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Archelle Georgiou: "I See," Said The Blind Man…How Health Reform Will Work

July 7th, 2009 admin No comments

As President Obama continues to push for health reform, he elegantly states that we need a “uniquely American” system; But Americans want specific answers regarding how health reform and a public plan option will really work. Who will decide what is covered… and what is not? Can we be reassured that the system will be designed to promote better health? Who will enforce the rules? How will the system impact people when they are most vulnerable?

Since Medicare is a “uniquely American” system that is likely to be the foundation of any new government run health care option, Americans can get a glimpse of the future by better understanding the CMS coverage rules and processes for one specific area — eye care and vision services.

How Does Medicare Work?

1) Medicare does not pay for routine eye exams and eyeglasses. However, the rationale for this decision is unclear since poor vision is a leading cause of falls in the elderly and the National Eye Institute estimates that over 15 million seniors over age 60 are either near- or far-sighted.
Bottom line: The government decides what is covered, and decisions are not necessarily aligned with prevention and patient safety.

2) Medicare does pay for one pair of eyeglasses or lenses after cataract surgery since “Medicare Part B covers prosthetic devices needed to replace an internal body part or function… including corrective lenses after cataract surgery.”

Based on this language, I assumed that my mother’s glasses would be covered after her corneal transplant surgery. While the lens and the cornea are different structures in the eye, both surgeries replace an internal body part and are essential for sight. However, during a call to the Medicare intermediary, the customer service agent as well as the supervisor simply read an excerpt from the policy language that said eyeglasses are only covered after cataract surgery. We called CMS directly. Two weeks later, we received a letter with the same response from a health insurance specialist.
Bottom line: Coverage decisions are narrowly defined and policy-driven, not health-driven.

3) Neither the Medicare intermediary nor CMS explained that we had the option to appeal this decision. Yes, the Medicare handbook and the CMS website outline a five-level appeal process but it can only be initiated in writing and only after a claim is submitted (and denied) which puts members at personal financial risk. This approach is significantly more onerous than the highly regulated practices in private plans that offer the option of written or verbal appeals before a service is rendered and clearly articulate the appeals process in all phone and written communications with members.

It seemed futile to appeal, and the practical reality was that, without glasses, my mother couldn’t even see well enough to read the appeal process instructions or write the letter.
Bottom Line: CMS makes the rules and creates an effective bureaucracy that enforces the rules. Consumers have little recourse. Period.

We paid $400 for my mother’s new glasses. But for the millions of individuals who cannot afford a pair of glasses, I hope this article lets them “see” how health reform will really work. A public plan option may be “unique” but not necessarily “American.”

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Lanny Davis: The Declaration of Independence: Good Spin Plus High Principles

July 7th, 2009 admin No comments

I don’t mean to be unpatriotic or disrespectful to Thomas Jefferson, God forbid, and the other signers of the Declaration of Independence. And far be it from me to challenge the inspiration of the words at the beginning of the Declaration that most of us memorized as young school children:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness….”

But it would be interesting and provocative to analyze the Declaration of Independence from the perspective of a political communications strategist.

The communications challenge that Jefferson faced was daunting. Put simply, he had to persuade the American public and, especially, the leaders of European nations (besides, of course, Great Britain) that, under some circumstances, it was okay to commit treason. That is, after all, just what Jefferson and other prospective signers of the Declaration were about to do.

The two strategies Jefferson used to shape public opinion — “out of a decent respect to the opinions of mankind” — are quite familiar to today’s campaign political consultants. First, mount negative attacks demonizing the opposition, picking the easiest target as the scapegoat. Second, obscure the worst negative issue — the so-called big elephant in the room — with a positive and inspirational message that diverts attention.

As to going negative, Jefferson’s obvious choice was to attack King George III personally. Not exactly surprising. The king was a pompous, arrogant and stubborn man. He became a hated symbol of all that angered American colonists in the 1760s and early 1770s. In the Declaration, Jefferson referred to King George not by name but as a king who was an “absolute despot” exercising “absolute tyranny.”

But wait, something is missing.

How could King George have “absolute power” if he could not wage war against the colonies without parliament funding it? And who was responsible for all the offensive legislation and taxes, specifically itemized in 10 of the 28 offenses listed in the Declaration to justify independence?

Who, ultimately, was responsible for what became the most important and galvanizing battle cry of the Revolution — “no taxation without representation”?

The answer, of course, is the parliament. Yet that word does not appear anywhere in the Declaration of Independence.

