Need To Read: October 5, 2009

Today's must-reads are ready for a floor debate on health care reform:

Get more stuff like this: Follow me on twitter! David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, also tweets, as does awesome new MoJo blogger Kate Sheppard. 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.)

I’ve written many times about how Americans of all ages have been set up for a fake intergenerational battle over supposedly scarce health care resources. The purpose of this phony competition is to distract us from the fact that the resources wouldn’t be so scarce to begin with if we would only reduce the profits of the insurance and drug industries.

It’s an old bait and switch tactic, and the mainstream media have fallen for it hook, line, and sinker. So instead of talking about greedy drug companies that gouge people for drugs they need to survive, or greedy insurance companies that let people die to keep up their share prices, we’re all talking about the greedy old farts on Medicare who don’t want their services cut to pay for younger people’s insurance.

The latest take on all of this, as described in over the weekend in the New York Times, pits the old (over 65) against the not-so-old (50-64). The article focuses on the conflict within AARP, which has spent several decades hitting people up for membership the day after their 50th birthdays, and now includes members from both these warring age groups:

Its 40 million members are split about evenly between those who have access to Medicare, the federal government’s health program for the elderly, and those who are too young to be eligible for such benefits. The younger members, or those between the ages of 50 and 64, sometimes face terrible choices in the private insurance market, with age and declining health status making premiums high and benefits poor. But members 65 and older get among the most secure medical benefits in the country, and many are in no mood to share.

So this is what it’s come to in the American health care system: Sickly 60-year-olds just trying to hold out until they can get their Medicare cards. Cranky old folks hoarding their Medicare benefits against the encroaching middle-aged mob. People eyeing each other suspiciously across the 65-year age divide, fearing and resenting one another.

 In the 1970s, an antiwar demonstrator found himself at New York City’s Rikers Island jail facility for a couple of months on a disorderly conduct charge. The demonstrator, who happened to be a friend of mine, met a handful of young men from the Bronx in his unit who were deaf.

They were having trouble communicating with anyone but themselves. My friend knew a little sign language and, after a few conversations, discovered they were illiterate. With the idea of helping them improve their communication skills, he asked prison authorities for permission to order books on sign language from the publisher. The wardens refused, saying that they did not want anyone in that prison using a “language” they could not understand.

Things may have changed a little for the better since then. But not by much.

I first wrote about the deaf in the late 1960s in the New Republic and so I know something of the background which is what really informs this article. While researching stories about solitary confinement at Angola Prison for Mother Jones, I came upon an article in Prison Legal News about widespread violations against deaf prisoners. Remembering the people and culture I had caught a glimpse of in the 60s, I got in touch with the article’s author, McCay Vernon. Luckily he remembered my earlier writing, and promptly agreed to help me.

The letters quoted below are from deaf prisoners to different people in the free world, who are seeking to help them, to advocate their cause. I have disguised the advocates, prisoners and prisons to keep the inmates from getting reprisals—reprisals which they fear on a daily basis. You have to remember that a deaf person can’t hear the chatter among other inmates, can’t hear the person sneaking up behind, is unintelligible in his cries for help during a rape.

After Rio beat out Chicago for the 2016 Olympics games—despite President Barack Obama's up-close-and-personal intervention—I asked Andrew Jennings, a British journalist who has spent years investigating the International Olympics Committee (IOC) and digging up much dirt on its members and practices, for his reaction. He didn't hold back:

Serve you right, suckers! Allowing yourselves to be judged by a bunch of third-rate nobodies and C-list European royalty [on the IOC] who care more about their comfort than the dreams of the athletes.
How can you do business with an organisation that has 106 members – only 16 are women?
Could it be that corruption in Brazilian sport and society is rampant – and offers all kinds of opportunities to screw the multi-billion dollar budget?
Chicago has a bad reputation for corruption – but at least a lot of the malefactors get caught and go to jail. That is not an Olympic dream at the IOC. At the BBC a few years ago, we did a sting on an IOC member with hidden cameras and taped him asking for a bribe. They are now very wary where they go.
We all know the Feds do stings – good bye Windy City.
The good news is that Madrid’s loss shows the diminishing influence of the IOC’s last president, Juan Antonio Samaranch. He was IOC president from 1980 to 2001 and gave the games to Beijing. Perhaps that was because he felt at ease with the media restrictions – similar to the Franco regime he served for 37 years, right arm always in the air.
When the fuss dies down – perhaps we can investigate and see if bribes were paid? They always were – the delicious bit being that members would trouser the kickback and vote for a rival candidate.

