Mojo - October 2009

The Christmas Wars 2009: Round 1

| Tue Oct. 13, 2009 9:18 AM EDT

The Christmas wars are officially off and running. The latest attack comes from the American Family Association, a Mississippi-based right-wing Christian group that has successfully boycotted various companies they deem too friendly to gays and too hostile to Christians. The newest target of its ire? The Gap, a company that has officially declined to use the word "Christmas" in any of its holiday promotions this year. The AFA apparently thinks this is real blasphemy and is urging its members and supporters to boycott The Gap and its affiliates, Banana Republic and Old Navy. They write: 

We want you to stand with us and other Christians in proclaiming that Christmas is special, not just any winter holiday. And the gift buying that Americans do for one another is because of Christmas. People don't exchange gifts on Thanksgiving or New Year's Day.

As part of its campaign, AFA is urging its supporters to don buttons that read "God's Gift: Merry Christmas" to show their support for Christmas. Naturally, the buttons can be procured from AFA. A "suggested donation" of $55 will get you 100 of them. However futile such campaigns may seem, the tiny AFA has actually been fairly successful in many of these boycotts. Three years ago, the group successfully convinced Sears to back off its commitment to nondenominational advertising. This year, Sears is going whole hog on the birth of Christ. AFA notes approvingly on its website that Sears is even offering a "Christmas Club." AFA doesn't seem to mind that Sears has launched the club even before Halloween. Those sorts of complaints will apparently be left to the atheists.

 

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Teabagging Alan Grayson

| Tue Oct. 13, 2009 8:27 AM EDT

Barack Obama, the Fed, Hitler, Marxism, the government seizing control of health care, ACORN. Somehow all of this came together at a town hall meeting held in Tavares, Florida, on Monday night by Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fl.), when dozens of Teabaggers, those rightwing activists associated with the so-called Tea Party movement, showed up to slam Grayson and vent their anger at a political world—that is, their version of it.

Two weeks ago, Grayson argued on the House floor that Republicans' health care plan amounted to "don't get sick," and if you do, "die quickly." Grayson quickly became a hero for Democrats, and a target for GOPers. He later explained that he was being facetious, but the dozens of protesters outside this event were not the least bit amused. And despite the Beltway blather, it wasn't really Grayson's comments that had the protesters fired up. They had been mad long before Grayson said what he said.

Jason Hoyt, Jim Jones, and Tom Tillison, three of the protesters, each explained that they weren't there to protest Grayson's comments. They were angry about Grayson's support for H.R. 3200, the tri-committee health care reform bill that may soon pass the House of Representatives. All three said they had attended the Glenn Beck- and Fox News-encouraged 9/12 demonstration in Washington, DC last month, before Grayson made his famous speech. 9/12 is sort of the Teabaggers' Woodstock: everyone says they were there, and even though the reasonable crowd estimates were around 70,000, Jones assured me that two million people showed up. (That's just not true.)

Chuck Colley, who said he's new to the Tea Party movement, told me that the President, who he called "Ali Baba," is "ruining this country" by creating problems "so he can invoke more government." Obama "wants to be the Marxist leader of this country," the "Hitler," Colley said.

The rest of the Teabaggers (every protester I spoke to said he was a member of or otherwise affiliated with the "Tea Party Patriots") mostly had gripes that had little to do with Grayson's comments or the actual state of political debate in Washington. Instead, they railed against the usual bogeymen: a government takeover of health care (not happening), Barack Obama (plotting socialist overthrow), and the Federal Reserve (a target they share with Grayson, who has cosponsored a bill to audit the Fed). None of the protesters I spoke with was particularly well informed. Jones didn't appear to know that Grayson wanted to audit the Fed, even as he was telling me that the economic meltdown was the Fed's fault. Hoyt, who brought a cardboard cutout of Grayson to the rally, couldn't say why the cutout had a "Congressman from ACORN" button on its suit pocket. 

Jones, Hoyt, and Tillison each voiced support for Patricia Sullivan, a local Tea Party leader who is running against Grayson. Soon enough, Sullivan was there, too, talking up reporters. "It sounds like someone is off their medicine," she said, referring to Grayson. "[He's] not thinking clearly." Sullivan's congressional run may not have the backing of the Republican establishment, but she clearly has some organizing skills: on her campaign site, Sullivan claims to have organized two 1,000-person tea parties. But there couldn't have been more than 100 protesters, despite a pre-protest "tailgate" that was organized for the time leading up to the Grayson event.

There were counter-protesters. Bob Jenner was sporting a fedora and holding up a sign that said Grayson: n., backbone. While most Tea Partiers were careful about what they said to reporters, they didn't always keep their muttering to themselves. "He's a teacher," one said of Jenner (who is). "That explains his socialist tendencies." Another speculated that something about Jenner (his sign? his hat?) would "be good for target practice." Jenner, who was being interviewed at the time, didn't catch the thinly-veiled threat.

