Mojo - August 2009

Man's Video Plea for Public Option

| Fri Aug. 28, 2009 3:05 PM EDT

Dittoheads and Fox News watchers are understandably wary of any public healthcare option, given the misinformation shoved down their throats on a daily basis. (President Obama tries to dispel some of the myths here.) Part of people's fear, as explained by The New Yorker's James Surowiecki in the latest issue, can be explained by our innate tendency to assign an irrationally high value to something already in our possession—like our often crappy and expensive health insurance plans. But people really need to reflect on this stuff and not let fear and misinformation win out. Consider: What if you have a health problem that's covered through your employer, but you want to switch jobs? Will your new employer's insurance plan accept you? What if you're a freelance or contract worker? Or part-time? Or full-time without bennies? Or you got laid off? That's a lot of what-ifs, especially in the current economy. The bottom line, for anyone with a preexisting condition who isn't insured, is that you're pretty well screwed. Today, Boingboing.net, where you'll always learn something interesting, featured the personal Youtube video below. I think this guy sums up the whole issue pretty articulately—even if the majority of those (nearly) 50 million uninsured don't yet have a preexisting condition. Well, at least that they know of.

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History of Modern Presidential Vacations

| Fri Aug. 28, 2009 2:06 PM EDT

Like everything presidential, the first family's choice for their August vacation is highly politicized. You can typically expect to see the President being as American as humanly possible while pretending to relax. This means playing golf and watching baseball, all while chomping hot dogs and hamburgers wrapped in red white and blue packaging.

"There's been a public significance to presidential vacations going back all the way to Lincoln, who went to the Soldier's Home in Washington during the Civil War," Princeton University history professor Sean Wilentz told the Washington Post. "You have to show the country that you are getting respite from the job, but also that you are still ever at the ready. It's a delicate balance."

And while the Commander in Chief works on his swing in the Vineyard, a more overt political game unfolds each year back in Washington. This year, that has centered on the battle over health care reform and the apparent wrath of teabaggers across the country. But as President Obama's Martha's Vineyard vacation comes to a close, I took a look at what major events have occurred during August vacations in years past. One aspect jumps off the page: Presidents Clinton and Bush II were careful stay out of policy debates. Reagan and Bush I, on the other hand, regularly engaged from their vacation homes.

Obama Talked Big on Katrina, Did Little

| Fri Aug. 28, 2009 1:31 PM EDT

During the campaign Obama pledged to make the Gulf Coast recovery a paramount goal.
In February, 2008, he declared, "The broken promises did not start when a storm hit, and they did not end there … I promise you that when I’m in the White House I will commit myself every day to keeping up Washington’s end of this trust. This will be a priority of my presidency."

But a new study [PDF] by the Institute of Southern Studies reports that 50 community leaders from areas affected by the hurricane ranked Obama only slightly better than Bush in reconstruction. In a range of different categories, Obama came out with a D+ to Bush’s D.

According to the report, "A diverse group of more than 50 community leaders were asked in August 2009 to grade the Obama administration’s efforts for Gulf Coast recovery in eight key areas. The respondents came from Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, and represented a wide range of constituencies, including faith, community and environmental organizations."

The demographics assembled by the Institute in themselves reflect how little has been done to restore life along the coast:

  • Estimated number of U.S. residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina: 1 million
  • Rank of Katrina’s among all diasporas in U.S. history: 1
  • Estimated number of people displaced by Katrina still living in Houston today: 100,000
  • Percent of New Orleans’ pre-Katrina addresses that are actively receiving mail today: 76.4
  • Percent receiving mail in the largely African-American and working-class Lower 9th Ward: Less than 49
  • Percent of households with children in New Orleans before Katrina: 30
  • Percent shortly after the storm: 18
  • Percent two years later: 20
  • Percent of New Orleans’ pre-Katrina population that was African-American: 67
  • Percent three years later: 61
  • Number of abandoned residential addresses in New Orleans today: 65,888
  • Proportion of all residential addresses in the city that number represents: 1/3
  • Rank of New Orleans among all U.S. cities for the rate of abandoned residences: 1
  • Number of 2010 federal census questionnaires slated to be hand-delivered to homes in south Louisiana in an effort to ensure an accurate count: 300,000
  • Average amount of federal funds states receive over a decade for each person counted in the census: $12,000

No Health Care For Registered Republicans?

| Fri Aug. 28, 2009 11:32 AM EDT

The GOP seems to have no end of nutty criticism of the Democrats’ health care plans. First they had the entirely fictional “death panels.” Now, they're claiming that a reformed health care system might discriminate against Republicans. Last week, the ever-entertaining Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, mailed out a push-poll disguised as a health care "survey." Among the questions on the survey was this one:

"It has been suggested that the government could use voter registration to determine a person's political affiliation, prompting fears that GOP voters might be discriminated against for medical treatment in a Democrat-imposed health care rationing system. Does this possibility concern you?"

