Mojo - November 2009

Fiore Cartoon: Speaking Tea Bag

Thu Nov. 12, 2009 2:42 PM EST

Do you find it difficult to talk about the nuances of health care reform? Then why not learn how to speak tea bag!

You too can spew such terms as "socialist," "Nazi," and "Obamunist." You can even use the language in everyday conversation.

Watch satirist Mark Fiore's tutorial below:

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A Lobbyist by Any Other Name

| Thu Nov. 12, 2009 11:00 AM EST

Where have all the lobbyists gone? A recent study of disclosure forms by OMB Watch and the Center for Responsive Politics finds that a larger-than-average number "deregistered" this year, removing themselves from the official ranks of influence peddlers. But they haven't  gone very far. The groups say that these former lobbyists are now simply seeking to shape government policy in less transparent ways.

The study found that 1,418 federally registered lobbyists deregistered in the second quarter of 2009, between April and June (an average quarter would see a few hundred lobbyists terminate their active status.) The drop occurred shortly after Barack Obama issued Executive Order 13490, which put new restrictions on former lobbyists appointed to the executive branch.

The study observes that the "data does not provide enough context to provide a direct correlation to the executive order." But it also argues the the mass deregistration is likely not coincidental—and it's evidence of some of the larger flaws in lobbying disclosure rules. 

The report suggests that many of the lobbyists who lobbyists deregistered—possibly in the hope of getting a job in the executive branch some day—now have some other title that allows them to continue doing very similar work:

Another troubling issue highlighted by the organizations is that the thousands of lobbyists who appear to have left their line of work may not have actually done so. At the federal level, many people working in the lobbying industry are not registered lobbyists, instead adopting titles such as "senior advisor" or other executive monikers, thereby avoiding federal disclosure requirements under the Lobbying Disclosure Act.

In short, the deregistration doesn't mean there are actually fewer people seeking to influence policy. They're just doing so with less transparency, as they're no longer legally obligated to disclose their activities. So when the White House announced in September that "it is our aspiration that federally-registered lobbyists not be appointed to agency advisory boards and commissions," it might have had the opposite effect from what the new administration intended.

Sen. David Vitter (R-Formaldehyde)

| Thu Nov. 12, 2009 7:59 AM EST

In May, President Obama nominated a renowned scientist known as the "father of green chemistry" to head the EPA's Office of Research and Development. For an administration that supports ambitious climate change legislation and stresses the importance of sustainability, the nomination of Paul Anastas, director of Yale's Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering and a former White House environment director, was very much in keeping with its broader agenda. Anastas' nomination was unanimously approved in committee in July, and his confirmation seemed all but assured. Yet six months later Anastas still isn't confirmed. Standing in his way is Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), whose block on Anastas' nomination raises questions about Vitter's close ties to the formaldehyde industry.

Today, the future of the formaldehyde industry is very much in jeopardy. A few years back, the International Agency for Research on Cancer definitively announced that the chemical, used in building materials and household products, causes cancer in humans. The EPA, which has studied formaldehyde's risks for more than a decade, doesn't go quite so far, saying it's a "probable human carcinogen." But that could soon change. The EPA has recently signaled that it plans to definitively assess formaldehyde's health effects. "This is not the time for more delay," an EPA spokeswoman told the New Orleans Times-Picayune in September. As the agency's research director, Anastas would surely have a role in this assessment. Given that one of Anastas' specialties is researching "the design of safer chemicals and chemical processes to replace hazardous substances," the formaldehyde industry is predictably concerned about his nomination.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 12, 2009

Thu Nov. 12, 2009 6:59 AM EST

Army Spc. Alex Baker, horticultural specialist, from Stephenville, Texas, assigned to the Texas Agribusiness Development Team at Forward Operating Base Ghazni, listens as his interpreter explains how a lime is used in local cuisine during a market assessment at the produce market in Ghazni, Afghanistan, Oct. 27. The ADT performs market assessments in the produce market every 4-6 weeks to measure trends, prices, and seasonal changes on local and imported fruits and vegetables. (US Army photo via army.mil.)

