As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Saturday, October 03, 2009

If At Frist You Don't Succeed

Does anyone alive believe this man?

Bill Frist on Health Bill: I'd Vote For It

Or so the former Senate Republican Leader, a surgeon who has written a new book on health care, told me a few minutes ago in an interview.

Were he still in the Senate, "I would end up voting for it," he said. "As leader, I would take heat for it. ... That's what leadership is all about."

It's quite an impressive crop of retired Republicans claiming they would vote for the health care bill. Why, you could almost build a direct correlation between the propensity for Republican support and whether or not they are in any position to support it!

Funny how that goes.

Frist does appear somewhat sincere later on in the interview:

While Frist believes that the bill will pass, he worries that the Obama Administration and Congress have not given enough attention to what happens next: the implementation. The first few years are likely to be rough, he predicts. States will be struggling to set up new marketplaces for insurance coverage, their medicaid rolls will grow, taxes will go up, and consumers will not yet see the benefits. "The Republicans will go wild," using the start-up difficulties as a tool for fundraising and for making their case in the next election, Frist says. "In the Congress, nobody's thinking about that." His advice for the Obama Administration: "Stay nimble," and be prepared to make adjustments as difficulties arise. (emphasis mine)

If you thought debunking the lies about what the health care bill would potentially accomplish was fun, wait until you get to the part where conservatives nitpick and distort every misstep or half-step or just plain old step in the process, and spin it as proof that Obama meant to take over health care, the planet and your children after all. Consequent their stint as defenders of Medicare, Republicans will become defenders of Medicaid, and go on and on about long lines and expanding rolls. And they'll ask what Americans got for all those billions they spent on health care.

This will be difficult to counter. Most of the legislation doesn't go into effect until 2013, partially because of start-up time, but more as a pure cost-reduction play within the budget window. Especially because most of that time will be spent climbing out of the recession, which could lead to more loss of health care benefits if unemployment continues and COBRA help runs out at the end of the stimulus package, the White House will have to suffer through four years of "where's the health care reform" and people calling the whole thing a waste before the implementation even begins. It wasn't a smart way to save a buck.

I don't know if the Administration is thinking about this and preparing for it or not, but they haven't been prepared for many of the right-wing freak-outs thus far. There's no question that they will seek to label health care reform a failure before the ink is dry from Obama's bill-signing ceremony. Somebody might want to heed Bill Frist's warning.

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Use Your Inside Voice

It's just a reflection of reality, but I'm wondering why Carol Browner felt the need to say this the very week that Kerry-Boxer got released:

President Obama’s top climate and energy official said Friday that there was virtually no chance Congress would have a climate and energy bill ready for him to sign before negotiations on a global climate treaty begin in December in Copenhagen.

The remarks by the official, Carol M. Browner, during an onstage interview in Washington, were the first definitive statement by the administration that it saw little chance of Congressional passage this fall.

Lawmakers and environmental campaigners have cast similar doubts on the prospect in recent weeks, given the high priority put on health care legislation and the array of hearings that would be needed on the energy initiative, to say nothing of the time needed to reconcile competing versions of it. Climate legislation was introduced in the Senate only Wednesday, a full three months after the House passed its version.

I just think this unnecessarily dampens the prospects for passage.

Another thing Browner could have said is, "We're going to have something available for Copenhagen. The EPA will have rules in place to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and we will have a detailed blueprint for them to do that." Rather than Republicans and climate denialists breathing a sigh of relief, they might think, "Crap, these guys are serious, we'd better at least get our hands on the legislation to make it not so outrageous."

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The Beauty Product Hunt

Marcy Wheeler notes some disturbing language in the reauthorization of the Patriot Act put in by DiFi:

I'm going to make a wildarsed guess and suggest that the Federal Government is doing a nationwide search to find out everyone who is buying large amounts of certain kinds of beauty products. And those people are likely now under investigation as potential terrorism suspects [...]

First, at the start of the hearing, DiFi claimed that the investigation of Najibullah Zazi is the largest terrorism investigation since 9/11. Whether that's hyperbole or not, she's claiming that the FBI is doing more in the wake of the Zazi arrest than it did after all those false scares stemming from Bush's illegal wiretap program, all those false scares arising out of torturing Abu Zubaydah, and all the scares hyped up around election time. She's claiming this thing is huge.

Second, DiFi and Pat Leahy went through Leahy's proposed renewal to the PATRIOT Act and made some changes--to make sure that current investigations are not hampered by any changes proposed. Significantly, she appears to have taken out this language (I haven't been able to get a hold of the substitute amendment yet) which would have required investigators to have some connection between a person and a suspected terrorist before they could collect "tangible information" on them [...] So if this investigation is as big as DiFi says it is, and if it does rely on Section 215 as currently written...

Then all they would have to do is assert that anyone buying this particular cocktail of chemicals (or products containing those chemicals) could be presumptively related to activities of a foreign power. That is, if you buy these chemicals it may be safe to assume (or the FBI might be claiming it is safe to assume) you're doing so to build an al Qaeda-related bomb.

These are the kind of fishing expeditions put together by panicked lawmakers that make people feel their civil liberties are under attack by their government. The system appeared to work in the Zazi case, but to expand that out and make anyone who buys hair care products a potential terror suspect seems completely excessive. And these kind of broad nets to capture individuals have proven ineffective, because the mass of information being searched inevitably makes it harder to find the good stuff.

It's pure paranoia, reflected in legislation. Not good.

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Brown Attends Fundraiser For Republican D.A. In San Bernardino

There's a way to sort of excuse Jerry Brown for joining the partisan witch hunt and investigating ACORN, on the grounds that he is also looking into whether the two wingnut-welfare dress-up clowns who filmed the employees broke the law by taping without mutual consent. It's somewhat harder to spin away Brown's attendance at a fundraiser for Republican District Attorney Mike Ramos.

California Attorney General Edmund Brown, Jr. was the guest of honor and introduced District Attorney Mike Ramos at his campaign fundraiser tonight in Ontario. In introducing Ramos, Attorney General Brown said, “Mike Ramos is one of the best prosecutors in California, we served on the statewide Gang and Violent Crime Task Force together … he’s a real fighter.”

It is actually against the bylaws of the Democratic State Central Committee to endorse a Republican in a partisan race. Some members of the DSCC who want to support Republicans actually resign from the party. I'm trying without success to determine whether the DA race in San Bernardino County is a non-partisan race; typically, that is the case.

But there are lots of other reasons that a Democrat running in a primary would not necessarily want to endorse a Republican like Mike Ramos. Beyond the obvious reasons, Ramos has been accused of sexual harrassment by a woman who works in the DA's office. Ramos has called it an effort to derail a series of investigations against public officials in the county. Ramos has also received $30,000 in donations over the years from the business of Mark Leggio, who was indicted on charges of laundering over-the-limit campaign donations to various other candidates for office. Ramos recused himself from the investigation. Leggio pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six months in prison. There's quite a bit of smoke here.

Between this and partying with the Lincoln Club of San Diego, the point is that Jerry Brown has started to run the general election, appealing to the center-right electorate that he feels wins elections. That may have been true in 1978, but maybe not so much now, given the demographic changes in the state. What's more, it's incredibly disrespectful to a Democratic primary electorate that is really being told they have nowhere else to go.

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Friday, October 02, 2009

Friday Random Ten

Still packing up the house, though the urgency has lessened somewhat. Now I'm actually able to go to the supermarket rather than scrounging for whatever I can find because I didn't want to clean out the refrigerator. So while I go do that, enjoy:

Mars Rendez-Vous - Stereo Total (with Jacno)
Fever (Adam Freeland Remix) - Sarah Vaughan
Giving It Back - Matthew Sweet
Lucky - Radiohead
Hysteric - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Always Crush Me - Guided By Voices
Angel Eyes (Layo and Bushwacka Mix) - Ella Fitzgerald (two from Verve Remixed CDs!)
Candyman - Cornershop
Smile At You - Fleetwood Mac (!)
13 - Sylk 130

I just bought that Basement Jaxx single with Yoko Ono - it's genius.

