Political MoJo

Quick Reaction to SOTU From Around the Nation

| Tue Jan. 23, 2007 11:25 PM EST

Reports that Bush would moderate his policies to take into account the new Democratic majority in Congress turned out to be ill-founded. Stubborn as always, Bush stuck to his guns: Health insurance delivered through the private marketplace, with help for the poor in the form of tax deductions. More medical savings accounts. Tort reform to get rid of "junk lawsuits." In energy, talk about clean coal. Promises to reduce auto emissions but no standards.

What follows is a thumbnail of some of the reaction to Bush's speech along with lobby figures prepared by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Health:

"A tax deduction for someone in the 15 percent tax bracket only provides $1,125 in tax relief," said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA. "This means that moderate-income people will still be left with a price tag of thousands of dollars for premiums, to say nothing of the significant additional costs for deductibles and co-payments. This will leave affordable health coverage out of reach for tens of millions of Americans."

"On the other hand," Pollack continued, "the proposal provides disproportionately higher tax benefits for people who need help the least. People in the highest tax brackets will receive tax breaks that are more than twice as high as the purported relief for moderate-income workers. Instead of this ill-advised proposal, the President should expand health coverage for the nine million children who are uninsured when Congress reauthorizes the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) later this year."

"The President's tax proposal is more about shifting responsibility, rather than sharing the responsibility of our health care system," says Andrew Stern, president of SEIU. "We should be making sure that everyone has good coverage, not punishing those who already do."

The lobbies and their donations:

• Pharmaceuticals/Health Products: $17,865,648, 68 percent to Republicans
• Health Professionals: $49,717,325, 63 percent to Republicans
• Accident and Health Insurance: $7,320,915, 68 percent to Republicans

Oil:

Bush insists on drilling in the Alaska Wildlife Refuge, which is at best just a drop in the bucket for our energy supply. Our dependence on foreign oil continues. As Bush speaks, the Iraq government readies a new oil law that will place the once nationalized industry into the hands of the international oil companies.

Gas Guzzlers: The president talks about improved mileage rates, but won't change the law to require them. "The President assumes that fuel economy will increase but fails to order an increase when a 40 mile per gallon standard is the single biggest step we could take to curb global warming and end oil dependence," says Frances G. Beinecke, president of the Natural Defense Council. "We would be less dubious of the president's intentions if he had promised to raise the standards instead of assuming that they will rise four percent a year."

Ethanol: "A lot of it depends on the efficiency with which ethanol is produced," says Mike Casey, an environmental consultant who in the past worked for the Environmental Working Group. "It's better than imported oil, [but] it's not the long term. We can't base our entire energy policy on it. Here's what George Bush needs to do tonight: he needs to announce an aggressive initiative to move this country to the alternative sources of energy tomorrow based on technology available today."

Again, the lobbies and their donations:

• Oil & Gas: $17,576,986, 83 percent to Republicans
• Mining: $4,022,031, 83 percent to Republicans
• Electric Utilities: $14,970,532, 66 percent to Republicans
• Misc. Energy: $3,142,220, 76 percent to Republicans
• Environment: $889,748, 83 percent to Democrats

The Budget:

Critics give Bush a plus for just mentioning bringing the budget deficit in line, but the president promises a balanced budget in 2012, but as Bob Greenstein of Center for Budget and Policy Priorities pointed out in a press call today, the real problem comes in the following decade. Another game of smoke and mirrors by the administration: the budget situation will actually get worse because Bush wants to make his tax cuts to the rich permanent. Bush says the tax cuts resulted in a robust economy, but Greenstein says the growth is unexceptional.

Again, the lobbies:

• Business Associations: $1,976,248, 84 percent to Republicans
• Labor: $62,599,397, 86 percent to Democrats

-- James Ridgeway

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Baby Einstein in SOTU--WTF?

| Tue Jan. 23, 2007 11:02 PM EST

Ok, so what was up with Bush pimping the woman who founded Baby Einstein? What was her great moment or heroism or contribution to the country? Maybe Baby Einstein is an OK product or maybe, like some charge, it is a harmful scam, but I just don't see how it rates the SOTU gallery of heroes treatment. Consider:

"Citing a lack of evidence that screen media is beneficial for babies and growing concern that it may be harmful, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) filed a complaint today with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) against Baby Einstein and Brainy Baby, two of the leading producers of videos for infants and toddlers, for false and deceptive advertising. The complaint charges that these companies are violating Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act by marketing their videos as educational for babies. CCFC is asking the FTC to prohibit Baby Einstein and Brainy Baby from making claims about the educational and developmental benefits of their videos and require that advertisements, packaging and websites for all baby videos prominently display the American Academy of Pediatrics' (AAP) recommendation of no screen time for children under two. "

Rest of press release after the jump. More on the complaints against Baby Einstein here.

Dikembe and Laura, Sitting in a Gallery

| Tue Jan. 23, 2007 10:58 PM EST

How is 7-foot-2 Dikembe Mutumbo only a few inches taller than Laura Bush when sitting down?