The town hall itself was fairly uneventful. The vast majority of the Teabaggers didn't make it in, and those that did were quickly disarmed by Grayson's stunningly softspoken manner (or perhaps intimidated by his 6'4'' frame and rumors of lycanthropy). Besides, everyone already knew what everybody else thought. They'd settled that outside, with chants and counterchants. "Grayson tells the truth!" the Dems hollered."He lies!" the Tea Partiers would shout back. So while it may have been Alan Grayson's town hall, Joe Wilson was definitely there in spirit.

The Forgotten Half of Healthcare Reform

| Tue Oct. 13, 2009 6:03 AM EDT

With the Senate Finance Committee set to vote today on its long-awaited health-care bill, a number of medical experts have criticized the legislation, as well as other committees' bills, for failing to seriously address the country's health delivery system. As I recently wrote, the pitched debate over reforming healthcare has largely focused on the sexier issue of reforming insurance, i.e., creating a public option, co-ops, fine-tuning the system in place, etc. Meanwhile, our broken delivery system—in which costs soar higher, preventive care is marginalized, and doctors get paid on fee-for-service basis—continues to crumble.

Over the past couple days, doctors and policy experts have come out to urge lawmakers to tackle delivery problems before it's too late. "The discussion has gone from health care reform to insurance and payment reform," Toby Cosgrove, president and CEO of the Cleveland Clinic, recently told a reporter for The New York Times's "Prescriptions" blog. Cosgrove added, "We're not really reforming the system. We are reforming how we pay for it. It's certainly all about politics right now." In addition, four former US surgeons general released a statement on Saturday saying our "unsustainable" health-care system is in need of "reform that prioritizes prevention, preventive care and health literacy to encourage healthier lifestyles and we must also lower costs in order to make quality health care affordable for every single person who needs it."

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 13, 2009

Tue Oct. 13, 2009 6:01 AM EDT

US Soldiers from the Georgia Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, pay their respects during a memorial ceremony for Staff Sgt. Alex French IV at Camp Clark, Afghanistan, Oct. 4, 2009. French was killed in action by an improvised explosive device on Sept. 30, 2009. (DoD photo by U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Evelyn Chavez.)

Need To Read: October 13, 2009

| Tue Oct. 13, 2009 5:28 AM EDT

Today's must-reads:

  • The Chamber of Carbon Commerce is really not that big [Mother Jones]
  • Robert Reich's bold idea: Obama should promise a stronger climate bill... and wait until after Copenhagen to push it through the Senate [TAPPED]
  • Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signs bills to establish a Harvey Milk day and acknowledge gay marriages performed in other states [SF Chronicle]
  • Goldman CEO, having profited mightily from opacity, now favors financial transparency [FT op ed]
  • Baucus' spokesman describes AHIP's predictably unfavorable audit of the reform bill as "a health insurance company hatchet job, plain and simple" [Kevin Drum]
  • More on the media's phoney "inter-generational war" in health care reform meme [MoJo]
  • The WaPo editorial page comes out in favor of the weak Patriot Act reforms
  • The naked-image security scanner: Coming soon to an airport near you? [Guardian]
  • Five ways you're being secretly monitored [Cracked]
  • People feel "anxious" when they're cut off from the Internet [Telegraph]
  • File under "Things Not Worth +$300": A blade-less fan [Wired Gadget Lab]
  • Finally, Michael Jackson's new song was actually old...and not his [Reuters]

Nick Baumann and I posts pieces like these throughout the day on twitter. You should follow him and me for more must-reads. David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, also tweets. So do my colleagues Daniel Schulman, Rachel Morris, Kate Sheppard and our editors-in-chief, Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein. Follow them too! (The magazine's main account is @motherjones.)

Nobel Victory for Women

| Mon Oct. 12, 2009 3:43 PM EDT

As MoJo's Kevin Drum notes, this year's Nobel Prize winners in economics, Yanks Elinor Ostrom and Oliver E. Williamson, have done America proud.

But Ostrom's victory is significant in another way too: She is the first female to win the economics prize since its inception 40 years ago.

School kids, take note: Who says economics is for boys?

Update: More reason for women to celebrate—five females won Nobel Prizes this year, the most ever. The other victors were Elizabeth Blackburn and Carol Greider, physiology/medicine; Ada Yonath, chemistry; and Herta Muller, literature.

This is particularly impressive when you consider only 40 women total have ever won Nobels. And the victories are largely in the science and math fields, no less (take that, Larry Summers!) 

(H/T Corbin Hiar)

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Health Insurance Industry's Latest Double-Cross

| Mon Oct. 12, 2009 2:48 PM EDT

Just in case anyone thought the insurance companies couldn’t sink any lower, they've made yet another sleazy move in the ongoing battle over health care reform. This morning, American Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the main industry shill group, announced a new "report" warning  that the proposed reforms would raise a "typical family's" health insurance premiums by as much as $4,000 over the next ten years.

