Mojo - September 2009

Rick Santorum For President?

| Sat Sep. 19, 2009 9:05 AM EDT

Conservatives are gathered this weekend in DC at the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit to kvetch about Obama, liberals and the homosexual agenda. But aside from bemoaning the collapse of American culture, they are also here to start the vetting process for potential GOP presidential candidates. Many of the aspiring candidates are here to woo evangelical voters, including Mitt Romney, Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, Mike Huckabee and Minn. Gov. Tim Pawlenty. But there are a number of other people on the summit's straw poll ballot who are also throwing their hats in the ring. The best known are Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich. But the ballot also includes Ron Paul, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and, surprisingly, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

Perhaps his appeal to the values voters is not so shocking given his rabid anti-gay stance. But Santorum lost his last election in a blowout by Sen. Bob Casey in one of the largest losses in Senate history. His defeat stemmed in no small part to a concerted Internet campaign by gay columnist Dan Savage to use Santorum's name to describe the "frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the biproduct of anal sex," an effort launched after Santorum equated homosexuality with bestiality. It's hard to imagine the guy could run a viable presidential campaign with his name forever linked to anal sex in Google. I guess we'll find out how viable Santorum is among people who agree with him today at 3:15 when the straw poll results are released.

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Lethal Injection Debate Heats Up

| Fri Sep. 18, 2009 7:13 PM EDT

The debate over the constitutionality and humaneness of lethal injection has just intensified. For the first time on Tuesday, an execution was halted because the drugs could not be successfully administered. Romell Broom, who has been on Ohio's death row since 1984, lay on the table for two hours while executioners tried to find a vein strong enough to withstand the injection. Finally, the execution was stopped after his lawyer convinced a judge to intervene. Today Broom's attorneys filed additional appeals to postpone, if not cancel, his execution, and a U.S. district court has just delayed his second injection for at least ten days.

Not surprisingly, this incident is heating up the national conversation about lethal injection. On Monday, Broom will be deposed about what those two hours felt like. His testimony will be used in a suit that argues lethal injection is cruel and unusual. Ohio public defender David Stebbins, who is working on the case, told the New York Times that Broom "has relevent evidence that needs to be preserved. Mr Broom has, of course, the most relevent testimony of what exactly they did to him and the amount of pain he was put in."

Since 2006, there have been three botched executions in Ohio. Each lasted for about two hours. Three years ago a condemed man in Florida was badly burned after the needle missed the vein and pierced his tissue. When I asked attorney Jen Moreno at University of California—Berkeley's Death Penalty Clinic to explain this pattern, she said that despite the states' promises to improve the system, it remains flawed. "They don't have a good system," Moreno said. "They have problems with protocol, problems with training, and problems with people carrying it out."

Ironically, as Vince Beiser reported for Mother Jones in 2005, lethal injection was originally adopted to make capital punishment more humane. The Oklahoma legislator behind that movement later became a priest who vehemently opposed all forms of capital punishment, including lethal injection. He told Mother Jones, "I always think about my role, whenever I hear about a capital case being tried. It's always me, like an old wound."

Carrie Prejean: It's All About Me

| Fri Sep. 18, 2009 3:45 PM EDT

If there was ever any doubt that beauty queens were vacuous, former Miss California USA Carrie Prejean wiped it away Friday when she appeared before the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit in DC. The beauty queen has earned quite a following since she told Perez Hilton at the Miss USA pageant earlier this year that she believed marriage should be between a man and a woman. (The nude photos probably helped, too.)

At the Values Voter Summit, Prejean appeared tan and shimmery, semi-clad in a sleeveless white blouse. She stood in stark contrast to Maggie Gallagher, the frumpy head of the National Organization for Marriage who introduced her. Prejean could have said just about anything and the crowd would have gone gaga. (One speaker called her a "modern day Esther.") There was reportely a near-riot when volunteers were needed to escort her to her car after her speech. But if attendees were hoping to hear a tirade against gay marriage, Prejean disappointed them. She came here to talk about one thing: herself. She started her story like this: "I was just a strong woman starting off in a pageant."

 

Stephen Baldwin: Preacher Man

| Fri Sep. 18, 2009 2:31 PM EDT

Actor and famous brother Stephen Baldwin has been on the stump of late trying to rally up the under-25 crowd for conservatives. He appeared last week at the big 9/12 march in DC,  and on Friday afternoon he was one of the big names at the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit. Troubled by the fact that Obama overwhelmingly won the youth vote, conservatives seem to be pinning their hopes on people like Baldwin and Carrie Prejean to broaden their appeal to the next generation. But if Baldwin is the best celebrity they can come up with, their movement is in big trouble.

Baldwin, who became a born-again Christian after the 9/11 attacks, runs an extreme-sports ministry that brought God to arenas and other such sacred venues. He also co-hosts a popular talk radio show. At the summit, Baldwin appeared with his show's co-host Kevin McCullough to heavy applause from the gathered faithful. Baldwin acknowledged the warm welcome with many "amens" and then explained how he liked to turn these things "over to the Lord."