Oh my God, they just stood up. He's a giant! And the woman on his right is tiny! Again, how can he be only three inches taller than the first lady when seated? Is Laura Bush on a booster seat?

Bush Has Done Homework?

| Tue Jan. 23, 2007 10:47 PM EST

Thus far, my takeaway from this speech is that somebody finally sat the man down and educated him on some real basics, the difference between Sunni and Shiites, etc. Of course, he's marshalling all that energy to justify some kind of action against Iran.

To the notion that Bush is going to create a "special council on the war on terror," Dave just asked: "Isn't that called Congress?"

The State of Our Healthcare Industry is Weak

| Tue Jan. 23, 2007 10:44 PM EST

Bush said tonight that when it comes to our health care, private insurance is the way to go. As you take that in, consider this: Americans spend $5,000 more per capita on health care, fully 50% more than any other country.

What's Bush's solution? According to the Washington Post, Bush wants to redirect federal money away from hospitals that serve the poor and uninsured, and away from Medicare and Medicaid. Redirect it where, you ask? To private insurance companies, of course.

Now consider this: Private insurers take a dollar for every five dollars in the health care industry. It's a super-duper rip-off. How? Well, have a look at the "medical loss ratios" of major insurers—that is, how much insurers pay in doctors bills, hospital bills, tests and drugs, divided by their revenue in insurance premiums.

  • 76.9% - Aetna
  • 82.3% - Cigna
  • 83.9% - Health Net
  • 83.2% - Humana
  • 78.6% - UnitedHealth Group
  • 80.6% - WellPoint

Get it? You pay Aetna $100 a month? They spend $76.90 percent on your health and $23.10 on corporate overhead, administration, and their own healthy profit margin. That list was compiled by Jonathan G. Bethely of American Medical News, but it's quite easy to find in insurers' SEC 10 filings, though insurers prefer to call it "benefit cost ratio" and "benefit expense ratio." (Whatever they call it, it's no perfect measure, argues James Robinson, a UC Berkeley professor of public health. But it's what we have to work with.)

And it's not all. How many staff at doctors' offices and hospitals devote their time to billing, negotiating, and haggling with insurance companies? In order to get private insurance companies to pay up, doctors' offices spend 14 percent on "billing and insurance-related functions" and hospitals spend another 7 to 11 percent, according to the journal Health Affairs.

Add that up and you see that one in three dollars in the healthcare industry is spent on neither health nor care. That's how efficient the market is! The state proposals to force people to buy private insurance — and Bush's proposal tonight to divert money from government caregivers to private insurance — just send more money down the drain. The answer is single-payer health care. But in the meantime we have patchwork plans like Arnold's, though at least his would cut what insurance companies skim down to 15 percent.

— April Rabkin

Bush Acknowledges Global Climate Change!!!

| Tue Jan. 23, 2007 10:36 PM EST

Oh, who cares. It's like being the last kid to say "not me" when somebody farts.

And now he's on to the "shoreless ambitions of the enemy." Shoreless? Shortless?

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Live Blogging SOTU...

| Tue Jan. 23, 2007 10:27 PM EST

Thus far, Bush sort of sweet to Pelosi, pledges new era of bipartisanship, then goes on to congratulate Democrat (not cratic) party....

Think I just saw Cheney sticking a piece of gum under his desk...

Illegal immigrants will be treated "without animosity, without amnesty" (somebody worked real hard on that phrase).

Bush talking energy policy, Pelosi looks like she's trying hard not to giggle...or maybe Cheney's pinching her...

Actual State of the Union, by the Numbers

| Tue Jan. 23, 2007 10:20 PM EST

President Bush is expected to hail the state of the union as strong tonight, but for Americans worrying about how to make ends meet, the country is headed in the wrong direction, according to numbers compiled today by the Campaign for America's Future.

On Incomes:

--Median household income in 2000: $47,599
--Median household income in 2005: $46,326
(US Census Bureau, Table H-8. Median Household Income by State: 1984 to 2005)

--Salary of a full-time minimum wage employee without vacation: $10,712
--Average time for top CEOs to earn that sum: 2.06 hours
(Forbes Magazine. "What the Boss Makes." April 20, 2006)

--Federal minimum wage in 2000: $5.15/hr
--Federal minimum wage in 2006: $5.15/hr
--Loss in purchasing power, full time worker annually: $1,562

On Energy Prices:

--Average price of home heating oil on Jan. 3, 2000: $1.15 per gallon
--Average price of home heating oil on Jan. 1, 2007: $2.42 per gallon
(U.S. Energy Information Admin. Jan. 4, 2007)

--Average price of gasoline on Jan. 3, 2000: $1.31 per gallon
--Average price of gasoline on Jan. 1, 2007: $2.38 per gallon
(U.S. Energy Information Admin. Jan. 5, 2007)

--Exxon Mobil profits in 2000: $7.9 billion
--Exxon Mobil profits in 2006: $36.1 billion
(CNNMoney.com, accessed Jan. 19, 2007)

On Education:

