Mojo - September 2009

New Census Data: More Poor Kids, More Uninsured

| Thu Sep. 10, 2009 9:32 AM EDT

The Census Bureau did a big data dump this morning, releasing its findings on poverty, income and health insurance coverage from 2008. The results aren't pretty, but there is some good news: The number of uninsured children has fallen from 8.1 million in 2007 to 7.3 million in 2008. Despite the recession, the number of uninsured children in the U.S. is the lowest it's been since 1987, a success largely attributable to the federal SCHIP program (whose expansion was twice vetoed by President Bush and heavily opposed by Republicans in Congress). But the rest of the report is truly dismal. The highlights:

The number of people without health insurance jumped from 45.7 million to 46.3 million. The number of people who get insurance from employers is still falling, while 87.4 million people got health insurance from the government, up from 83 million in 2007.

The official poverty rate jumped from 12.5 percent in 2007 to 13.2 last year, leaving nearly 40 million people in dire straits. That's the highest it's been since 1997. In a telling sign about the recession, the poverty rate among married-couple families is up significantly, jumping from 4.9 percent to 5.5 percent in 2008, while single parents remained steadily poor. And 19 percent of kids under 18 were living below the poverty line in 2008, up a full point from the previous year.

Finally, real median income tanked, falling 2.6 percent for white households and a whopping 5.6 percent for Hispanic families. People in the South took an especially bad beating, with median incomes there falling nearly 5 percent. No wonder those Southern Republicans are so pissed off.

 

 

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 10, 2009

Thu Sep. 10, 2009 5:43 AM EDT

A U.S. Soldier talks to a civilian at the control point outside a medical facility before a combined medical mission with Iraqi soldiers in Baghdad, Sept. 1, 2009. The U.S. Soldiers are assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division's 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team. (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Benjamin Boren.)

Need To Read: September 10, 2009

Thu Sep. 10, 2009 5:20 AM EDT

Today's must reads think Barack Obama is a LIAR!

  • "My Advice Is He Apologize Immediately" (WaPo)
  • David Corn: Obama's Speech: The Doctor Is In (MoJo)
  • E.J. Dionne: Obama Fires Back On Health Care Reform (WaPo)
  • Jim Ridgeway: Good Speech, Muddled Politics (MoJo)
  • We're Really Not Kidding: The Supreme Court Is Probably Going to Allow Unlimited Corporate Donations In Federal Elections (MoJo)
  • US Says Iran Has Ability To "Expedite" Nuke (NYT)
  • Black Sea Port a Flashpoint for Georgia and Russia (NYT)
  • Google Plans to Help Newspapers Charge for Content (NYT/Bits Blog)
  • Great War Reporting From McClatchy's Jonathan Landay (McClatchy)
  • What Birthers Believe (YouTube)
  • GOP Lawmaker's Graphic Sex-Bragging Caught On Tape (TPM)
  • How Medicare Is Communist—Really! (The Economist)

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.)

Joe the Congressman

| Thu Sep. 10, 2009 1:18 AM EDT

Joe Wilson's most recent tweet: (Monday)

Happy Labor Day! Wonderful parade at Chapin, many people called out to oppose Obamacare which I assured them would be relayed tomorrow to DC.

(To view cartoon in a larger format, go here.)

Congressman Joe "You Lie" Wilson

| Wed Sep. 9, 2009 9:51 PM EDT

You'd have thought that a California Assemblyman being caught on tape bragging about spanking and sexing not one but two lobbyists would have been the most embarrassing GOP gaffe of the day.

You would be wrong. Because South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson did him one better when he shouted "You Lie." At the President.  During a nationally televised live speech. Before a joint session of Congress. The look of genuine horror that passes over Pelosi's face pretty much says it all. A new low.

Folks in the Twittersphere are tageting Wilson (@congjoewilson ) with calls and petitions. Senator John McCain told Larry King Wilson should apologize immediately. And this conservative thinks Wilson should be censured, at least.

So it's going to be interesting to see how this plays outside of the punditocracy. Have our politics gotten so nasty that calling the president a liar before congress is just so much small beer? Or is this a Rick Lazio moment (that is: able to upset center-right voters so much that they throw their weight behind the other guy. Or in Lazio's case, gal.)

