Mojo - April 2009

Is Michelle Obama Taking Her Own Press Too Seriously?

| Thu Apr. 23, 2009 2:20 PM PDT

Ashamed as I am to admit it, I actually clicked on a piece about the First Puppy. Seems he's all hyper and stuff, chewing tootsies and waking folks up in the middle of the night. But here's the line that activated my pomposity meter: "The president and I came out and we thought somebody was out there."

"The President"? Not Barack or Barry or my husband? The President?

Michelle: Back away from the Kool-Aid. I'll cover you.

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Putting Torture Memos to Music

| Thu Apr. 23, 2009 1:54 PM PDT

I know we're not supposed to be advocates around here, but I can't help it. I think I love Jonathan Mann. He's like our own hometown Flight of the Conchords. The SF Bay Area musician and self-videographer set out in January to compose a song and music video a day, something a once-a-quarter songwriter like yours truly can barely comprehend. And Mann has delivered, too, producing 113 ditties so far this year about culture and current events (posted at his website, RockCookieBottom.com) thus catching the attention of our good friend Rachel Maddow, who invited him on her show last Friday to perform a song that calls on Paul Krugman to step up and help America with its fiscal policy and I think this is a run-on sentence isn't it? Mann told Maddow he was awaiting the release of the torture memos so that he could set 'em to music. And here's what he came up with: Mann channeling John Yoo on waterboarding. If it's a hit, Yoo, being a lawyer, will probably demand a cut of the royalties. Indeed, he may well need it for his legal defense fund.

Drug Store Cowboys

| Thu Apr. 23, 2009 11:32 AM PDT

News reports are full of Obama’s determination to advance health care reform, regardless of Republican resistance. But developments taking place behind the public debate tell quite another story, and show the usual suspects--the drug companies and the insurance industry--hard at work to advance their own interests.

Consider, for example, last week’s AARP study showing that Big Pharma has been increasing the prices of the brand name drugs most often prescribed to older Americans at well beyond the rate of inflation. According to an AP account of the report, AARP ”said that prices manufacturers charged for the most widely used brand name drugs rose 8.7 percent in 2008, higher than in years past. The general inflation rate in 2008 was 3.8 percent.”

Perhaps the drug companies are acting out of sheer greed in a deep recession. Perhaps they know that patents are running out, and want to make as much as possible before the plug gets pulled. Or perhaps the drugsters sense impending change and want to rake in the cash before Congress pulls the plug.

Feinstein Calls For Guns Aboard US Merchant Ships, But Who Will Wield Them?

| Thu Apr. 23, 2009 9:40 AM PDT

Last week, after three Somali pirates holding the American captain of the Maersk Alabama were killed by US Navy SEAL snipers, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California sent a letter to President Obama. In it she noted the danger to US-flagged commercial ships transiting the Gulf of Aden and urged Obama to "place armed security teams on board these vessels to protect the ship and crew from pirate attacks." In a press release Monday, her office quoted Feinstein as saying, "I have listened to a lot of rhetoric and reasons for not doing this and how there must be a political solution to the ongoing crisis within Somalia. But in the meantime, the number of hijackings continues to go up... This is unacceptable."

Rhetoric indeed. I called Feinstein's office several days ago for a clarification: is she suggesting that US-flagged ships carry gun-toting private security contractors? Today came the answer. According to an aide, Feinstein "is still looking at it... still learning about the issue and what our options are." Translation: she has no idea. It's not a response that indicates a great deal of consideration for the pros and cons of arming American merchant ships. More likely, Feinstein was just playing the Washington game, taking advantage of low-hanging political fruit. After all, who doesn't want to protect American crews?

Huckabee Polls Within 7 Points of Obama??

| Thu Apr. 23, 2009 9:35 AM PDT

I know, I know, I shouldn't even be posting about this. It's worthless. It's premature. It's straight-up elections porn. But I can't help it -- look at Mike Huckabee!

Dick Cheney's Big Mouth

| Thu Apr. 23, 2009 7:07 AM PDT

Lately I've been trying to figure out why Dick Cheney can't keep his mouth shut about President Obama's torture-related moves since his inauguration. And then Greg Sargent nudged me toward a conclusion:

Cheney and company are working to shift the debate onto the narrow question of whether torture “works,” and as Ben Smith notes, this is probably not an argument Obama wants to have right now.

Nonetheless, Cheney’s high-profile entry into the debate is a net win for Obama and Dems. It makes this whole fight is about Bush’s — or, worse, Cheney’s — legacy, at a time when Republicans want it to be about the current Commander in Chief and whether he has what it takes to keep us safe.

So Cheney wants to talk about whether torture worked. This makes sense for him because it lets him talk about how be believes torture did work, and it doesn't matter if it did or didn't.

Why? Because it lets him act as though he was just looking out for the best interest of the country. This sounds much better than Cheney telling Hannity, "Well, Sean, I had no problem with the CIA torturing prisoners because I'm a vindictive asshole with little regard for the rule of law."