Ever since the Magna Carta in the year 1215, the principle of a sovereign whose absolute powers were checked by, first, a council of elders, and then a legislative body called parliament had emerged in England over the centuries. By the 17th and 18th century, the elected lower House of Commons had the exclusive power to tax and raise money. Jefferson and the rest of the Founders knew that and, thus, knew that describing the power of King George as “absolute” and, thus, blaming him personally for the right to revolution was nonsense.

So what is going on here?

Of course we know the answer. This was pure political spin. Scapegoat the king, obviously an easier target to demonize than the collective gentlemen of the House of Commons. There was also undoubtedly an intellectual and cultural affinity and similarities between Jefferson and the co-signers of the Declaration and the men of parliament. Both groups were men of property representing men of property, and with similar professional backgrounds (most were lawyers!).

The second strategy was to obscure the “big negative” with soaring inspirational messages.

Jefferson began the Declaration by claiming that rebellion against government could be justified when government violated the “laws of nature and of God.” And then, like all great writers, he penned the memorable soaring closing punch line:

“And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

But wait — again. Besides the word “parliament,” there was another word missing from the Declaration — one that Jefferson, who had written about “unalienable rights” to be “born equal,” wanted the world to forget. That word was “slavery.”

The signers of the Declaration knew that men and women and children suffered as human chattel in their midst. Some of the founders claimed to be embarrassed by slavery. Jefferson at one point referred to the slave trade as an “execrable commerce.” Washington freed his slaves in his will, over the opposition of his relatives. “He knew his legacy depended on it,” wrote historian Joseph Ellis in his book, Founding Brothers. “He knew that we were watching.”

But while Jefferson freed the children of his slave and lover Sally Hemmings, Ms. Hemmings herself remained a slave. Jefferson still owned 150 slaves when he penned the words, “all men are created equal.” And when George Washington was virtually toothless in 1784, five years before he became the nation’s first president, he hired a dentist to extract nine teeth from his slaves to implant into his jaw.

Hypocrisy? Of course. Just imagine if Jefferson had actually written, “all men are created equal — except slaves, who are not men.” There probably would have been less support from the northern colonies at least for the revolution — certainly not from the more liberal abolitionist societies that existed even then. And one can imagine that with such a document openly admitting that slaves were non-humans, the unanimity principle adopted by the signers of the Declaration could have prevented or delayed any declaration at all on July 4, 1776.

We know Jefferson and some other slave holders in the room wanted language in the Declaration condemning the slave trades, and they and some northerners wanted to condemn slavery itself. But to gain unanimity — a requirement they imposed on themselves — this and other phrases condemning parliament more directly had to be dropped to achieve compromise to be able to issue any declaration at all.

Despite this perhaps overly cynical analysis from the perspective of a communications strategist, we still to this day should glorify the Declaration of Independence and the great men who drafted and signed it. Placing today’s mores on the culture of a society more than two centuries ago is as invalid as it is a waste of time.

We should celebrate every Fourth of July for the eloquence of the Declaration of Independence, the democratic and human rights values it articulates, and the courage of the men who signed it (all of whom, after all, would have been hung had the British been successful in putting down the rebellion, as most people believed would be the case).

So we can conclude that Thomas Jefferson and his colleagues were not perfect human beings — surprise!

And, get ready for this revelation: We can also conclude that they were politicians concerned about the “opinions of mankind.”

That’s right, politicians.

Shocking.

# # # # #

Lanny J. Davis, a Washington lawyer and former special counsel to President Clinton, served as a member of President George W. Bush’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. He is the author of “Scandal: How ‘Gotcha’ Politics Is Destroying America.”

This piece appeared in Mr. Davis’ weekly column, “Purple Nation,” in the Washington Times and the Hill.com/PunditsBlog, Monday, July 6, 2009.


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Joe Trippi: Boston’s Big Choice

July 7th, 2009 admin No comments

In an off-year without many campaign horse-races, Boston is hitting an electoral cross-roads. Boston Mayor Tom Menino, an establishment, machine politician of 16 years is facing the first real challenge of his career.

And it couldn’t be more refreshing. Boston is starving for some energy and innovation. The budget process is hashed out in secret; the transportation system is dated and unimaginative; and Boston (the “Athens of America”) is somehow behind the curve in green technology. And while the Democratic Party has been renewed nationwide, Boston (a bastion for the Democratic party) is still stuck in the same tired, machine-driven politics of the past. Menino relies on his relationships, not his record.

