Mojo - August 2009

Recession Depression

| Thu Aug. 13, 2009 1:42 PM EDT

According to a new Zogby poll one in three Americans say they have been seriously impacted by the recession, and 14% say their households have been "devastated." Also, fewer than half of all adults (41%) expect their household financial situations to return to pre-recession conditions.  Predictably, adults with lower household incomes reported being harder hit by the recession, though 1 in 5 adults with family incomes above $250,000 reported a "four" or "five" on the scale of "no impact" to "devastating."

Perhaps playing up their cynicism Republicans indicated the most hardship (40% say they are at or near devastation, compared with 28% of Dems), and only a third of Republicans think they'll ever make it back to their pre-recession comfort level.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Surgeon General Pick Worked For Burger King

| Thu Aug. 13, 2009 11:20 AM EDT

When President Obama first nominated Alabama doctor Regina Benjamin as surgeon general, critics charged that the nominee was too fat to serve as the nation's leading public health advocate. Those same critics will no doubt find more ammunition in today's Washington Times, which reports that Benjamin has financial ties to big-time fast-food corporations—the scourge of public health advocates everywhere. According to the Times,  Burger King paid Benjamin about $10,000 to serve on an advisory board, where she supposedly advocated for healthy improvements in the company's food offerings. Given that the company's new "Angry Triple Whopper" contains nearly 2,000 milligrams of sodium, 91 grams of fat and 1360 calories, it's hard to see how much influence Benjamin had.

The Times homes in on Benjamin's ties to the fast-food giant, but buried in the story as well is the news that Benjamin received $20,000 for sitting on an advisory board at ConAgra, one of the nation's biggest processed food companies, maker of Slim Jims, Fiddle Faddle, the ever-popular Manwich sloppy Joe sauce.  NYU prof and nutrition guru Marion Nestle told the Times that the corporate food payments were hugely problematic for someone whose job it should be to encourage the public to shun those companies’ products. "Fast-food companies are not public health agencies; their job is to sell fast food - and the more, the better," Dr. Nestle said. "For me, this would represent an impossible conflict of interest."

Prison Cost Crisis Solved: Make the Inmates Pay

| Thu Aug. 13, 2009 9:49 AM EDT

Facing big budget cuts, hard-pressed state prison officials have come up with a new way of paying for operating costs: charging inmates for room and board, health care and other amenities, according to USA Today. The money generally comes from prisoners’ families, many of whom are extremely poor.
In Arizona's Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, Sheriff Joe Arpaio humiliates prisoners by making them wear pink underwear and forcing them to sleep outdoors in 100 degree heat. Reports USA Today: "Earlier this year, he announced that inmates would be charged $1.25 per day for meals. His decision followed months of food strikes staged by convicts who complained of being fed green bologna and moldy bread."
Below the jump, some other examples cited by the paper:
 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 13, 2009

Thu Aug. 13, 2009 6:54 AM EDT

Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Rodney Bracey, the religious programs specialist for 7th Marine Regiment, plays a game on his NetBook during a pre-deployment training exercise here Aug. 5, 2009. Bracey is a 39-year-old native of Danbury, Conn. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Luis R. Agostini courtesy marines.mil.)

Need To Read, August 13, 2009

| Thu Aug. 13, 2009 6:00 AM EDT

Some must-reads from around the web:

Is the White House ignoring an economic time bomb?

Why Australia's cap and trade plan failed.

DiFi's office swamped with misdirected Organizing for America volunteers.

Newt Gingrich: for death panels before he was against them.

Obama's first rendition?

Why editors are awesome, despite jokes you may have heard suggesting otherwise.

David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, is on twitter, and so are my colleagues Daniel Schulman, Nick Baumann, and our editor, Clara Jeffery. You can follow me here. The magazine's main account is @motherjones.

UPDATE: Organizing for America's Health Care Visit Debacle

| Wed Aug. 12, 2009 7:54 PM EDT

It seems I'm not the only one irritated this week. So is Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who says she's miffed at Organizing for America after her office was inundated with constituents  looking to chew her ear off on health care reform. This makes her the first Democrat to formally frown on the program.

In case you missed my post on Monday or your SPAM filter blocked OFA's email, Obama's netroots machine tapped its Dumbledore's Army of activists to visit their senators during the August recess to express support for healthcare reform. The website even offered a convenient "appointments" widget, meant to help fence-sitters commit to the trek. Tens of thousands signed up. Unfortunately, some folks (including a few of the ones I sat with on Monday morning) thought that meant they had an actual appointment to see the senator. Which they did not. 

So why can't the Obama administration coordinate with it's friends? Is Organizing for America making itself a nuisance? Or is the California senator just a big wet blanket?  

Advertise on MotherJones.com

US and Burma: Business as Usual

| Wed Aug. 12, 2009 5:38 PM EDT

On Tuesday, Burmese Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was sentenced to 18 months of house arrest for meeting with an American who swam across a lake to pay her a surprise visit. British Foreign Office Minister Ivan Lewis called on China, Japan, and Thailand to apply "maximum pressure on this Burmese regime." Fat chance: Over at the Daily Beast, our very own resident Burma expert Nicole McClelland explains why that'll never happen—and for that matter, why the US isn't going to stop doing business with Burma anytime soon either.

The CIA's Torture Psychologists

| Wed Aug. 12, 2009 4:52 PM EDT

In July, in an investigative article entitled "First, Do Harm," Mojo contributor Justine Sharrock questioned why the US medical community has been so soft on medical professionals who participated, directly and indirectly, in abuse and torture of detainees at US military prisons.

Today in the New York Times, reporter Scott Shane held out the possibility that at least a couple of these rogue practitioners may eventually face justice. He reports on the activities of two former military men, psychologists who saw an opportunity and set up a lucrative contracting business that ultimately netted millions from the CIA to help set up the nation's torture program.

Harvey Milk's Medal of Freedom Sparks Protest—In San Francisco

| Wed Aug. 12, 2009 4:26 PM EDT

In Washington, no one blinked when President Obama chose Harvey Milk, the slain San Francisco councilman and gay rights activist, to receive the Medal of Freedom. But in San Francisco, one man did.  

His name is Randy Thomasson, and he heads the conservative policy watchdog Save California. On Wednesday, the group held a press conference outside San Francisco City Hall to protest the honor, spitting distance from where Milk was assasinated in 1978. Using a series of visual aids, Thomasson argued that the civil rights crusader was unfit for the nation's highest civilian honor. 

"Is this for the Onion? Come on, this must be for the Onion,"  a casual observer announced to no one in particular.  

That pretty much sums it up. Of the 16 recipients of the Medal of Freedom today—among them Stephen Hawking and Sidney Poitier—perhaps none is more artificially controversial than Milk, whose life and work inspired last year's Oscar-nominated film. Sure, California's enjoyed it's fair share ofreal gay controversy this past year (Prop 8, anyone?). But nothing stokes artificial controversy like TV news cameras. 

 

Health Care Reality Check

| Wed Aug. 12, 2009 1:00 PM EDT

The health care debate has generated a lot of crazy talk (Obama wants to kill grandmas! And Sarah Palin's Down Syndrome baby!) So it's not surprising that the president has launched a website to debunk the lies, dubbed "Health Insurance Reform Reality Check."

When Obama unveiled a similar site, "Fight the Smears," during the campaign, it was considered a smart political move. But it's unclear how effective it actually was.