Need To Read: November 12, 2009

Thu Nov. 12, 2009 6:55 AM EST

Today's must reads:

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Veterans Die from Lack of Health Insurance

| Wed Nov. 11, 2009 5:24 PM EST

From the web site of Physicians for a National Health Plan comes this summary of a new study on American veterans' limited access to health care. These figures as an estimate, extrapolated from an earlier study--but if they are right, they dwarf the number of deaths from combat, and rival the suicide figures I wrote about earlier today.

A research team at Harvard Medical School estimates 2,266 U.S. military veterans under the age of 65 died last year because they lacked health insurance and thus had reduced access to care. That figure is more than 14 times the number of deaths (155) suffered by U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2008, and more than twice as many as have died (911 as of Oct. 31) since the war began in 2001.

The researchers, who released their analysis today [Tuesday], pointedly say the health reform legislation pending in the House and Senate will not significantly affect this grim picture.

The Harvard group analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s March 2009 Current Population Survey, which surveyed Americans about their insurance coverage and veteran status, and found that 1,461,615 veterans between the ages of 18 and 64 were uninsured in 2008. Veterans were only classified as uninsured if they neither had health insurance nor received ongoing care at Veterans Health Administration (VA) hospitals or clinics.

Using their recently published findings in the American Journal of Public Health that show being uninsured raises an individual’s odds of dying by 40 percent (causing 44,798 deaths in the United States annually among those aged 17 to 64), they arrived at their estimate of 2,266 preventable deaths of non-elderly veterans in 2008.

 

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The Veteran Suicides

| Wed Nov. 11, 2009 5:05 PM EST

On this Veterans Day, tributes continue for the 13 soldiers who died last week at Ford Hood, gunned down by one of their own. It was a shocking and terrible event, which warranted the outpouring of sorrow it inspired. Yet every single day, on average, more current and past members of the U.S. armed services die by their own hands than were killed on November 5 at Fort Hood.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ own calculations (which it tried to conceal from a CBS News probe, Congress, and the public), there are “about 18 suicides per day among America’s 25 million veterans.” That's well over 6,000 a year. In addition, the VA admits that “suicide prevention coordinators are identifying about 1,000 suicide attempts per month among veterans we see in our medical facilities.” Rates are highest among young men in their twenties, veterans of our current wars. And these numbers do not include suicides by active duty members of the military. In 2008 alone, these numbered nearly 250 (Army 128, Navy 41, Marines 41, Air Force 38)--an average of five every week.

There are no public outpourings of grief for these servicemen and women, whose deaths must often have followed prolonged suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injury, depression, or plain old despair. There are no memorial services with eulogies by the president, no tributes at Veterans’ Day parades, no week-long stretches of nonstop media coverage.

Instead, there are sporadic news reports, and the occassional Congressional hearing. And while increasing lip service has been paid to improving mental health care for veterans, in reality, the VA has set up multiple obstacles to such care. 

Should Wall Street Apologize?

| Wed Nov. 11, 2009 3:42 PM EST

This, from Andrew Ross Sorkin's New York Times Q&A, will probably make you angry:

Q. This may sound Pollyannish, but while you have been interviewing the Wall Street chief executives for your book, did you ever get the sense that they felt responsible or remorseful for the damage they had done? Or for that matter, did they feel any gratitude toward the average taxpayer for saving them?

Much of the anger in the country could be abated with a simple "I'm sorry" and "Thank you for coming to our rescue."

— Craig Wensberg, Millburn, N.J.
 

A. I must say that one of the frustrating parts of researching my book came when I finally got to ask the question of Wall Street chief executives and board members that you just raised: Do you have any remorse? Are you sorry? The answer, almost unequivocally, was no. (Or they just didn't answer.) They see themselves as just one part of a larger problem, with many constituencies to blame.