16 years is long enough for anyone . What we need are people with fresh ideas, who bring energy and openess to city government. City Councilor at-large Sam Yoon has more than a real shot to defeat Menino – he’s young, energetic and innovative. Sam is the right leader, with the vision to transform Boston – its economy, politics and infrastructure and involve the citizens of Boston and their ideas in the effort.

Bostonians are taking notice and so is The New Republic:

Of the two city council members who are running for mayor, Michael Flaherty and Sam Yoon, it’s Yoon who appears to be the more formidable challenger. While the 40-year-old Flaherty has a sizable war chest and deep roots in the vote-rich Irish enclave of South Boston, he often comes across as merely a less tongue-tied version20of Menino. Indeed, Flaherty was once considered Menino’s chosen successor, until he evidently tired of waiting for his turn and challenged his mentor. But, if Flaherty represents a difference in degree from the current mayor, Yoon represents a difference in kind.

Born in South Korea and raised in Amish country in Pennsylvania, Yoon first came to Boston in 1993 to get his master’s degree at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. (He attended Princeton for undergrad.) After Harvard, he spent the next ten years as a community organizer in Boston before becoming the first Asian American in the city’s history to run for public office. His election to the city council in 2005 prompted The Boston Globe Magazine to name him one of its people of the year, declaring: “The best thing about Sam Yoon is not just that he makes us look good. He makes us feel good.”

Yoon is now hoping there are enough Bostonians looking for that sort of uplift to propel him to the mayor’s office. An earnest wonk who frequently feels the need to mention that he is 39—not to emphasize his youth but to reassure people he’s not still in college—Yoon is counting on minority voters and, more importantly, those who (like him) are newer arrivals to the city, lured by jobs in academia, medicine, and finance. In short, yuppies. “At a certain point, there will be more and more people here who have lived in the city for less than twenty years or less than t en years,” Yoon told me one recent evening, as he sat on the patio of an upscale pizzeria in the city’s hipper-than-thou South End neighborhood.

Yoon’s platform seems designed to stroke these voters’ erogenous zones: building educational partnerships between the city’s public schools and local universities like Harvard and MIT; creating a 311 number to call for non-emergency municipal services; replacing the city’s motor fleet with Zipcars; and, in general, looking to Seattle as a model for urban policy. “There is more to governing than just handshaking and ribbon-cutting and going to neighborhood barbeques,” he told me. Later that evening, Yoon said to a group of supporters who’d gathered over hummus and beers at a home in a gentrifying section of the Roxbury neighborhood, “Our city needs to make a fundamental, systemic change to bring our city government into the twenty-first century, because we are really stuck, we’re still operating like it’s 1945.”

I’m a big supporter of Sam. If you have not signed up yet, join his campaign at SamYoon.com.


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Jim Selman: Media: Mediocrity or Meaning?

July 7th, 2009 admin No comments

There is a maxim in critiques of the media that the content of programming reflects what the audience wants. I find this hard to believe. Surely, even the most ardent Michael Jackson fan must tire of “experts” dissecting the autopsy, second guessing why he died and manufacturing hypothetical scenarios of what his will might or might not say. John Daley had a hilarious segment of would-be experts and reporters in a frenzy seeking some “degree of separation” with the famous man: “I met someone who knew someone who met him once at an airport….” Daley followed this with a spoof of a reporter walking through an empty house pointing to where (supposedly) Jackson’s furniture used to be.

Until recently I assumed that this kind of coverage was simply banal and that one could simply turn it off. Unfortunately, all the channels now seem to follow the same programming formats — a breaking story followed by days of drivel with experts “counterpointing” each other on whether Rush Limbaugh is really gay or whether Sarah Palin is really going to make a play for the presidency in 2012. Could it be that it is less costly to cover one story ad nauseum rather than maintain balance over a spectrum of relevant news?

I liked Senator Al Sharpton’s rebuke of the media in focusing on the questionable or bizarre aspects of Michael Jackson’s life, in spite of the fact that he did a great deal of good in addition to the contributions of his prodigious talent. I was impressed that Anderson Cooper on CNN clearly agreed with him and was almost apologetic for CNN’s role in fanning the flames of idle opining and gossip that serves no one and undermines the credibility of the media, an institution that is a central component of any democratic society.