But Cheney must know he can't just say, "We were trying to keep America safe." He can't win that argument, because we have little evidence that waterboarding Abu Zubaida 83 times in a month, for example, protected us from further attack. He has to take the sophism a step further, calling for Obama to release more memos that allegedly prove torture did work.

This brings me back to Sargent's post. Cheney saying something like this is, indeed, a net loss for the Republicans. (How many Republican talking heads are more odious right now than Dick Cheney?) But for Cheney it's a net win. Why? Because it gives his original justification for torture two shoddy legs on which to stand. It doesn't matter if these new memos actually exist. Assuming they're just a conjured slice of Cheney's imagination, Cheney can just keep claiming Obama and Hillary Clinton are keeping them secret because they can't admit he's right.

Obviously, it's a completely cynical way of thinking. It's also a bit fantastical; Cheney might as well have demanded Obama release evidence proving Saddam Hussein was in Al-Qaeda. But why stop there? Cheney's selling himself short. Remember, wishes are free. In his whimsical world, he can wish for anything he wants. And as long as Cheney's wishing for a new reality, he might as well wish that he was right about everything and throw in a wish for a pony, too. That's what I'm wishing he'd do publicly. Then, at least, he'd be providing a sideshow rather than a talking point.

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After 100 Days of Obama, Optimism Returning

| Thu Apr. 23, 2009 7:02 AM PDT

A new AP poll shows that more Americans believe the country is moving in the right direction (48 percent) than those who think it is moving in the wrong direction (44 percent). According to the AP, this marks the first time since Saddam Hussein's capture in January 2004 that "right direction" has out-polled "wrong direction." NB: The "right direction" number was just 17 percent in the fall of 2008.

The AP makes it clear that Americans are still deeply worried about the economy and unemployment; for the first time in a long time, though, many of them have faith in our leaders' ability to fix the country's most pressing problems. One might even say it is morning in America.

Insurance Industry Plants Astroturf for Medicare Advantage Plans

| Wed Apr. 22, 2009 4:02 PM PDT

With the subsidies to Medicare Advantage plans--private insurance provided at public expense--under attack by the Obama administration, the insurance industry is rolling out the astroturf. Their  PR campaign posits a phony "grassroots movement" by seniors who want to protect their beloved Advantage plans from a greedy federal government, which has had the gall to ask insurance companies to provide decent coverage at a reasonable cost.  

I recently wrote about the fake "community forums" for oldsters, complete with free food and door prizes, that are actually cheerleading and sales sessions for Advantage plans. The latest scam is even creepier--and it's being run by a former operative in John Kerry's presidential campaign.  

A Massachusetts newspaper, the Eagle-Tribune, recently discovered  that it was receiving phony letters to the editor supporting Medicare Advantage, using the names of real elderly people as signatories. "Some of those seniors are unaware that they have sent any such letters to newspapers. Some of them hadn’t even heard of Medicare Advantage,” writes Ken Anderson, a reporter for the paper.

Is Bullying a Symptom of a Crisis of Masculinity?

| Wed Apr. 22, 2009 10:30 AM PDT

These will break your heart.

From the AJC: A crowd of about 60 gathered Tuesday night at the DeKalb home of Jaheem Herrera to remember the fifth-grader who committed suicide last week. The 11-year-old boy hanged himself at his home after—according to his family—relentless bullying at Dunaire Elementary School....Keene said the family knew the boy was a target of bullies, but until his death they didn’t understand the scope."

Poor little Jaheem, on the heels of poor little Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover:

On April 6, Sirdeaner Walker came home, walked up the stairs to the second floor of her home, and saw her son suspended from a support beam in the stairwell, swaying slightly in the air, an extension cord wrapped around his neck, according to police. He apologized in a suicide note, told his mother that he loved her, and left his video games to his brother. Walker said her son had been the victim of bullying since the beginning of the school year, and that she had been calling the school since September, complaining that her son was mercilessly teased. He played football, baseball, and was a boy scout, but a group of classmates called him gay and teased him about the way he dressed. They ridiculed him for going to church with his mother and for volunteering locally.

If He's Not a Torturer, Why Is He Wearing a Mask?

| Wed Apr. 22, 2009 10:01 AM PDT

HuffPo has a Playboy writer voluntarily trying to endure 15 seconds of waterboarding. He makes maybe 5 or 6. In the prelim, he asks the heavily masked 'technician' (who appears to be military but displays no rank and insignia. For you civilians: That's HUGE) if waterboarding is torture. Nope, it's "invoking an existing fear." Which fear? "Drownding" (sic). Torture would be "invoking blood, physical pain." OK, so how how does waterboarding work? "You're going to want to breathe, but you won't be able to breathe." When the guinea pig tries to summon his yoga training, his torturer says confidently, "That won't help you here."

Nah. It's not torture.

So what's up with hiding his face?