--Average cost of a year at a public four-year college in 2000: $9,958
--Average cost of a year at a public four-year college in 2006: $12,796
(Costs include tuition, fees, room & board. MSN Money 2000/Associated Press. Jan. 14, 2005. College Board. Trends in College Pricing 2007)

On Health Care Costs:

--Americans without health insurance, 2000: 38.2 million
--Americans without health insurance, 2005: 46.6 million
(US Census Bureau, Sept. 2001; US Census Bureau, Aug. 2006)

--Average monthly worker contribution for family coverage in 2000: $135
--Average monthly worker contribution for family coverage in 2006: $248
--Personal bankruptcies due to medical bills: 55 percent
(The Kaiser Family Foundation, Sept. 26, 2006; Health Affairs Health Policy Journal, Feb. 2, 2005)

On Debts and Deficits:

--Monthly U.S. Trade Deficit in October 2000: $33.8 billion
--Monthly U.S. Trade Deficit in October 2006: $58.9 billion
(U.S. Census Bureau Foreign Trade Statistics. Jan. 10, 2007)

--Loss of value of U.S. dollar relative to the Euro, Jan. 24, 2000 to Jan. 23, 2006: 23 percent
(X-rate.com, accessed Jan. 23, 2006)

--US Budget Deficit in FY 2000: $230 billion surplus
--US Budget Deficit in FY 2006: $423 billion deficit
(White House Office of Management and Budget. Budget of the United States Government, Historical Tables, Fiscal Year 2007; White House Office of Management and Budget. Table S-1. 2006 budget totals)

--US National Debt in FY 2000: $5.7 trillion
--US National Debt in FY 2006: $8.5 trillion
(Bureau of the Public Debt, Jan. 16, 2007)

Libby Case: "Recollection Problems"

| Tue Jan. 23, 2007 5:07 PM EST

So, it's official. Scooter Libby's defense will be based, as his lawyer Ted Wells put it, on "recollection problems" – not just Libby's, though, but those of the journalists and officials who are expected to testify at his trial as well.

"Could Russert Be Mistaken?" read a slide shown to the jury this afternoon, as Wells resumed his opening statement after a lunch recess. Not that Wells plans on proving this one way or the other – he is simply trying to cast doubt on the prosecution's case. At one point, he said that the defense will provide "evidence suggesting that Tim Russert, not Scooter Libby, got it wrong." At another, seemingly contradicting any evidence he might provide, Wells suggested that Libby, in testifying before the grand jury, may have mistaken his conversation with the NBC journalist for a chat, on a similar topic, with Robert Novak. And besides, Wells said, "Russert has no notes" to support his version of events (namely that he didn't tell Libby about Plame, as Libby has asserted).

As for Matt Cooper, the former Time reporter, Wells claims that "Cooper's notes do not support his recollection" of his conversation with Libby, in which Plame was raised (reportedly by Cooper). Judith Miller, the former New York Times reporter who spent 85 days in jail protecting her source -- Libby -- suffers from a "fuzzy memory" as well, according to Wells. Also fuzzy on the details, he says, are anticipated prosecution witnesses including Libby's one-time CIA briefer Craig Schmall; former CIA official Robert Grenier; and former White House flack Ari Fleischer, among others. "They've got recollection problems," Wells said.

Wells then reminded the jury that Libby, too, is "known for having a bad memory."

Hot Promises of Geothermal Energy

| Tue Jan. 23, 2007 4:35 PM EST

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology-led study of geothermal energy within the US finds that mining the huge amounts of thermal energy stored in the Earth's rock crust could supply a substantial portion of the nation's electricity needs currently being generated by conventional fossil fuel, hydroelectric, and nuclear plants—at competitive prices and with minimal environmental impact. Go deep enough, and there's heat everywhere.

The study shows that drilling several wells to reach hot rock and connecting them to a fractured rock region that has been stimulated to let water flow through it creates a heat-exchanger that can produce large amounts of hot water or steam to run electric generators at the surface. Unlike conventional fossil-fuel power plants that burn coal, natural gas or oil, no fuel would be required. And unlike wind and solar systems, a geothermal plant works night and day, offering a non-interruptible source of electric power.

… "This environmental advantage is due to low emissions and the small overall footprint of the entire geothermal system, which results because energy capture and extraction is contained entirely underground, and the surface equipment needed for conversion to electricity is relatively compact," [Jefferson W.] Tester [the H. P. Meissner Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT] said.

… Panel member Brian Anderson, an assistant professor at West Virginia University, noted that the drilling and reservoir technologies used to mine heat have many similarities to those used for extracting oil and gas. As a result, the geothermal industry today is well connected technically to two industry giants in the energy arena, oil and gas producers and electric power generators. With increasing demand for technology advances to produce oil and gas more effectively and to generate electricity with minimal carbon and other emissions, an opportunity exists to accelerate the development of EGS by increased investments by these two industries.

The study notes that government-funded research into geothermal was highly active in the 1970s and early 1980s, but that as oil prices declined, funding and geothermal research waned. Time to heat that up again.