bush years. But let's be honest: the Interior Department is a bureaucratic beast and old habits die hard, especially with the Bushies digging in.


Photo used under Creative Commons license.

Seniors and Children First: The Future of Health Care Policy Begins with Medicare and SCHIP

| Fri Jan. 30, 2009 12:53 PM PST

When it comes to health care policy, the old and the young serve as the canaries in the coal mine, testing the political air for the rest of the population. If the new government isn't able to muster the guts--and the Congressional majorities--to improve access to health care for these vulnerable segments of the population, there isn't much hope for anyone else. On the other hand, if long-overdue changes to Medicare and the State Childrens Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) move forward swiftly, it could be a good omen for health care reform in general.

Some early signs give cause for cautious optimism: The new Congress has acted quickly on SCHIP, which gives states federal funds to help cover uninsured children who belong to relatively low-income families that nonetheless earn too much to qualify for Medicaid. Some 80 percent of Americans support legislation to expand funding and eligibility for SCHIP. In the past, such legislation has been twice passed by a bipartisan majority in Congress--and twice vetoed by George W. Bush.

Yesterday, the Senate succeeded in passing a bill increasing annual SCHIP funding by $32.8 billion, and expanding the program to cover 11 million children, rather than the current 7 million. The expansion will be paid for largely by a rise in the cigarette tax. The Senate earlier rejected two harsh amendments introduced by Republicans: one that would force some of the less impoverished families to contribute to plans costs "to stop the people moving from private plans … to a government-sponsored plan"; and one that would have limited states' ability to enroll documented immigrant children in the program. The Washington Post described the Senate debate as "rancorous"--but in the end, nine Republicans joined Democrats in voting for the bill.

Similar legislation had already passed in the House on January 14, and a final conference bill could be signed by President Obama as early as next week. Perhaps the most promising news is that the new SCHIP legislation is considerably better--more generous and more inclusive--than the two previous versions vetoed by Bush. A number of Republicans objected to this fact, accusing Democrats of double-crossing them on their earlier deals (as if that weren't what happened after every shift in party power).

SCHIP legislation has always enjoyed some bipartisan support. The same is not true of reforms to the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit–-Bush's signature piece of health care legislation, which is in effect a massive handout of taxpayer dollars to the insurance industry and Big Pharma. So what happens with Part D is perhaps a more useful predictor of things to come.

GAO: Treasury's Vision for TARP is "Unclear"

| Fri Jan. 30, 2009 12:27 PM PST

The Government Accountability Office has just released its second report [PDF] on the Treasury Department's Troubled Asset Relief Program, and the troubling key takeaway is this: Treasury's "strategic vision for TARP remains unclear." Uh-oh. At present, TARP is the primary mechanism for ensuring the nation's economy doesn't entirely collapse. In other words, having more than an ad hoc plan for spending billions of taxpayer money needed to happen, like, yesterday.

With trademark understatedness, the GAO explains the problem:

[E]arly on Treasury outlined a strategy and approach to purchase whole loans and mortgage-backed securities from financial institutions, but changed direction to making capital investments in qualifying financial institutions as the global community opted to move in this direction. Moreover, once Treasury determined that capital infusions were preferable to purchasing whole mortgages and mortgage-backed securities, Treasury did not clearly articulate how the various programs (such CPP, SSFI, and TIP) would work collectively to help stabilize financial markets.

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Virginia Could Finally Close Gun-Show Loophole

| Fri Jan. 30, 2009 12:22 PM PST

432945997_4c65ed6080.jpg

Get ready. There's a battle brewing in Virginia over gun rights, and if the comments to my recent piece on assault weapons are any indication, it's not going to be pretty. After years of trying, the Senate Courts of Justice Committee last week voted 8-7 to pass legislation closing the so-called "gun-show loophole."

