Mojo - August 2009

What Obama Should Have Learned From The Gipper

| Mon Aug. 17, 2009 11:41 AM EDT

One of the stranger things about the Obama presidency is how savvy and innovative he was as a candidate about mobilizing public opinion, compared with how conventional, even lackluster, his public outreach has been ever since he moved into the White House. Sure, he's given a lot of speeches, and some of them have been quite good. But he knew he had several giant contentious policy plans in the works that would infuriate conservatives, whose effectiveness as political performance artists is unparalled. Over at Politics Daily, David Corn argues that Obama hasn't done enough to prep his grassroots supporters to take on the right-wing noise machine, and that he could avoided the current health care mess by paying more attention to... Ronald Reagan. Check it out here.

 

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The Co-Op Cop Out

| Mon Aug. 17, 2009 10:52 AM EDT

So. The public option has been thrown overboard, and we’re back to co-ops. As I've pointed out previously, the co-op scheme is a weak, nearly meaningless idea that would represent no real alternative to business-as-usual in the health insurance industry.

In the best-case scenario—which is far from guaranteed—the co-ops might have a less corporate governance structure than other insurers and receive federal subsidies for startup costs and more expansive coverage. In the worst-case scenario, they would effectively be private insurance companies operating under another name. And at least some of the initial capital will, in all likelihood, come from members. All the out-of-work Americans who are too poor to buy insurance will appreciate that.
 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 17, 2009

Mon Aug. 17, 2009 6:54 AM EDT

U.S. Army Pfc. Ali Hargis, assigned to 55th Signal Company, Joint Combat Camera-Iraq, interviews a soldier from the Iraqi Army's 37th Brigade, 9th Iraqi Army Division, about his two-and-a-half week training with U.S. Soldiers on how to spot and report unknown explosive ordinances and improvised explosive devices at Camp Taji, Iraq, Aug. 3. (Photo courtesy army.mil.)

Need To Read, August 17, 2009

| Mon Aug. 17, 2009 5:00 AM EDT

Some must-reads to start your week:

Government refuses to provide even minimal information about detainees held in Bagram.

The map of failed banks.

Why newspapers are really failing.

The best-paid CEOs in the US.

Annie Leibovitz's personal financial crisis.

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.)

 

Podcast: Kevin Drum's NetRoots Nation Dispatch

| Sat Aug. 15, 2009 5:42 PM EDT

If you didn't get a chance to watch Kevin Drum's NetRoots Nation keynote live, this week's MoJo podcast is a short Pittsburgh dispatch from him. In it, we talk about the NetRoots Nation male-to-female ratio, Arlen Specter on the healthcare "death panels," and how fellow attendees are feeling about Obama. Listen to the podcast here.

#SSJ

| Sat Aug. 15, 2009 5:12 PM EDT

As many readers probably know, on July 31, freelancer Shane Bauer, Sara Shourd and Joshua Fattal accidently crossed the Iraqi border into Iran where they are currently held. (Shane's article "The Sheikh Down" is in the current issue).

To follow news about the three, or if you'd like to tweet messages of support for them and for their families (highly encouraged), please use the twitter hashtag #ssj (the first letter of each of their first names).

Oh, and please RT word about the new hashtag! The more voices of concern, the sooner the three are likely to return.

Earlier today, the State Department issued the message below. (I learned of it from someone who tweeted using #ssj.)

Missing and Detained Americans in Iran

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
August 15, 2009

The United States is deeply concerned about the welfare of our American citizens who have been detained or are missing in Iran. We once again urge Iran’s leadership to quickly resolve all outstanding American citizen cases.

This includes the case of the American scholar, Kian Tajbakhsh, who has spent his career working to enhance mutual understanding between Iran and the United States. The government of Iran should immediately release Mr. Tajbakhsh from detention and allow him to depart Iran to continue his academic pursuits.

Regarding the three American hikers, Joshua Fattal, Shane Bauer, and Sarah Shourd, who were detained by Iranian authorities on July 31, we once again call on the Iranian government to live up to its obligations under the Vienna Convention by granting consular access and releasing these three young Americans without further delay.

We also remain concerned about the case of Robert Levinson, who has been missing in Iran since March 9, 2007. We call on the Government of Iran to assist in providing any information on his whereabouts and in ensuring his prompt return to the United States.

Our goal is to ensure the safe return of all our missing or unjustly detained American citizens to the United States as quickly as possible so that they can be reunited with their families.
 

