Mojo - July 2009

Hatch Walks Out of Health Care Talks

| Wed Jul. 22, 2009 4:08 PM EDT

Brian Beutler reports that Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has left the bipartisan "coalition of the willing" that's trying to negotiate a deal on health care. The real question is why it's considered necessary for a Democratic health care bill to have the vote of someone like Orrin Hatch in the first place. Eleven Senate Republicans in had more liberal voting records than Hatch during the last Congress (according to DW-NOMINATE scores). There are sixty Democrats. Surely no one expects incredibly conservative Republicans to vote for the Democrats' vision of health care reform. After all, the parties are supposed to disagree.

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Dreamliner Down?

| Wed Jul. 22, 2009 3:38 PM EDT

The Seattle Times has the scoop that the Boeing Dreamliner "may not fly this year." The problem is pretty serious: its wings don't attach to its body safely. The New York Times' Seattle correspondent, Timothy Egan, explains (in Slate) why this matters:

[A] big story about the future of American industry, such as it is: a Seattle Times story that the 787 Dreamliner may not fly this year and could have serious troubles down the road. The implication is that it may not fly at all. One caveat: My wife works at the Seattle Times, on the editorial side, so this could sound like a homer. But it's a big deal. Why? With the auto industry in bankruptcy, people oft say: We don't make anything in this country anymore. In fact, we do. We make airlines for the world, at some of the best wages in the world. If the Dreamliner, Boeing's next edition, doesn't fly, it's a huge blow to American industrial might, or what's left of it. And it shows, perhaps, that you can't build a plane by outsourcing all its parts to factories and engineers around the world, as Boeing has tried to do.

Our own Jim Ridgeway has already raised questions about the safety of composite aircraft like the Dreamliner. If Jim's worst fears about composites are realized, Boeing could be in big trouble.

Big Business' Health Care Offensive

| Wed Jul. 22, 2009 3:27 PM EDT

Yesterday, the world's biggest business asociation, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, launched a $2 million ad campaign designed to "protect employer-sponsored health care." The campaign, aimed at fending off any proposal to create a "public option" for insurance coverage, represents the opening salvo in the business community's attack on health care reform. (See one ad below.)

Until now, most of corporate America has remained on the sidelines while liberal groups and unions have jammed the airwaves with ads attacking conservative Democrats opposed to the public plan option. Virtually the only ads opposing the public option so far have come from  Rick Scott, a rich guy who made his money running a hospital chain guilty of epic fraud. Part of the business groups' reticence has come from disagreement on the various reform proposals, but also from an admonition from the White House and Sen. Max Baucus threatening to ban them from the bargaining table should they run attack ads before any bills were even in play. Now that the bills are on the House floor, the advertising floodgates are apparently swinging open.

CREW Sues Secret Service Over Visitor Logs

| Wed Jul. 22, 2009 3:20 PM EDT

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a DC non profit, announced Wednesday that it is suing the Secret Service because the Obama administration is following Bush-era practice and refusing to release White House visitor logs. CREW wants to know which health care executives were visiting the White House, and when. The Most Transparent Administration EverTM doesn't want to tell. So now we get a lawsuit. The White House doesn't really have a leg to stand on here: even if it could make the legal case that it should be able to withhold the visitor logs, there's no way it can make the good government case. The president serves the public; the public should know who has his ear. The only reason the White House is getting away with withholding these records for now is that the media (and Congress) don't seem to care enough to draw attention to it.

House Dems Ready to Work Through Vacation, Too

| Wed Jul. 22, 2009 2:42 PM EDT

Are Dems pulling the vacation card? First Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said the Senate should work on health care through August if it had to. Now House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is singing a similar tune. "I want a bill," she told reporters today. And if the legislation can get to a vote of the full House, she thinks it will pass. "I have no doubt we have the votes on the floor of the House to pass this legislation," she said.

