Mojo - August 2009

The Health Care Lobby, Now In Convenient Map Form

| Tue Aug. 11, 2009 11:49 AM EDT

A very cool map from social networking gurus How We Know Us that plots the connections of congressional staffers turned health care lobbyists (click through this link to see a larger version.)

 

 

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Woodstock and the New York Times

| Tue Aug. 11, 2009 10:43 AM EDT

On the 40-year anniversary of Woodstock, a new book—Peter Fornatale’s Back to the Garden—has a great description of the horror with which New York Times’ editors regarded the whole affair:

[T]he real fun began on Monday, August 18, when the Times printed an editorial with the headline "Nightmare in the Catskills," which read in part: "The dreams of marijuana and rock music that drew 300,000 fans and hippies to the Catskills had little more sanity than the impulses that drive the lemmings to march to their deaths in the sea. They ended in a nightmare of mud and stagnation that paralyzed Sullivan County for a whole weekend. What kind of culture is it that can produce so colossal a mess?"

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 11, 2009

Tue Aug. 11, 2009 7:01 AM EDT

Sgt. Blake Myers of Girard, Pa. flies the Honeywell Gas Micro Air Vehicle UAV system at Camp Taji, Aug. 2. Myers was the first to operate the system from outside the wire on a combat mission, April 25. (Photo by Sgt. Doug Roles courtesy army.mil.)

Detained Writer's Mother Jones Piece Now Online

| Tue Aug. 11, 2009 7:00 AM EDT

This morning, Mother Jones published a major investigative article by Shane Bauer, a journalist who is one of the three American hikers detained in Iran after accidentally crossing the border while hiking in Kurdistan. The story, in the magazine's September/October issue, was reported earlier this year and went to press before Bauer was detained on July 31. But with the issue arriving in subscribers' homes this week, we decided, in consultation with Bauer's family and the families of the other hikers, to release it simultaneously online. We felt it was important to avoid speculation and mischaracterization about the story, and to showcase the kind of top-notch journalism Bauer has been producing.

Based on numerous interviews and government documents, Bauer's article, “The Sheikh Down,” finds that millions in reconstruction funding have been used to award inflated contracts to Sunni sheikhs to keep them and their followers from taking up arms against US troops. “The program was a major part of the Awakening, which the Pentagon has touted as a turning point in reducing violence and creating the conditions for an American withdrawal,” Bauer reports. “It was also a reinstitution of a strategy started by Saddam Hussein, who picked out tribal leaders he could manipulate through patronage schemes. The US military didn't give the sheikhs straight-up bribes, which would have raised eyebrows in Washington. Instead, it handed out reconstruction contracts. Sometimes issued at three or four times market value, the contracts have been the grease in the wheels of the Awakening in Anbar—the almost entirely Sunni province in western Iraq where Fallujah is located.”

The program has had little oversight from Washington—battalion commanders are allowed to hand out contracts up to $500,000 without approval from their superiors. In one case Bauer examines, a clinic described by his military sources as a “patronage project,” a Sunni sheikh was paid $488,000. “Yet Hastings estimates that it will cost around $100,000 to build,” Bauer writes. “’That's, you know, a pretty good profit margin,’ Hastings says—close to 80 percent. In comparison, KBR, the largest military contractor in the country, cleared 3 percent in profits in 2008. Halliburton scored around 14 percent.”
      
While some officials defend the “make-a-sheikh” program as business as usual in a country rife with corruption, many experts warn that it could destabilize Iraq in the long term. Peter Harling, senior Middle East analyst with the International Crisis Group, tells Bauer, “The pillaging of state resources is not a particularly good strategy. It creates a culture of predators and a lot of resentment from those who don't take part in those contracts. You might lavish one tribal leader with contracts but alienate 10 others.” Sam Parker, an Iraq programs officer at the United States Institute of Peace, is also concerned that the strategy could backfire. “Contracts are inflated because they are only secondarily about the goods and services received,” he tells Bauer. "It's very problematic. You are rewarding the guys with the guns.”

You can read Shane's whole story here. Our thoughts are with him, Sarah Shourd, Josh Fattal, and all of their families. We won't be discussing their case publicly at this time.

Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein are Co-Editors of Mother Jones. You can read more of their articles here and here and follow them on Twitter here and here.

Need to Read: August 11, 2009

| Tue Aug. 11, 2009 4:00 AM EDT

Must-reads from around the web:

Shouldn't the details of Obama's signing statements be on the White House website?

Why neocons love Jon Stewart.

Chances of a new climate deal at Copenhagen? Cloudy.

Twelve books Obama has read since the campaign.

The Economist has 3,000 harsh words on US sex offender laws.

Mark Sanford's $1,265 haircut.

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.)

