Mojo - June 2009

The Baucus Bait and Switch

| Fri Jun. 19, 2009 3:48 PM EDT

Earlier today I looked at health care co-ops—which the Senate Finance Committee includes in its draft health care bill instead of a public plan—and explained why they're a poor substitute for a true public option. Independent filmmaker Lee Stranahan spotted the post and made this video zeroing in on committee chair Sen. Max Baucus's bait and switch on the public plan. Check it out here.

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Slavery Apology: A Sign of Strength

| Fri Jun. 19, 2009 2:18 PM EDT

The U.S. Senate voted unanimously yesterday to apologize for U.S. slavery and the Jim Crow laws that followed. Upon first reaction, this seemed to me like "too little too late." The resolution, following a similar vote in the House last year, seemed especially insignificant because it did not include reparations for slaves' descendents. But as The Root, an online magazine providing "news from a variety of black perspectives" notes, the apology is "better way, way, way late than never."

It turns out the United States government has a history of apologizing to ethnic minorities for their systematic opression. Below are some of the top examples:

  • In 1988, President Reagan signed an Act apologizing to Japanese Americans interned in work camps during World War II. The Act promised $20,000 to each of the 60,000 detainees still living.
  • In 1997, President Clinton apologized to the African American community for the Tuskegee Experiment, which put African Americans at risk of often dangerous treatments for syphilis. "We cannot be one America when a whole segment of our nation has no trust in America," he said.
  • In 1998, Clinton traveled to Uganda and acknowledged the evils of slavery, but stopped short of offering a formal apology.
  • In 2005, the House voted to apologize to America's native population "for the many instances of violence, maltreatment, and neglect" inflicted against them by the United States.
  • Speaking at the Summit of the Americas in April 2009, President Obama acknowledged that the United States has a troubling past relationship with The Americas." The United States will be willing to acknowledge past errors where those errors have been made," he said.

Considering some of our worst actions, apologies seem futile, but their symbolic function is actually quite important to the affected communities. Still, Obama's foes in the GOP have been quick to criticize him as an apologist. Instead of acting as the party of "no apologies," though, the GOP should let President Obama actively try to restore the United States' image in the world by apologizing for its most flagrant past mistakes.

Bloggingheads.tv: Corn and Pinkerton Agree on Iran, Disagree on "Red Dawn"

| Fri Jun. 19, 2009 11:31 AM EDT

Jim Pinkerton and I were together again for another Bloggingheads.tv diavlog. We mainly agreed on Iran, with Jim sort of concurring with my assessment that John McCain is "bonkers" for pushing Barack Obama to embrace the Iranian opposition. Nothing would hurt the opposition movement's credibility within Iran--where it counts most--than a big wet-kiss from Washington. We then moved on to health care, with Jim suggesting both Ds and Rs are wrong to preach austerity to the American public when it comes to health care dollars. Perhaps, but I challenged his solution: freeing the health care industry from government regs so it can produce the sort of products and services that can be exported abroad a la McDonald's. Finally, our big topic: whether the remaking of the cheesy 1984 anti-commie movie Red Dawn--high school kids in Colorado beat back Russian and Chinese invaders--is of any cultural significance. Jim: yes and hooray! Me: no and yawn.

More on Iran's Internal Power Struggle...

| Fri Jun. 19, 2009 10:44 AM EDT

Following on my previous post about Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri's letter to the Iranian people in support of the protesters now crowding the streets of Tehran, Bloomberg has an interesting piece on the tensions between the "supreme leader" of Iran's clerical establishment, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, and Iran's former president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Though neither man stood for election, the resulting furor over the results has increasingly pitted them against one another as the battle has been joined for the future of Iran. And it is tensions like these, between leaders of the ruling class that fomented the 1979 Revolution, that are now undermining the government's ability to control events. "The divisions within the ruling elite in Iran are making it very hard for the authorities to crack down decisively," Iran expert Mohammed-Reza Djalili told Bloomberg. "The divisions are getting deeper and deeper." 

Meanwhile, at his special Friday sermon in Tehran (see Mother Jones' Kevin Drum and Steve Aquino for more), Khameini declared an "absolute victory" for Ahmadinejad, telling worshippers that Iran's president won by 11 million votes. A decision on a recount is due to be reached on Sunday, reports The National. It's unclear what impact Khameini's statement might have on the opposition, but massive protests are again being planned for this weekend.

More on Khameini's sermon from NPR:

"If the difference was 100,000 or 500,000 or 1 million, well, one may say fraud could have happened. But how can one rig 11 million votes?" he said during Friday prayers at Tehran University, adding that the "legal structures and electoral regulations of this country do not allow vote rigging."

"Some of our enemies in different parts of the world intended to depict this absolute victory, this definitive victory, as a doubtful victory," he said, repeating a claim that foreign media and governments – specifically in the U.S. and Great Britain – were to blame for the week of unrest following the vote.