Without any irony, Baldwin lamented the impact that Hollywood has had on youth culture, perhaps thinking about his first film, The Beast, or his 2007 appearance on "Ty Murray's Bull Riding Challenge." Apparently Baldwin has hopes of returning America to the country of his youth, when people really believed in the American dream. (Lots of the Values Voters speakers have used this kind of restoration language.) The only way to recover this lost dream, according to Baldwin, is with "the spirit of the Lord." Baldwin's spiel was heavy on faith, light on politics. In fact, far from rallying a political movement, Baldwin seemed to be practicing his next sermon. And when it comes to preaching, Baldwin is no Mike Huckabee. One snippet:

"The American dream is the same thing as believing in things we cannot see. We need to be in the place in our experience in that dynamic that allows the spirit of the Lord that allows us to do it through us."

Coming from a guy who recently ended up in the hospital suffering from life-threatening bug bites he got on "I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here!" it was a bit hard to follow. Nonetheless, the still-studly Baldwin—who once wrote a song called "My 18-inch Biceps"—will be rocking out with all the young conservatives here in the far reaches of the Omni Shoreham later tonight.

 

How the Baucus Bill Bilks People Over 50

| Fri Sep. 18, 2009 12:11 PM EDT

The people who stand to get screwed most by Max Baucus's health reform plan are those who aren’t old enough to qualify for Medicare, but are still old enough to be discriminated against by insurance companies.

For several months, the Columbia Journalism Review has been publishing analyses of the Massachusetts health care system, which in many ways serves as a model for the current national health care reform—a canary in the coal mine for the rest of us. The state mandates that all residents have health insurance or face a tax penalty. And while it does provide some regulation of private insurers, it doesn’t outlaw “age rating”—setting different premium rates based on age. This doesn’t apply to most working people who are covered by group plans through their employers, at group rates. But for the self-employed and early retirees—whose numbers are growing since the recession began—the costs can be devastating. CJR cites reporting by Kay Lazar in the Boston Globe, which found:

State law allows insurers to charge older people up to twice as much as younger people for the same coverage. In other states, the disparities can be even greater. One result is that more older people choose less comprehensive plans. Data from the Commonwealth Choice program, which offers state-approved private insurance, show that as enrollees grow older, more choose cheaper and less comprehensive coverage.

The main solution that’s been proposed for this problem is to make it “easier for self-employed people and retirees who are 50 to 64 to be exempted from a stiff tax penalty if they can’t afford insurance.” So rather than force insurance companies to stop discriminating on the basis of age, the state may begin “allowing” 60-year-olds to live without health insurance. So much for the great Massachusetts universal coverage model.

 All of the major health reform plans that have been floated in Congress allow age-rating. And the Baucus plan endorses disparities even greater than those in Massachusetts. As the New York Times reports:

McCain Goes Ballistic

| Fri Sep. 18, 2009 10:31 AM EDT

As the news broke that President Barack Obama was scrapping President George W. Bush's proposal to place missile defense bases with yet-to-be proven technology in Poland and the Czech Republic and moving ahead with a mobile, partly sea-based system using existing technology, Senator John McCain became a leading critic of this decision. He decried Obama's plan—which followed the recommendation of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff—as "seriously misguided" and called it a cave-in to Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader who had opposed deployment of US missile defense systems in Eastern Europe.

McCain shared his complaint with ABC News:

The President's general-election opponent, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told ABC News that he had not been briefed on the announcement, and he wasn't exactly sure he knew what constituted the new more mobile system.

"I haven't heard of it," McCain said. The new system, he added, "is certainly unproven technology."

But unlike the Bush system, which depended on a two-stage ground-based missile that was untested, the new system will be composed of elements already in the field and proven—and McCain should be quite familiar with them.

The core weapons in Obama's missile defense proposal—designed to address regional ballistic missile threats in Europe (mainly a potential attack from Iran), not intercontinental missile attacks—are the sea-based Aegis missile-tracking system and the SM-3 interceptor missile. Both are currently in use on US Navy ships, including a destroyer called—wait for it—the USS John McCain, which was named after the senator's father and grandfather, both admirals. This missile defense system was in the news earlier this year when North Korea was test launching a missile:

"I understand two Aegis destroyers, including USS John McCain, will continue to stay in the East Sea in apparent preparation for the North's missile launch," the [South Korean] official said, asking not to be identified.

USS John McCain is a 9,200-ton Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, which is equipped with the Aegis combat system that allows it to simultaneously track over 100 targets from more than 190 kilometers.

The destroyer also carries a multiple number of Standard Missile-3 (SM-3), which makes up the backbone of the United  States' naval missile defense or MD system.

The use of the Aegis system and the SM-3 for mid-range missile interception has been extensively discussed by the members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, including McCain. In July Defense Daily reported:

Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said last month his panel "shifted the emphasis" on missile defense. While it supported Obama's proposed ground-based interceptor curtailments, he said, it also backed the administration's request to increase funding for Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense interceptors, near-term capabilities that counter existing threats to troops in theater.