To be sure, more and more people are expressing concern for a media that has lost its raison d’être. The fact is that not only do we need a free press (with all of its technological permutations), but we also need at least some of the media to be relatively objective. Otherwise, we have only organs of propaganda. In the crush for profit and market share, “infotainment” has replaced news and pundits have replaced reporters. I don’t know if there was ever a totally objective media, but schools of journalism and men like Edward R. Morrow aspired to that ideal and had the courage to stand against the short-term interests of their publishers and producers.

I once wrote that, in my view, one of the most powerful aspects of our Constitution and American Democracy is that two institutions were explicitly set up to operate beyond the fray of daily affairs and allow “the people” to have a reasonably objective perspective on themselves and the consequences of their decisions. The press and the judiciary were seen to be the “mirrors” that could enable a free society to correct its mistakes and navigate in uncertain times. When those institutions become co-opted and sucked into the systems they are intended to “mirror,” then we have lost the most important component in our guidance system. The result is governance by polling, media by pundits, and a society of spectators that becomes increasingly self-referential and disconnected from “reality.” In this case, sooner or later, we will “hit bottom” and lose faith in our leaders and each other.

© 2009 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.

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After 36,000 Dogs Killed, A New Animal Rights Law (VIDEO)

July 7th, 2009 admin No comments

In China, after problems with rabies in stray dogs, dog beating teams patrolled the streets, killing an estimated 36,000 dogs — including some pets. Animal rights advocates hope that a new law will put an end to this form of animal cruelty.

WATCH:

(Video via Reuters)

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MICHAEL JACKSON MEMORIAL PHOTOS

July 7th, 2009 admin No comments

Below are photos from Michael Jackson’s memorial.

Check back all day for constantly updating photos of the Staples Center event in addition to the earlier Forest Lawn service. From the motorcade to the casket to the roster of celebrity guests and Jacksons family.

Watch video of the memorial here and read about it here.

PHOTOS:

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Sarah Palin Complains That Critics Are Applying A ‘Double Standard’ To Her Decision

July 7th, 2009 admin No comments

So, over the weekend, Sarah Palin announced that she would not be seeking re-election as governor of Alaska. Then, declaring herself a lame duck, she said she would resign her post, to spare Alaska the agony of having an elected official who would not be running for another term by choice. THIS ALL MADE PERFECT SENSE, TO EVERYONE. Why haven’t John Baldacci, Phil Bredesen, Donald Carcieri, Charlie Crist, Dave Freudenthal, Jennifer Granholm, Brad Henry, Tim Kaine, Ted Kulongoski, Linda Lingle, Mark Parkinson, Tim Pawlenty, Sonny Perdue, Ed Rendell, Bill Richardson, Bob Riley, Mike Rounds, Mark Sanford, and Arnold Schwarzenegger done the same? Are they just blind to the pain their constituents are going through? Like Palin said:

And so as I thought about this announcement that I wouldn’t run for re-election and what it means for Alaska, I thought about how much fun some governors have as lame ducks… travel around the state, to the Lower 48 (maybe), overseas on international trade — as so many politicians do. And then I thought — that’s what’s wrong — many just accept that lame duck status, hit the road, draw the paycheck, and “milk it.” I’m not putting Alaska through that — I promised efficiencies and effectiveness! That’s not how I am wired. I am not wired to operate under the same old “politics as usual.” I promised that four years ago — and I meant it.

See, this is a brilliant elucidation of an entirely new strategy for governance! But all anyone seems to want to focus on is how Palin is a big old Quitty McQuitsalot who wants to use Twitter to sue to the internet and send the blogs to Syria for “enhanced interrogation techniques.” I wonder if Palin sees any of this as a “double standard.”

Palin responded Monday by saying there’s a double standard. She brought up the fact (Lisa) Murkowski left the legislature when her father, then-Gov. Frank Murkowski, appointed her to the U.S. Senate seat he gave up to become governor.

“The double standard that’s applied here is a bit perplexing. … Didn’t Lisa Murkowski leave office to go take her dad’s seat? (Govs.) Huntsman left, Napolitano just left … ,” Palin said, referring to governors who took positions in President Obama’s administration.

Palin said she is embarking on a “different, more effective path” than finishing her term. Asked how, she said she didn’t know at this point, other than to campaign for political candidates who represent the values she supports.

Of course, what naturally comes to mind, considering Murkowski, Napolitano, and Huntsman, is that they all actually had other jobs to go to, instead of some generic, ill-defined plan to “take a stand,” and “effect change” and “make a difference.”

I also don’t understand this:

PALIN: “I’m going to keep working hard for Alaska, I’m going to be there for Sean Parnell when he needs me and if the staff and lawmakers, certainly any member of the public needs me, I’m going to do all I can for this state.”