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The Waiting Is The Hardest Part

Determining whether a public insurance option will be in the final health care bill from Congress has been excruciating, and it's not about to get any better. I guarantee you it's going to look dead and buried or a rock-solid cinch about half a dozen more times before this is over. Here's what happened just today:

• Raul Grijalva said that his public option whip count is down to 46, from 60. And he wouldn't announce the names, which made it look like he was shielding the members who dropped off. Bad!

• Later, 51 Democrats in the House write to Steny Hoyer and Nancy Pelosi affirming their strong support for the public option. Good!

• Harry Reid backed off his remark that the final bill will have a public option. Bad!

• Later, we learn that the Grijalva whip count is probably bigger than 46 members; they just stopped the whip count once they had enough votes to block anything without a public option. Good!

• There's now a new whip count of all members of the Democratic caucus, on a public option tied to Medicare +5% rates. So far 170 members of the caucus support this. Good! But they need 218 for passage. Bad! But they're not done yet and Chris Bowers hears it's higher. Good!

• Andy Stern says there will be a price to pay for any Democrat who joins a Republican filibuster of a health care bill, regardless of whether a public option is in there or not. Good!

• Nobody wants to be the one to kill a public option. That's actually good! But they'll try to call whatever compromise that's inoffensive to the insurance companies a public option as a way out. That's bad!

I would recommend David Waldman's piece, because I think it's closest to the actual scenario on the minds of the Senate and the White House right now. Chasing this rumor or that can make you weary, however.

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Media Weathervane Allan Hoffenblum: Time To Duck, Yacht Party

Allan Hoffenblum is the publisher of the California Target Book and the most-quoted pundit with respect to state elections. He is a weathervane for party money and which Party is up or down. He spoke yesterday in Sacramento and was incredibly blunt.

At a conference sponsored by Hoffenblum's publication, the Republican identified eight congressional seats and 13 state Assembly seats as competitive. Nearly all of those Assembly seats and more than half of the congressional seats are now held by Republicans.

"I think this is going to be when we find out if the Republican Party has any life left in it whatsoever as far as being a statewide competitive party," said Hoffenblum, whose publication tracks and handicaps races throughout the state.

A drop in Republican registration and an influx in decline-to-state voters who have not traditionally voted with the GOP have put some districts formerly considered "safe" Republican seats into play.

"I think it's going to be a very, very difficult road on the Republican front if they don't do something about registration, something to appeal to decline-to-state voters, many of whom are Latinos and Asians who have not been voting Republican for the last four election cycles," Hoffenblum said.

This actually flies in the face of predictions at the national level of a 1994 redux. But it does meet with the general trend in California, as a diverse population drops any love for the Republican Party altogether. As Hoffenblum noted, eight Congressional districts held by Republicans went for Barack Obama over John McCain last November, and 12 Assembly districts held by Republicans share the same trait. A smart party with targeted resources could easily pick up more Congressional seats and the number in the Assembly needed to secure a 2/3 majority. In the state Senate, one of the two seats needed for 2/3 looks pretty ripe for takeover - SD-12, where Asm. Anna Caballero is the Dem candidate and Sen. Jeff Denham is termed out.

I actually am not quite as sanguine as Hoffenblum. There are Democratic-held seats that could face a fight - at the Congressional level, I think Dennis Cardoza might have some trouble with Mike Berryhill, and the swing Assembly districts held by Alyson Huber, Joan Buchanan and possibly others could be threatened. The demographics of the 2010 midterms will be more favorable to Republicans than the demographics of the 2008 Presidential election. And the failures on the budget, and the ensuing suffering, could easily resonate with voters against the majority party if Democrats aren't careful.

But in general, as Hoffenblum said, the trend in California from the standpoint of the electorate is away from conservatism and toward progressivism, and that march will simply be extremely difficult to stop. Public attitudes have not only been trending against minority rule but against the entire brand of failed conservatism that brought us the tragedy of the Bush years. While practically every party in the White House loses seats in a midterm election, the peculiar dynamic in California may blunt that impact - and could lead to a better future for California as well.

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How Alan Grayson Changed The Debate On Health Care

Many of us already knew that Alan Grayson was a fearless champion against the rich and powerful. His notoriety this week for comments about the Republican plan for health care therefore did not come as a shock. His floor speech and his unwillingness to back down afterward have set a new standard for how Democrats deal with Republican hissy fits, where they get all offended by some comment or another and demand an apology and ritual humiliation. Their goal is to control the narrative and put any Democratic use of moral language out of the bounds of acceptable political debate, a standard that doesn't apply to them.

Grayson DEMOLISHED this tactic. And he did so by continuing to tell the truth and never backing down. And by the end of the week, many were joining him. Yes, they said: why does the GOP have no plan for health care? Why have they allowed thousands to die for a lack of coverage for years without articulating any strategy to deal with the crisis? Why would Republicans try to make an example of Grayson when their members have been using vile language for months, slandering the health care legislation with lies about "death panels" and rationing and people "being put to death by their government," in the words of Virginia Foxx? How could Republicans think there is no crisis in health care when so many are dying?

In a second, this has become the narrative of the week on health care. And Alan Grayson led the way. He just might lead the Congress to a better bill.

Brave New Films celebrates Alan Grayson's contribution to the debate with this video.

Let Rep. Grayson know you have his back. And join the I heart Grayson Facebook group. He really deserves the attention he's getting.

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Senate Finance Committee Post-Mortem

The Senate Finance Committee actually finished with their markup of the health care bill late last night. They will wait until the CBO submits a revised score based on the amendments, and then there will be a final vote next week. So, how did we do?

Well, we know that there will be no public option in the bill. Maria Cantwell's amendment for state-based purchasing pools between 133-200% of the poverty level passed. Most of the right-wing amendments, other than adding money for abstinence-only education (which I'm guessing will get stripped down the line), went nowhere. The Committee even voted down all the amendments attacking undocumented immigrants, including rolling back one that would have prevented legal immigrants from buying into the exchanges for five years, which would have been utterly senseless.

On the other hand... the bill did delay and reduce financial penalties for those Americans who choose not to buy insurance, softening the stringency of the individual mandate (there are also lots of hardship exemptions). That's good politically in a sense, but does blunt the impact of the mandate, which will probably lead to higher costs with a smaller risk pool. I agree, however, that nobody should be forced to buy a plan they can't afford. Overall, this will help with the politics of the bill.

The real disappointment was the rejecting of Ron Wyden's Free Choice Act on a technicality.

About one in the morning, Wyden's Free Choice Act came before the committee. But it never came up for a vote.

Instead, Max Baucus effectively ruled it out of order. The reason? It didn't have a full CBO score. This came as a surprise to Wyden and his team, who'd gotten the amendment scored by the CBO, and had been in endless negotiations with Baucus, the White House, employers, and labor over the past week. If the score was in fact partial, as Baucus and Conrad claimed, you'd think someone might have mentioned it. No one did [...]

To understand the Free Choice Act, you need to understand that the exchanges are currently closed to businesses over 100 employees. In many states, they'll be closed to businesses over 50 employees (the Finance Committee's bill lets states choose their threshold, either 50 or 100). And in all states, they're closed to individuals who are offered "affordable" coverage by their employer. If I don't like the insurance The Washington Post is offering, or I feel I can get a better deal on the exchange, I am simply not allowed to go use the new network and take my pick from the many plans offered.

That's a real shame, that we continue to prop up a broken and inefficient delivery system of employer-based health care because nobody, neither business nor labor, wanted to risk messing with the status quo. As a result, the insured get less choices, businesses continue to bear a large health care burden, and nobody but insurers really win. It makes little sense for businesses to want to stay in the health care business and for labor to assume that they would keep their gold-plated health benefits at the expense of a broken system forever - which didn't hold in the case of the automakers. Jon Cohn has more.

Overall, the bill was improved by the markup, but remains flawed, particularly by the absence of a real public option, but also through the affordability questions, which were only slightly improved. There's still a long way to go to make this tolerable.

