Mojo - September 2009

India's Big Brother

| Fri Sep. 18, 2009 5:34 AM EDT

Is it Big Brother, or a giant leap forward for bureaucratic kind? That's the question plaguing India's plan to assign each of its 1.2 billion citizens a biometric ID card tied both to their government entitlements and their fingerprint or iris scan. Name, birth date and either the finger prints or iris image will eventually appear on the card, which will function a lot like a US Social Security Number. 

If that sounds scary (and to anyone raised on 1984, it certainly does) consider the status-quo: India's bureaucracy is notoriously byzantine, and notoriously tied to paper. Today, there's no single form of identification which can be used uniformly between activities—like voting and receiving welfare benefits, for example—and few that transfer across state lines. Worse, because there is no single system, citizens who lose their paperwork lose not only their records but their entire identity (military history, savings accounts, proof of citizenship) which is a problem if you live in, say, flood-prone Kolkata. Even assuming you could prove your identity, any records would be nearly impossible to find in the piles of paper that fill your average state office. As Amitav Ghosh put it in his 2005 essay on the effects of the tsunami in India:

 ..to be middle-class, in India or anywhere else, is to be kept afloat on a life-raft of paper: identity cards, licences, ration cards, school certificates, cheque books, certificates of life insurance and receipts for fixed deposits.

The tsunami, in the suddenness of its onslaught, allowed for no preparations: not only did it destroy the survivors' homes and decimate their families; it also robbbed them of their place in the world. 

Supporters say the biometrics program will be a boon for India's poor, who often move between states looking for work. Opponents cite the possiblity for an info-tech disaster that would make Estonia's 2007 hacker nightmare look like child's play. 

For those who hear echoes of Soviet-era internal passports, Indian officials are quick to point out that the cards will not keep any data on the holder's caste or religion. But ideological squabbles aside, there are still major technical hurdles to the project. Whether it gets off the ground at all, and whether other democracies will copy it, remains to be seen. 

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Beck Watch: Fearless MoJo Readers

| Thu Sep. 17, 2009 6:14 PM EDT

MoJo reader Steve G. exhibited some smart, fearless activism (read the comment) yesterday when he called the companies that still advertise on Glenn Beck's show. Three hours later, the consumer services specialist at Eggland's Best responded with this message: "Pending further review Eggland's Best has suspended TV advertising on the Glen Beck Show."

Sure enough, Eggland's Best is absent from today's list of Beck holdouts

Lear Capital

LifeLock

Weekly Standard

US Forest Service (smokeybear.com)

National Geographic Channel

Toyota (Lexus)

Rosland Capital

Superior Gold Group

Roche Diagnostics (Accu-Chek Aviva)

FEMA (National Flood Insurance Program)

National Review

Conservatives for Patients' Rights

Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers

Superior Gold Group

Loan Modification Help Line 800-917-8549

IRS Tax Agreements

Carbonite

Rosland Capital

National Republican Trust PAC

News Corp. (The Wall Street Journal)

Imperial Structured Settlements

Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. (The Informant)

Another Pre-existing Condition? C-Sections

| Thu Sep. 17, 2009 3:09 PM EDT

Denying medical insurance to victims of domestic violence isn't the only industry practice that discriminates mostly against women. As Amanda Terkel at Think Progress points out, "many insurers consider a Caesarean-section pregnancy a pre-existing condition and refuse to cover women who have had the procedure." 

Banner Week for Big Insurance

| Thu Sep. 17, 2009 1:15 PM EDT

This is turning out to be a very good week for the private health insurance companies (or as I like to think of them, the bloodsucking middle-men of the health care system).  Yesterday, AP/Forbes reported on the uptick in insurer stocks, which jumped from 3 to 6 percent in a single day:

Shares of health insurers jumped Wednesday after an key Democrat released a much anticipated Senate version of a health care reform bill that excluded a government-run insurance option.
 
The so-called public option had been a contentious issue with health insurers, with the industry viewing it as unfair competition. Instead, Sen. Max Baucus released a proposed bill that would require every American to obtain health insurance, which would be a financial boon for the health insurance industry.

It doesn’t take Einstein to figure out why the Baucus bill is great for the insurance industry: If there’s no public alternative to compete with private insurance companies, guess where all those people will have to go to buy their government-mandated insurance? As for the touted co-ops and exchanges, all they are ultimately likely to offer is better access to private insurance. And people of limited means will get government subsidies, mostly in the form of tax breaks, to buy private insurance--which means a transfer of funds from the taxpayers to private insurers. We might as well be writing our checks directly to United Healthcare, Wellpoint, and Humana, instead of the the IRS.
 
As Mark Karlin pointed out on Buzzflash yesterday, taxpayer subsidies are the only way to solve the ”issue of how for-profit insurance can co-exist with the goal of reducing medical costs.” Karlin continues:

This isn’t a ‘free market’ solution; it’s socialized support of “profits”--basically a shakedown. It’s the only way--under the myth of Big Insurance providing enhanced “value,” which it doesn’t--that for-profit insurance companies can survive, because they are…unnecessary (essentially, a expensive redundancy) except for the explicit purpose of enriching a select few: the executives and shareholders.