Huh? Is there to be some sort of Bat-Signal arrangement?

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Stephen Ratner: Surfing With A Tabula Rasa

July 7th, 2009 admin No comments

The upcoming 2010 midterm elections are sure to be nearly as historic as the 2008 presidential elections. Not because of any one candidate, cause, or slogan, but rather because of the unprecedented number and variety of newly registered voters that may or may not come out to the polls in November 2010. Sure–this potential for voter apathy is no new thing in American politics. But, when most of these voters turned out for one candidate who is no longer on the ballot and is instead sitting pretty in the Oval Office, they are uniquely ripe for the picking. Within this newly registered bloc, we have the young voters, those Americans who arguably have the most hinging upon many electoral outcomes.

In my last post, I discussed how American leaders are not reaching out enough to their young successors. Now, in my own opinion, I intend to point out a couple examples of characteristics one would find in an impressive youth outreach operation.

First and foremost, for candidates and campaigns to capitalize on the potential the youth voter bloc has to offer, they must develop a trusting relationship over a duration of time with these young voters. For the 2010 cycle, candidates can no longer expect skyrocketing voter turnout to inch them to victory over their opposition. Thus, it seems that regardless of party there is a tabula rasa between candidates and young voters.

Whether this seems unfair to the partisan eye or not, President Barack Obama portrayed himself as a leader that young Americans could trust. In a revolution for change, idealistic young Americans turned out in strong favor of his candidacy. As opposed to young Americans during the Reagan Revolution, these voters were not cynics, but rather idealists searching for a government and leaders they could trust. And, to an extent, Barack Obama and his Students for Barack Obama organization molded and facilitated this connection. Whether you would like to accept it or not, Barack Obama is president in significant part due to the connection he forged with young Americans and the trust they bestowed in him.

If candidates in 2010, whether on a state or federal level, want to reenergize the newly registered surge voters from 2008 (many of whom are young voters), they must develop this relationship of trust similar to how the president did.

Please note that this is not a partisan message. This is a non-partisan matter that could just as easily be developed for any party given the right circumstances–ones that can easily be forged, but must be well in advance to Election Day.

A skeleton outline of what I personally believe must be done and what we at Youthocracy are working with state parties and candidates to achieve is as follows: In the most basic of terms, every candidate that hopes to accomplish the above goal must have a youth-oriented website. This must be aimed at displaying their message in terms that resonate with young Americans and have tools to establish and maintain a trusting community with these voters.

Simply by having a website devoted to this bloc of voters, a candidate can do wonders to gain legitimacy amongst a bloc of voters that far too often writes candidates off before they have a chance to define themselves as “youth-friendly.” In addition to this trusting connection that can be initiated where the youth live–the internet–candidates must also remember two things regardless of partisan affiliation.

1. There are certain political and demographic realities that exist today that are far different from any other time in this country’s history. Millions of young Americans have never voted for a white man for president after the country has had 42 different, but all white, presidents. There is a certain social progressiveness that this generation has regardless of political affiliation that must be espoused in youth-friendly campaigns. And, this can be done without compromising a candidate’s core values.

2. Young Americans yearn for common sense leaders that they can trust. This trust must be generated by bringing aboard young Americans onto crucial campaign and youth-related positions. Nothing will allow young Americans to trust a candidate more than seeing that candidate place a vested interest in their own generation. Sometimes, trust and connectivity is more important than personal ideology–as was proven in the 2008 election majorities amongst young voters choosing Barack Obama. While not all young Americans agreed with him socially or economically, the majority ended up voting for him. Why? Because of this trust and mutual connection.

Knowing these two things, candidates must act early and potently to ensure that young voter enthusiasm does not wash away with the end of the last election cycle. For the candidate that attracts the youth first will have them for the duration of the campaign.

In California, a state where the next elections truly affect the young more than anyone else, Gavin Newsom has already established a very impressive youth outreach operation. Maintaining these two principles, his Students for Gavin Newsom website (www.studentsforgavinnewsom.com/home) is completely youth-generated.

From this site, young Californians can ban together for a candidate that has created a community through capitalizing where the youth live (Facebook, the internet, Twitter). Conveniently, student volunteers can literally take significant action for their candidate and he himself can bank on having overwhelming youth support in both the primary and, if he’s lucky, in the general as well. After all, have you ever seen general campaign issues formulated by the youth for the youth on a student-created issues page?