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Pauline Kael Syndrome

This John Boehner quote, where he says he hasn't met one person who supports the public option, reminds me of the famous quote that has been attributed over the years to Pauline Kael, though there's compelling evidence that it was apocryphal. The quote usually goes like this: Kael was told that Nixon bested George McGovern in a landslide in 1972, and Kael replied, "How can that be? No one I know voted for Nixon!" It's often used by Republicans to prove how East Coast elites who read or write for the New York Times are so out of touch with everyday 'Murcans.

In this case, it's the conservative who is deeply out of touch with American needs and desires. Like the stereotype of Kael, for Boehner to say that proves he self-selects a very narrow band of people as his companions, the sample of which bears no resemblance to the public at large. And people have rightly pounced on the quote. Here's a testimonial from a woman in Boehner's district, from Oxford, Ohio, who has consistently argued for a public option to Boehner's office. Health Care for America Now is gathering signatures of people who support a public option in the hopes that Boehner will meet with one of them. And Americans United fit this into a narrative of an out of touch Republican leader:

It was simple to find statistics like 57% of Ohioans supporting a public option, to throw into avid golfer Boehner's face. Even garlic lovers slammed Boehner for calling the public option as unpopular as a garlic milkshake (I've been to Gilroy, CA, home of the Garlic Festival, and everyone there swears by the garlic ice cream and milkshakes).

The narrative has really started to turn. It's the Republicans who look out of touch and out of ideas to deal with America's health care crisis. Alan Grayson started this ball rolling. And John Boehner's Pauline Kael impression cemented it.

...the Facebook group, "Hey John Boehner, I'm an American and I support a public option!" has over 1,000 members in the first five hours, and is growing.

...The Progressive Campaign Change Committee also has an ad up and is encouraging Boehner to meet with folks in his district.

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Politics Doesn't End At The Water's Edge

The US government long ago decided that what happened to Honduras President Mel Zelaya was a coup. The whole "waking him up in the middle of the night in his pajamas and putting him on a military plane" must have been the giveaway. Since then diplomatic efforts have attempted to resolve the crisis, but to no avail. Zelaya snuck back into the country, and has been holed up at the Brazilian Embassy. The leaders of the new regime in Tegucigalpa, after trying to take away civil liberties to suppress dissent, have finally warmed to the idea of restoring Zelaya to office with limited powers until the next Presidential election ends his term in January. That would be a responsible compromise for both sides and would put an end to the crisis.

It is at this moment when Sen. Jim DeMint (R-Bugfuckistan) decides to lead a Republican delegation to meet with the ruling regime, which no country on Earth has recognized as a legitimate government. To quote Steve Clemons:

In other words, Jim DeMint is acting on behalf of, in cahoots with, and against the foreign policy of the United States of America in encouraging post-coup Honduran government officials defy the United States. He is encouraging a political leadership which has no legitimacy and which not recognized by other democracies in the region -- while the ousted President makes cell phone UN General Assembly statements from a couch-bed in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa.

A US Senator alone does not make the America's foreign policy, and working against the policies of the United States in collaboration with foreign officials. . .well. . .there are words that come to mind to describe this behavior, but I want to be civil towards the Senator.

But let me be less blunt. Should we require Senator DeMint to register with the Foreign Agents Registration office at the Department of Justice?

I don't think this is a violation of the Logan Act any more than it was a violation for Nancy Pelosi to meet with members of the Syrian government. But at least that was a recognized world body.

The President and Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry tried to block the trip, but Mitch McConnell intervened, and DeMint and three House Republicans - Reps. Aaron Schock (IL), Peter Roskam (IL) and Doug Lamborn (CO) - will attend the meeting.

DeMint calls it a fact-finding mission. But he has been blocking two Obama Administration nominees for Latin American foreign policy in protest of the Honduras policy. Clearly, the Senator is intervening in an area of international diplomacy for naked political reasons. DeMint's response to that is interesting for a variety of reasons:

"Sen. DeMint cannot prevent Sen. Reid from bringing the nominees to the floor, he can have a vote at any time. Sen. DeMint has objected to unanimous consent," said Denton, also adding: "In fact that's all you can do. In the Senate when, someone says you're holding up a bill or a nominee, what one Senator can object to is passage by unanimous consent. No one Senator can stop the Senate working the majority of its will through 60 votes.

I hope the Democrats recognize that when it comes to health care.

I don't see anything legally wrong with DeMint's trip. From the standpoint of foreign policy, it's damaging and corrosive - and there was a time when members of political parties saw themselves as Americans first and party regulars second.

...And you can extend this out to the nonsensical Olympics controversy. As Alan Grayson said today, "Someone should remind them what team they're on." Actually, I think they know. Team GOP.'s part of a pattern.

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Don't Cry For Me Bank Of America Stockholders

My bank's CEO will step down at the end of the year, a fitting end for someone with a role in nearly destroying the world financial markets, as well as nearly toppling his own company after the purchase of Merrill Lynch, with shares down 50% year over year. When someone intimately involved with such bad performance steps down in the real world, they are lucky if no tomatoes hit them on the way out the door. Because this is Wall Street fantasy land, Lewis will collect $53 million dollars.

Ken Lewis doesn't have a golden parachute, but he's all set for a comfortable landing -- unlike his long-suffering shareholders.

The Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500) chief executive officer said Wednesday he'll step aside at year-end after eight years at the helm. Based on the company's most recent proxy statement, he will have $53 million in pension benefits waiting for him when he leaves.

That should give him about $3.5 million a year in pension payouts for the rest of his life -- at a time when people who bought the stock when he took the reins in 2001 are underwater on their investments.

Although the bank swore off employment contracts and eliminated golden parachutes seven years ago, Lewis can thank a pension plan that dates back decades for his rich retirement rewards.

I'd say that parachute is golden enough, thanks.

I don't want to start railing against pensions, because most people pay into them and earn what they get. But I think a cap slightly below $53 million dollars is probably sufficient. Especially for people like Ken Lewis.

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Tale Of Two

I try extremely hard not to watch the cable nets anymore, but I'm sure they're going on and on about David Letterman's extortion plot and his revelation of an affair with a former assistant. The plotter was a CBS News employee who lived with the former assistant and found out about the trysts from her diaries. It's unclear whether Letterman was married at the time of the affairs - though probably not. Point being, he immediately came clean and stopped the extortionist, people stray and it's his personal life and all that.

But as long as we're talking about affairs and payoffs and the rest, it should be noted that while Letterman didn't give in to the extortion, John Ensign did, and may have broken multiple laws in the process.

Early last year, Senator John Ensign contacted a small circle of political and corporate supporters back home in Nevada — a casino designer, an airline executive, the head of a utility and several political consultants — seeking work for a close friend and top Washington aide, Douglas Hampton.

“He’s a competent guy, and he’s looking to come back to Nevada. Do you know of anything?” one patron recalled Mr. Ensign asking.

The job pitch left out one salient fact: the senator was having an affair with Mr. Hampton’s wife, Cynthia, a campaign aide. The tumult that the liaison was causing both families prompted Mr. Ensign, a two-term Republican, to try to contain the damage and find a landing spot for Mr. Hampton.

In the coming months, the senator arranged for Mr. Hampton to join a political consulting firm and lined up several donors as his lobbying clients, according to interviews, e-mail messages and other records. Mr. Ensign and his staff then repeatedly intervened on the companies’ behalf with federal agencies, often after urging from Mr. Hampton.

While the affair made national news in June, the role that Mr. Ensign played in assisting Mr. Hampton and helping his clients has not been previously disclosed. Several experts say those activities may have violated an ethics law that bars senior aides from lobbying the Senate for a year after leaving their posts [..]

And Mr. Ensign allowed Senator Tom Coburn, a friend and fellow conservative Christian, to serve as an intermediary with the Hamptons in May in discussing a large financial settlement, to help them rebuild their lives.

This will undoubtedly be the last thing I write about this, but I wonder if that comparison will ever be made by the Sarah Palin acolytes or other Letterman-haters on the right?

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Washington: Still An Accountability-Free Zone

Steny Hoyer has decided to take on the mantra of looking forwards and not backwards.

