Political MoJo

Enticing New Health Care Plan from Little Known Corner of Congress

| Thu Mar. 1, 2007 3:21 PM EST

A new Slate article by Jacob Weisberg examines that state of American health care, from the status quo to Bush's plan to John Edwards' plan to... Ron Wyden's plan?

Yup. The Democratic senator from Oregon has a plan, and it sounds mighty attractive. Imagine if the giant, Byzantine mess that is the current health care system in this country was reduced to this:

Under Wyden's plan, employers would no longer provide health coverage, as they have since World War II. Instead, they'd convert the current cost of coverage into additional salary for employees. Individuals would use this money to buy insurance, which they would be required to have. Private insurance plans would compete on features and price but would have to offer benefits at least equivalent to the Blue Cross "standard" option.

And Wyden is serious about the "universal" aspect of universal health insurance. From a summary of his plan: "Every time an individual interacts with state, local and federal government — registering their car, enrolling their children in school, applying for a driver's license or paying their taxes — they can be required to verify their enrollment in a private health insurance plan." Also, I'm sure this is music to some people's ears: "Previous and existing health problems, occupation, genetic information, gender and age will no longer be allowed to impact eligibility or the price paid for insurance."

Now you might say, "That's very well and good, but what about the unemployed, low-wage workers, and freelance bloggers? If they can't afford private health insurance now, why would they be able to afford it under the Wyden plan?" Wyden's website is stocked with information on the subject, and in all the "Before Wyden Plan"/"Under Wyden Plan" scenarios you can find there, previously uninsured individuals pay for private insurance at affordable rates. But how? From the same summary:

Employers who do not currently provide health benefits will be required to begin making phased in "Employer Shared Responsibility Payments." These payments will be used to ensure that everyone can afford their health plans by funding premium reductions.

After two years, all employers will pay these "Employer Shared Responsibility Payments," driving down the cost of premiums for employees across the country, the semi-employed, and the unemployed.

Now it's just a matter of getting this thing off the ground. As Weisberg writes in Slate, it might actually have a chance to succeed because Wyden is building support methodically and effectively.

He has support from CEOs, labor leaders, and even one maverick health-insurance executive. And instead of trying to flatten the opposition, as the Clintons did in 1994, Wyden is courting Republicans. He recently got five of the most conservative men in the Senate to join him and four other Democrats as co-signers of a letter to Bush responding to the White House proposal. The letter endorses the principles of universal coverage and cost containment, and proposes that they all work together on a compromise.

Godspeed.

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Seriously Mixed Signals from the Commanders in Baghdad

| Thu Mar. 1, 2007 1:06 PM EST

About a week ago I highlighted an important story in Newsweek that explained how completely different the discussion about Iraq in America is from the reality on the ground. Congress may be debating (kind of) how to end the war, but over in Baghdad, Gen. Petraeus is embedding our troops with the Iraqi citizenry and "putting down roots." We're in it for the long haul, said Newsweek. Petraeus is trying to fight the war over again from scratch.

But today the Guardian reports that Petraeus and the Brainy Bunch are giving themselves six months to turn things around.

An elite team of officers advising the US commander, General David Petraeus, in Baghdad has concluded that they have six months to win the war in Iraq - or face a Vietnam-style collapse in political and public support that could force the military into a hasty retreat.

This could mean several things. (1) That Petraeus really does have a long-term strategy but he will scrap it if there is no discernable progress in the next six months. (2) This Guardian story is just a bit of masterful PR by the Army to show that the new commander is aware of the war's failing support back home, and the long-term strategy moves forward unimpeded. Or (3) one of the two stories is wrong.

I'm guessing some combination of all three. But Petraeus -- who was basically set up to fail -- appears to have an even more impossible situation.