When it comes to youth outreach, more candidates should be like Mayor Gavin Newsom. More candidates should have the confidence to parlay resources into a generation that has proven itself enthusiastic, reliable, and potent. More candidates should yearn to create this trusting relationship with our generation through the techniques that Newsom has used so perfectly. And, when they do, they should prepare to see a wave of youth support once only dreamed of.

Surf’s up to you, Gavin.

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ProPublica: EPA Attorneys Criticize Obama Nominee Moreno

July 7th, 2009 admin No comments

by Joaquin Sapien, ProPublica

The Obama administration’s nomination of Ignacia Moreno to head the environment division of the Department of Justice is moving quietly through the confirmation process, with hearings expected to begin in the next few weeks. Moreno has worked for the environment division before, during the Clinton administration. But her most recent job — as environmental counsel for General Electric — has raised eyebrows among Environmental Protection Agency attorneys. Before Moreno worked for GE, she spent five years defending other companies in pollution-related lawsuits.

Six EPA attorneys interviewed by ProPublica criticized the nomination, but asked that their names not be used in this story because they fear retribution.
They said they doubt that anyone who has recently defended GE would be effective in the role.

For decades, the EPA has clashed with GE over the many toxic waste sites the company has been linked to through the Superfund program. For the past two years, Moreno has defended GE in some of these cases. Now, if her nomination is confirmed, she will be one of the government’s top enforcement lawyers for the Superfund program and other environmental laws.

In 1994, President Bill Clinton appointed Moreno to be special assistant to Lois Schiffer, who then held the position that Moreno has been nominated for. In 1996, Moreno became principal counsel to Schiffer, who supports her nomination and told ProPublica that Moreno played an important role in dozens of environmental enforcement cases.

The EPA attorneys, however, argue that the job should not be filled by a lawyer who was comfortable defending the polluters that she would now have to prosecute.

In an e-mail to ProPublica, Moreno said she is not doing press interviews.

In a response to a questionnaire she recently filled out for the Senate Judiciary Committee (PDF), which will hold her nomination hearings, Moreno said she would  recuse herself from any case involving GE for the first two years of her tenure. The questionnaire also provides details about what she considers to be her most significant legal activities. She mentioned some of the cases she worked on at the Justice Department, including her assistance in mitigating cross-border pollution between Mexico and the United States.
Only one of the legal activities listed in that section actually involved prosecuting polluters.

The questionnaire also lists civil rights cases Moreno worked on, including one in which she represented Mexican immigrants who sued their employer for unfair labor practices, and another in which she represented African-American female employees in a discrimination case against the National Archives.

Several attorneys outside of the EPA who are familiar with Moreno’s career say her work on behalf of polluters doesn’t mean that she won’t make a strong enforcement lawyer. In fact, some argued that it might make her a better prosecutor.

Michael Steinberg, an attorney for Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, represents alleged polluters in Superfund cases and once worked for the Justice Department’s environment division.

“I think if you ask people that I worked with then, they will tell you I was extremely effective in litigating against the industry,” Steinberg said. “I expect nothing less from Ignacia. She’s a professional, and that’s what professionals do.”

When Moreno’s nomination was announced in mid-May, she was actively defending GE against charges brought by the very division of the Justice Department that she has been appointed to lead.

In court documents filed in that case, the EPA said that GE owes the federal government nearly $10 million for the government’s cleanup of 800 barrels of toxic waste that GE improperly disposed of at a Superfund site in New Hampshire.

GE, with the help of Moreno (PDF), argued that it was not responsible for the Superfund site because it thought it had sold the waste to a company that was going to reuse it to make paint. GE said it didn’t know that the waste was instead being dumped, according to court filings (PDF).

“Nothing is ever cut and dried with a GE site,” said RuthAnn Sherman, an EPA enforcement attorney working on that case. “They aggressively pursue every possible avenue and appeal everything.”

A federal judge ruled against GE, but the company is now challenging the costs of the cleanup, Sherman said. Moreno withdrew (PDF) from the case a week after her nomination was announced.

For the past nine years, GE has been locked in an even bigger court battle with the EPA and the Justice Department. GE argues that the part of the Superfund law that gives the EPA authority to force polluters to clean up their toxic waste is unconstitutional because it violates alleged polluters’ right to due process. In legal filings, GE also argued that cleanup orders have an automatically negative impact on the company’s brand name and financial status.

The company has been linked to 116 Superfund sites, according to a report by the Center for Public Integrity, an investigative journalism organization based in Washington, D.C. The only company in the report that was linked to more sites was Honeywell, with 128. Forbes magazine ranks GE as one of the largest companies in the world.