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and a handful of prominent Democrats said yesterday they would introduce legislation to strip telecom giants of immunity for possibly violating customer privacy by providing information to the government without a warrant.

But Hoyer seems uninterested in pushing the legislation through the House.

"I don't think revisiting that issue is going to get us anyplace," Hoyer told The Hill today.

Nope, sure won't! If you don't count a place of... justice and accountability.

Dan at Pruning Shears wonders if Hoyer is "the worst Democrat alive, or ever?" It's a very difficult question. Actually, he's just a front for corporate hegemony, in this case the telecoms.

I pretty much knew that Dodd's bill was going nowhere, but Hoyer's rationale is what got me.

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McChrystal's Loose Lips

Depending on who you read, Stanley McChrystal is either an insubordinate creep for speaking about policy he'll have to implement whether he gets his way or not, or an honest broker who is willing to defend his Commander in Chief. Depends on what part of the London speech he gave you cite.

On the one hand...

But when it comes to talking perhaps General McChrystal might want to do less of it publicly. First there was Sunday's 60 Minutes valentine to population centric COIN, now this from a speech McChrystal delivered this week in London:

General McChrystal was asked by a member of an audience that included retired military commanders and security specialists whether he would support an idea put forward by Mr. Biden to scale back the American military presence in Afghanistan to focus on tracking down the leaders of Al Qaeda, in place of the current broader effort now under way to defeat the Taliban.

“The short answer is: no,” he said. “You have to navigate from where you are, not where you wish to be. A strategy that does not leave Afghanistan in a stable position is probably a short-sighted strategy.”

Look I understand that General McChrystal believes counter-insurgency is the only way forward in Afghanistan - and certainly that is pretty clear from reading this review - but this airing of views in public and denigration of alternative strategies (including one that may be forced upon him by his civilian commanders) is really over the top. Shouldn't the correct answer here be 'no comment' or something along the lines of 'the US military will carry out whatever strategy is decided upon by the civilian leadership'? McChrystal is continuing to put President Obama in the difficult position of either adhering to his strategy or publicly breaking with their military commander on the ground [...]

McChrystal is welcome to his views; he's not welcome to go public with his views in such a way to put pressure on the Obama Administration to accept them.

On the other hand:

I suppose there’s a question of whether McChrystal should be making any public comment ahead of President Obam’s decision on the proper strategic course for Afghanistan and Pakistan. But it’s not like he’s advocating anything he hasn’t already been publicly revealed to advocate by the leak of his strategy assessment last week.

And he defended the review: “The process,” he told a reporter who tried and failed to get him to disclose details, “of going through a very detailed, policy-level debate, is incredibly important and incredibly healthy. The president led that very effectively, and so I think this is a very necessary process to go through so we come to a clear decision and then move forward.”

In the same breath, he also appeared to defend election thief Hamid Karzai, which is supremely odd, but I guess if you want a population-centered COIN, you have to make everyone think there's an actual government partner.

He added this interesting bit:

...a few days ago, just before we left to travel here, a bus south of Kandahar struck an improvised explosive device (IED) killing 30 Afghan civilians. That is tragic.

On the one hand, you might say that the Afghan people would recoil against the Taliban who left that IED. To a degree, they do, but we must also understand that they recoil against us because they might think that, if we were not there, neither would be the IED. Therefore, we indirectly caused the IED to be there. Second, we said that we would protect them, but we did not. Sometimes, then, the most horrific events caused by the insurgents continue to reinforce in the minds of the Afghan people a mindset that coalition forces are either ineffective, or at least that their presence in Afghanistan is not in their interest. That does not happen all of the time. There are times when they feel differently, but you have to put things in that context to understand what we must do.

Look, I think McChrystal is wedded to his policy, and as a general he's not exactly used to being wrong. He talks about protecting the civilian population but he hasn't done much of a job to that end. He thinks that, with the proper amount of troops, he can protect the Afghanis and yield a better future.

The White House is not on the same timeline, nor do they have the same single-minded focus. By design they necessarily have to think about the overall national security implications, the strength of the military, and the financial and human cost. And there are more and more signs that they don't consider the costs to be worth it.

Senior White House officials have begun to make the case for a policy shift in Afghanistan that would send few, if any, new combat troops to the country and instead focus on faster military training of Afghan forces, continued assassinations of al-Qaeda leaders and support for the government of neighboring Pakistan in its fight against the Taliban.

In a three-hour meeting Wednesday at the White House, senior advisers challenged some of the key assumptions in Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's blunt assessment of the nearly eight-year-old war, which President Obama has said is being fought to destroy al-Qaeda and its allies in Afghanistan and the ungoverned border areas of Pakistan.

McChrystal, commander of the 100,000 NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, has asked Obama to quickly endorse his call for a change in military strategy and approve the additional resources he needs to retake the initiative from the resurgent Taliban.

But White House officials are resisting McChrystal's call for urgency, which he underscored Thursday during a speech in London, and questioning important elements of his assessment, which calls for a vast expansion of an increasingly unpopular war. One senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the meeting, said, "A lot of assumptions -- and I don't want to say myths, but a lot of assumptions -- were exposed to the light of day."

Among them, according to three senior administration officials who attended the meeting, is McChrystal's contention that the Taliban and al-Qaeda share the same strategic interests and that the return to power of the Taliban would automatically mean a new sanctuary for al-Qaeda.

McChrystal met with Obama this morning. I don't know if all this got across, but the President does hold the cards in this debate. It may be politically difficult to go against the advice of the generals, but the people are on his side.

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Still Shedding Jobs

Last month's employment report:

Nonfarm payroll employment continued to decline in September (-263,000), and the unemployment rate (9.8 percent) continued to trend up, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The largest job losses were in construction, manufacturing, retail trade, and government.

Household Survey Data

Since the start of the recession in December 2007, the number of unemployed persons has increased by 7.6 million to 15.1 million, and the unemployment rate has doubled to 9.8 percent.

The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for July was revised from -276,000 to -304,000, and the change for August was revised from -216,000 to -201,000.

Economists were hoping for something around 175,000 losses.

Earlier this week, I wrote about how Obama's approval rating is intimately timed to the jobs situation. A report by two professors at Rutgers says it will take until 2017 for jobs to reach pre-recession levels. That could be two Presidents from now, the way things are going.

Obama doesn't need a full recovery, but he needs to show improvement. And the only way, at this point, to improve the jobs situation is with another stimulus.


Stocks are up. Ben Bernanke says that the recession is over. And I sense a growing willingness among movers and shakers to declare “Mission Accomplished” when it comes to fighting the slump. It’s time, I keep hearing, to shift our focus from economic stimulus to the budget deficit.

No, it isn’t. And the complacency now setting in over the state of the economy is both foolish and dangerous.

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Moby Doing More To Stop Murder In California Than Arnold Schwarzenegger

Musical artist Moby has decided to donate 100% of the proceeds of three upcoming concerts in California, totaling anywhere from $75,000 to $100,000, to help out domestic violence shelters who saw their state funding cut by Governor Schwarzenegger back in July.

Six shelters that temporarily house victims and their families have closed since Schwarzenegger used his line-item veto to eliminate their funding in July. Advocates say dozens more of the 94 agencies that received a total of $20.4 million in state money last year have scaled back services and cuts hours and staff.

"In the grand scheme of things, it's not a lot of money," Moby said about the cuts during a phone interview from Chicago. "But it's going to directly harm the women who benefit from these programs."

Moby, whose real name is Richard Melville Hall, said he hopes to generate $75,000 to $100,000 from dates in San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco from Oct. 12 through 15 to give to the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence.

"My mother was in a long relationship with a guy who was very, very abusive and at one point I had to stop him from stabbing her to death," Moby said.

The money will go to the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence.

Domestic violence shelters are nothing more than homicide prevention units. Schwarzenegger's cuts - made by blue pencil after the Legislature passed a budget agreement - caused a huge threat to public safety that could cost more in court and law enforcement money in the long run. Republicans like him probably think that, as long as charitable donations have stepped into the breach, the state can be absolved for their efforts to threaten women's lives. But the $100,000, while extremely generous, is just a small fraction of the money that was cut.