"It is your victory. They cannot manipulate it," he said.

Khamenei also issued a thinly-veiled threat, saying that leaders "must be determined at the ballot box ... not in the streets."

"If there is any bloodshed, leaders of the protests will be held directly responsible," he said.

After Khamenei's Sermon, Intense Realism in Iran

| Fri Jun. 19, 2009 9:58 AM EDT

In his first public sermon since last Friday's presidential election, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a stark warning to the opposition leaders who are disputing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election: halt the protests or be "responsible for bloodshed and chaos."

Khamenei charged that the public dissent that has swept Tehran this week "questions the principles of election and democracy." Opposition leaders and their supporters reportedly did not attend, and have yet to respond.

In the last few days, supporters of Mir-Hossein Mousavi and other reformers had hoped that the outpouring of discontent across Iran might cause the Guardian Council and other authorities to take a more conciliatory stance. Instead, the ayatollah threatened a violent crackdown, leaving the opposition very little room to maneuver.  Following the sermon, Wayne White, a former State Department intelligence analyst with expertise on Iran, sent out an email to colleagues concluding that the sermon does not bode well for the reformers:

Those who have talked of the regime's need for compromise, Khamenei's fears and hesitation, etc. urgently need to reconsider seriously the overall situation.

Khamenei's sermon today appeared to have closed the book on substantial concessions to the opposition and its ardent supporters on the streets. Although the Guardian Council's review might still be underway technically, Khamenei reiterated flatly that Ahmadinejad was and remains the winner and warned protesters to get off the streets or face and be responsible for the consequences. In fact, Khamenei rendered an accurate evaluation of the relatively insignificant investigation and partial recount supposedly underway: the margin of victory the regime has accorded Ahmadinejad (albeit falsely and shamelessly) was so wide that the collection of individual complaints involved in the recount probably could not erase Ahmadinejad's victory (even if most all of the complaints were ruled valid by a biased Guardian Council led by a notorious hardline cleric who probably was party to the election theft scheme in the first place).

The conservative, anti-reform establishment's patience would appear to have worn out at this point, and now we can expect a ramped-up crackdown on demonstrations and other signs of dissent with most of the media previously able to record such ugly, brutish behavior now largely swept conveniently away and much of the country's prominent reform-oriented leadership behind bars. Many accurate reports on the unfortunate events to come doubtless will get out to the world, but probably only the proverbial tip of the iceberg regarding the totality of the violence that may well be pending. As has been the case already (especially away from the main demonstrations and in other cities beyond Tehran less generally accessable to the media), the crackdown will likely become gradually more severe and more costly in terms of casualties, with the regime hoping that such a paced escalation can drive the protests to ground without one huge confrontation.

A report this morning by email or some such routing from Iran read out on, I believe, CNN came from a hospital (specific location unknown to me) speaking of numerous civilian casualties flowing in—both dead and badly wounded—with authorities arriving to prevent any personal data from being recorded and taking away the arrivals. Such is being carried out by the same ruthless, fanatical elements that dragged an ailing Ebrahim Yazdi out of a hospital intensive care unit on Wednesday. I very much fear that this is the future.

I would like nothing more than to post analysis that would convey more hope and less in the way of dire warnings, but, with considerable sadness, the above is what I truly believe to be yet another emerging bottom line that will increasingly define the remainder of this crisis. Over the long-term, especially with the steady mounting of demographics largely against this now more bare-knuckled, abusive authoritarian order, the days of the regime are numbered, but the robust, admirable challenge mounted in the course of this crisis may well be unable to overcome such violent countermeasures this time around. [Emphasis added.]

In his sermon, the ayatollah made a point of calling Ahmadinejad's re-election an "epic moment that became a historic moment." If White is correct, the aftermath of the election will indeed be "epic" and "historic"—but not for the reasons that the ayatollah believes.

Read Kevin Drum's take here.

McCain Shows Palin No Twitter Love

| Fri Jun. 19, 2009 8:35 AM EDT

Last fall, John McCain hailed Sarah Palin as "experienced" and "talented." He declared, "she knows how to lead," and he predicted that "she's really going to have a remarkable impact on the American people." Nowadays, McCain doesn't follow her on Twitter.

Palin, as of Friday morning, had 34,558 followers of her feed on Twitter. The Arizona senator is not among them.

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Best in Blog: 19 June 2009

| Fri Jun. 19, 2009 6:00 AM EDT

Happy Friday to Kevin's cats and the MoJo frog. Three quick MoJo must reads before you glue yourself to today's Iran coverage:

1) Sotomayor With A Starr

Conservative legal stalwart Kenneth Starr has endorsed Obama's Supreme Court pick. David Corn broke the news, writing: "He noted that he has not written any official endorsement letter for Sotomayor but that no one had asked him to do so—suggesting he would if requested." How will Rush, Newt, and other 4-letter-word Republicans take it? Read more.

