Mojo - August 2009

Corn on Hardball: Is Barack Losing the Left?

Mon Aug. 31, 2009 6:28 PM EDT

David Corn and Eugene Robinson joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball this evening to discuss Obama's relationship with the left and what's up next for health care reform.

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

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No Recruit Left Behind

| Mon Aug. 31, 2009 4:01 PM EDT

Young people who choose to serve in the armed services deserve our thanks. But all too often the choice to enlist isn't rooted in patriotism. Rather, it's a decision that's made when a teenager has few other options. And it doesn't help that military recruiters have infiltrated public schools in order to convince kids as young as 15 to join up instead of go to college.

David Goodman examines the intersection between military recruiting and public education in his piece, "A Few Good Kids?". Goodman shows that the military doesn't just rely upon persuasive recruiters. It's got other tricks up its sleeve, like luring potential recruits to undercover Army websites and using secretly obtained personal information to target students. And it's all completely sanctioned by No Child Left Behind.

Here's an excerpt:

The military has long struggled to find more effective ways to reach potential enlistees; for every new GI it signed up last year, the Army spent $24,500 on recruitment. (In contrast, four-year colleges spend an average of $2,000 per incoming student.) Recruiters hit pay dirt in 2002, when then-Rep. (now Sen.) David Vitter (R-La.) slipped a provision into the No Child Left Behind Act that requires high schools to give recruiters the names and contact details of all juniors and seniors. Schools that fail to comply risk losing their NCLB funding.

Read the whole thing here.

Physicians' Group Seeks Criminal Investigation of Torture Docs

| Mon Aug. 31, 2009 2:52 PM EDT

Doctors, nurses, psychologists, and other health care professionals complicit in the US torture program should be subject to an independent investigation, and those found to have violated professional ethics or the law should be prosecuted and/or lose their license and professional society memberships. That sentiment, from the nonprofit Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), may well mark the first time a doctors' group has demanded true accountability of its professional peers.

Back in 1986, PHR was founded on the idea that health care professionals—given "their specialized skills, ethical commitments, and credible voices, are uniquely positioned to investigate the health consequences of human rights violations and work to stop them." Little did the founders realize they would one day be looking into the activities of their own government and colleagues.

Cheney: Screw the Law

| Mon Aug. 31, 2009 2:20 PM EDT

Twice, Dick Cheney, as vice president of the United States, took an oath to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." Apparently, he did not take those words seriously, for on Sunday, he said that it was fine by him if government officials broke the law.

Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Cheney made news--once again--by attacking the Obama administration. He denounced Attorney General Eric Holder's decision to appoint a special prosecutor to examine possible CIA abuses of terrorism suspects. He decried Obama and the Democrats as soft on national security. He suggested that he had wanted to undertake military action against Iran before the Bush-Cheney administration ended, but that his "colleagues"--including President Bush--were not as gung-ho. All of this generated the predictable headlines and cable chatter.

But one short exchange between the former veep and host Chris Wallace did not receive the attention it merited. After Cheney defended the use of enhanced interrogation techniques (aka torture), Wallace asked him about the alleged abuses mentioned in a CIA report recently released. Cheney insisted, "It was good policy." The host followed up:

Wallace: So even these cases where [CIA interrogators] went beyond the specific legal authorization, you're OK with it?

Cheney: I am.

Interrogators can break the particular rules and laws that govern their actions, and Cheney has no problem with that. (Wallace did not press him further on the matter.) This is a rather Jack Bauer-ish approach to the old Barry Goldwater line, "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice." Yet Cheney's taking it further: breaking the law to break terrorists is no problem.

Over the past several years, there has been a debate over how far the United States should go to defend itself against non-state actors who have expressed a desire to attack America with nuclear weapons. Decision-makers, policy wonks, and citizens have tried to figure out where to draw the appropriate lines. But Cheney is essentially saying, "To hell with that--even if there are lines, they don't matter."

Which means that for almost eight years, the United States had a vice president who did not believe in the rule of law. What a win for the terrorists.

You can follow David Corn's posts and media appearances via Twitter.