Maybe some other celebrity could hold events with the proceeds going to domestic violence shelters. Maybe someone who had a long movie career and has a legion of adoring fans. Or maybe we can fund government properly and we wouldn't have to hold fundraisers to save women from being beaten or killed.

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Perry's Cover-Up

I'm sure the Fox-bots will be talking about some other grave misconduct inside the Obama Administration today ("the candy czar took a Snickers bar away from a baby!"), but a truly sickening story of political cover-up is unfolding in Texas, should they care to turn their heads.

A top prosecutor in the Tarrant County district attorney's office said Wednesday that he has no idea why Gov. Rick Perry abruptly removed him from the Texas Forensic Science Commission.

Perry abruptly replaced three members of the commission -- including the chairman -- just two days before it was to meet to discuss a finding that a faulty investigation might have led to the execution of an innocent man.

The meeting was subsequently cancelled.

Perry also removed board member Aliece Watts, a forensic scientist in Euless.

The governor told The Associated Press that the board members' terms were expiring and that replacing them “was pretty standard business as usual.”

But several board members have had their appointments renewed, The AP reported.

The chairman was replaced by a DA named John Bradley, "one of the most conservative, hard-line prosecutors in Texas," who never heard of the position until Perry offered it to him on Wednesday.

Cameron Todd Willingham was put to death in 2004 for an arson that killed his three daughters, but the overwhelming body of evidence, detailed in this New Yorker article, is that he was an innocent man. The article notes that Dr. Gerald Hurst, an arson expert, ran an investigation of the incident and concluded there was no evidence pointing to Willingham and that the fire resulted by accident, and delivered a report saying the same to Gov. Perry's office before the execution, which the Governor then ignored (there's no evidence he even looked at it). The board meeting to review the case could have determined that Perry's negligence led to the state killing someone innocent of any crime.

Perry didn't want that information revealed, and so he shut down the board. And given that he faces a March primary for another term as Governor, he probably really wanted to make sure that the board wouldn't meet again until after then.

Simon Malloy writes:

This is all, at the very least, quite fishy. It's also potentially earth-shaking -- never before has it been conclusively determined that someone in this country was wrongfully put to death. If Cameron Todd Willingham's innocence can be proven, it would upend the entire rationale behind our system of capital punishment. And yet there hasn't been a whole lot of media coverage - a Nexis search of all news sources for the past two days for (cameron w/2 willingham and perry) turned up seven results.

What are we being treated to instead? In-depth and sensationalist reports about what President Obama's "safe schools czar" said to one of his students 21 years ago. That's the problem with letting Glenn Beck set the news agenda - the stories that actually matter sometimes slip through.

We're talking about state-sanctioned murder here, or at least negligent homicide, with one of the most obvious cover-ups to that action.

I know I'm not conservative enough to be America's assignment editor, but this seems worth a mention.

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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Cantwell Amendment Passes

It's not much, but for people making between 133-200% of the federal poverty level it's a good start.

Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), taking a page from a program originating in her home state of Washington, has successfully maneuvered an amendment through the Finance Committee that comes close to a public option while not quite getting there.

The program, which made its way into the finance committee bill by one vote, would affect those above the 133% of the federal poverty line (those below this threshold are currently covered by Medicaid) up to 200% of the FPL. This would include a family of four earning up to $44,000.

Rather than handing over the $6500 health insurance subsidy that these people would have qualified for under the initial Baucus plan, that money would be handed over to the states to create a negotiating fund to be controlled by the state.

Participants would not get their insurance from the state through some sort of state operated public insurance option. Rather, the state would combine all this federal subsidy money and use the clout of controlling this large sum of cash to negotiate with private insurers on behalf of participants in order to get them the best deal.

It’s something of a collective bargaining approach for those in a low income bracket, with the state functioning as the local labor negotiator.

I wouldn't call it "close to a public option." It's a good policy to bundle federal monies together and allow states to bargain with it, and it will allow for competition at that low end. Of course, insurers might have to raise prices on everyone else to compensate for either lower rates on that pool, or missing out on having them in their systems. But there are caps for that, theoretically, and I would have expected those insurers to push to the max of those caps anyway. So overall, this is a good policy, and I'm glad Cantwell got it through.

Among Democrats, only Blanche Lincoln voted against it.

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Closing In On The Insurance Industry

Lots of groups are taking action against the insurance industry and their attempts to get a forced market for themselves and increase their profits at the expense of their customers.

Health Care For America Now has a new ad spotlighting Stephen Helmsley, the CEO of UnitedHealth Group, and his $57,000-an-hour lifestyle, contrasted against the thousands of families who have experienced a medical bankruptcy:

In connection with that, SEIU is encouraging supporters to take out Craigslist ads seeking to rent a room in an insurance company CEO mansion. They have the Craigslist sites for Philadelphia (CIGNA's Edward Hamway), Minneapolis (UnitedHealth's Stephen Helmsley) and Indianapolis (WellPoint's Angela Braly), and sample "room for rent" ads to work from. A sample:

Bankrupt Mother of Two, Seeking Room @ Insurance CEO Mansion

I'’m seeking a room to rent in Cigna CEO Ed Hanway’s $13.6 million dollar mansion. (We'’ll take a room in one of his three beach homes, too.) My family would be very quiet and courteous housemates, and given the size of Ed's mansion, he won't even hear us! I'll be bringing along my two twin girls, both of whom were diagnosed with cancer at the age of four. CIGNA is refusing to pay for the human growth hormone they need to grow properly - and the out-of-pocket expenses for this treatment are…

This is the Craigslist ad of Stacie Ritter of Philadelphia, who is literally holding a protest outside Ed Hamway's home as we speak, standing outside until she gets the care she needs from CIGNA.

MoveOn member Dawn Smith is faced with a similar struggle from CIGNA. They raised her prescription drug costs for her treatable brain tumor by 10,000%. She is writing to CIGNA to seek answers, and you can sign her letter.

What makes you think you can treat sick people this way? When will you stop doing this to me and the thousands of people like me who are suffering? And if you solve this latest problem, how do I know you won't do this to me again next week--that you're actually changing your ways and not just trying to make your PR problem disappear?

Please answer these questions. I need to know, for the sake of my health and my life. Many others have signed this letter too, to support me and make sure I get answers.

The truth is starting to leak out. Even the traditional media is covering stories about insurers denying coverage by calling a broken wrist a pre-existing condition. This is an industry that is doing whatever it can to maximize their profits, even though they know a public option wouldn't bankrupt them. The more people understand how the industry works, the easier it will be to get a health bill that works for all of us.

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What's In A Name?

What's In A Name?

by dday

Harry Reid is now saying there will be a "public option" in any final health care bill. I'm sure nobody knows precisely what he means by that.

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said today there will be a "public option" in whatever health insurance reform bill comes out of Congress.

"We are going to have a public option before this bill goes to the president's desk," Reid said in a conference call with constituents, referring to some kind of government plan.

"I believe the public option is so vitally important to create a level playing field and prevent the insurance companies from taking advantage of us," he said.

Tom Harkin said almost exactly the same thing today - and he said that Republicans wouldn't be at the table when the two Senate bills get merged together.

Here's the good news about this. Reid is acknowledging that he absolutely cannot get away with having a final bill without something he can call a "public option." And progressives have done a good job of very specifically separating out triggers and co-ops as something that would not fit that definition. This is almost entirely due to grassroots activism. The public option would have been thrown out months ago if nobody was advocating for it from the bottom up. It was certainly not the intention of anyone in Washington to go into October with this issue still up for grabs. They were perfectly content to jettison it to protect insurance industry profits.

That said - there is no definition here for what public option means. And if you asked Sen. Reid point-blank, I'm sure he wouldn't give you a definition. He wants something that he can call a public option so the grassroots can be satisfied. What will that be? Probably not co-ops or triggers because they've been too well-defined by the grassroots. There are other alternatives coming in their place.

