Mojo - November 2009

Mocking the GOP Health Care Plan

| Mon Nov. 9, 2009 11:32 AM EST

Here's Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the education and labor committee, mocking the Republican health care plan in a very effective 90-second speech on the House floor on Saturday:

When he talks about the Republican plan "leaving people behind," Miller is referring to the Congressional Budget Office's scoring of the plan. The CBO found that the GOP plan would save money because it doesn't actually extend insurance coverage to any of the 17 percent of legal, non-elderly Americans who the CBO thinks will be without health insurance in 2010. In fact, most of the Republican plan centers around reforms that would make the health insurance industry work more like the credit card industry by allowing insurers to base themselves in the state with the weakest regulations and then sell their health plans nationwide (as credit card companies already do from South Dakota).

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The 11/9 Anniversary

| Mon Nov. 9, 2009 11:05 AM EST

Today, November 9, is the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I would like to associate myself with these comments by Matt Yglesias:

It’s hard to think of non-cliché things to say on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.... [Life in East Germany in its final days] is the subject of two excellent films, Good Bye, Lenin! and The Lives of Others, that everyone should see. I’m not really clear how representative daily life in the GDR was of everyday existence in other Eastern Bloc countries, but since as far as I know there aren’t excellent movies about daily life in Communist Poland or Communist Bulgaria this is probably how we’ll remember things.

One somewhat clichéd idea about November 9 that's still worth considering today is the argument that in the grand scheme of things, 11/9 was more historically significant than 9/11. Victor Sebestyen, who has written a book about the revolutions of 1989, has a decent column on this subject over at the Guardian. I especially liked this part of his argument:

Last, but not least, 9 November was gloriously happy. Anything seemed possible that night. 11 September was a day that sparked panic and fear. I know which is a better 9/11 to remember.

We can probably all agree on that.

Mother Jones Contributor Shane Bauer Charged With Spying

| Mon Nov. 9, 2009 10:35 AM EST

Mother Jones contributor Shane Bauer, who has been detained in Iran since late July after accidentally crossing the border while hiking in Iraqi Kurdistan, has been charged with espionage. Bauer and his two companions, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal, who were also charged, face the death penalty if convicted.

The families of the three detained hikers held vigils yesterday, November 8, to recognize the hikers' 100th day in detention. Last Monday, Shon Meckfessel, a travelling companion of Bauer, Shourd, and Fattal who was sick the day of their hike, wrote an open letter to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad asking for their release.

Ahmadinejad has suggested that he might consider releasing the three hikers in some sort of swap. Reuters explains:

Ahmadinejad suggested in an interview with the American television network NBC in September that the Americans' release might be linked to the release of Iranian diplomats he said were being held by U.S. troops in Iraq.

We will keep you posted on any further developments.

An End to California's Water Wars?

| Mon Nov. 9, 2009 8:00 AM EST

Last week, California lawmakers approved several bills that could overhaul the state’s troubled water system for the first time in 60 years. Farm interests and some environmental groups hailed the measures, fueling hopes that a generation of feuds over the state’s most vital and overexploited natural resource might soon be over. "We certainly hope that this is the beginning of the end of California’s epic water wars," says Laura Harnish, California regional director of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). "It points us in a new direction, away from the brink of disaster towards a more sensible approach to solving both our ecosystem and water supply problems."

The package of bills represents an ambitious bid to restore the Sacramento River delta, the state’s main water source. It calls for new wetland restoration projects, dams, water conservation standards, and environmental monitoring, as well as a Delta Stewardship Council that would have the authority to approve a costly new canal that might relieve pressure on the endangered delta smelt. It would fund the efforts through user fees and a massive $11 billion bond that must be approved by voters.

The Natural Resources Defense Council and Nature Conservancy also supported the bills, but the package was opposed by the Sierra Club and many smaller environmental groups that focus on water issues. Jim Metropulos, the Sierra Club's water lobbyist, argues that the bills rely too heavily on costly infrastructure that the state can ill afford, rather than cheaper conservation measures. "What the delta needs is a heart transplant to save fisheries and help all people in the state of California," he says, "and not just the water contractors."

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

Mon Nov. 9, 2009 6:53 AM EST

US Army Lt. Col. Burton Shields and his translator, meet with village elders in Karezgay, Afghanistan, Oct. 31, 2009. Shields is the commander of the 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment. (US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Christine Jones.)

Need To Read: November 9, 2009

Mon Nov. 9, 2009 6:51 AM EST

Today's must reads:

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House Passes Health Care Reform

| Sat Nov. 7, 2009 11:03 PM EST

Update: The Democrats' health care reform bill passed the House on Saturday night by a vote of 220-215. Rep. Joseph Cao (R-La.), who represents a district that voted 75% for President Barack Obama, was the only Republican to vote in favor. Thirty-nine Democrats voted against the bill. All the focus is now on the Senate, where Harry Reid has to find 60 votes to fend off a filibuster and allow the bill to move forward.

Despite all the compromises that have been made, this is a historic achievement for Democrats. This is the farthest that universal health care has ever gotten, and the stakes get even higher with each step forward.