The Great Exception

| Mon Aug. 31, 2009 1:07 PM EDT

On this one-way planet of ours, it’s hard sometimes to imagine things any other way, but for a moment let’s try. Imagine, for instance, that in recent years the director of Iranian intelligence oversaw a program of “extraordinary rendition” aimed at those who were believed to be prepared to commit acts of terror against that country’s fundamentalist regime. Practically speaking, what this often meant was kidnapping suspects -- some quite innocent of such aims -- off the streets of Middle Eastern or South Asian cities and transporting them secretly to Iran, to “black sites” set up abroad, or to allied regimes known for their torture practices.

Imagine that these suspects, once in the hands of his agents -- the Geneva Conventions having been declared not applicable to them -- were then tortured, abused, and sometimes murdered. Imagine that, for this, the director, in a public ceremony with great hoopla, was awarded the Ayatollah Khomeini Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the land, and on retiring honorably wrote a bestselling memoir about his years in office. Imagine as well that, to help Iranian interrogators, lawyers close to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had rewritten the law so that acts which the world had long agreed to be torture were now redefined as not so, and on that basis, they were instructed to do such things as waterboarding suspects, even as the fundamentalist regime regularly announced that, on the basis of its own definitions, it did not condone torture.

Kicking the Fiji Habit? MoJo Bottle Giveaway

| Mon Aug. 31, 2009 12:48 PM EDT

It's summer (even here in San Francisco), and to celebrate, we're giving out some seriously nice stainless steel water bottles. These bottles are a great antidote to some of the problems we raised in our recent (and wildly popular) article on bottled water. Our SF neighbors at Earthlust created a special design for us (they have some other pretty sweet looks too). These are, of course, safe, reusable, and environmentally friendly. And did we mention they look great? To get one, go here. If you're one of the first 200 to respond, you'll get a free bottle.

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Is Kevin Drum Too Optimistic about Health Care?

| Mon Aug. 31, 2009 9:07 AM EDT

Has Kevin Drum been misled by Fox News?

He writes that the takeaway of this summer's angry town hall meetings--where rightwingers screamed at members of Congress about President Obama's plan to overhaul the health care system--is that actually not that many wingnuts showed up to voice outrage and shake their fists. And he presents what he calls "the optimistic view":

The Fox/FreedomWorks crowd has created some great political theater, but underneath it all not a lot has changed.  If Democrats can just take a deep breath after the trauma of being yelled at all summer, they'll realize that the loons at their townhalls represented about one percent of their constituency; that the public still wants reform and will reward success; that the plans currently on the table are already pretty modest affairs; and then they'll stick together as a caucus and vote for them.  And that will be that.

But has the Foxification of the health care debate drawn too much attention to the wrong players? Kevin is correct that the wing nuts don't matter much. But they are not the real problem. The issue for Obama and for congressional Democrats from certain districts and states is that many (if not most) independents are skeptical of comprehensive health reform--and can be swayed by the predictable GOP talking points: it's too costly and too risky. And as I wrote a few weeks ago, assorted polls

show that support for Obama on health care "is too generalized" and that "too many Americans . . . see health reform benefiting others but not them." Perhaps more important, large majorities of voters tell pollsters that they are generally satisfied with their health insurance coverage and consider their own insurance affordable. (One poll [Democratic pollster John] Marttila conducted found that 88 percent had insurance coverage and 85 percent were satisfied with it.)

Cable media, newspapers, partisan websites, and blogs have had a good time covering the loons of the town halls, and that has made it seem that they are the story. But the true fight at hand is not for the anger-filled hearts and rage-clouded minds of the pitchfork set. It's for the support of the indies. Recent polling shows that Obama still needs to win over more of them; that's the challenge he faces as he leaves behind lovely Martha's Vineyard and returns to the moshpit of Washington.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 31, 2009

Mon Aug. 31, 2009 6:01 AM EDT

Soldiers from 17th Fires Brigade and 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, arrive by air and convoy to assist the Iraqi Army distribute humanitarian aid to the citizens of Faddaqhryah and Bahar in the Basra Province of Iraq, Aug. 18. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Maurice A. Galloway, 17th Fires Brigade, Public Affairs Specialist

Need To Read: August 31, 2009

Mon Aug. 31, 2009 6:00 AM EDT

Lots of must-reads today:

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.)