Tom Carper is pushing the idea of giving the states the ability to create a public option, which states could then link together for increased bargaining power. They wouldn't be able to use Medicare bargaining rates and they wouldn't have Medicare's provider network. And being state-based, they wouldn't have much leverage to gather the client base necessary to force a lot of competition with the private market. Of course, a lot of the "public options" out there offer weak, "level playing field" provisions similar to Carper's amendment. Jon Cohn says that actually, this is already in the bill:

One interesting question is whether the proposal is already redundant, thanks to an amendment that another member of the Finance committee, Ron Wyden, introduced that Chairman Max Baucus accepted before the hearings even began.

It's Wyden amendment C8, which appears on page two of the modified bill Baucus introduced formally for markup:

Amend Title I, Subtitle A to allow a State to be granted a waiver if the state applies to the Secretary to provide health care coverage that is at least as comprehensive as required under the Chairman’s Mark. States may seek a waiver through a process similar to Medicaid and CHIP. If the State submits a waiver to the Secretary, the Secretary must respond no later than 180 days and if the Secretary refuses to grant a waiver, the Secretary must notify the State and Congress about why the waiver was not granted. – Insert at the end of b)(1) ―and with citizen input through a referenda or similar means;‖ – In b)(2) strike ―a‖ and insert ―this‖ – Insert b)(4) ―the State submits a ten-year budget for the plan that is budget neutral to the Federal government.‖ – Insert at the beginning of c)(2) GRANTING OF WAIVER.— The Secretary shall approve the plan only if it meets criteria consistent with that of the America’s Healthy Future Act, including that it shall lower health care spending growth, improve the delivery system performance, provide affordable choices for all its citizens, expand protections against excessive out-of-pocket spending, provides coverage to the same number of uninsured and not increase the Federal deficit.

What does the gobbledygook mean? Wyden's staff says it's designed to encourage state experimentation. I haven't yet gotten an official reading from Finance Committee staff on their interpretation.

But my own reading, which I've run by a few analysts, is that it gives states the ability to implement coverage schemes that bolster coverage, control costs, and improve quality at least as well--and hopefully better than--the Senate Finance bill. That would include creating a public option. (You could even read it to allow a state-based single-payer plan.) So it's the Carper amendment, but without the restrictions.

Cohn notes that the HHS Secretary would have to rule, in the Wyden Amendment, on whether any state proposal met the proper criteria. Which means that, under a Republican Administration, you could see nothing helping people allowed to go through, or even scale-backs to benefits (though there is presumably a federal floor).

Still, maybe this is what Reid will determine as a "public option." Or maybe he'll dump Wyden's amendment and pick up the Carper idea and call that a public option. Or maybe Maria Cantwell's proposal, which allows states to negotiate on behalf of the uninsured below 200% of poverty level for a basic plan, will fit the bill, even though it sounds like a good policy but in no way a substitute for the public option.

The point is that all the activism and advocacy has gotten us far further than we would normally be in this debate. But there are still plenty of compromises out there that politicians will call "the public option" as an escape valve. It will be important to see these policies for what they are, instead of applying the name and being done with it.

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The Latest Attack Of The Wingnut Brigade

Amazingly enough, conservatives weren't satisfied by the resignation of Van Jones and the funding cutoff for ACORN. Seems they are trying to attack the Administration relentlessly, as if that was their singular objective! There have been a few clumsy stabs this week, like the mild song praising the President, or the lame tape of community organizers praying to "O God," not "Obama"; or attacking the President for wanting to bring the Olympics and $22 billion dollars of economic activity to America. But the right thinks they've found a target with a Department of Education official named Kevin Jennings. Sean Hannity has practically jumped on his desk and demanded Jennings' resignation for allegedly "covering up statutory rape." I say allegedly because only Sean Hannity thinks that, and it certainly doesn't meet with the facts of the case.

Despite evidence to the contrary, Fox News -- led by Sean Hannity -- and other right-wing media have claimed that Department of Education official Kevin Jennings "cover[ed] up statutory rape" and violated Massachusetts law by not reporting to authorities a 1988 conversation in which a high school student told Jennings about his relationship with an older man. In fact, Jennings' attorney wrote in a 2004 letter that the student was 16 years old, which is -- and was at the time -- the legal age of consent in Massachusetts.

Jennings' attorney: Conversation was "with a sixteen-year-old student"; "no factual basis" that Jennings was "aware of any sexual victimization of any student." In an August 3, 2004, letter, Constance M. Boland of the law firm Nixon Peabody -- which represented the organization that Jennings ran -- wrote that the "conversation" Jennings had was with "a sixteen-year-old student" and that there "is no factual basis whatsoever for" the "claim that Mr. Jennings engaged in unethical practices, or that he was aware of any sexual victimization of any student, or that he declined to report any sexual victimization at any time." [Boland letter, 8/3/04]

What happened was that Jennings wrote about a conversation he had while a teacher - 21 years ago - where a 16 year-old student told him about a relationship with an older man. Jennings, who is gay, didn't report the kid to the authorities for doing anything illegal, mainly because he... wasn't doing anything illegal.

Nevertheless, Hannity is outraged (but that's redundant) and the trumped-up scandal is seeping into the media. John Aravosis writes:

Allen went on a right-wing TV show this morning and falsely accused Department of Education official Kevin Jennings of a crime. He said - falsely - that Jennings failed to report "an assault" on a young man, twenty years ago, which would be a crime under Massachusetts law at the time. In fact, Jennings was never informed of an assault on anyone. He spoke to a student, of the legal age of consent, who had sex with a man. Ta ta ta dum.

Yes, you guessed - they were g-a-y. And one was older than the other. Ergo, it must have been one of those gay pedophile predator types who always go after young boys, because those gays are such perverts - right?

I'm not surprised that FOX News and the far right hate groups are going after a gay appointee in the Obama administration. Anti-gay bigotry is ripe at FOX, in the religious right, and in the GOP base that now controls the Republican party. So none of this should surprise us. What does surprise me is when real journalists, real reporters, like Mike Allen, swallow the bait from the ilk of Sean Hannity and the Family Research Council, and report their sludge as fact, when it's an outright lie. It really makes you wonder why the media smells a story here. I doubt they'd be as interested if the two legal adults, and the Obama official, were straight.

And another thing. Would Mike Allen, and any other media outlet covering this story, prefer if the kid had killed himself? From the REST of the story, if you bother reading it, the kid didn't exactly sound long for this world. Can you imagine, in the 1980s mind you (which is when this happened), had Jennings outed the kid as gay, not just to his parents, but to the entire state (which would include his school), which is what Allen is proposing? Assuming the kid didn't kill himself, would his parents have kicked him out of their house (which happened, and still happens, to a lot of gay kids)? Gee, I'll bet the media covering this fake story didn't think of that one. No, they had a "sex" story involving a gay guy - three gay guys in fact - and well, how you can top that?

Jennings' real crime in the eyes of his accusers appears to be that he's a gay man. After all, a famous director drugging and raping an underage white girl without consent - that's OK for the establishment, and he shouldn't be punished because he's in their social class. Someone like Jennings not turning in a ghey for his consensual relationanship - that deserves a burning at the stake.

This ticky-tack distractions don't even have to succeed. It's part of an effort to chip away at the legitimacy of the President, so that when the big story breaks, these zombie lies can fit an invented pattern. That's all.

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Jerry Brown Winning Hearts And Minds By Playing Into Republican Fear Tactics

Just days after forming an exploratory committee to enter the race for Governor, Jerry Brown has decided to follow the likes of Andrew Breitbart and Arnold Schwarzenegger by opening an investigation into ACORN:

In a letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger dated Sept. 25, Chief Deputy Attorney General James M. Humes said the office has "opened an investigation of both ACORN and the circumstances under which ACORN employees were videotaped." The governor had asked Brown two weeks ago to look into the incidents.

The probe was sparked by a series of hidden-camera videos in which a couple posing as a pimp and a prostitute are advised on how to set up a prostitution business by people identified as workers for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. The videos were taken in Washington D.C., San Diego, San Bernardino and cities in several other states.