While it's hard to imagine that Steele will get much traction with this sort of thing, in this climate, it seems Republicans are banking on the public’s willingness to believe just about any conspiracy theory they put out there to kill off health care reform. Again.

Is Using A Minotaur Torture?

| Fri Aug. 28, 2009 7:09 AM EDT

The Onion is always funny. But this is genius:

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 28, 2009

Fri Aug. 28, 2009 7:02 AM EDT

Sgt. Daniel Smith, an amphibious assault vehicle crewman, maintains security during a census patrol in Helmand province, Afghanistan, Aug. 18. Delta Company, 2nd Amphibious Assault Battalion and civil affairs group Marines, deployed with 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, are talking with the local populace in order to understand their conditions and concerns and identify possible reconstruction and development projects. US Marine corps photo by Sgt. Pete Thibodeau.

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Need To Read: August 28, 2009

Fri Aug. 28, 2009 6:59 AM EDT

White House photo.White House photo.Today's five must-reads know the dream never dies:

Like most bloggers, I also use twitter. I mostly use it to send out links to interesting web content like the stuff above. You can follow me, of course. David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, is also on twitter. So are my colleagues Daniel Schulman and Rachel Morris and our editors-in-chief, Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein. Follow them, too! (The magazine's main account is @motherjones.)

Fiore Cartoon: Patriot or Tyrant?

Thu Aug. 27, 2009 3:48 PM EDT

In his latest cartoon, satirist Mark Fiore takes on two types of Americans: Those who want guns, and those who want health care reform. Which is the most patriotic? Watch below to find out: 

NY Says No to Shackled Prison Births: 44 States To Go

| Thu Aug. 27, 2009 3:26 PM EDT

Are America’s law-and-order pols finally getting some humanity? Well, at least this week, at least in New York state, where Gov. David Paterson has signed a bill banning the shackling of incarcerated pregnant women during labor and recovery. Ever give birth? I haven’t, of course, but my wife can tell you it pretty much sucks. Now try it while cuffed to a hospital bed. At the time, our 2008 prison package, entitled Slammed: The Coming Prison Meltdown, noted that 48 states allowed shackling, which the College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist noted puts “the health and lives of women and unborn children at risk.”

This week, the American Civil Liberties Union told the Associated Press that, with New York, six states—including Texas, Illinois, California, Vermont, and New Mexico—will have prohibited the practice; two others, Massachusetts and Tennessee are considering bans. (The New York law still allows women to be shackled if their behavior is deemed a threat to hospital or prison guards, which is reasonable enough, although in the AP article, an ACLU laywer cited continuing complaints of shackling even in states where it is limited.)

In any case, it's a small, humane step for a very, very troubled American institution.

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Pat Leahy, Lion of the Senate?

| Thu Aug. 27, 2009 12:09 PM EDT

In the wake of Ted Kennedy's death, there's been a lot of speculation about who could fill his shoes in the senate. The answer, of course, is no one: Kennedy was unique—his credibility as a liberal combined with his seniority, his famous name, and his ability to get things done ensured that. Matt Yglesias made a good point about Kennedy's seniority yesterday:

[I]t’s worth being clear about the fact that he had such an impressive career in part precisely because he initially got a job he wasn’t qualified for. The Senate operates largely on the basis of seniority. A guy who can enter his fifth term and only be 54 years old is a guy who’s going to be able to wield some major influence for a long time.

Yglesias goes on to talk about how Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is as reliably liberal as they come, will probably never wield major influence in the senate because he was in his 60s when he was first elected. But Sanders isn't the person to look at here: his Vermont colleague, Pat Leahy, is. Leahy was in his mid-thirties when he was first elected. Leahy, who is 69, is a year and a half older than Sanders, but Sanders is 75th in Senate seniority. Leahy is third. When Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) retire (and they're both in their eighties, so that could be very soon), Leahy will be the most senior senator. He'll probably be in his early-to-mid seventies at that time. Kennedy got a lot of good things (voting against the Iraq war and trying comprehensive immigration reform) done in his seventies. Will Leahy be as effective?