Mojo - May 2009

WhiteHouse.gov's Newest Facelift

| Fri May 1, 2009 9:15 PM EDT

Ok, maybe it's more of a brow lift.

From ProPublica today:

Our ever-watchful ChangeTracker tool spied a flurry of activity at whitehouse.gov yesterday—the administration updated more than two dozen web pages. Changes included some sweeping edits and complete rewrites to "The Agenda" area of the site, now renamed as "Issues."

I guess "Issues" sounds better. But check this out:

The Iraq page was deleted and replaced with a single paragraph on the foreign policy page.
Like many issues pages the civil rights page was dramatically cut. 756 words devoted to supporting the LGBT community have been replaced with two sentences.

Read more on ProPublica about that.

And if you haven't played with this yet, check out ProPublica's ChangeTracker. It's a nifty web tool that, you guessed it, tracks changes—to whitehouse.gov and a few other gov sites. Even cooler: They tell you how to create your own change tracker for any site you like.

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Video: David Corn Talks Souter on Hardball

| Fri May 1, 2009 8:32 PM EDT

Just how politicized will the choice of the next Supreme Court Justice get? Watch David Corn and Voto Latino's Maria Teresa Petersen debate that and other flashpoint issues on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews tonight. Video below.

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

Goodbye, MoJo-land!

| Fri May 1, 2009 4:09 PM EDT

Folks, sad news. Today marks my last day at Mother Jones. I'll be leaving the magazine after four happy years to attend the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley. It has been an absolute privilege to write for you in this space for the last two and a half years. Even now, I'm still a bit shocked that I was paid to express my thoughts and opinions on the day's headlines, something I had been doing loudly and proudly without pay for years. It's been a blast.

The editors here at the magazine have my eternal gratitude for the opportunities they bestowed upon me. They work extremely hard to put together a serious, compelling, and thought-provoking product (which, by the way, they sell at a very affordable price), and still made time to advise and nurture me. I hope you'll find space in your increasingly cluttered media tableau for a print subscription to the magazine. I'll have one. Maybe we can meet up in the comments section online.

I could wax on for a long time, but instead, I'll do this. If anyone out there in the wide world of MoJo is interested in my unvarnished thoughts on blogs, the media, and their ability to cover policy and politics, just ask for them in the comments section of this post over the next couple days. If we get a good conversation going, you can expect a fair amount of self-reflection and even some self-criticism from me.

Thanks for indulging me, everyone. Take care.

Chrysler, the UAW, and a Small Car Named Desire

| Fri May 1, 2009 1:26 PM EDT

What’s news about Chrysler is not that the big auto maker was pushed into bankruptcy or that a small number of greedy mutual and hedge fund operators tried to screw the deal–but that the United Auto Workers Union  has emerged with a 55 percent stake in the new company. Even amidst all the concessions and temporary plant closures, this is a victory of sorts for labor and for this union, which once stood at the forefront of progressive politics in the United States. 

The deal, of course, also has serious downsides for the UAW, which took deep cuts in pay and benefits, especially for new workers, and gained its 55 percent stake by accepting Chrysler equity for half the $10.6 billion obligation that the automaker owes a retiree health-care trust. Harley Shaiken, a labor expert at UC Berkeley, cautioned that if Chrysler fails in the long run, the equity could turn out to be worthless. Shaiken told Bloomberg News today: “The union will have a tough fight in the future to make sure competitiveness results in high-wage jobs rather than coming at their expense.”

Yet the deal was approved by an overwhelming majority of union members. And Obama’s announcement of an agreement that effectively includes union ownership is not just a strike at Wall Street; it could reach far beyond, to hit at the heart of the ruinous policies of our celebrated corporate industrial complex. 

Supreme Court Bingo: Who Should Replace Souter?

| Fri May 1, 2009 12:45 PM EDT

Here's Salon's list of (the weirdo) Souter replacements.

Here's Slate's.

Here's Politico's.

Here are some hints from the NYT.

Yeah, lots of liberal overlap, but we'll all just have to stayed tuned. Obama is nothing if not inscrutable.

Been gleefully looking for Limbaugh-ian ones. Will post when their apoplexy lifts.

Tee hee.

Update: Billions Have Gone to TX in Federal Disaster Aid During Perry's Tenure

| Fri May 1, 2009 10:13 AM EDT

Yesterday I mentioned that Texas Governor Rick Perry's secessionist rhetoric flies in the face of Texas' history of receiving gobs of federal money: the state has received federal disaster assistance more frequently than any other in the Union.

Today, I have some raw numbers, courtesy of FEMA's public affairs office in Denton, Texas. During Perry's tenure -- 2001 to the present -- FEMA alone has sent $3.45 billion to Texas. $3,449,142,397 to be exact. That figure does not include funding from any other federal agencies (of which there is plenty), nor does it include funding for Hurricane Ike recovery, which is still ongoing.

To get a sense of how much federal money goes to Texas every time a disaster strikes, consider the numbers in this FEMA press release from earlier this month: since Ike made landfall in September 2008, Texas has received over $2 billion in disaster relief funding from various federal agencies. That includes just $96 million from FEMA (to pay hotel bills for displaced citizens). The rest comes from the Small Business Administration and other agencies.

I want to be clear. I'm not saying Texas and its hurricane-weary citizens don't deserve this money. They do. I'm glad the federal government is able to step in and help states recover from natural disasters when local authorities are overwhelmed. But it's galling that Governor Perry, who reportedly has an eye on a presidential run, ginned up the GOP base by talking of splitting from the "oppressive" Obama administration (his words) when he knows full well that the federal government has bailed out his state repeatedly, and probably will do so again. Where does Perry think all this money would come from if Texas was its own state? He's probably have to raise taxes to the point where Texas would want to secede from itself.

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Equal Opportunity Flu in an Ageist World

| Fri May 1, 2009 2:48 AM EDT

One of the unusual things about the current swine flu virus, compared with the strains that cause our yearly seasonal flu outbreaks, is that it doesn’t seem to discriminate on the basis of age. That may change as the pandemic develops, but it may not: The massive 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic is also known for killing across all age groups.

There is, nonetheless, an age angle to this story, and it has to do with those garden-variety annual influenza outbreaks, and how the medical, political, and media establishments have handled them. The great majority of deaths caused each and every year by these “ordinary” flu viruses--some 36,000 on average in the United States alone, according to the CDC--are of people over 65 years old.  Some years it’s more, and some years it’s fewer: During the 1990s, the number of deaths ranged from 17,000 to 54,000. But every year, tens of thousands of old folk succumb, with little fanfare and minimal media attention, to flu-related deaths.

One major public health initiative has been launched in response to these deaths, and that is to promote the flu vaccine for older Americans. The percentage of elders who are vaccinated annually has grown about four-fold in the last 30 years. But there’s just one problem with this approach: The vaccine apparently doesn’t work too well for us old folks, if at all.

For decades, the conventional wisdom was that the vaccine cut flu-related deaths in the elderly by anywhere from 25 to 75 percent. But as the New York Times reported last fall, ”a growing number of immunologists and epidemiologists say the vaccine probably does not work very well for people over 70, the group that accounts for three-fourths of all flu deaths.”A study published last year in Britain’s most respected medical journal, the Lancet, found no correlation at all between flu vaccination and a reduced risk of illness and death.