That certainly puts today's news in a different perspective.
You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

The latest Pew poll finds that Americans are now split evenly on their opinion of abortion rights.* In an August survey 45% of respondents said they thought abortion should be illegal in all/most cases, 47% said legal. Last year same time those numbers were 41% and 54%, respectively. Whether these numbers match up to similar polls or not, the fact that the same language was used year-to-year by Pew means the data is worth noting. Yes, it's a high bar that the respondent has to agree with the all/most cases assertion, but they also had to agree with it last year and the years before that.

As this graph shows, at least according to Pew measures, support for abortion is at its lowest since 1995, opposition near its highest. That people are more entrenched in their position after a hot election year and that conservatives are feeling defensive with a progressive in the White House who's already appointed a Supreme Court Justice, these numbers are not all that surprising, if discouraging.

The survey also asked how critical people feel abortion is as a political issue. In 2006, 28% of respondents said abortion was a critical issue, in August just about half as many felt that way, 15%. These days #hcr and #climate are more the rage, and there is plenty else to get up in arms about. Still, it seems that conservatives can manage more pots on the stove; they can rally against finance reform, health care reform, Obama, et al and still keep up an effective fight against what might be secondary issues like abortion. Progressives are way too disorganized to handle such maneuvering.


*The addition of "rights" is mine. Pew asked if people are in support of legal abortions. Saying, do you support abortion, versus, do you support the right for a woman to choose is a very different question. As Kevin Drum points out, survey design is notoriously sensitive particularly when it comes to abortion.

After losing several high-profile members over its climate policy, the US Chamber of Commerce spent much of this week attempting to convince the public that it does believe global warming is a serious concern that Congress should act upon. But in comments recently submitted by the group to the Environmental Protection Agency, the group advanced a very different view. In its submission, the Chamber questioned the science behind the phenomenon of climate change, suggested that humans are now less vulnerable to rising temperatures because of the growing use of air conditioners—and theorized that even if the planet is getting warmer, that might be a good thing.

The Chamber's comment was submitted to the EPA on June 23 in response to the agency's finding in April that carbon dioxide is a hazard to human health. The 86-page document is packed with claims that cast doubt on that conclusion. An excerpt:

The Administrator has thus ignored analyses that show that a warming of even 3 [degrees] C in the next 100 years would, on balance, be beneficial to humans because the reduction of wintertime mortality/morbidity would be several times larger than the increase in summertime heat stress- related mortality/morbidity.


For much of this past week, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs has been fielding a flow of questions about the Afghanistan war—especially queries about the three-hour pow-wow President Barack Obama held with his entire national security team on Wednesday to discuss the road ahead in Afghanistan. At Thursday's daily briefing, Gibbs wouldn't say much about what had been discussed in the Situation Room during that meeting. "The President got a chance yesterday to hear from—a robust discussion with the intelligence community and robust discussion with military and diplomatic advisors," he said, using routine press secretary-speak.

Gibbs did note that there had been no discussion about sending more troops. But he didn't say anything about the debate now underway in the administration between those who support the call of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, for expanding the war effort there into a full-fledged counterinsurgency operation with more troops (which would entail building up the Afghan government and military to defeat the Taliban), and those who favor a more narrow approach focused on counter-terrorism (which would mainly target al Qaeda). But Gibbs did signal what might become an exit strategy—or an exit excuse—for the Obama administration.

After pursuing--and nailing--Van Jones and Yosi Sergant, the right-wing hit squad is now after Kevin Jennings, a Department of Education official in charge of the safe and drug-free schools. They claim Jennings aided and abetted statutory rape.

