Mojo - January 2009

Palin to be No Show at Obama's Dinner for McCain

| Thu Jan. 15, 2009 12:45 PM EST

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On the night before Barack Obama is sworn in as the nation's 44th President, his inaugural committee will host a series of dinners honoring public servants it deems champions of bipartisanship. To be feted are Vice President-elect Joe Biden, Colin Powell, and John McCain, whom Obama vanquished last November. At the McCain dinner, the GOP senator, who managed to suppress his bipartisan tendencies during the hard-fought 2008 campaign, will be introduced by one of his closest Senate confidants: Senator Lindsey Graham. But McCain's No. 1 booster during the last year will not be among those hailing McCain. Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, his controversial running-mate, will not attend the dinner, Bill McAllister, a Palin spokesman tells Mother Jones.

Can true tribute be paid to McCain without Palin's presence? Picking her for his party's veep nomination was McCain's most decisive and significant action of his campaign. And she spent weeks praising him as an American hero, a man the country desperately needed as president. True, the Palin and McCain camps have bickered with each other since the election about some of the campaign's miscues. But shouldn't she be part of any celebration of McCain?

According to McAllister, Palin will spend next week in her home state preparing for the legislative session, which begins on Tuesday, and for her State of the State address on Thursday.

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Conservative Punditry's Leading Lights

| Thu Jan. 15, 2009 10:56 AM EST

Our new Prez is just too cool for school. He had dinner the other night with the leading lights, such as they are, of the conservative punditry. One doubts how much he was able to eat, or keep down, with George Will, Bill Kristol, and (possibly) Rush Limbaugh at the same table, but I'm quite sure they came away thrilled and at least somewhat likely to tone down the rhetoric.

I know from personal experience that it's much harder to savage someone in print if they're a 'real' person to you, someone you've chatted with, someone with whom you have mutual friends. Certainly the conservatives must find this to be true of the suavest president since JFK.

This guy is the bomb. Now if he'll only give an inauguration interview to the cutest, most persistent reporter on the planet.

What is Private Equity Good For?

| Wed Jan. 14, 2009 6:52 PM EST

From the London Guardian:

More than half the profits generated by private equity firms in recent years have been made by piling debt onto the companies they invest in, according to a report published today.
The findings of the first annual report on the industry, designed to increase transparency and improve the image of private equity, instead provided further ammunition for the industry's critics.
The analysis by accounting firm Ernst & Young claims that just one fifth of returns achieved come from strategic and operational improvements.

Is it reasonable to expect that these ratios would be about the same for U.S. private equity firms?

Bush's Parting Shots to the Old and Sick, Part 2: A Wing and a Prayer for the Dying

| Wed Jan. 14, 2009 3:40 PM EST

We won't have to live with George W. Bush for much longer. But now, it appears, we can't die with him, either--at least, not with any comfort or respect. Included among the many parting shots from the lame-duck Bush administration are two actions that will add to the suffering of the terminally ill.

The first of these actions makes it easier for health care workers to ignore or override the wishes of dying patients. The second threatens the availability of hospice care--the one setting in which such patients can be sure that their choices will be respected and their pain subdued.

On December 19, the administration issued what is being called the "right of conscience" rule for health care workers. As the Washington Post describes it:

The far-reaching regulation cuts off federal funding for any state or local government, hospital, health plan, clinic or other entity that does not accommodate doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other employees who refuse to participate in care they find ethically, morally or religiously objectionable. It was sought by conservative groups, abortion opponents and others to safeguard workers from being fired, disciplined or penalized in other ways.

But women's health advocates, family planning proponents, abortion rights activists and some members of Congress condemned the regulation, saying it will be a major obstacle to providing many health services, including abortion, family planning, infertility treatment, and end-of-life care, as well as possibly a wide range of scientific research.

Such rules are implemented in 30 days, which means this one will go into effect on the eve of the inauguration. As the Post reports: "The 'right of conscience' rule could become one of the first contentious tests for the Obama administration, which could seek to reverse the rule either by initiating a lengthy new rulemaking process or by supporting legislation already pending in Congress."

While opposition to the rule comes primarily from supporters of reproductive rights, the organization Compassion and Choices points out that it also has serious implications for "end-of-life care, especially the palliative care measures that rescue patients from unbearable agony. This ill-conceived rule will surely obstruct and delay good care in many instances, increasing the suffering of dying patients and their loved ones." On the basis of "conscience," the group warns, health care workers could refuse to disconnect life support, or could withhold medication for "palliative sedation," where patients are rendered unconscious if it is the only way to control pain.