We'll see. Meanwhile, Dana Goldstein of the American Prospect tweeted that while she finds Joe Wilson "unhinged," she's ok with him shouting out, if it means that Congress will start acting more like the UK's rowdy Parliament, something that, wait for it, John McCain advocates! (h/t NPR's David Folkenflick).

I love a good Parliamentary tussle, but to my mind the difference between that and Wilson's eruption is a world of wit, and occasional wisdom, away. Furthermore, Slate's June Thomas notes that you can't use the L-word (different one) at PMQ (prime minister questions?). "If you do, speaker sternly asks the member to withdraw. Some euphemisms for lying OK."

Fabling? Canarding?

Update: Wilson issued an apology. Also, he called Rahm Emanuel to personally apologize. Safe to say he got an earful.

Update II: Focus groups of armed with those dial things show a strong backlash against GOP tactics during speech, especially Wilson's outburst. So you can be sure he's getting an earful from the Rahm of the right, too.

Update III: Via Gawker's fun Wilson wrap-up (turns out his real name is Addison), folks have used ActBlue to give Wilson's opponent @ $40K and counting...Holy [deleted], that's jumped to almost $80 K in under an hour...By morning it was @$140K. Now $200K+. Safe to say rate of about $10K an hour...

Update VI: Via @junethomas, more terms you can't hurl in Parliment: "The specific terms to which the Speaker has objected over the years include blackguard, coward, git, guttersnipe, hooligan, rat, stoolpigeon, swine, and traitor." 

Update V: joewilsonisyourpreexistingcondition.com (keep refreshing)

Clara Jeffery is Co-editor of Mother Jones. You can read more of her stories here and follow her on Twitter here. And don't miss what David Corn, Kevin Drum, and Jim Ridgeway have to say about Obama's speech.

Good Speech, Muddled Politics

| Wed Sep. 9, 2009 8:54 PM EDT

Many people in Washington sadly have come to the conclusion that the moment for health care reform has come and gone. In short, that Obama’s inspiring speech was too little and too late.

What’s left is a dim possibility of limited reform. And many critics believe Obama can’t even get that.

However, it may just be that Obama, using the Democratic majority as a hammer, can achieve some limited change for the better. If so, that most likely will come from a base set forth by the Baucus plan announced yesterday, embellished and compromised during the joint House-Senate conference that will settle the issue.

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Obama: "Difficult Time for Journalism"

| Wed Sep. 9, 2009 6:35 PM EDT

Via the NYT's Brian Stelter writing at the Media Decoder blog, here's what President Obama had to say about what ails journalism at Walter Cronkite's memorial service today:

… We also remember and celebrate the journalism that Walter practiced — a standard of honesty and integrity and responsibility to which so many of you have committed your careers. It’s a standard that’s a little bit harder to find today. We know that this is a difficult time for journalism. Even as appetites for news and information grow, newsrooms are closing. Despite the big stories of our era, serious journalists find themselves all too often without a beat. Just as the news cycle has shrunk, so has the bottom line.

And too often, we fill that void with instant commentary and celebrity gossip and the softer stories that Walter disdained, rather than the hard news and investigative journalism he championed. “What happened today?” is replaced with “Who won today?” The public debate cheapens. The public trust falters. We fail to understand our world or one another as well as we should –- and that has real consequences in our own lives and in the life of our nation. We seem stuck with a choice between what cuts to our bottom line and what harms us as a society. Which price is higher to pay? Which cost is harder to bear?

“This democracy,” Walter said, “cannot function without a reasonably well-informed electorate.” That’s why the honest, objective, meticulous reporting that so many of you pursue with the same zeal that Walter did is so vital to our democracy and our society: Our future depends on it.

Walter was no naive idealist. He understood the challenges and the pressures and the temptations facing journalism in this new era. He believed that a media company has an obligation to pursue a profit, but also an obligation to invest a good chunk of that profit back into news and public affairs. He was excited about all the stories that a high-tech world of journalism would be able to tell, and all the newly emerging means with which to tell it.