In his column, David Corn reviews this latest conservative crusade. He writes:

So what did Jennings do?

In a 1994 book, he recounted his experience as an in-the-closet gay teacher at a private school, and he described a 1988 episode in which a male high school sophomore confided to him his involvement with an older man. Jennings was 24 years old then, and as he wrote, "I listened, sympathized, and offered advice. He left my office with a smile on his face that I would see every time I saw him on the campus for the next two years, until he graduated."

In a 2000 talk to the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, which Jennings had started, he recalled that this student had been 15 years old, had met the older man in a bus station bathroom--for that was the only way he knew how to meet gay people--and that he (Jennings) had told him, "I hope you knew to use a condom." Jennings' best friend had died of AIDS the week before his chat with the student. According to Jennings, the student replied, "Why should I? My life isn't worth saving anyway."

The right is vilifying Jennings because he didn't tell the student's parents or the authorities that this closeted gay student was having sex with an older man. That is, he didn't out this student, who was clearly troubled by his inability to be open about his sexual orientation.

Corn notes that this was not a black-and-white situation:

In 1988, it was harder to be gay than it is today--especially for a teacher and an adolescent. Conservatives who oppose gay rights generally don't display much sympathy for people who have to keep their homosexuality hidden--and don't show much concern for how that affects their lives. But I can imagine the difficult situation both Jennings and the student were in. The student needed a confidante, and Jennings had to worry about the students well-being, which included protecting his secret. (Had there not been so much anti-gay prejudice, of course, the two would not have been in these respective positions.) It's possible that Jennings helped save the kid's life by encouraging him to think about condoms. It's possible that outing the student may have led to terrible consequences. There's no telling. But only someone blinded by ideology would refuse to recognize that Jennings was contending with thorny circumstances. Perhaps he didn't make the right decision. It was a tough call. But the go-for-his-throat campaign being waged against Jennings is mean-spirited and fueled by an any-means-necessary partisanship.

In response to the right-wing bleating, Jennings has released a statement saying that he can now see "how I should have handled this situation differently I should have asked for more information and consulted legal or medical authorities. Teachers back then had little training and guidance about this kind of thing." And Education Secretary Arne Duncan has stated his support of Jennings: "He is uniquely qualified for his job and I'm honored to have him on our team."

The question is, will the White House back Duncan and Jennings on this? Or will the attack dogs of the right gain another bloody prize?

UPDATE: Media Matters reports that it has obtained a copy of the driver's license of the student and that it shows the student was 16 years old at the time of this incident. The liberal media watchdog group has posted a redacted copy of the license here.

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

A convoy loaded with shipping containers waits for the signal to depart the Class IV Depot, Sept. 19, 2009, aboard Al Asad Air Base, Iraq. The lot is being closed as part of the drawdown in Iraq as excess materials are being sent to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Marine Corps photograph by Cpl. M. M. Bravo.)

Need To Read: October 2, 2009

Today's must-reads are somewhat surprised to see health care reform moving forward:

  • Senate Finance Committee to vote next week on health care reform (NYT)
  • White House may narrow war effort (WaPo)
  • Sen. John Ensign helped aide after affair (NYT)
  • Chris Dodd's Extreme Makeover (MoJo)
  • The Most Powerful Woman in the World: If We Could Read Olympia Snowe's Lips... (Hotline)
  • Even Hayek Thought Universal Government-Provided Health Care Was A Good Idea (Andrew Sullivan)
  • Copy Editing at The New Yorker Magazine. An Interview With Mary Norris (Red Room)
  • Jim Henley's Entry in WaPo's Next Top Pundit Contest=Epic Win (Jim Henley)
  • Judge Confirms That an Innocent Man Was Tortured to Make False Confessions (HuffPo)
  • It's comforting that, with all the uncertainty in the world, at least Ken Lewis (retiring CEO of Bank of America) is going to be okay. (CNN)

Follow me on twitter! David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, also tweets, as does awesome new MoJo blogger Kate Sheppard. 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.)