Mojo - February 2010

Look Who's Coming to the Tea Party

| Wed Feb. 3, 2010 6:40 PM EST

In last night's Illinois gubernatorial primary, an overwhelming majority of Republican voters cast their ballots for someone other than Adam Andrzejewski, a Tea Party-backed insurgent who had won an endorsement from, of all people, Polish Nobel laureate Lech Walesa. As political blogger Dave Weigel points out, this really shouldn't be considered too much of a death blow to the movement given that Rep. Mark Kirk, the GOP candidate in the other major statewide race, has courted the Tea Party vote himself. But it does underscore an often overlooked point: There's an important distinction between the candidates who benefit from anti-incumbent Tea Party fervor and those who actually embody the "movement."

For a couple of examples, look no further than Massachusetts, where Scott Brown's special election victory was hailed as a triumph for the Tea Party. While Brown did capitalize on people's frustrations with Washington, the whole Tea Party bit, as our own Kevin Drum explains, was overblown. To the extent that the Tea Party represents any coherent philosphy, Brown doesn't fit the label. He supports the concept of universal health care (he even voted for it once), in fundamental conflict with the movement's anti-government underpinnings. He's also pro-choice and supportive of civil unions. Normally that would earn him a primary challenge, not endorsements from the likes of Ralph Reed and Sarah Palin.

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White House Takes Question About Question Time

| Wed Feb. 3, 2010 5:22 PM EST

At today's White House press briefing, David Corn asked Bill Burton whether Obama would commit to holding regular Q&A sessions with Republicans, following the riveting exchange last week at the GOP's issues retreat. Burton basically said no, arguing that the first session worked because of its "spontaneity." This is a pretty weak excuse. If you've ever checked out the British parliament's question time sessions, in which rowdy MPs grill the prime minister at length about the issues of the day, you'll see that they've managed to retain plenty of spontaneity over the years (sometimes a little too much.) In any case, the White House evidently still needs some convincing. Here's how you can help.

David Brooks Goes After Greedy Geezers

| Wed Feb. 3, 2010 4:51 PM EST

David Brooks wants to pull the plug on us greedy, grasping old folks. Or more accurately, he wants us to pull the plug on ourselves, by giving up our generous “entitlements” and submitting to Social Security and Medicare cuts. We should be more than happy to do this, he says, out of an altruistic urge to rescue younger generations from penury. Too bad Brooks fails to mention that what really needs rescuing is the nation’s system of social inequality and corporate greed.

In his Monday New York Times column, called “The Geezer’s Crusade,” Brooks zeros in on one of the increasingly popular straw men of our times–that enemy of the people known as the Greedy Geezer.

Dripping with condescension, Brooks runs through a list of all the wonderful things that come with old age in the 21st century. Instead of sinking into dimwitted oblivion, the modern geezer--lo and behold--is actually able to think and function. “Older people retain their ability to remember emotionally nuanced events. They are able to integrate memories from their left and right hemispheres. Their brains reorganize to help compensate for the effects of aging.” Brooks even has scientific proof for his claims: “A series of longitudinal studies, begun decades ago, are producing a rosier portrait of life after retirement,” he writes. According to these studies, old people “become more outgoing, self-confident and warm with age.” We “pay less attention to negative emotional stimuli,” and are just plain happier than the middle-aged.

Yet despite all these bountiful gifts (which undoubtedly offset such minor inconveniences as not being able to walk, see, screw, or control our bladders), we old coots just can’t shake the selfish idea that we ought to get a little help from society in our golden years. After working, raising and educating our kids, and paying taxes all our lives, we Greedy Geezers now want to sit back and rake in our “entitlements”–Social Security and Medicare. Can’t we see that in doing so, we are actually stealing  from the young, denying them a future, and worse, driving the nation into bankruptcy? Brooks writes:

Far from serving the young, the old are now taking from them. First, they are taking money. According to Julia Isaacs of the Brookings Institution, the federal government now spends $7 on the elderly for each $1 it spends on children.

News from the Hill

| Wed Feb. 3, 2010 4:00 PM EST

Kevin Drum is traveling today and tomorrow, so I'm covering for him over on his blog. Here's the latest politics news:

Decision "Next Week" On Health Care Strategy

The Democrats will soon have a strategy to pass health care reform, Harry Reid said Tuesday night. We've heard that before.

Chris Dodd vs. the Volcker Rule

The chair of the Senate banking committee thinks Obama's financial regulatory reforms, which were dreamed up by former Fed Chair Paul Volcker, may be excessively ambitious. What exactly does that mean?

More Health Care Questions

Now that Scott Brown's in town, there's really only one workable path to pass health care reform. So why are the Democrats saying they're still trying to figure out a strategy? Answer: there's something else going on.

I'll have more later in the day at Kevin's place.

Obama and Graham Call for a Full-Assed Senate Climate Bill

| Wed Feb. 3, 2010 3:17 PM EST

Over on Blue Marble, you can find the latest on environmental politics. The highlights:

Obama, Graham Warn Dems Not to Settle For "Half-Assed" Climate Bill

After seeming to make room for Democrats who want to drop cap-and-trade in remarks at a town hall in New Hampshire, Barack Obama on Wednesday called on his party not to take "the easy way out" on legislation. Republican Lindsey Graham seconded the call to not settle for a "half-assed" climate bill.

Nuclear's Slice of the Climate Pie

A leaked draft of the Senate bill's nuclear title includes basically everything the nuclear industry has asked for: additional federal loan guarantees to spur the construction of new plants, tax breaks and a streamlined approval process for new plants.