Four Reasons to Foil the Fed

| Mon Aug. 10, 2009 3:44 PM EDT

Like oil and water, the Federal Reserve and transparency do not mix. Or, as the incisive Bill Greider, author of Secrets of the Temple: How the Federal Reserve Runs the Country, wrote in a recent cover story for The Nation: "The Federal Reserve is the black hole of our democracy—the crucial contradiction that keeps the people and their representatives from having any voice in these most important public policies." Who can forget former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan's almost mystic proclamations about the US economy and monetary policy? Or the virtues of financial deregulation, supposed wisdom that the Beltway elite took as if from the mouth of an oracle? (Wisdom, that is, that even Greenspan later conceded was largely mistaken.) And, of course, nearly all of the Fed's role in the ongoing panoptic financial bailout has been shrouded in secrecy, with the Fed refusing audits of its books and media outlets like Bloomberg News forced to sue the public-private hybrid institution for information.

So why, then, does the Obama administration want to give the Fed more power under its financial regulatory reform proposals? A good many experts—journalists and economists, among them—think this is a terrible idea. Having pored over some of these commentaries and analyses, here are four reasons why the Fed's power grab should be foiled:

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Holder's Proposed Torture Probe: Worse Than Doing Nothing?

| Mon Aug. 10, 2009 3:08 PM EDT

US Attorney General Eric Holder is prepared to appoint a special prosecutor to launch a criminal investigation into alleged CIA abuse of suspects detained during the war on terror. But officials familiar with Holder's plans told the Los Angeles Times that the probe will not investigate the authors of the so-called "torture memos" or Bush administration officials who knew about the use of interrogation techniques like waterboarding, which both Holder and President Obama have said constitute torture.

Instead, the investigation would focus on CIA operatives who went beyond interrogation tactics approved by the Bush administration, including cases of excessive waterboarding, unexplained deaths, and one incident in which an interrogator used a gun to get information from a detainee.

Opinions were divded among human rights and civil liberties groups about the merits of this approach. On the one hand, Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, thinks that a probe that lets the authors of the interrogation policies off the hook would be more destructive than constructive.  "An investigation that focuses only on low-ranking operators would be, I think, worse than doing nothing at all," he told the Los Angeles Times.

Oklahoma to Obama: You're OK

| Mon Aug. 10, 2009 2:09 PM EDT

Gallup has a new poll out today suggesting that all the recent talk of death panels and socialized medicine has not noticeably dented Obama's popularity: his approval rate is sitting at 63 percent nationally, with the most enthusiastic locales being DC (92 percent) and Hawaii (75 percent.)

More interesting, though, is the fact that that the states down the bottom of the poll also seem to think Obama's doing an okay job. In Oklahoma, for instance, where Sen. Jim Inhofe thinks Obama is "un-American" and Rep. John Sullivan has concerns about the validity of his birth certificate, Obama gets the thumbs up from 53 percent of the population. In Kansas, where Obama is contemplating sending the remaining Guantanamo detainees to be held at Fort Leavenworth, potentially indefinitely, he's polling at 55 percent. In fact, there are only two states where his approval rating dips under 50 percent—Wyoming (46 percent) and Alaska (49 percent).

In other words, as the health care debate heats up, Obama is still in a pretty strong position. But will he take advantage of that, or play it safe?

Why Dems Are Losing the Health Care Fight

| Mon Aug. 10, 2009 1:43 PM EDT

I was so stoked about Organizing for America's Office Visit for Health Care Reform, I signed up for the first available appointment. Too bad it sucked. 

In case you somehow missed the email, Organizing for America—the vestigial remnants of President Obama's massive net-roots organization—is SPAMing the flock to visit their senators during the August recess in support of health care reform. The plan is geniusly sticky and simple. You click the link, pick a time you'd like to visit, and print out a map to your senator's local office, plus a two-page form to record your visit, and viola, CHANGE. It isn't supposed to be a violently disruptive town-hall meeting, just a group of average, level-headed Americans putting democracy into action through basic civic engagement. Totally rad. Even better, tens of thousands of other people had already signed up to do the same thing, according to Organizing for America. The prospect had me genuinely excited, which is rare for me.  

In general, I do my best to avoid overt displays of political activism.  But health care reform was my one big issue, the one I was ready to man the trenches for. When I was eight, the day I was supposed to start 3rd grade, I was struck by a rare illness that left me paralyzed from the waist down. That was September 1994, the same month that President Clinton's ambitious healthcare plan gasped it's last breath and died, crushed by reactionary fearmongering, red-baiting, and corporate-sponsored insanity. I'm 23 now, and  the current debate feels like deja vu. 

 

 

More On That White House Drug Deal

| Mon Aug. 10, 2009 9:37 AM EDT

Since I wrote last week about Obama’s capitulation to the drug industry, the White House sought to tamp down protests by Democratic House and Senate leaders by sweeping the whole business under the rug. Instead of openly agreeing to promise no control over pricing—the Obama public line earlier in the week–the White House now says, according to the Times on Saturday morning, that it’s all a big misunderstanding and the pricing question was not discussed.
      Oh, come on. That is a ridiculous line, since pricing of pharmaceutical products is not only a key issue in this year’s health care reform debate, but has been at the heart of the debate over controlling drugs since the Kefauver amendments in the 1950s. Remember, the mechanism that allows Big Pharma to have its way on pricing is patent protection, which has gone virtually unchanged over the years. What the companies are looking for is a way to maintain their monopoly.