Naturally, we find ourselves wondering how he would have covered the monumental stories of our time. In an era where the news that city hall is on fire can sweep around the world at the speed of the Internet, would he still have called to double-check? Would he have been able to cut through the murky noise of the blogs and the tweets and the sound bites to shine the bright light on substance? Would he still offer the perspective that we value? Would he have been able to remain a singular figure in an age of dwindling attention spans and omnipresent media?

And somehow, we know that the answer is yes. The simple values Walter Cronkite set out in pursuit of — to seek the truth, to keep us honest, to explore our world the best he could — they are as vital today as they ever were.

Our American story continues. It needs to be told. And if we choose to live up to Walter’s example, if we realize that the kind of journalism he embodied will not simply rekindle itself as part of a natural cycle, but will come alive only if we stand up and demand it and resolve to value it once again, then I’m convinced that the choice between profit and progress is a false one — and that the golden days of journalism still lie ahead.

Wow, and on a day he has to defend health care reform!

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

What to Look for in Obama's Speech Tonight

| Wed Sep. 9, 2009 10:26 AM EDT

First, nothing specific. Here’s how the BBC reports it this morning:

When asked if Americans will find out in his speech whether or not he is willing to sign a healthcare reform bill without a public scheme, he said: “Well, I think the country is going to know exactly what I think will solve our healthcare crisis.”
Mr Obama said the speech will be directed at the American people, as well as members of Congress…

"The intent of the speech is to, A, make sure that the American people are clear exactly what it is that we are proposing," Mr Obama said. "And B, to make sure that Democrats and Republicans understand that I’m open to new ideas, that we’re not being rigid and ideological about this thing, but we do intend to get something done this year."

Billions To Be Lost in Auto Bailout?

| Wed Sep. 9, 2009 10:13 AM EDT

The Congressional Oversight Panel, assigned to oversee the TARP bailout and chaired by Harvard prof Elizabeth Warren, has released another of its monthly reports, this one on the federal bailout of GM and Chrysler. No surprise, the panel finds that once again the taxpayers are not getting the best deal. The money shot, so to speak:

Although taxpayers may recover some portion of their investment in Chrysler and GM, it is unlikely they will recover the entire amount. The estimates of loss vary. Treasury estimates that approximately $23 billion of the initial loans made will be subject to “much lower recoveries.” Approximately $5.4 billion of the loans extended to the old Chrysler company are highly unlikely to be recovered.

In other words, the taxpayers could lose up to $20 billion on the deal. But that's not all. It turns out that the Treasury Department has not legally justified—at least, in public—its use of TARP dollars for the auto bailout:

[B]ecause of the unprecedented nature of the assistance provided to the automotive industry, the Panel also recommends that Treasury provide its legal analysis justifying the use of TARP funds for this purpose. This analysis will inform policymakers‟ and taxpayers‟ understanding of the potential for Treasury to use its authority to assist other struggling industries. Treasury must be clearer, more transparent, and more accountable in its TARP dealings, providing the American public with the information needed to determine the effectiveness of Treasury‟s efforts.

Shouldn't this have already been done? Yet looking at this and previous COP reports, it does seem as if the Treasury strategy has been bailout first, answer questions later.

The report also notes:

The Panel recommends that, to mitigate the potential conflicts of interest inherent in owning Chrysler and GM shares, Treasury should take exceptional care to explain its decisionmaking and provide a full, transparent picture of its actions. The Panel recommends that Treasury use its role as a significant shareholder in Chrysler and GM to ensure that these companies fully disclose their financial status and that the compensation of their executives is aligned to clear measures of long-term success. To limit the impact of conflicts of interest and to facilitate an effective exit strategy, Treasury should also consider placing its Chrysler and GM shares in an independent trust that would be insulated from political pressure and government interference.

Again and again, this panel has to remind Treasury to be transparent. The big question is, why does Treasury always need such a reminder?

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

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 9, 2009

Wed Sep. 9, 2009 5:30 AM EDT

Iraqi children try to cool off by swimming in a canal in Nassir Wa Salam, in western Baghdad, Sept. 2, while Pfc. Matthew Burks, an infantry grenadier from Colorado Springs, Colo., and other Soldiers from B Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, and Iraqi army soldiers patroll the area looking for insurgent activity. (US Army Photo by Staff Sgt. Mark Burrell.)