What Doug Feith Left Off His New Website

| Thu Mar. 1, 2007 12:56 PM EST

Doug Feith, the former undersecretary of defense who helped set up the Pentagon operation that stovepiped bad intel about WMD and Saddam-Al Qaeda links to the White House, has been trying to clear his name recently. Now he says he was just asking "tough questions" about the CIA's work, not trying to peddle bogus theories to justify an invasion of Iraq. Just a skeptical public servant holding those in power accountable. And if you believe that, I have a war to sell you. Feith's latest effort in name-clearing is a website that promises to challenge the "media myths" and offers glowing quotes about his character from Donald Rumsfeld and General Peter Pace. Funny, but Feith has conspicuously left off what's probably the most memorable quote about him by a military man he used to work with. Here, let us fix that:

feith.gif

Democrats Will End War in Iraq with... Pork?

| Thu Mar. 1, 2007 12:52 PM EST

With John Murtha's plan to slowly end the war in Iraq mired in controversy and unable to get broad support, and the Democratic leadership's plan to rewrite the 2002 authorization for war going nowhere, the Democrats have turned to a different tactic.

Loading a war spending bill with pork.

Seriously, that's the best the Dems, who control both houses of Congress, can do. From today's Washington Post:

While Democrats try to restrict how President Bush can spend the $100 billion he wants for Iraq, they also hope to load his measure up with $10 billion in add-ons...
Lawmakers from the Great Plains are pressing for about $4 billion in disaster aid for farmers suffering under drought conditions.
The California delegation is demanding help for citrus, avocado and other Central Valley farmers facing $1.2 billion in losses from a devastating January freeze.

And so on and so on. Mind you, the idea here isn't to pump the bill so full of special interest spending that Bush has to veto it. No, the idea is to take advantage of the fact that Bush and Congressional Republicans would never have the cojones to stop a war spending bill, and thus push through a lot of favorite projects.

What? Seriously, what? Talk about having a tin ear. Didn't the Democrats ride into Congress promising to end the march of bills swollen on earmarks and Republican pork barrel projects? Are they seriously proposing this right now?

AsianWeek Columnist Had a Penchant for Hate Speech

| Wed Feb. 28, 2007 9:16 PM EST

The San Francisco weekly, AsianWeek, which calls itself "The Voice of Asian America," has come under fire for a column last week titled "Why I Hate Blacks."

The column (since deleted from AsianWeek's site but reprinted here) lists, among other things, four reasons why "we should discriminate against Blacks." Yikes.

In response, the newspaper issued this apology:

AsianWeek sincerely regrets and apologizes for publishing New York-based contributor Kenneth Eng's column in the issue of February 23, 2007. AsianWeek rejects Eng's biased views on a critical segment of American society, African Americans. While AsianWeek continues to truly believe in diversity of opinion and freedom of the press, we are also very aware that the promotion of hate speech is not appropriate, nor should it be encouraged.

Given that the genesis of the American civil rights movement was borne primarily by the African American community through blood and perseverance, the failing of our editorial process in allowing this opinion piece to go forward, was an insensitive and callous mistake that should never have been made by our publication. Readers of AsianWeek over the past 27-year history clearly know that we reject any racist agenda. On the contrary, our editorial policy has led the way in interracial and multicultural strength and diversity.

As a publication whose motto is the "voice of the Asian American community," we are humbled and overwhelmed at reader response not only chastising our editorial process, but strongly urging our paper to sever all ties to this contributor. We have heard the call and Mr. Eng has been terminated from writing for the paper.

That's a pretty egregious slip past the editors. And here's the thing: Kenneth Eng, a self described "Asian supramicist" wrote two previous columns for AsianWeek titled, "Why I Hate Asians" last month, and "Proof that Whites Inherently Hate Us" in November.

I'm curious to know why the editors didn't feel impelled to reject his "hate speech" and "racial agenda" back when they published these other columns? If his aim was to get people thinking, enraged, but thinking, and they stood behind that premise before, why not stand behind him now? Instead they fired him, and they look irresponsible on the national stage.

And if publishing this column was indeed a mistake, then so were the others, and they've let a few too many mistakes slip on by.