That article also noted:

The committee did make some tweaks to Obama's missile defense request. For example, its bill proposes reducing by $30 million the administration's $1.7 billion request for the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense program and its SM-3 interceptor; the SASC believes all of the funds could not be executed. That $1.7 billion [Obama administration] request is a $600 million boost over FY '09 funding.

At a June Senate hearing on missile defense, McCain himself publicly recognized that the Obama administration was heading toward greater reliance on the SM-3 for missile defense: "For some time now, this committee has urged the [Defense] department to increase its focus to rogue state in theater threats and I applaud the [Obama administration's] decision to increase funding for both THAAD and SM-3."

In his remarks to ABC News, McCain made it seem as if Obama's proposal was all new to him and utterly untested. But that's not so. Perhaps the possibility of using these elements for a European-based system was not on McCain's radar screen. But he depicted Obama as proceeding recklessly—when, actually, it was McCain who had gone ballistic.

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Will the Senate Sink Copenhagen?

| Fri Sep. 18, 2009 10:31 AM EDT

With the Senate signaling that it won't pass a cap-and-trade bill this year, the Obama administration is now dropping major hints that UN climate talks—which were supposed to culminate in a new international agreement at Copenhagen in December—will also need to be pushed back to 2010. US climate envoy Todd Stern previously told Congress that climate legislation was crucial for the "credibility and leverage" the Obama administration needed to persuade other countries at Copenhagen to cut their emissions. Yesterday, though, he had lowered his sights considerably: "The mission is to get the most ambitious, most far-reaching accord that we can in Copenhagen, and to the extent that there's some things that need to be completed after that, then that will happen," he told reporters, according to Climate Wire.

While Stern and Energy Secretary Steven Chu have been putting a brave face on the delay, some foreign officials are telling it like it is: "The United States is just one of the 190 countries coming to this Conference. But the United States emits 25 percent of all the greenhouse gases that the Conference is trying to reduce," said the EU's ambassador to Washington, John Bruton, in a statement. "Is the US Senate really expecting all the other countries to make a serious effort on climate change at the Copenhagen Conference in the absence of a clear commitment from the United States?...I submit that asking an international Conference to sit around looking out the window for months, while one chamber of the legislature of one country deals with its other business, is simply not a realistic political position."

 

Where's Sarah Palin?

| Fri Sep. 18, 2009 10:02 AM EDT

Thousands of conservative activists are back in DC again this weekend for the Family Research Council's annual Values Voters Summit, an event that in the past has served as an early test ground for aspiring GOP presidential candidates. True to form this year, many of the GOP luminaries are on the lineup: Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Conspicuously absent from the list, though, is former VP candiate Sarah Palin.

Palin was invited, and her absense is no doubt a huge disappointment to many of the attendees. According to the Washington Times this morning, she skipped the event because her son Track is coming back from Iraq this weekend. Of course, his return won't prevent Palin from jetting off to Hong Kong in a few days for a big paid speaking gig to a group of Chinese investors (which will be closed to the media, incidentally.)

Palin's dissing of the conservative activists seems odd. These are her people, after all. Does this mean she's not going to run for president? I doubt it. More likely Palin realizes that, unlike people like Pence and Pawlenty, the Values Voters already know her. She can afford to take them for granted. Right now, apparently, she's more desperate for Chinese money than the straw-poll votes of a couple hundred die-hards.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 18, 2009

Fri Sep. 18, 2009 8:24 AM EDT

"Duty. Honor. Country. Service. Sacrifice. Heroism. These are words of weight. But as people — as a people and as a culture, we often invoke them lightly. We toss them around freely. But do we really grasp the meaning of these values? Do we truly understand the nature of these virtues? To serve, and to sacrifice. Jared Monti knew. The Monti family knows. And they know that the actions we honor today were not a passing moment of courage. They were the culmination of a life of character and commitment." More...

Need To Read: September 18, 2009

Fri Sep. 18, 2009 8:23 AM EDT

Today's must-reads:

  • Obama scraps Bush's approach to missile defense (NYT)
  • Spencer Ackerman: "The Balance Sheet on the Scrapped Missile Shield" (The Washington Independent)
  • China recovery picking up steam, US still lags (NYT)
  • The White House's weak response to the climate bill delay (MoJo
  • Paul Krugman's latest on the Baucus bill (NYT)
  • Mike Tomasky: Jimmy Carter's no-win talk of racism (The Guardian
  • "The Lessons of Lindsay." (Sports Shooter
  • Obama names ex-lobbyist for Enron-like co. to top regulator post. We expose & explain: (MoJo)
  • Sonia Sotomayor goes after corporate personhood (WSJ)
  • Inmate to testify about the failure of his execution (NYT)
  • How Tim Noah's factual error found its way into Obama's health care speech. (Slate)

I post items like these throughout the day on twitter. You should follow me, of course. David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, also tweets. So do 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.)