CNN's Off-Record Video: Obama Calls Kanye 'Jackass'

| Thu Sep. 17, 2009 12:47 PM EDT

Okay folks, here it is. You know you want it! Too bad presidents can't always be this...human. Because Kanye West was indeed being a jackass. In case you've had your head buried in the sand the past week, Obama was referring to Kanye's stage-crashing at MTV's Video Music Awards, taking the mic from Taylor Swift, winner of the Best Video category, and saying that the award should have been Beyonce's. (The incident, an instant cultural meme, has triggered any number of spinoffs, like this one, and this!) Trouble was, the comment was off-the-record, but employees at ABC, which share a feed with CNN, saw the video and promptly tweeted it. But there's more to this story. You'll note that this video is branded Politico and TPM. Well, Politico, for one, apparently acquired and posted the video but then quickly pulled it out of respect, it explained, for a fellow news organization. But CNN decided Politico's could remain on YouTube. Moral: In the Twitter age, you can never put the toothpaste back in the tube.

Follow Michael Mechanic on Twitter.

Domestic Abuse: A Pre-existing Condition

| Thu Sep. 17, 2009 12:39 PM EDT

Insurers in eight states consider domestic violence to be a pre-existing condition, as Ryan Grim of HuffPo reported in this excellent piece. One of them is Mississippi. So the Jackson Free Press spoke to the state's top regulator, Mike Chaney, to find out how this happened. Chaney blamed the legislature:

"Would I do something about it? Hell, yeah, I'd do something about it, but I'm a regulator, not a legislator. I have to come to terms with that every week," Chaney said. "The whole situation is bad. Let's say a woman works with a company that had Blue Cross/Blue Shield, and she gets beat up in her house and Blue Cross says 'we're not covering you because getting beat up is your pre-existing condition.' That's terrible."

 

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Racist vs. Racial: Which One Was Joe Wilson?

| Thu Sep. 17, 2009 11:37 AM EDT

The big hoopla on the blogs this week has been whether Joe Wilson’s exclamation "you lie!" amongst the healthcare debate, was racist. Jimmy Carter and many on the left say yes, while the GOP power structure categorically denies any possibility that the exclamation was based on race. From there, the discussion of race spiraled out of control, leading to questions about whether George W. Bush was being racist when he called Obama "this cat" last year during the campaign. Rush Limbaugh joined the discussion by highlighting a fight between a white kid and a black kid on a school bus. To Limbaugh's horror, the black kid won. "In Obama's America the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering 'yeah, right on, right on, right on,'" he said.

There's no doubt in my mind that Limbaugh's statement was racist. As Adam Serwer writes, Limbaugh "perceives an explicit reversal of the way things are supposed to be. In Limbaugh's America, the black kids know their place, and that place isn't in the White House." And Matt Yglesias notes that the predictable result of these discussions is that members of the GOP consistently minimize the importance of racism toward Barack Obama while over-dramatizing a perceived reverse racism or political correctness toward whites.

But when it comes to race, both the left and right too often misrepresent the issue.

Dodd GOP Rival WWE CEO Linda McMahon Supports Dems

| Thu Sep. 17, 2009 11:24 AM EDT

World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon announced recently that she is poised to lay the smackdown on embattled Sen. Chris Dodd in the 2010 midterm elections. On first glance, this is definitely an uphill battle for McMahon. There are currently no Republican representatives in Congress throughout the northeast and polls show that former Rep. Rob Simmons already has a slight lead over Dodd.

But information released by the Center for Responsive Politics shows that McMahon has a history of donating to Democratic candidates and PACs, a fact that could help her in the mostly blue northeast state. Of the $90,000 she and her husband have contributed since 1989, 51 percent has gone to Democrats. Her top beneficiaries include Dem Mark Warner of Virginia, Obama chief of staff and former Rep. from Illinois Rahm Emanuel, and Dem-turned-Independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.

It's looking more and more like the battle for Dodd's seat could be the main event of the 2010 election cycle. And there's no doubt that this video should be used in someone's campaign ad... though I'm not sure whether it would hurt or help McMahon:

The White House's Weak Response to the Climate Bill Delay

| Thu Sep. 17, 2009 9:25 AM EDT

Yesterday Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters that the climate bill may have to wait till next year—which in Senate-speak means it's basically dead till 2010. What did the White House have to say about this? After all, a congressionally approved plan to cut US emissions is key to the success of international climate talks in Copenhagen this December. David Corn asked White House press secretary Robert Gibbs about the delay yesterday at the daily press briefing. And Gibbs couldn't come up with much of a response:

 

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

Thu Sep. 17, 2009 5:00 AM EDT

U.S. Army Pfc. Nicholas Weeks plays an Afghan checkers-style game with Nas Nahs, an interpreter, in the Kohi Safi district, Afghanistan, Sept. 6, 2009. Weeks is assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division's Company B, Special Troops Battalion. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Teddy Wade.)