House Trio Moves to Block EPA

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and Missouri Reps. Ike Skelton (D) and Jo Ann Emerson (R) announced yesterday that they are sponsoring a bill to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases, arguing that regulations should be left up to Congress. Peterson did vote for the House climate and energy bill last year, but only after holding the bill hostage until he could wring as much out of it for Big Ag. And after getting what he wanted, he now says he would vote against the bill if it came back to the House, which casts doubt about his seriousness about regulating greenhouse-gases.

Big Oil's Big Year

The oil industry spent $154 million on lobbying last year. That's more than any previous year, and more than any other energy interest looking to shape the debate on Capitol Hill.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 3, 2010

Wed Feb. 3, 2010 8:14 AM EST

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A US soldier warms his hands by a fire made by Afghan during Operation Wawraa Tufaan in Zanbar, Afghanistan, on Jan 31. Photo via the US Army by Sgt. Jeffrey Alexander.

 

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Need to Read: February 3, 2010

Wed Feb. 3, 2010 8:09 AM EST

  The must-read stories from around the web and in today's papers:

 

Conspiracy Watch: The Pentagon's Secret Death Ray

| Wed Feb. 3, 2010 8:00 AM EST

The latest installment in our ongoing collection of wonderfully weird (and totally whack) conspiracy theories. Find more Conspiracy Watch entries here.

THE THEORY: The Air Force and Navy say that their High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) in Gakona, Alaska, does cutting-edge research into the mysteries of the upper atmosphere. Of course, that's just the cover story. The 35-acre "ionospheric heater," which can blast 3.6 megawatts of energy skyward and create its own version of the northern lights, is really a high-tech weapon, though promoters of this idea are unclear on exactly what kind. Maybe a massive mind-control device? A death ray (which accidentally shot down the space shuttle in 2003)? A weather-modification system?

THE THEORISTS: The latter theory has been put forward by Michel Chossudovsky, a Canadian economics prof who wrote a 2007 article in the normally sane environmental magazine the Ecologist in which he described HAARP as "a weapon of mass destruction." He accuses global warming researchers of ignoring the impacts of "climatic warfare." A leading proponent of the mind-control theory is Nick Begich, brother of Alaska Democratic Sen. Mark Begich and coauthor of the book Angels Don't Play This HAARP.

MEANWHILE, BACK ON EARTH: HAARP, launched in 1990 with an earmark from then-Sen. Ted Stevens, has some secretive uses related to submarines and protecting satellites from nuclear blasts, but there's no evidence that it's a weapon. And why build a giant system to wreak global meteorological havoc when our tailpipes are doing such a great job of it?

Kookiness Rating: Tin Foil Hat SmallTin Foil Hat SmallTin Foil Hat SmallTin Foil Hat Small (1=maybe they're on to something, 5=break out the tinfoil hat!)

In Worsening Recession, State Health Care Programs Suffer

| Wed Feb. 3, 2010 8:00 AM EST

For many people, the constant flow of news about the end of the recession, rebound of the economy, along with the President’s pledge to create new jobs through drizzle-down tax cut economics embo, seems like a bad joke. Not only are jobs not recovering, but the states which supply the basic safety net in hard times are cutting back their budgets.  Within those budgets low income people who are searching for jobs while living day to day on food stamps, face growing health care problems.

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, the Washington, DC-based think tank which tracks social programs, reports:

The worst recession since the 1930s has caused the steepest decline in state tax receipts on record. As a result, even after making very deep cuts, states continue to face large budget gaps. New shortfalls have opened up in the budgets of at least 41 states for the current fiscal year (FY 2010, which began July 1 in most states). In addition, initial indications are that states will face shortfalls as big as or bigger than they faced this year in the upcoming 2011 fiscal year. States will continue to struggle to find the revenue needed to support critical public services for a number of years.

New gaps in 2010 budgets: An increasing number of states are struggling to keep their 2010 budgets in balance as the mid-point of the fiscal year approaches. Because revenues have fallen short of projections, mid-year shortfalls have opened up in 41 states—some of which have already addressed them—totaling $35 billion or 6 percent of these budgets.

These new shortfalls are in addition to the gaps states closed when adopting their fiscal year 2010 budgets earlier this year. Counting both initial and mid-year shortfalls, 48 states have addressed or still face such shortfalls in their budgets for fiscal year 2010, totaling $194 billion or 28 percent of state budgets—the largest gaps on record.

The crimp in funds is forcing cutbacks in basic social services like health care in certain states. Kaiser Health News in conjunction with USA Today has run down some of these states:

The recession is forcing states such as Washington to pare back health insurance programs for low-income people, even as growing joblessness boosts demand for help. Five of six states that use state funds to assist adults not covered by Medicaid are considering cuts, barring new enrollment or raising fees.

The more than 250,000 people in the state programs are adults who don’t qualify for the joint federal-state Medicaid program, either because they don’t have children or earn more than the tight limits states impose on Medicaid eligibility. They represent a tiny fraction of people who get government health insurance, yet the state programs are often their sole option for coverage.

States facing serious problems, according to this article, include:

 

Corn on Countdown: Obama's Still Got It

Wed Feb. 3, 2010 2:00 AM EST

David Corn appeared on MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann to discuss President Obama's recent Q & A session with House Republicans and the administration's political strategy moving forward with the jobs bill.