In a recent ruling in the case, a federal judge affirmed the constitutionality of the Superfund program. GE appealed (PDF) that ruling in March.

It’s unclear how close Moreno was to the constitutionality case, or if she worked on it at all, because her name doesn’t appear in any of the legal filings. Peter O’Toole, a GE spokesman, would not comment on Moreno’s involvement in that case or on the status of any of GE’s other ongoing cases.

“The absence of her name [from court filings] doesn’t mean she did not work on the case,” said Stephen Gillers, a legal ethics professor at New York University’s law school. If she did work on it, Gillers said, strict conflict-of-interest rules for attorneys would prevent her from ever taking any position against her former client on the case, or on any other case that she was directly involved in.

Gillers added that if she was involved in the constitutionality case, it would not affect her ability to enforce Superfund law and she would have no obligation to recuse herself from Superfund cases pursued by the Justice Department. Superfund enforcement cases represent about a quarter of the caseload of the Justice Department’s environmental enforcement section, according to an EPA attorney’s analysis.

National environmental and public interest groups haven’t taken a position for or against Moreno’s nomination. But smaller groups, especially those specifically concerned about pollution attributed to General Electric, worry that her ties to industry make her the wrong pick for the job. Alex Matthiessen, president of Riverkeeper, a nonprofit that focuses on the health of the Hudson River in New York, is concerned about what Moreno’s nomination will mean for the future of GE’s 197-mile Superfund site that runs along the bottom of the river from Hudson Falls, N.Y., to Manhattan. More than 30 years ago, GE dumped over a million pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls into the river from two General Electric factories. PCBs are a probable human carcinogen, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last month, General Electric began dredging up 1.8 million cubic yards of contaminated soil from the river after negotiating a two-phase cleanup plan with the EPA. In the first phase, the company agreed to clean up 265,000 cubic yards of the sediment, about 15 percent of the total. This phase is expected to end in October, at which point a panel of experts will review the progress of the cleanup and determine whether changes are necessary.

The Justice Department would not comment on this story or provide details about how it would handle cases that Moreno had to recuse herself from.

Before Moreno was hired by GE, she worked for Spriggs & Hollingsworth, a law firm that provided outside counsel to GE on its constitutionality case.

At Spriggs & Hollingsworth, Moreno was part of a team of lawyers that helped defend DynCorp against charges from an Ecuadorean community that claims the defense contractor sprayed residents with a dangerous herbicide used to control the growth of coca along the Colombian border.

Brian Leinbach, one of the lawyers representing the Ecuadoreans, also faced Moreno in court in 2004, when she defended General Motors in a Superfund-related lawsuit. Court filings in that case show that a group of Indiana residents living near a GM facility said their health and property suffered from pollution allegedly created by the company. The residents were represented in part by Leinbach’s firm, Engstrom, Lipscomb & Lack.

“She has been one of the big players in defending large corporations against Superfund lawsuits,” Leinbach said. “She is going to have to change her focus 180 degrees,” he said, “but there is no reason to believe she is not capable of doing that.”

Joaquin Sapien is a reporter for ProPublica, America’s largest investigative newsroom.


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Marcia Meier: Jackson’s Death Once Again Shows Newspapers are Irrelevant

July 7th, 2009 admin No comments

Michael Jackson died in the early afternoon on Thursday, June 25. I remember because my daughter texted the news to me from her summer college class about 2:45, when she was ostensibly listening to her professor.

That’s not so remarkable. What is remarkable is that the next morning’s Los Angeles Times headline across the top of the front page screamed, “King of Pop is dead at 50,” as if the entire world hadn’t heard about it 16 hours earlier.

That’s not to say the coverage wasn’t first-rate. It was. The main story had details few other media had, as befits a world-class news staff. A companion piece told us about Jackson’s impact on the music world and the culture. But that main headline made it seem like the paper was way behind the times. In fact, a review of most of the nation’s major newspapers from that morning finds the same breathy headlines pretending to declare something new. And that’s one of the newspaper industry’s biggest problems. Every day, most newspaper headlines literally shout: We are irrelevant!

Editors just can’t seem to get beyond the old mindset of being responsible for delivering the news, even though papers, outside of an occasional overnight event, haven’t truly broken news in decades. Television took that role more than 40 years ago, and the Internet took over in the early part of this century.