— Neha Inamdar

Desperate Evangelicals

| Wed Feb. 28, 2007 7:23 PM EST

The American Prospect is calling Romney a joke of a candidate—all hair. But, meanwhile, in Newsweek's version of the "The Evangelicals Have No Candidate" story, we find this:

The Bush family seems to be moving its chips to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Several of Jeb's gubernatorial staffers have signed on with Romney, and Jeb's sister, Doro Bush Koch, is cohosting a fund-raiser for him. Mom and Dad are reportedly telling friends he's a fine man and the class act in the race. With front runner John McCain faltering and Rudy Giuliani an unlikely fit with Republican primary voters, Romney looks like the Bush Dynasty's best bet.

Suddenly it's the Republicans floundering for a half decent candidate! And in another echo of bad Democratic moments past, evangelicals are threatening to throw the vote. Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association, told Rolling Stone in its "The Evangelicals Have No Candidate" story, "It's true we have nowhere else to go, except to stay home. [But] we would rather go down on our principles. We lose? You lose!"

Predictably, the evangelical groups are blaming the media (these guys actually compare the influence of the liberal media to slavery!) for making a deal out of Romney's Mormonism. But The Nation documents some instances of religious groups calling Mormonism a cult.

The truth is, and I've said this before, Romney made his own bed by running on a holier-than-thou platform. And then there's the simple fact that it's really cool to watch the religious right Goliath fall.

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Right and Feminist Groups in "Not Me" Contest over Gay Rights

| Wed Feb. 28, 2007 5:10 PM EST

What with Mother Jones being referred to as a "liberal stalwart" (Chicago Tribune) and a "porno-political remnant of the nineteen sixties" (the NRA), you'd think that our readers would be leftist--and, err, sex-positive--enough to support gay rights. But nobody seems willing to support the gay cause. Check out a couple of comments from one of my recent blog posts on GLBT issues:

I, personally, am not anti-gay BUT...if one owns a small business then one's views count. If you can't stand flaming queens then why would you employ one? Laws aren't going to force you to hire one, your personal tastes will sort out who gets the job. My point in general is that, as OWNER of a business, who the fu*k is going to tell me how to run it?

Homosexuality is a perversion and no one should be forced to hire perverts.

Well, some feminists don't want to help the queers any more than these Mother Jones readers do. The Maryland Court of Appeals is currently considering a claim that banning gay marriage constitutes a violation of the state's Equal Rights Amendment. (The Massachusetts gay marriage decision partially relied on that state's ERA.) Die-hard supporters still trying to win a national ERA are pissed, the American Prospect reports:

Idella Moore of 4ERA, penned a Women's E-News column titled "The ERA has nothing to do with Gay Marriage" in which she wrote, "...[T]oday we must battle not only long-time opponents of the amendment, but defend this amendment against misinterpretation by those whom most would consider our natural allies."

Meanwhile, the die-hard opponents of the ERA to whom Moore refers are simultaneously accusing her of being the gay-lover. An article in the National Review gloated, "Mrs. Schlafly not only had the right idea when she fought the Equal Rights Amendment during the 70s, but predictions she made back then are still accurate today." Schlafly had predicted that the "ERA would legalize the granting of marriage licenses to same-sex couples and generally implement the gay and lesbian agenda."

And we all know that granting the 4 percent of Americans who are openly gay the right to marry will bring this country to its knees even faster than the journalism of this "pro-terrorist rag" (Lyndon LaRouche).

Global Warming...Are You Ready?

| Wed Feb. 28, 2007 3:23 PM EST

Diesel shoppers surely are. I can't believe I missed this. Diesel's new ad campaign for their Spring/Summer '07 collection, is out, and my oh my, just wait until you see what they have in store. The campaign is based on the premise of whether or not you (their client) are ready (Read: Do you have the right clothing and accessories?) for the hot temps of global warming. Yes, this is for real. There is even a video which warns of the dangers associated with a warming climate, but urges fashion lovers not to distress, and instead take action (of course, in the form of bolstering your wardrobe with warm-weather essentials). You really have to see it for yourself.