Offering to work through vacation to get health care done could prove to be a potent political tool for Democrats. Republicans want to delay the bill. But they could be made to look bad if they want to go on vacation while the Dems want to stay and work. It could be a win-win for the Democrats: either the threat of working over vacation makes negotiations move faster, or the reality of working through vacation allows them to get the bill done. You might want to bet on the former: no one wants to spend August in DC.

NRA's Backfire

| Wed Jul. 22, 2009 2:14 PM EDT

How did that happen? The NRA was just wiped in a 58-39 Senate vote that defeated an amendment to a military spending bill that would allow folks with concealed weapons permits to carry their hidden guns into another state. The measure would have forced states with tough guns laws to accept gun-toting visitors from states with weaker laws.

It was an unusual loss for the gun lobby. A quite pleased Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said, "I am hopeful that our Congress will now start addressing proactive measures to reduce gun violence in this country by doing things like requiring background checks for all gun sales, particularly at gun shows.  We make it too easy for dangerous people to get dangerous weapons in America.”

And don't forget about reviving the ban on assault weapons--which President Barack Obama supports but doesn't like to talk about.

This one vote may not represent a larger turn-around. But the NRA effort to spread concealed weapons throughout the country has backfired, showing that it possesses less political clout than might be assumed.

 

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Sherrod Brown: We Will Work on Health Care During August If We Must

| Wed Jul. 22, 2009 12:14 PM EDT

I just listened in on an Organizing for America conference call with Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who previewed President Barack Obama's visit to his state tomorrow. Brown said that the health care bill "will" have a public option and that it "has to happen this year." If there was news, it was this: Brown said that if Senators need to stay into the August recess to work on the bill, they will. Why? Because "the cost of inaction" is too great. That cost of inaction is what Brown expects Obama will be talking about at tomorrow's town hall in Ohio.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 22, 2009

Wed Jul. 22, 2009 11:58 AM EDT

A U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft system waits in a hangar at Balad Air Base, Iraq, July 14, 2008, during Operation Iraqi Freedom. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Julianne Showalter/Released)

Hitting Dodd Where it Hurts: Your Pocket

| Wed Jul. 22, 2009 11:30 AM EDT

The Dodd wars continue. As I noted recently, the embattled five-term senator and his surrogates have been fighting to dispel the notion that Dodd is too cozy with K Street and Wall Street, which he oversees as the chairman of the Senate banking committee. In the past, lobbyists and finance industry execs and PACs—along with insurance industry interests—have been prolific donors to Dodd's campaigns, which make him a fairly easy target for attack campaigns like this. And Team Dodd, strenously trying to rehab the senator's image, has fired back with ads like this.

Older Prisoners Denied Social Security

| Wed Jul. 22, 2009 8:00 AM EDT

Not long ago I described the plight of the growing numbers of older prisoners filling up the country’s prisons and jails. They receive poor health care and are subject to any number of cruel and inhuman punishments—people with bad arthritis are required to climb into upper bunks to sleep; it's next to impossible for inmates in wheelchairs to access parts of prisons available to younger people, like baths. Among the worst sights described to me by a medical consultant were sick and often older inmates of an Alabama women’s prison who were forced to get out of bed at 3 a.m. and stand in lines to obtain medicine.

Another major issue faced by older prisoners is that they do not receive Social Security from the fund they paid into for years before being convicted of a crime. Lois Ahrens, who runs the indispenable Real Cost of Prisons Project, alerted me to the situation of David Hinman, a prisoner in Iowa. Now 65 years old, he contributed to Social Security for years while in the free world. He is not eligible for parole for a number of years. He wrote to Ahrens:

Currently the government will not pay people in prison social security. I am speaking about paying social security to those who paid into the fund. Payment is based on what they paid in. Even though I am now 65 and paid into the fund, since I am in prison I am not allowed to collect unless I am released from prison. By not paying inmates the social security to which they are entitled, I believe this is in some manner, theft.