Here's my original post from early Saturday evening, before the bill passed:

The House of Representatives is voting on health care reform tonight. Right now, there's a vote on Rep. Bart Stupak's (D-Mich.) amendment that would prevent people who receive subsidies to help them buy health insurance from purchasing plans that cover abortion. Stupak and his supporters say that they are maintaining existing law by prohibiting federal funding for abortion; pro-choice members of Congress point out that the amendment would mean that most private health insurance plans would have to stop covering abortion if they hoped to compete. The amendment is expected to pass. UPDATE: It passed.

You can follow this action and more from on twitter, where MoJoers are covering the action. I'm @nickbaumann@rachel_c_morris and @davidcorndc are also providing frequent updates. Check out what we are tweeting and follow the staff of @MotherJones with one click.

Obama's Unhealthy Victory

| Sat Nov. 7, 2009 10:33 PM EST

Despite all the town hall protests, the astroturf campaigns and the hysterical talk of death panels, Democrats made history on Saturday night when their health care bill passed the House by a nail-biting margin of 220-215. But while Republicans may have lost this battle, they continue to draw blood in the larger war. And that doesn't bode well for prospects of  health care reform now that the action is moving on to the Senate.

One after another, GOP members of Congress on Saturday denounced the Democratic health care plan as a socialistic plot that will bankrupt the country. Many also blamed Democratic policies for rising unemployment and other problems caused by the recession. It’s the height of gall, of course, for the Republicans to lay any of our economic woes at the feet of the current administration. The frenzy of deregulation and speculation that has left a reported 10 percent of Americans jobless (with the real unemployment figure running over 17 percent) can be traced directly to conservative policies, which got a leg-up during the Clinton years and flourished under Bush. So why can’t the Democrats seem to fight back? In part, perhaps, it's because they aren’t willing to engage in the kind of brazen, incendiary lying that’s become de rigeur within the GOP. But there are other reasons as well.

I know the prevailing opinon among the mainstream punditocracy is that Obama is in trouble because he is trying to do too much, too fast. I think it’s the other way around. The Democrats are vulnerable to conservative attacks because they have no compelling message of their own to offer—certainly nothing that matches the soaring rhetoric of the Obama campaign. Instead, they tiptoe cautiously down the middle of the road, and wonder why no one feels terribly inspired to follow them.

GOP Health Care Gives Us All Munchausen Syndrome

| Sat Nov. 7, 2009 1:54 AM EST

Going into the House health care debate today, it pays to keep in mind what the Republican party has identified as the real problem with American health care. Steve Benen in the Washington Monthly sums it up succinctly, quoting former Congressman Dick Armey, the guru of the tea party crowd: “The largest empirical problem we have in health care today is too many people are too overinsured.”

There it is, the right’s philosophy on American health care in 17 words. Most of us think the problem with the existing system is that we pay too much, get too little, and leave too many behind. Dick Armey sees the existing system and thinks we’d all be better off with less coverage....

Just two months ago, Reps. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) and Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal making the same case. “When was the last time you asked your doctor how much it would cost for a necessary test or procedure?” they asked, making the case that consumers need more “control … over their care.”

It’s all premised on the notion that health insurance encourages medical treatments. If we have coverage, we might get tests and procedures that we wouldn’t get if weren’t so darned insured. Less coverage means fewer costs.

This last point highlights an enduring myth about health care that has yet to be seriously challenged, even by Democrats, in the current debate. It’s the idea that if people had better access to health care, it would lead to “overuse,” and therefore to increased cost. That’s why we can’t have single-payer or any other reform that makes free or low-cost health care more available to more people---because without financial barriers, everyone would be running to the doctor every time they sneezed.

This myth treats medical procedures as if they were enjoyable leisure activities that everyone would like to partake of more often if only they were given the chance: “Gosh, I’ve got some free time today–-I think I’ll go sit in my doctor’s waiting room” or “Wow, I’d love to have another colonoscopy this month” or “Hey, why don’t I have my hip replaced---after all, it’s free.” The overuse myth suggests that a large portion of the U.S. population is suffering from Munchausen syndrome---or at the very least, that we are masochistic hypochodriacs.

In reality, there’s scant evidence that better access leads to overuse---although the opposite is certainly true. And the meteoric rise in health care costs, beginning in the 1990s, has no apparent relationship to greater access. As Physicians for a National Health Program pointed out several years back:

Senate Unanimously Confirms Controversial Mining Pick

| Fri Nov. 6, 2009 2:23 PM EST

The Senate on Friday unanimously confirmed the nomination of Joseph Pizarchik to serve as Director of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. As we recently reported, Pizarchik is a controversial figure whose nomination was protested by many coal-field activists in his home state of Pennsylvania.

Pizarchik has served as the director of Pennsylvania's Bureau of Mining and Reclamation since 2002, where he has overseen mining permits and the enforcement of environmental rules related to mining and waste disposal. Residents of Pennsylvania mining areas say that he was too cozy with the coal industry and did not enforce existing environmental laws. Multiple senators on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee expressed concerns about his record in his confirmation hearing in August.

One mystery senator placed an anonymous hold on the nomination, and two—Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—voted against him in committee. But apparently the hold was removed earlier this week, allowing a voice vote to go forward Friday afternoon. Mother Jones is still trying to get comment from Menendez and Sanders about whether they did, in fact, change their minds about the nomination.