2) John Ensign's Interns Pack It In

Now that anti-gay marriage Sen. John Ensign has admitted to his own opposite-marriage problem with The Ladies, will we get an Ensign resign? Note to Ensign interns: MoJo's hiring! Join our scandal-free DC bureau and investigate your ex-boss and his ilk for a living. Read more.

3) Did Lead-Laced Sludge Taint Michelle Obama's Garden?

It's not easy being green. After the National Park Service disclosed that the White House plot was a wee bit toxic, lead-based paint was fingered as the culprit. But what if the real plot problem is the Clinton-era "very clean poo" once used to fertilize the White House South Lawn? Read more.

Plus, keep an ear out later today for David and Kevin's week-in-review podcast.

How the "Public Option" Flew the Co-op

| Fri Jun. 19, 2009 2:17 AM EDT

This week I’ve been writing about the destruction of all the best elements of health care reform in the name of political expediency. Most significant is the bait-and-switch that’s taking place on the “public option”–which was supposed to provide a government-run alternative to private health insurance plans. Through the handiwork of some Senate Democrats seeking bipartisan compromise, the public option is quickly devolving into something that really isn’t public at all.

The latest news on this subject comes via Ezra Klein’s Washington Post blog, which reported last night on the content of a new health care reform bill drafted by the Senate Finance Committee. After an earlier proposal from Ted Kennedy’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee was widely attacked for its liberal ambitions and high price tag, the Finance Committee is floating a cheaper—and, of course, weaker—alternative. According to the highlights provided by Klein, subsidies for the poor have been reduced, Medicaid eligibility has been tightened, and “There’s no public plan mentioned anywhere in the document.”

What is in the Finance Committee’s draft, and slated for further discussion, is a scheme for health care “co-ops” that would pool individuals and businesses together into consumer co-operatives to purchase health insurance and services. (Kaiser Health News has profiled one existing co-op in Seattle.)  The idea was first proposed by North Dakota Democrat Kent Conrad, and supported by Finance Committee chair Max Baucus. Baucus has been talking out of both sides of his mouth on the public plan for some time, and seemed to quickly latch onto the co-op idea as means to having it both ways.

John Ensign's Interns Pack It In

| Thu Jun. 18, 2009 6:54 PM EDT

No word on when or whether we'll get an Ensign resign, but yesterday the hypocritical Senator left his post as the chair of the Republican Policy Committee, so are they packing up boxes at the HQ? A couple of hours ago, this tidbit on Roll Call:

In an e-mail sent to intern coordinators in Senate offices on Thursday afternoon, Ensign’s coordinator Jessica Walton said she is looking to place an unspecified number of the Nevada Republican’s interns in other offices. “This is Jessica from Ensign’s office. I am trying to find out if anyone has any openings for interns. I have some really great interns that want to relocate to another office. If you have anything or know of someone who does please let me know,” Walton wrote in the e-mail.

Clearing out the committee worker bees? Calling it quits altogether? Interns begging for another name for the resume? Whatever, hey interns: We're hiring! Join our scandal-free DC bureau and investigate Senators for a living; we promise not to let you down.

Ayatollah Rejects Election Results "No Wise Person In Their Right Mind Can Believe"

| Thu Jun. 18, 2009 5:12 PM EDT

Among the remarkable things to come out of the Iranian presidential election, aside from the street demonstrations, is the emerging picture of the clerical regime's complex internal divisions. For years, Iran has been depicted in the Western press as a monolithic regime, but the range of opinions and surprising alliances born of last Friday's disputed election reveal a much more vibrant and nuanced society. Take this letter to the people of Iran from Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri. A key figure in the 1979 Revolution, he's become a strong voice in support of the protesters, deriding election results which he alleges were "altered considerably." 

Excerpts from his letter, as translated by the Tehran Bureau:

Over the last several days I have been witnessing the glowing presence and the lively and sacrificial efforts of my dear and dignified sisters and brothers, old and young, in the campaign for the 10th presidential elections. Our youth also demonstrated their presence in the political scene with hope and good spirit, in order to achieve their rightful demands. They waited patiently night and day. This was an excellent occasion for the government’s officials to take advantage of and establish religious, emotional and nationalistic bonds with our youth and the rest of our people.

Unfortunately, however, this opportunity was wasted in the worst possible way. Such election results were declared that no wise person in their right mind can believe; results based on credible evidence and witnesses has been altered extensively, and after strong protests by the people against such acts — the same people who have carried the heavy weight and burden of the Revolution during eight years of war and resisted the tanks of the imperial government [of the Shah] and those of the enemy [Iraq] — they attacked the children of the same people and nation right in front of the domestic and foreign reporters, and used astonishing violence against defenseless men and women and the dear [university] students, injuring and arresting them. And, now, they are trying to purge activists, intellectuals, and political opponents by arresting a large number of them, some of whom have even held high positions in the government of the Islamic Republic.