Mojo - January 2009

Obama's Pick for HHS Deputy: Actually Qualified For The Job

| Tue Jan. 13, 2009 4:05 PM EST

The election of George W. Bush came as a boon to the tobacco industry. Cigarette companies helped pay for his election, and Bush repaid them handsomely once in office. Right off the bat, in 2001, his Justice Department tried to derail a major federal racketeering lawsuit against the tobacco companies before it went to trial. A few years later, the administration tried to scupper the first international tobacco control treaty (which the U.S. still hasn't ratified). And in 2007, Bush issued two of the 12 vetoes of his entire presidency to twice kill off bipartisan legislation to increase health insurance coverage for poor kids. Why? Because it would have raised taxes on cigarettes.

What a difference an election makes! Today, President-elect Obama announced his selection of William Corr as deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Corr is currently the executive director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a major foe of Bush's favored industry. More important than his public health advocacy, though: Corr actually has extensive experience with health care policy, a key component of HHS's responsibilities and one of Obama's top priorities. Corr started his career running nonprofit health clinics in Appalachia, and, in a major departure from the last eight years, he has actually worked inside the agency he's been chosen to run.

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Throw Granny from the Train: The Washington Post Gives a Boost to Age-Based Health Care Rationing

| Tue Jan. 13, 2009 2:41 PM EST

Two pieces on the front page of the Washington Post's Sunday "Outlook" section illustrate some of what's wrong with the terms of current debates around health care costs and health care for the elderly. The juxtaposition of these two commentaries, which appeared side-by-side under a photo of a sunset and the heading "The Dying of the Light," sends an insidious message about the need for "rationing" treatment to the very old and very sick: To keep health care costs from bankrupting our society, it suggests, we may have no choice but to pull the plug on the geezers.

The Post feature is only the latest of a growing volume of commentary on so-called age-based health care rationing. Even beyond any core ethical questions, the problem with these discussions is what they too often fail to mention: the role of private profits in creating, or at least seriously exacerbating, the supposedly intractable problem of health care costs. Like everything else in the public debate over health care policy, the "dying of the light" has become subject to the lying of the right, where corporate interests trump even questions of life and death.

Phil Gramm Will Wonder Aloud: What Did I Ever Do?

| Tue Jan. 13, 2009 1:02 PM EST

The American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank and haven for discredited neoconservatives, is hosting a discussion next Friday titled "Is Deregulation a Cause of the Financial Crisis?" Here's the description:

During the recent campaign season, the Democrats blamed the financial crisis on "Republican deregulation," in particular the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 (GLBA) and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 (CFMA). The GLBA repealed the provisions of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 that prevented affiliations between commercial and investment banks, and the CFMA, among other things, exempted credit default swaps and other derivatives from regulation by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Although both acts were backed by the Clinton administration, Senator Phil Gramm (R-Texas)--then the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee--was the key congressional sponsor of the legislation. Is it plausible to connect the GLBA and the CFMA with the current financial crisis?

Guess who has been tabbed to answer the question of whether or not Phil Gramm screwed up the financial industry? That's right, Phil Gramm. He's AEI top guest for the evening. Fortunately, we can save you the trouble of going to this thing, because we've already answered the question. In summer 2008, David Corn published a piece called "Foreclosure Phil" that began:

Who's to blame for the biggest financial catastrophe of our time? There are plenty of culprits, but one candidate for lead perp is former Sen. Phil Gramm.

Visit AEI in a week and a half for a whole bunch of rationalization and self-justification or take a quick gander at David's excellent piece over your lunch break. Your choice.

Israel's Power

| Tue Jan. 13, 2009 10:30 AM EST

I really don't want to ignite a firestorm in the comments by posting this, but the degree to which Israel's leaders see America as in their back pocket is pretty remarkable. When people across the Arab world feel like they will never get a fair shake from America, it is in part because of episodes like this.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel said Monday that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had been forced to abstain from a United Nations [cease fire] resolution on Gaza that she helped draft, after Mr. Olmert placed a phone call to President Bush. "I said, 'Get me President Bush on the phone,'" Mr. Olmert said in a speech in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, according to The Associated Press. They said he was in the middle of giving a speech in Philadelphia. I said I didn't care: 'I need to talk to him now,'" Mr. Olmert continued. "He got off the podium and spoke to me." ...
Mr. Olmert claimed that once he made his case to Mr. Bush, the president called Ms. Rice and told her to abstain. "She was left pretty embarrassed," Mr. Olmert said, according to The A.P.

Forget what you think about Israel: no country in the world should have this sort of sway over our president and secretary of state. (H/T Andrew)

Video: Corn on Hardball Debating Gitmo

| Mon Jan. 12, 2009 10:51 PM EST

AP reported on Monday that President-elect Barack Obama, after moving into the White House next week, will issue an executive order to begin the process that would lead to the closing of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay. With that in the news, I was asked to appear on Hardball to debate conservative talk-show host Michael Smerconish, who supports the use of waterboarding. Here's the clip:

At least Smerconish, a lawyer, agreed with one basic point: the US government, despite what the Bush-Cheney administration has contended, has no right to hold anyone--not even enemy combatants--indefinitely. Perhaps Obama is right: conservatives and liberals--that is, those of us who don't take our constitutional advice from Dick Cheney's office--can find some common ground.