Yet papers insist on running headlines as if paperboys were still out there on the streets screaming, “Extra!” Editors and publishers are so old-school they can’t see the writing on the computer screen, if you will. Watch Jason Jones’ “Daily Show” skewering of The New York Times and see for yourself: Those guys live in a different world, a world several generations removed. For someone like me, who spent more than 20 years working for dailies and who loves the business even though I’ve been out of it a long time, that “Daily Show” piece was not just sad, it was excruciating. Especially since the current state of newspapers has been predicted for such a long time.

When I started working for daily newspapers in 1979, there was already hand-wringing throughout the industry over declining readership. Young people weren’t reading the papers like their parents and grandparents, and so one of the solutions papers came up with was the Newspapers in Education Program, which put papers in school classrooms. The idea was if you gave teachers subscriptions to the paper, they would use them in the classroom and engender new – perhaps lifetime – readers. It was an OK idea. But it never really panned out, and certainly wasn’t able to stop the decline in readership.

Television was the enemy, and so newspapers decided in the 1980s that if they redesigned themselves to resemble TV with splashy color graphics, large headlines, and short stories they’d be able to lure TV news watchers back to print. USA Today was born. Every one of the four papers I worked with from 1979 to 1995 redesigned itself; one did it twice in the time I was there.

Then in the early 1990s, we started seeing the rise in personal computing, and then electronic mail, and then the Internet, and pretty soon newspapers were scurrying around creating Web sites that essentially took the print version of the paper and put it online.

By the late 1990s, newspapers were flocking to the Web in droves, and beginning to talk about interactive content. In the early part of this decade, my friend who is the director of photography at the Reno Gazette Journal and his staff started carrying video equipment instead of still cameras so they could instantly upload streaming video to the paper’s Web site. And still newspaper readership and revenues declined.

Then, one recent day, some brilliant minds realized the newspaper industry had given all of its content, content that it pays good money to journalists to produce, away for free on the Internet. And all the ad revenue that used to pay for those journalists was fast disappearing. People could get free classified ads through Craigslist, and display advertisers were bolting for the Internet, too. But they weren’t going to the newspaper’s own Web sites, they were advertising on Google, and Yahoo, and a host of other Internet-savvy companies who had invested in harvesting advertisers from print for more than a decade. And then, newspaper companies started to close papers, and everyone looked around and said, “What the hell just happened!?”

It’s worth mentioning that many newspapers are still profitable. They’re just not as profitable as they were in the mid-20th century, when returns on investment often topped 30 percent. Given that grocery stores typically operate on profit levels of about 3 or 4 percent, it seems obscene, doesn’t it? Especially when the big chains slash jobs or even threaten to close papers that are only making, say 6 or 8 percent.

So, here we are in 2009, and the world of news – of global communication – has shifted to the Internet. Twitter, Facebook, The Huffington Post, Google News, Craiglist, newspapers’ own Web sites are stealing readers by the millions, and in many cases turning ordinary citizens into journalists. Witness the devastating earthquake in China in March 2008, or the Iranian election and its aftermath just three weeks ago. In my hometown of Santa Barbara, Twitter and online sites run by “amateur” reporters did a better job of informing the community on the devastating Tea Fire in May than any official news organization in town. The only “traditional” news organization that rivaled it was the alternative newspaper, The Independent’s, online presence.

Many journalists who work for newspapers are hanging onto their jobs by their fingertips. And still, editors don’t see that in order to be relevant, papers have to show readers why picking up a newspaper makes as much sense, or more, than, say, checking the latest headlines on an iPhone. The only way to do that is to cede the immediacy of the news to those who do it better and focus on analysis and explanatory journalism, giving readers insights and information they won’t find elsewhere.

Of course, newspaper editors have been saying that for years. They just haven’t been doing it, not well enough. And they haven’t trained their copy editors to write a non-breaking news headline. It’s so much simpler to keep doing it the way they’ve always done it.

I don’t know what the future holds for newspapers. Maybe it means printing the news on newsprint less often, perhaps only Monday through Friday, or only once a week on Sunday, and turning wholeheartedly to the Web. That would be sad, because part of the pleasure of reading a newspaper, outside of the fact that it’s portable and easy to read while curled up on the couch, is coming across something unexpected as one turns the page, a story that surprises or excites, or warms one’s heart. We can all use a little serendipity in our lives.

Unless editors and publishers take steps to make papers relevant again, even that delight will disappear. Meanwhile, the entire industry is sinking into the muck, just like those poor wooly mammoths in the tar pits.

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