There's at least a nod to the possibility that the videotapes were obtained illegally, although I'm not sure California law mirrors the state of Maryland, where the filmmakers clearly violated the law. But the tendency for Brown to follow Governor Headline and chase the popular story is pretty lame. Remember that the Governor specifically called on Brown to investigate ACORN because of the San Bernardino tape, which is full of holes:

Most critically, it is clear that Fox News has made virtually no attempt to verify the authenticity of the tapes before broadcasting them -- something no self-respecting journalistic organization would dare do. Consider the case of the San Bernardino ACORN office, which was featured in the most recent video to be released. The words of ACORN employee Tresa Kaelke appear to be damning. Not only does she offer assistance to Giles and O'Keefe, but she claims that she murdered her former husband following a period of domestic abuse [...]

The problem, of course, is that Kaelke was deliberately lying. The San Bernardino Police Department itself has now confirmed that her claim regarding her husband was untrue. A department statement released on September 15 reads: "The San Bernardino Police Department is investigating the claims made regarding the homicide. From the initial investigation conducted, the claims do not appear to be factual. Investigators have been in contact with the involved party's known former husbands, who are alive and well."

Furthermore, Kaelke has claimed that when she made the statement, she was seeking to mislead the undercover videographers, whom she was suspicious of. "They were not believable," Kaelke is quoted as saying in an ACORN press release. "Somewhat entertaining, but they weren't even good actors. I didn't know what to make of them. They were clearly playing with me. I decided to shock them as much as they were shocking me."

But none of these simple facts stopped anyone at Fox from running with the story. Any cub reporter would have thought to actually call the San Bernardino police before effectively alleging that ACORN was staffed by murderers. But such an act never occurred to people like Beck, Hannity, or Carlson. (In her defense, Carlson later added that the husband was still alive, "according to ACORN," but ignored the police report.)

Let's be honest. Fearmongering about ACORN is a cover for a racially tinged agenda by ideological extremists. If the actions of a couple employees provokes a state Attorney General investigation of entire companies, I eagerly await the investigations into every company in California. But we don't have that. Instead, Jerry Brown has decided to follow the fearmongering, and legitimize it. Sad.

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The Village Strikes Back

The Cook Political Report, based on no polling, no gauging of public sentiment, nothing, just up and moved Alan Grayson's seat to a toss-up based on his comments the other day. Keep in mind that Grayson currently has no opponent yet. Doesn't matter - a Democrat said something mean, surely this will hurt him.

Here's how this works. Charlie Cook is seen as a big pooh-bah inside the Village. If he divines that a seat is in trouble, that becomes the conventional wisdom. It can hurt fundraising for an incumbent and help it for a challenger. Especially in this case, where the assessment cannot possibly be based on any data, you can conclude that Charlie Cook doesn't really appreciate outspoken Democrats, so he manufactured his ratings to downgrade Grayson, not just to hurt him, but as a warning to his colleagues not to step out of line.

Only thing is, Alan Grayson keeps taking in lots of money online. He's now raised over $100,000 in a little over a day, as much as $150,000 according to his campaign staff. Charlie Cook may have gone to the fainting couch and did his part to try and get Grayson thrown out of office, but the people don't seem to be buying it.

This is the kind of pressure a Democratic who doesn't follow the Village-approved rules for discourse is under. You can get Alan Grayson's back and let everyone know that the rules of the Village don't apply in the real world, where we actually like people with guts willing to say what they believe.

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Finance Committee Follies

So how's that Finance Committee doing on health care?

Well, they did manage to beat back a requirement that people show a photo ID to use the exchanges or access subsidies, though the enforcement requirements in the bill still deny undocumented immigrants the ability to but insurance on the exchanges, which is pitiful, and restrict LEGAL immigrants from doing the same for five years. So it's a win without a victory.

In better news, Max Baucus continues to be pushed to the left on affordability.

In a push to lock down votes, Senator Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, is pulling together a last-minute package of changes to his health care legislation aimed at addressing the chief concern among his fellow Democrats: that health insurance be made as affordable as possible for moderate-income Americans.

“There’s an effort to solve people’s problems,” said Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, Democrat of West Virginia, who has been a critic of the bill. “How far that’ll go, we’ll see.”

Among the proposals under consideration is an amendment by Senator Maria Cantwell, Democrat of Washington, that would create a “basic health plan” for Americans earning less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or $44,100 for a family of four. The proposal would let states develop or expand various existing insurance programs that now typically cover people who qualify for Medicaid. Small states could develop plans jointly.

The Baucus bill would already expand Medicaid to Americans earning up to 133 percent of poverty, and Ms. Cantwell’s proposal would effectively expand it further. But because her plan is expected to be cheaper than providing subsidies to those low-income people to buy their own insurance, it could save money that could be used to make other provisions of the bill more generous.

The Cantwell Amendment sounds pretty good at first blush. While not a public option, it's a proven idea (Washington state has this) that would reduce costs up to 200% FPL that can be used to increase subsidies above that level. UPDATE: Ezra Klein has a good interview with Cantwell about her proposal. She claims it would hit 75% of the total uninsured.

But I really like what Jay Rockefeller's cooking up - a legitimate floor for what insurance companies must spend on treatment and care.

This is delectable politics. Fresh off a meeting with Ob-Rahma, Jay Rock has come back to the Senate and demanded 90% loss ratio for any coverage the subsidies pay for. "Loss ratio" is insurance-speak for what they actually have to spend providing actual health care. That means the insurance companies can't steal 20% of our tax dollars to pay for executive salaries. They get 10%.

They're peeing their pants right now.

But I suspect Jay Rock has offered this as an outcome of his meeting with Ob-Rahma. I'm sure at that meeting they said, "Jello Jay, We'd like you to pitch other ways to save money. We'd like to come up with a way to keep costs down."

And voila!!! 90%!!! Insurance companies have to actually provide health care without gobs of executive subsidies. We're actually going to demand a certain amount of health care in exchange for the half trillion MaxTax!!!

There's no way to vote against this and still claim that you are on the side of the people instead of the insurance companies. With the cost savings in the bill, not to mention the ease of using the exchange to advertise services, insurers should easily be able to spend 90% of all premiums and still make a health profit. The only problem with this is enforcement, and how you get compliance from insurers who lie about loss ratios currently.

The Finance Committee will consider all these amendments and have a final vote on the bill next week, with Harry Reid bringing a merged bill to the floor the following week. We now know the schedule - time to make sure the best bill gets out.

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Here's A Thought, Take The Popular Option

Kevin Drum is as shrill as he gets, which is to say, measured, polite, and miffed.

In case you missed it, Jon Stewart had a good riff on this last night. His question: Why are Democrats so lame? It's a good one! They have a huge majority in the Senate, the public is strongly in favor of a public option, and yet....for some reason they can't round up the votes to pass it. Hell, they can't even round up a normal majority to pass it out of the Finance Committee, let alone a supermajority to overcome an eventual filibuster.

If Democrats really do lose the House next year (about which more later), this will be why. If they don't pass a healthcare bill at all, they'll be viewed as terminally lame. If they pass a bill, but it doesn't contain popular features that people want — like the public option — they'll be viewed as terminally lame. At a wonk level, a bill without a public option can be perfectly good. But wonks aren't a large voting bloc, and among people who do vote, the public option is very popular. So, um, why not pass it?

I will minimally defend Democrats. The Finance Committee has a 13-10 split, which is a bit less of a majority than the 60-40 overall split. Stewart's point was that Democrats had a supermajority and didn't use it in the Finance Committee is inaccurate. Furthermore, there's no such thing as a supermajority in the patently undemocratic confines of the Senate. Because the public option isn't popular among land as well as people, it doesn't have 60 votes in a Senate organized around land. There's also the problem of unanimous opposition from an entire political party, which really does represent a crisis of governance.

That said, yes! Democrats are lame! Especially in this case, where they have a popular policy that also happens to be the policy that best brings down costs and provides competition in the insurance market. As for Drum's point that a bill without a public option can be good at a wonk level, he's talking about something like the Swiss health care system, where private insurers exist without a public alternative, but are strictly regulated. Which is perfectly fine except for a few things:

1) It is the second-worst system in the world in terms of costs, rivaled only by... the United States.
2) We have no history of regulatory strictness, in fact we have the opposite history, so actually pulling off a regulation-based check on the insurance companies is a real long shot.
3) The Swiss have higher co-pays, insurance premiums and out-of-pocket expenses than Americans, which politically would not fly at all. People are already crushed by the burden of high-dollar health care here.