One place where the dying might escape such treatment is in hospice care. But another measure, tucked away in Bush's budget for FY 2009, cuts federal Medicare reimbursement rates to hospices, which are largely (83 percent) financed by Medicare. The online magazine Obit summarized the impact of the cuts, which went into effect on October 1, and could add up to more than $2 billion over five years:

It is estimated that this will result in hospice staffing cuts–doctors, nurses, social workers, bereavement counselors, and eventually hospice services. And these reductions will affect the people least capable of fighting back.

Or, as Don Schumacher, president of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (which is, among other things, the lobbying group for hospices), puts it: "That $2 billion the government wants to save? They're doing it off the backs of dying people in the United States."

Bush's Parting Shots to the Old and Sick, Part 1: A Gift to Privatized Medicare

| Wed Jan. 14, 2009 3:05 PM EST

Having spent eight years bypassing the laws of the land via signing statements, executive orders, or just simple denial, the Bush Administration is adding to its grim legacy with a rush of last-minute orders and rule changes. Compiled here by ThinkProgress, these include a number of actions aimed at the elderly, ill, and disabled--including cuts to Medicaid and disabled veterans' benefits. These last-ditch measures are likely to turn into some of the first political and policy challanges faced the Obama administration.

Some of Bush's parting shots are so low-profile that they might easily escape notice. The latest of these arrived on Friday in the obscure form of a "call letter" to private insurance companies that want to contract with Medicare to provide health and drug coverage in 2010. Such calls are issued annually. But this time the call letter was released two weeks earlier than it was last year, and two months earlier than the previous year--ahead of the changing of the White House guard. Medicare advocacy groups view the early release as "an attempt by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to assure continued leniency in the oversight of private plans for at least another year and as a last-ditch effort to promote private Medicare Advantage plans."

Medicare Advantage (MA) plans--which offer managed care run through private insurers, paid for by the federal government--are the point of the stake that conservatives have long been trying to drive into the heart of traditional Medicare (which, for all its shortcomings, is the closest thing to a single-payer program that this country has ever seen). Columnist Saul Friedman recently wrote about the history of of this effort, recalling a 1995 press briefing in which Dick Armey, Newt Gingrich's collaborator on the "Contract With America," announced their intent to "wean our old people away from Medicare." The first step was to introduce private Medicare HMOs--what later evolved into Medicare Advantage plans, with a big boost from the Republicans' 2003 Medicare bill.

Why Eric Holder Represents What's Wrong with Washington

| Wed Jan. 14, 2009 2:52 PM EST

Eric Holder Jr., by all accounts, is a decent, smart, caring, competent fellow. President-elect Barack Obama's pick to be attorney general had a brilliant career in public service: he graduated from Columbia University law school, worked at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, was a trial attorney at the Justice Department, a Superior Court judge in Washington, DC, a US attorney, and, then deputy attorney general. He has served on various nonprofit boards: George Washington University, the American Constitution Society, Morehouse School of Medicine, Save the Children Foundation, the District of Columbia's Police Foundation, and the Innocence Project. He's been a member of Concerned Black Men for over 25 years. He also, in a way, represents what's wrong with Washington.

That's not because of Holder's infamous role in the Marc Rich pardon. That episode--which Holder will certainly be asked about during confirmation hearings, which are scheduled to begin Thursday--was a case of Washington pay-to-play. There's little doubt that Rich, a fugitive financier indicted for tax evasion, racketeering, and trading with the enemy (Iran), was able to win that last-minute pardon from President Clinton (with Holder, as deputy attorney general, leaning slightly in its favor) because he had hired a former Clinton White House counsel to argue his case and because Rich's ex-wife had pledged money to Clinton causes.

Holder's role in the Rich pardon may not have been instrumental, but it was a mistake--a terrible way to cap off decades of public service. But he is a poster child for something perhaps more pernicious and extensive in the nation's capital: selling out. Months after the Clinton administration ended, Holder went to work for the influential law firm and lobbying shop of Covington and Burling. (He also joined the boards of Eastman Kodak and MCI.)

Holder was doing what so many routinely do in Washington: cashing in. He took years of experience he had gathered as a public servant and rented it to corporations accused of serious wrongdoing. He smoothly went from doing good to doing well. In 2008, according to his confirmation questionnaire, he made $2.1 million at Covington and Burling. And he expects in 2009 to bring in over $2.5 million, including his separation payment.