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Kevin Drum at Netroots Nation

| Sat Aug. 15, 2009 1:16 AM EDT

MoJo's own Kevin Drum is moderating the keynote Netroots Nation panel on "Building a 21st Century Economy"—with New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, Change to Win Chair Anna Burger and economist Dean Baker—at noon on Saturday. Rumor has it that C-Span may pick up the feed; you can also check out the live video below. While you wait, why not browse some of MoJo's fine economics coverage—Kevin's pieces on cap and trade and bank nationalization, James Galbraith on why the stimulus isn't big enough, David Corn's expose of Phil Gramm's role in bringing about the financial crisis, Nomi Prins' timeline of the debacle, and last but not least David Cay Johnston's modest proposal for fixing the tax code.

Free TV : Ustream

Armey Resigns From Lobbying Firm Over Town Hall Protests

| Fri Aug. 14, 2009 5:02 PM EDT

Former House majority leader Dick Armey resigned his position at the lobbying firm DLA Piper on Friday in response to a growing chorus of critics who claim his "grassroots" advocacy group, FreedomWorks, is little more than an extension of the American pharmaceutical industry.

Naturally, Armey blamed his decision to resign on the liberal media. "The firm is busy with its business, and shouldn’t be asked to take time out from their work, to defend themselves of spurious allegations,” he told Politico. “No client of this firm is going to be free to mind its own business without harassment as long as I’m associated with it."

FreedomWorks has not been shy about its role in inflaming protests against health care reform. Last week it released an "August Recess Action Kit" and its website even provides a ten-point action guide on "How to Organize Your Own 'Tea Party' Protest.

MoJo will have more on the astrotuf groups driving the opposition to healthcare reform early next week—stay tuned.

Grumpy Old Senators

| Fri Aug. 14, 2009 4:04 PM EDT

To answer Kevin's question, apparently Arlen Specter was not able to reach Chuck Grassley on the phone to admonish him for saying that health care reform means the government decides whether or not to pull the plug on Granny. The two of them are duking it out on Twitter instead. (Grassley's latest: "So change ur last Tweet Arlen.") I wonder if the increasing numbers of senators on Twitter finally spells the end of the Senate's famed (and often feigned) comity? You can't very well be liberally referring to "my friend, the Senator from Pennsylvania" when it uses up a whole 101 characters.  

Tort Reformer Wants His Day in Court

| Fri Aug. 14, 2009 2:51 PM EDT

Classic: One of California's top tort-reform advocates has gone and filed one of the very lawsuits he's long campaigned against. Legal Pad has the full story on excessive litigation opponent-turned-excessively litigious plaintiff Fred Hiestand:

The man whose name is synonymous with tort reform — he’s the Civil Justice Association of California’s general counsel — has filed a class action against the city of Sacramento, the city’s police chief, city police officers and a tow truck company for towing his car after he left it in a no-parking zone.

What’s more, Hiestand is seeking damages from the tow truck company under Business and Professions Code Section 17200. That, in case you don’t recognize it, is California’s Unfair Competition Law, the very law that CJAC and business groups successfully curbed in 2004 via the voter-approved Proposition 64.

[...]

“It’s hysterical,” said Timothy Blood, a Coughlin Stoia partner who specializes in UCL suits. “The whole PR campaign during Prop 64 was that 17200 was driving businesses out of California. So what does [Hiestand] do? He sues a small business.”

“We’ve never said that all class actions are meritless,” Hiestand said. When you’ve exhausted all your other administrative options, they’re a viable choice, he said.

And just to show he’s not some money-hungry litigant, Hiestand pledged to give any award money left over from paying his costs to “fighting frivolous class action lawsuits.”

Hiestand's not the first foe of "lawsuit abuse" to seek legal redress when the going got tough. Robert Bork filed a personal injury suit against a club where he fell and injured himself. Former Mississippi Senator Trent Lott railed against "jackpot justice" until Katrina destroyed his home and he joined a class action suit against his insurance company. That's not to say that they were being frivolous; both settled out of court. But Hiestand's filing has the mix of disingenuous literalness and inflated self-regard that are the hallmarks of truly pointless lawsuits. He contends that he knowingly left his car in a no-parking zone only to be towed illegally because there were no signs saying that might happen. Sounds a bit like the judge who unsuccessfully sued his dry cleaners for $54 million  because they didn't live up to their "Satisfaction Guaranteed" sign. Funny how no one thinks they're gumming up the wheels of justice when it's their case on the docket.