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Iraqi Refugees Also Ripped Off By Madoff

| Mon Jan. 12, 2009 6:34 PM EST

George Packer discovers some more innocent victims of Ponzi schemer and penthouse penitentiary dweller Bernie Madoff: two foundations that funded Human Rights First, which provides legal assistance to Iraqi refugees seeking asylum in the US. Now, Packer reports, HRF needs a million bucks to meet its budget. How pathetic that Iraqis who've already suffered the unintended consequences of the invasion of Iraq should now suffer the unintended consequences of our economic free-for-all. And those are the lucky ones. For more on Mother Jones' coverage of the Iraqi refugee crisis, see David Case's "Thrown to the Assassins" and our interview with Kirk Johnson, who's pushing the Obama administration to airlift thousands of Iraqis still waiting to come to the States.

Nuclear Weapons Spending Topped $52 Billion Last Year

| Mon Jan. 12, 2009 4:05 PM EST

According to a new report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (brought to my attention by Steven Aftergood), spending on US nuclear weapons infrastructure and related programs surpassed $52 billion in 2008. "That's a floor, not a ceiling," said study co-author Stephen Schwartz, who noted that the figure does not include costs associated with classified nuclear weapons or intelligence-related programs.

A view of the spending breakdown, provided by Carnegie:

20080111-NuclearAppropriationsCategory.gif

To put this in some context, nuclear weapons expenditures accounted for some 10 percent of all defense spending... and dwarfed the entire federal budget for "soft power" programs like international diplomacy and foreign assistance, which amounted to just $39.5 billion last year.

Of the $52 billion spent on nuclear programs, 55.5 percent went to upgrading and maintaining the existing stockpiles of weapons, whereas just 10 percent was invested in nonproliferation programs aimed at preventing the spread of such weapons around the globe.

For a funny, ground-level look at how the nuclear weapons budget is spent, you might check out A Nuclear Family Vacation by Nathan Hodge and Sharon Weinberger. Find my review here.

Massive Scheduling Boner by Obama Transition: Inauguration vs. Football

| Mon Jan. 12, 2009 3:01 PM EST

afcbetting.gifGuess who's playing on Sunday night at the Lincoln Memorial as part of the opening event for the inauguration festivities? Beyonce, Mary J. Blige, Bono, Garth Brooks, Sheryl Crow, Renee Fleming, Josh Groban, Herbie Hancock (!!), Heather Headley, John Legend, Jennifer Nettles, John Mellencamp, Usher, Shakira, Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor, will.i.am, and Stevie Wonder. (Don't live in DC? You can watch on some free HBO thing.)

You know who else is playing on Sunday night? The greatest professional sports franchise in the history of the United States (the Pittsburgh Steelers), which will take on a miserable bunch of thugs and complainers (the Baltimore Ravens) in an hard-nosed bad-blood knock-em-out match-up that will determine who gets to go to Super Bowl XLIII.

I've emailed the transition office to ask for a rescheduling. I'm not joking.

Boomers, Meet Cuspers

| Mon Jan. 12, 2009 1:07 PM EST

Looking for a marked-down home in a marked-down country? From CNN:

The real estate market is so awful that buyers are now scooping up homes for as little as $1,000.

There are 18 listings in Flint, Mich., for under $3,000, according to Realtor.com. There are 22 in Indianapolis, 46 in Cleveland and a whopping 709 in Detroit. All of these communities have been hit hard by foreclosures, and most of these homes are being sold by the lenders that repossessed them.

"Foreclosures have turned banks into property management companies," said Heather Fernandez, a spokeswoman for Trulia.com, the real estate Web site. "And it's often cheaper for them to give these homes away rather than try to get market value for them."

So, give up lattes, mani-pedis, and Netflix for awhile, and buy a piece of the "greatest nation in the world."

You know, growing up a dispossessed, poor black girl, sharecroppers' fourth of sixth: Even I thought better of America than this. I thought my biggest problem was shoving my way in line. I never thought my kids would find no line at all.

Why am I bitter? Here's why: After the much-vaunted "boomers," it's not 'God bless America,' a la Kate Smith.

It's not, 'God damn America,' a la Jeremiah Wright.

It's 'God save America,' a la every citizen living today and to come.

Perhaps that's why this other CNN article spoke to me so loudly:

Rarely has there been a year when so many things went out of style in such a short time: not just investment bankers, gas-guzzling vehicles, corporate jets, conspicuous consumption and political polarization, but also a whole generation.

After strutting and tub-thumping and preening their way across the high ground of politics, media, culture and finance for 30 years, baby boomers have gone from top dogs to scapegoats in barely a year.

As baby boomers lose their authority and appeal, generational power is shifting one notch down: to cuspers (born roughly 1954-1965), who arrived in style in 2008 with their first truly major figure, Barack Obama (born 1961).

We 'cuspers' missed both the postwar baby boom and 'flower power.' But we do inherit the mess the 'die before I'm 30 crowd' engendered. We've been quiet too long.