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Judge to Bush Administration: Preserve Your Emails

| Wed Jan. 14, 2009 12:50 PM EST

In its final week in office, the Bush administration might have some serious work to do: recovering millions of emails. For over a year, the administration has battled a lawsuit by two Washington-based watchdog groups seeking to force the White House to locate unaccounted for internal emails, and on Wednesday morning a federal judge issued a last minute preservation order [PDF].

In full, it reads:

The Executive Office of the President ("EOP") shall: (1) search the workstations, and any .PST files located therein, of any individuals who were employed between March 2003 and October 2005, and to collect and preserve all e-mails sent or received between March 2003 and October 2005 and (2) issue a preservation notice to its employees directing them to surrender any media in their possession–irrespective of the intent with which it was created–that may contain e-mails sent or received between March 2003 and October 2005, and for EOP to collect and preserve all such media.

This is a major assignment for the Bush administration, which has to date been tight-lipped about what it has or has not been doing to preserve its emails for post-administration archiving. "The EOP [Executive Office of the President] is going to have to go to each of the workstations and find PST files and save them," says Meredith Fuchs, one of the lawyers representing the National Security Archive in the case. "It also means all of the EOP employees who may have used CDs, DVDs, external hard drives, zip drives, memory sticks, etcetera, to save emails are going to now have to turn them over before they leave."

To Win Back Congress, Conservatives Need Economic Ideas that Aren't Insane

| Wed Jan. 14, 2009 12:31 PM EST

You may have noticed that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is answering Barack Obama's call for suggestions on how to create a better stimulus by proposing a two-year suspension of payroll taxes. McConnell's conservative colleagues in the Senate support the idea, despite the fact that it (1) eliminates funding for Social Security and identifies no replacement, and (2) denies the government a huge portion of its income during a period of massive deficits.

This is a catastrophically bad idea, an idea so bad and so naive and so completely impossible to implement that it almost makes you laugh. But keep in mind, this idea isn't being proposed by some backbencher in the House Republican caucus. This is the Senate Minority Leader. This is the best Republicans can think up!

It's this vacuum of solid policy thinking, which gets filled with ideologically driven nonsense, that caused conservative blogger Daniel Ruwe to rip into his brethern. Here's what he had to say on a slightly different tax idea the Right thought up:

Fixing the Bureaucracy: Will DOJ Be Obama's Most Difficult Task?

| Wed Jan. 14, 2009 11:53 AM EST

The Obama Administration has to rebuild a lot of broken federal agencies: the FDA, the EPA, FEMA, and on and on. But there may be no federal body that has fallen further than the Department of Justice, which has gone from being a trustworthy independent actor to being an appendage of the White House run by nincompoops and right-wing zealots.

If you ask anyone who has worked in the Justice Department (and we have), they'll tell you that agency's most famous controversy — the fired US Attorneys scandal — was simply one stage in a long-running effort to politicize the place from top to bottom. Conservatives in, liberals out. And now an internal DOJ report has found new evidence that purge-like conditions were created inside the building by Bush political appointees. This would be hilarious if it wasn't so sad:

At Confirmation Hearing, Hillary Treads Lightly on Afghanistan Question

| Tue Jan. 13, 2009 5:07 PM EST

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It was a foregone conclusion that Secretary of State aspirant Hillary Clinton would sail through her confirmation hearing on Tuesday morning. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is a club, and whatever their disagreements, it's members love to see their own rise to the top. (President-elect Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden were also Committee members.)

The hearing was a classic game of political softball, in which Clinton's examiners gushed over her wonderful achievements and wished her well. Many used the occasion to win television time for their own pet projects: Indiana Republican Richard Lugar talked about nonproliferation; Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski urged action on the Law of the Sea Treaty; California Democrat Barbara Boxer discussed women's rights; and many others—including Massachusetts Democrat, former presidential nominee, and disappointed Secretary of State hopeful John Kerry—brought up the issue of Israel's ongoing war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Surprisingly, there was almost no mention during the morning's opening round of questioning about former President Bill Clinton's Global Initiative and the potential conflicts of interest inherent in his wife's ascendance to the country's top foreign policy post; the organization relies, in part, on funding from international donors. Florida Democrat Bill Nelson, among the relative few to even mention the Global Initiative, suggested that rather than complicating Clinton's nomination, it illustrates her and her husband's deep engagement in the world. (Yes, but as AP reports today, there is evidence of Senator Clinton intervening at least six times during her years on Capitol Hill on issues directly affecting firms that later donated to her husband's foundation.)