The truth is that the difficulty of Democrats to include a public option - though I don't think it's dead yet - reflects the breakdown of our political system and the influence of corporate money. The Swiss have their health care plan because they put it in place relatively recently, and the large health interests didn't want a public component. It's the same here, and frankly politicians in both parties have been bought off.

As I said, I don't think this is quite over. Labor won't budge on their insistence on a public option, and for a White House obsessed with keeping their majority that's a big deal - lose the support of the AFL-CIO and you lose seats, period. What's more, progressives understand the pressure points now - mainly, the White House and Harry Reid. If he includes a public option in the merged Senate bill it will be very hard to get it out, and then Senators will be faced with the unpleasant choice of filibustering a bill that has the overwhelming support of the Democratic caucus and the White House to protect insurance company profits.

I'd make two calls today - Reid's office and the White House switchboard.

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Official Military Publication Calls For End Of Don't Ask Don't Tell

An article in the Joint Forces Quarterly, an official military publication published for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, argues powerfully and using available evidence for an end to discrimination against gays and lesbians in the military.

WASHINGTON - An article in the Pentagon’s top scholarly journal calls in unambiguous terms for lifting the ban on gays serving openly in the armed forces, arguing that the military is essentially forcing thousands of gay men and women to lead dishonest lives in an organization that emphasizes integrity as a fundamental tenet.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of Pentagon leaders, but their appearance in a publication billed as the Joint Chiefs’ “flagship’’ security studies journal signals that the top brass now welcomes a debate in the military over repealing the 1993 law that requires gays to hide their sexual orientation, according to several longtime observers of the charged debate over gays in the military.

While decisions on which articles to publish are made by the journal’s editorial board, located at the defense university, a senior military official said yesterday that the office of Admiral Mike Mullen, the Joint Chiefs chairman who is the nation’s top military officer, reviewed the article before it was published.

“After a careful examination, there is no scientific evidence to support the claim that unit cohesion will be negatively affected if homosexuals serve openly,’’ writes Colonel Om Prakash, who is now working in the office of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. “Based on this research, it is not time for the administration to reexamine the issue; rather it is time for the administration to examine how to implement the repeal of the ban.’’

Via Adam Bink at Open Left, here's the entire article. The author takes a very deliberate approach, marshaling all of the arguments before and against repeal and coming to an unequivocal conclusion. He says that allowing gay members to serve while hiding their true identity compromises their personal integrity to an unacceptable degree. He says this ends up hurting unit cohesion more than it helps, as commanders know everything about their troops except one hidden fact. He cites the tragedy of 12,500 willing servicemembers no longer serving, likely a low number "since it cannot capture the number of individuals who do not reenlist or who choose to separate because of the intense personal betrayal they felt continuing to serve under the auspices of DADT."

Importantly, Col. Prakash applies empirical data from other NATO and allied countries who have allowed gay members of their militaries and sees absolutely no basis to the claim of a loss of unit cohesion:

Prior to lifting their bans, in Canada 62 percent of servicemen stated that they would refuse to share showers with a gay soldier, and in the United Kingdom, two-thirds of males stated that they would not willingly serve in the military if gays were allowed. In both cases, after lifting their bans, the result was “no-effect.” In a survey of over 100 experts from Australia, Canada, Israel, and the United Kingdom, it was found that all agreed the decision to lift the ban on homosexuals had no impact on military performance, readiness, cohesion, or ability to recruit or retain, nor did it increase the HIV rate among troops.

This finding seems to be backed by the 2006 Zogby poll, which found that 45 percent of current Servicemembers already suspect they are serving with a homosexual in their unit, and of those, 23 percent are certain they are serving with a homosexual. These numbers indicate there is already a growing tacit acceptance among the ranks.

This was written by a member of the military, for members of the military, and his study leads to the inescapable conclusion that Don't Ask Don't Tell is a costly failure that must be repealed. Furthermore most Americans favor repeal. There is absolutely no excuse for delay on this subject from either Congress or the Obama Administration.

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Byrd, Brown Keys To Climate Fight; EPA Steps Up

Yesterday's release of the Kerry-Boxer climate bill found at least one surprising supporter - West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd.

Senator Byrd put out a statement making surprisingly supportive noises, saying he’s “glad” that Kerry and Boxer incorporated his suggestions and promising to keep working on the bill with them. A Kerry aide says Byrd’s comments came after Kerry lobbied Byrd’s staff extensively in one-on-one meetings.

Now, I'd rather have the Senator from West Virginia who is physically able to perform - Jay Rockefeller criticized the bill - praising the bill, but if Byrd is reachable, that does widen the list of reachable Senators. The Hill reports that Sherrod Brown of Ohio could be a key:

The Ohio liberal has been working diligently behind the scenes on behalf of manufacturers, seeking concessions from two Democrats who share his views on most other policy matters [...]

For starters, he thinks the Senate climate change bill needs to invest significantly more to help U.S. manufacturers, which face a competitive disadvantage with companies in China and other countries with less strict environmental rules.

Brown wants Boxer to increase the size of rebates to manufacturers that consume large amounts of energy, and give more assistance to small- and midsized manufacturers trying to retool their businesses to compete in the clean-energy economy.

Perhaps most controversially, Brown wants the Senate to consider imposing tariffs on foreign competitors operating in countries with lax rules for greenhouse gas emissions.

“Carbon dioxide emissions expand if a company closes down in Toledo, Ohio, and moves to Shanghai, where the emissions standards are weaker,” he said. Brown describes this phenomenon as “carbon leakage.”

Democrats such as Sens. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), Carl Levin (Mich.) and Bob Casey Jr. (Pa.) say they have the same concerns as Brown and acknowledge that he has been a leading advocate for industrial states.

“His voice on manufacturing is really important,” said Stabenow of Brown.

I'm actually pleased that there is a voice for manufacturing in the Senate, though I don't necessarily agree with all of Brown's proposals, many of which are admittedly parochial. But I strongly support carbon adjustment tariffs. It's just a fact that greenhouse gas emissions should be factored into the price of goods, and such a tariff would be a way to do that. If Wal-Mart sells me a set of tube socks for $2, the cost to the environment and eventual cleanup is far higher.

The good news yesterday is that the Obama Administration stepped up. The EPA issued a new rule on regulating greenhouse gases emitted at stationary sources, and it could prove a motivator for Congress to get something done.

Appearing at a climate summit in Los Angeles today, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson will announce the administration’s plan to regulate industrial global warming pollution, with or without the support of Congress. In May, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed global warming standards for motor vehicles, applauded by the auto industry. Under the rules of the Clean Air Act, when these regulations go into effect in March 2010, all major greenhouse gas polluters — from coal-fired power plants and oil refiners to methane-emitting landfills — are automatically subject to regulation:

Under EPA’s current interpretation of PSD [Prevention of Significant Deterioration] and title V applicability requirements, promulgation of this motor vehicle rule will trigger the applicability of PSD and title V requirements for stationary sources that emit GHGs.

Today’s proposed rule — which allows public comment until December — technically is a “tailoring rule” to limit regulation of global warming pollution to emitters of 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year, instead of the automatic statutory amount of 250 tons. This 250-ton standard would cover about four million businesses and homes — the “glorious mess” President Bush used as an excuse for his inaction. The EPA plans to raise the pollution limit to 25,000 tons, so that only 14,000 industrial pollution sources nationwide would be covered by the regulations, 11,000 of which are currently covered by the Clean Air Act permitting requirements already.

Raising that pollution limit means that churches or schools, who emit over 250 tons, would not be targeted. But it does mean that thousands of power plants will get permits showing they are working to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. That sets a date - March 2010 - for the fight. And Congress can either provide their own counterpart legislation or get out of the way. That's helpful to Kerry and Boxer's efforts.

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