While commercial sellers are already required to perform instant background checks before completing a sale, small-time, amateur dealers (who, according to the Washington Post, make up an estimated 35 percent of sellers are Virginia gun shows) are not. The fear is that this opens an opportunity for the mentally insane or criminally minded to bypass safeguards meant to keep weapons out of their hands.

The bill's provisions are modest at best. It does nothing more than extend the intent of the law to cover all gun transactions. Gun show operators would be required to ensure that all dealers, including amateurs, have the ability to conduct instant checks. In practice, this would amount to the small inconvenience of strolling across the aisle to use computers already maintained by professional dealers.

The law would not apply to black powder or antique weapons, nor would it affect buyers with permits to carry concealed firearms.

The bill must now pass the full Senate, before moving on to the House of Delegates, where Republicans are expected to fight fiercely to defeat it.


Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Michael (mx5tx).

Obama Splits From Bush, Slams Wall Street

| Fri Jan. 30, 2009 9:20 AM PST

Wall Street is slowly learning that it's a new era in Washington.

In the wake of a report showing $18.4 billion in bonuses will be paid to Wall Street employees this year, President Obama slammed the behavior of the financial industry as the "height of irresponsibility" on Thursday. The $18.4 billion figure is down by almost half from last year, but still represents the sixth-highest bonus total on record. The bonuses were granted despite the fact that Obama just went to Congress to beg for the second $350 billion installation in TARP funding that will be used to bail out Wall Street.

In a move the previous administration never would have dreamed of, the President lit into Wall Street when asked for comment:

Obama Weighs In On Super Bowl

| Fri Jan. 30, 2009 8:40 AM PST

superbowl-43-logo.jpg To follow up on my post arguing that all good liberals ought to support the Steelers this Sunday, I thought I'd bring you the President's thoughts. From a press appearance Thursday:

Q: The Steelers or Cardinals, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: I have to say, you know, I wish the Cardinals the best. Kurt Warner is a great story and he's closer to my age than anybody else on the field, but I am a long-time Steelers fan. Mr. Rooney, the owner, was just an extraordinary supporter during the course of the campaign. Franco Harris was campaigning for me in Pittsburgh. So --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Coach signed up with you, too.
THE PRESIDENT: Right, Coach Tomlin was a supporter. So I -- you know, I wish the best to the Cardinals. They've been long-suffering; it's a great Cinderella story. But other than the Bears, the Steelers are probably the team that's closest to my heart.

Our President, by his own admission, doesn't get too high for things. But from what I can tell, the man has Steelers fever. My prediction: Steelers 20, Cardinals 13. (This is your final Super Bowl-related post, I promise. Unless they win, in which case the blog will be covered in drunken exultations. Stillllers Win!!!!1!11)

Army Suicides Reach Historic High

| Fri Jan. 30, 2009 8:37 AM PST

The US Army has announced that the soldier suicide rate has reached an all-time high, surpassing the civilian suicide rate for the first time. At least 128 soldiers—and perhaps as many as 143—took their own lives in 2008. The Associated Press puts this into perspective:

The new suicide figure compares with 115 in 2007 and 102 in 2006 and is the highest since current record-keeping began in 1980. Officials expect the deaths to amount to a rate of 20.2 per 100,000 soldiers, which is higher than the civilian rate — when adjusted to reflect the Army's younger and male-heavy demographics — for the first time in the same period of record-keeping...
Yearly increases in suicides have been recorded since 2004, when there were 64 — only about half the number now. Officials said they found that the most common factors were soldiers suffering problems with their personal relationships, legal or financial issues and problems on the job.

Army Secretary Peter Geren declined to characterize reasons underlying the growing number of suicides, but assured reporters that "we're committed to doing everything we can to address the problem." Along those lines, the Army is actively recruiting psychologists and psychiatrists to treat soldiers for symptoms associated with severe brain injuries and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), "the defining injuries of this generation of servicemen," says Bill White, president of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, a non-profit dedicated to improving care for wounded soldiers.