Many of the most senior members of management on Wall Street now consider themselves "survivors," as if they were cancer survivors or something. That’s the word they use. While many of them are self-aware enough to politely nod at the notion that they received help and were part of the problem, they seem reluctant to acknowledge they were "rescued" or "saved." There are probably a few exceptions, so I shouldn’t paint them all with the same brush, but on the whole, that was the takeaway.

I recognize that that answer will only increase public outrage. But it is true.

David Corn asked a bunch of Wall Street CEOs this same question back in March, and got basically the same answer. David came away with the impression that "high finance means never having to say you're sorry." If we haven't seen any remorse yet, we're probably not going to see any going forward—the stock market has rebounded and risk-taking and bonuses are getting back to their pre-crash highs. I'd rather have real reform than an apology, anyway. I don't think we'll get either—But if we don't get real reform, maybe the next crisis will be so bad that even trillions of government dollars won't be able to stop the bleeding and CEOs will have to face the music. If that happens, I look forward to telling Ken Lewis and his ilk to go tell it to Timbaland.

Birther Lawyer Raising Money on Climate Treaty "Dictatorship"

| Wed Nov. 11, 2009 2:35 PM EST

Lawyer Gary Kreep has drawn attention for defending Glenn Beck and fighting a court battle for a client who embraces the "birther" conspiracy theory that Barack Obama is ineligible to be president. Now Kreep and his conservative legal group, the United States Justice Foundation, are trying to raise money off a new cause: protecting Americans from the "Global Socialism" and "Global Dictatorship" that will come if a global climate treaty is signed in Copenhagen, Denmark later this year.

USJF, which calls itself "your conservative voice in the courts," is involved in many extreme conservative causes. Kreep has fought to protect the anti-immigrant "Minutemen," railed against gay marriage, and allied with the extremist anti-abortion group Operation Rescue. But this anti-Copenhagen advocacy seems to be new. In an email to members of a conservative website's mailing list, Kreep warns of dire consequences if Obama is allowed to pursue a climate treaty and suggests that only by donating to his organization can conservatives avert disaster:

Happy 90th, Mikhail Kalashnikov

| Wed Nov. 11, 2009 2:07 PM EST

Photo by flickr user barjack used under a Creative Commons license.Photo by flickr user barjack used under a Creative Commons license.I was interested to learn, via Spencer Ackerman, that yesterday was AK-47 designer Mikhail Kalashnikov's 90th birthday. Joe Harlan fills in some details:

The most common assault rifle on earth, being used by children in Africa and old men in Paktia, is the end result of an arms glut never before witnessed in history. The armies of some two to three dozen countries use Kalashnikovs or an unlicensed copy. Armed non state actors on every continent except Antarctica have used it. The production of these weapons is estimated at roughly 100 million units, give or take, and is being copied — by hand in some places, or by industrial manufacturers in others.

[F]or most entities to carry out what we’ll call "industrial" warfare, they require industrial arms production. After WWII, unprecedented levels of production and also proliferation by the two Cold War superpowers changed that; major armored vehicles, artillery, and nearly ubiquitous small arms made their way into the dusty forgotten corners of the world. By allowing that, we have given medieval societies the modern means to make war.

Two years ago Good magazine had an awesome issue about good design. The AK-47 was on the cover. Here's what they said about it

The problem is that "good design" didn’t look much beyond the object itself. An AK-47 rifle, for example, makes use of sound and appropriate materials and it demonstrates other criteria of good design, such as solid workmanship, efficiency, and suitability of purpose—the gun was designed so that nothing, from sand to ice, could get in and prevent it from firing. Plus, its robust and “honest” appearance is pleasing. For many, the AK-47 is a classic in the annals of good design (it also happens to be most popular firearm in the world). But the question then is: good for what and for whom?

I know it's a cliché, but people's ability to constantly develop with new, more interesting, and more efficient ways to kill each other always impresses me.