The report is a particular stab in the back to President Obama and Senate Finance Committee chair Max Baucus. Both have spent recent months assiduously kissing the insurers’ gold-plated butts in exchange for their "co-operation" on health care reform. The Baucus bill is already a giveaway to the health insurance industry. By requiring millions more Americans to buy private health insurance plans, it stands to shovel even more money into their coffers, while imposing little government regulation and no competition from a public plan.

But that still wasn’t enough for the insurance companies. As the Los Angeles Times reports, health insurers have concluded that Baucus bill doesn’t do enough "to draw young, healthy people into the insurance pool. Industry analysts predict that by postponing and reducing penalties on those who fail to buy health insurance, it would attract less-healthy patients who would drive up costs." In other words, some of the new policy-holders might actually require insurance companies to pay for health care in exchange for their bonanza of new premiums. That, of course, might chip away at their profit margin, whch would never do—so their only option is to raise already sky-high insurance premiums even higher. Or so they say.

Conn. GOP Attacks WWE's Linda McMahon

| Mon Oct. 12, 2009 2:47 PM EDT

Former WWE CEO Linda McMahon caught heat from her Republican challengers in Connecticut this weekend, a sign that she has emerged as a formidable opponent to take over embattled Sen. Chris Dodd's seat next fall. Her prominent GOP opponents, including former state Rep. Rob Simmons and state Sen. Sam Caligiuri slammed the $35,000 that McMahon and her husband Vince have donated to Democrats in recent years. A recent report by the Center for Responsive Politics shows that the McMahons have given large donations to prominent Democrats, including Rahm Emanuel and Mark Warner, since 1989.

"I think it's very unusual [for a Republican to contribute to a Democrat]. These are big numbers. These are big dollars," said Simmons, the race's current front runner. But attacking McMahon's bi-partisan past is a risky move, considering that Connecticut is predominantly Democratic and many state Republicans supported democrat-turned-independent Joe Lieberman over his Republican opponent in 2006. Moreover, since McMahon is campaigning on an anti-establishment platform, her past contributions could be helpful if she makes it to the general election next fall.

Caligiuri took his attacks on McMahon even further, claiming that the past donations placed "expediency over principle" and indicate that she already represents what is wrong with Washington. "If McMahon is already part of the problem," he said, "it is hard to believe she can ever become part of the solution."

UPDATE: Jodi Latina, the director of new media for the McMahon campaign, posted a response to the GOP attacks on McMahon's blog Tuesday. "As is often the case when a political outsider begins shaking up the system, the career political insiders are fighting for their survival. That's no surprise. Their careers depend on protecting the status quo," she writes. "The career political insiders started going this negative so early because they're obviously terrified of Linda's candidacy."

Something Rotten in the State of Denmark?

| Mon Oct. 12, 2009 1:52 PM EDT

After all my blogging about the relative peachiness of climate politics in Denmark, over the weekend the story broke that the country's lead negotiator has resigned.

Thomas Becker, deputy permanent secretary in the Ministry for Climate and Energy and Minister Connie Hedegaard's "right hand man," quit his post on Friday—apparently not long after we were hearing from Hedegaard about how much agreement there is on climate policy in Denmark. The Danish press is speculating that the departure is the result of a rift between Becker's views and those of the new Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen. Becker is said to have wanted the country to stake out a more aggressive position on climate than the PM's office is willing to back.

Hedegaard said on Danish television that his exit is "purely an administrative matter." Becker will apparently be replaced with senior diplomat Steffen Smidt. From Reuters:

Apocalypse Then, Afghanistan Now

| Mon Oct. 12, 2009 12:11 PM EDT

This story first appeared on the TomDispatch website.

Here's the thing: This may be our next "Vietnam moment," but Afghanistan is no Vietnam: there are no major enemy powers like the Soviet Union and China lurking in the background; no organized enemy state with a powerful army like North Vietnam supporting the insurgents; no well organized, unified national liberation movement like the Vietcong, and that's just a beginning. Almost everywhere, in fact, the Vietnam analogy breaks down—almost everywhere, that is, except when it comes to us. Because we never managed to leave Vietnam behind, even when we were proclaiming that we had kicked that "syndrome," it turns out that we're still there. Our military leaders, for instance, only recently dusted off the old Vietnam-era counterinsurgency doctrine that once ended in catastrophe, shined it up, and are now presenting it as an ingenious new solution to war-fighting. Let's face it: everything about American thinking still stinks of the Vietnamese debacle, including the inability of our leaders to listen to a genuinely wide range of options.

Now, according to Peter Siegel and Jonathan Weisman of the Wall Street Journal, a "battle" of two Vietnam histories is underway at the White House and the Pentagon. Think of them as dueling books. The president and a number of his advisors have just finished reading Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam about a White House "being marched into an escalating war by a military viewing the conflict too narrowly to see the perils ahead" and backed by a hawkish national security adviser. The other, a Pentagon favorite, A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam, focuses on a military that by the early 1970s was supposedly winning its counterinsurgency struggle only to be "rejected by political leaders who bow[ed] to popular opinion and end[ed] the fight."