Keep up on the latest news about global warming at the MoJo science and health blog, The Blue Marble.

Details Emerge About Padilla's Treatment in Confinement

| Wed Feb. 28, 2007 12:32 PM EST

As you likely know, the trial of Chicago gang member and alleged terrorist Jose Padilla is going on now.

On Tuesday, his jailers were forced to testify about the conditions of Padilla's secretive three-year-eight-month confinement in a naval brig as part of a hearing on whether or not Padilla is fit to stand trial; it is significant testimony because it's the first time any of Padilla's captors have been forced to speak publicly.

What was revealed:

- Padilla sometimes slept on a steel bunk without a mattress.

- The windows in Padilla's 80-square-foot cell were blackened so no natural light was able to enter the cell.

- Padilla was given no timepiece, leading to an almost complete inability to tell time.

- The electric light in Padilla's cell could only be activated by jailers and was frequently unavailable for unspecified reasons.

Padilla has alleged he was tortured while in military captivity. That has yet to be proven true or false. In fact, the hearing was limited in scope, and didn't cover most aspects of Padilla's detention, for example, how he was fed, how he was interrogated, etc.

In the hearing on Padilla's competency to stand trial, government doctors and defense doctors differed on their evaluations of the Padilla's mental health. Read the opinions in this New York Times story.

Mother Jones covered Padilla's indictment after more than three years of detainment here, wondered if Padilla is anything more than the government's perfect fall guy here, and discussed the plight of Padilla's lawyer here.

What's Wrong with "Slow Bleed"?

| Wed Feb. 28, 2007 11:51 AM EST

A couple weeks ago, political news website Politico used the phrase "slow bleed" to describe John Murtha's plan to end the war in Iraq by making war-fighting virtually impossible for George W. Bush. (See the first sentence of that link for the usage.) Murtha wanted to pass a bill requiring things like higher readiness standards for troops and longer leave times between deployments that would essentially cut off the flow of troops available to make war -- in time, the war would have to come to a grinding stop.

So, okay. It's a plan to slowly kill the war in Iraq. Immediately after the Politico story was released, the Washington Post, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, and other news outlets used the phrase "slow bleed." What was the problem -- after all, it seems like a fitting description of the plan? Republicans started using the phrase to highlight its morbid qualities, pounding away with it over and over on the floor of the House and going so far as to say that Democrats were using "slow bleed" as a title for the plan (which was false; Politico's story was the first usage). The whole situation just looked insensitive (and bumbling) on the part of the Dems: how could they name a plan that potentially endangers the troops, so the argument goes, with a phrase that evokes a wounded or dying soldier?

Eventually, after left-wing groups started hammering Politico for creating the mess, an editor at the website came clean, saying that he had thrown in the phrase to punch up the prose and that the Democrats and the writer of the story had nothing to do with it. Here are his feelings on the subject:

Please note the context: What is slowly bleeding away is the administration's political support to keep fighting the war. Republicans pounced on the phrase because of the ease with which that context could be shorn away, to give the impression that what Democrats were slow-bleeding were the bodies of troops in Iraq.
That willingness to wrest words from context -- and to attribute the phrase to Democrats even though it was not theirs -- was demagogic on the part of Republican operatives. But it was never my plan to make their work so easy.

I would agree that blame for the situation rests with the Republicans if I felt that blame deserved to be assigned. I see no problem with the phrase. I'm not scared off by the fact that it might bring to mind the image of a bleeding soldier; we've been at war for four years and tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people are dead. Are we so squeamish? And are Americans such nit-wits that their attention to the Iraq debate can be short-circuited by a poorly chosen turn of phrase? Highlighting the words "slow bleed" instead of debating the plan on its merits was a cheap trick by the Republicans, I agree, but what everyone should have done was ignored their attempts to derail serious debate on a serious topic and instead push ahead with the plan -- which most Americans support.

Murtha was finding new and innovative ways to end the war in Iraq. A prefectly descriptive label with unfortunate connotations was applied to it. Are we really so immature that we focus on the latter and can't see the former?