Cost of the NYT Magazine NOLA Story Broken Down

| Fri Aug. 28, 2009 5:20 PM EDT

In the issue that hits doorsteps this Sunday, the New York Times Magazine has published a two-year investigation by Dr. Sheri Fink, a staff reporter with the nonprofit investigative journalism shop ProPublica, into the claims that Dr. Anna Pou and other medical personnel at New Orleans’ Memorial Hospital, euthanized patients after the hospital was flooded, supplies ran out, and the staff struggled to treat scores of patients who were not evacuated.

The piece is great, and will be (damn them) hard to beat when the American Society of Magazine Editors hands out its annual award for public interest journalism. (And then there's that little thing called a Pulitzer.) Not only because it reveals facts that many other news stories as well as a grand jury investigation failed to unearth, but also because it somehow allows you to feel both sympathy for and horror at the doctors’ actions. It also reveals how various philosophies of triage conflict with each other, and how little training doctors have with any of them. Read it and take a look at all the nifty online extras, too.

So: what does a piece like this cost? In one of those “get to know a Times staffer” Q&As, Gerry Marzorati, the NYTM’s editor said that he and the editors of ProPublica did a back of the napkin calculation. Upshot: $400,000.

Now, that sounds like a lot. It is a lot. Gerry has said before that most NYTM cover stories average out at @ $40K, which is the average per-issue edit buy budget for this magazine. But reading the piece, the price tag didn’t surprise me. And if it surprises you, it’s because most people don’t realize how expensive and laborious investigative journalism can be. So to help folks understand, I asked Gerry to break down the $400,000. He obliged, emailing:

Ok, roughly:
2 years of reporting by a staff writer, full-time: 200k
Editing for that period by 2 ProPublica editors: 30k
Lawyering hours at ProPublica: 20K
Editing hours at the Times magazine over past year (from me to copy editors, 5 editors in all involved): 40k
Times fact-checking: 10k
Photography fees plus expenses: 40k
Times lawyering fees: 20k
Web and Web graphic costs at both the Times and ProPublica: 10k
Cost of adding 6 pages to the feature well to accommodate story: 24k

Total: 394k

Now Sheri got a grant during one of those years from the Kaiser Foundation, meaning some smallish portion of the overall cost was not carried by the NYT or ProPublica. And Sheri did report some other stories for PP during this time. But balance against that what’s not included in this rough calculation: proportional overhead for both organizations including rent, equipment, travel costs, libel insurance (there’s a reason a story like this gets so much attention from lawyers), distribution, servers, etc.

My point? This story—which could result in criminal prosecutions and should result in a national conversation among doctors and hospitals around their triage and emergency procedures—is the kind of work that is in peril now that the financial underpinnings (i.e. advertising) for journalism have collapsed. Bloggers and commenters and citizen journalists can’t take on a project like this. They can add to it, amplify it, criticize it, and generally run with it, but a project like this requires consistent, institutional teams of reporters and editors and factcheckers and lawyers and web dudes. In our most recent editors' note, Monika and I explain what’s going on to the media and the threat that the collapse of institutional reporting poses to a healthy democracy, concluding:

What it's going to take [to turn things around] is for many more Americans to decide that quality reporting—be it on local school boards or Iraq or climate negotiations—is as vital to their lives as box scores and celebrity spats. As media theorist Clay Shirky recently wrote, "Journalism is about more than dissemination of news; it's about the creation of shared awareness," and ultimately the ability to act on that awareness. Because make no mistake: This is a zero-sum equation. Less journalism = less accountability. Corruption, nepotism, cronyism, and propaganda thrive when reporting dies. That's not a price we're prepared to pay.

Read the whole thing here.

Update: Zach Seward of Niemam Jounalism Lab (@NiemanLab and one of my favorite sources on media news out there), also dug into the numbers on Friday—a post I surely would have seen and linked to had we not had a server implosion. Read Zach's post, he poses some interesting questions about measuring cost-benefit analysis, when costs are shared.

Clara Jeffery is Co-Editor of Mother Jones. You can follow more of her stories here and follow her on Twitter here.