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

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Village Prom

I just want to mention that MSNBC is airing the White House Correspondent's Dinner, with a live pre-show. Like it's the Oscars.

I've never seen such pointless self-regard.

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Specter Walks It Back

Yesterday, I mentioned the crassness of Arlen Specter putting together a site that looked like a plea for money for cancer research, when in actuality all the donations went toward his re-election campaign. Turns out his campaign was sufficiently embarrassed by the criticism surrounding this that they quietly changed the language, foregrounding the ask of donations for his re-election.

Ultimately, I think these astroturf sites don't fool anyone, and manufacturing a scandal based on people who may have given money expecting it to go to cancer research is a bit of a stretch. But politicians, take note - this kind of stuff makes you look terrible, and it's not worth it.

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CA-36: Harman Primary Is Underway

So I'm quoted in this Politico article about potential primary challenges to Jane Harman. I've said clearly that she'll either face a primary or drop out, and now multiple challengers, including 2006 opponent Marcy Winograd, have stepped up. One thing that people don't totally remember about that 2006 challenge is that Marcy got in the race in February for a June primary. She ended up raising and spending about $380,000, but she did not have time for a national fundraising base or a netroots strategy. She basically just went ahead and ran, and she got 38% of the vote. Starting the primary a year out this time will simply yield better results.

The other part, which Alex Eisenstadt acknowledges, is that Harman was a target long before the recent revelation of wiretapped conservations between her and suspected Israeli agents offering vague quid pro quo deals on getting some AIPAC members out of legal trouble.

It’s true that Harman holds a firm grip on her comfortably Democratic district, having won 69 percent in the 2008 general election.

Still, her left flank remains exposed in large part because of her hawkish, pro-military reputation. After Sept. 11, 2001, Harman was an early advocate for the creation of a Department of Homeland Security, and she threw her support behind the American-led invasion of Iraq. She went so far as to criticize the FBI and the CIA for moving too slowly to respond to terrorist threats.

Those stances continue to rankle local progressives, and the recent controversy has only revived the frustrations that seemed to crest in 2006 with Winograd’s challenge. Last week, Winograd organized a protest outside Harman’s district headquarters, with activists calling on the California Democrat to resign. The environmental organization Greenpeace is coordinating a mailing in the district pressuring Harman, who has a seat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, on energy issues.

David Dayen, a California activist who writes for the liberal blog Calitics, said he expects progressive organizations to ramp up their efforts against Harman in the weeks ahead.

“I don’t get the sense that in May, the year before this primary is happening, there is going to be a lot of clamoring over Harman, but I do think you’re starting to see progressive groups get involved,” said Dayen.

I reject the theory later in the piece that CA-36 is a moderate district. The PVI is D+12, and the formerly conservative areas have moderated their views. Torrance, the supposed "Orange County of LA County," just elected two Democrats to its City Council. What's more, Harman votes substantially to the right of the district and has for years.

Winograd will be holding a campaign kickoff on Monday at the Venice Pier around 4:00pm, so she's obviously serious about making this run again. And she'll be taking questions in a liveblog session at Firedoglake today at 11am. John Amato of Crooks and Liars fame may also make a run at this seat.

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VA-Gov: Terry McAuliffe's Money To The Rescue

The NYT Mag has a profile of Terry McAuliffe, who to me represents the worst of the Clinton-era corporate Democrats, but who is re-inventing himself as a candidate for Governor of Virginia. He's simply swamping the state with money, much of it out-of-state (82%) and corporate money, and using his peripatetic style to attract votes. Apparently he's campaigning on a message of jobs - a keen political insight considering the country has lost 5.7 million of them in the last year-plus:

His campaign is tailored for these times. “Jobs is the issue — the issue, the issue, the issue,” Cranwell, the Virginia Democratic chairman, told me. And wherever McAuliffe goes, he is surrounded by campaign placards reading, “New Energy for New Jobs.” He talks everywhere, albeit often vaguely, about using economic incentives to attract out-of-state industry and to promote clean-energy technology. When Terry McAuliffe pitches Terry McAuliffe, it is not as the former head of the Democratic National Committee but as the businessman who started his first enterprise, tarring driveways for Syracuse neighbors, when he was 14. “If the biggest problem facing Virginia today were crime, Terry would not be a plausible candidate,” says Paul Begala, who first worked with McAuliffe on Richard Gephardt’s presidential campaign in 1988 [...]

As he campaigns, McAuliffe’s economic plan is “probably the most aggressive economic plan that has ever been put out in the country,” if McAuliffe does say so himself. By the time he is done as governor, he will “create more jobs than all the other 49 governors,” Virginia will supplant California as the film-production capital of the world and Old Dominion University in Norfolk will become the nation’s leading research university.

His business acumen, however, mainly involves shilling for candidates and taking money off the top of deals, not creating thousands of middle class jobs for Virginians. I mean, this is ridiculous:

In December, in response to Moran's claim to be the only candidate who had run a business and raised a family in Virginia, McAuliffe boasted of launching five businesses in Virginia.

It turned out that all five are investment partnerships, with no employees, registered to his home address in McLean.

McAuliffe may or may not have some liabilities - the $100,000 investment in the ultimately failed company Global Crossing, which netted him $18 million while employees lost their pensions - on the business and jobs front. He's always been a salesman, and that sales pitch might get him through an election. But I worry more about his policy menu:

There are a few policy differences among the Democrats, in particular Moran and McAuliffe. Moran opposes offshore oil and natural-gas drilling and the construction of a coal-burning plant in Surry, and he has pledged to fight to repeal a 2006 state constitutional amendment banning gay marriages and civil unions. McAuliffe has said he is open to coal-burning plants and offshore drilling for natural gas, though only under stringent circumstances. While McAuliffe says he also opposed the gay-marriage amendment, he has argued that it is politically unrealistic to think the state’s two Legislatures would ever vote to repeal it.

Terry McAuliffe strikes me as a huckster, not a leader. He'll compromise and not advocate. He'll listen to donors while talking to voters. And he's apparently winning the primary. I hope Brian Moran can come back.

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President Obama reportedly wants to put the Federal Reserve in charge of managing systemic risk among "too big to fail" financial giants. And why not? They've certainly done a bang-up job so far.

Thrill to them throwing down the hammer on the biggest banks during the stress tests:

The Federal Reserve significantly scaled back the size of the capital hole facing some of the nation's biggest banks shortly before concluding its stress tests, following two weeks of intense bargaining.

In addition, according to bank and government officials, the Fed used a different measurement of bank-capital levels than analysts and investors had been expecting, resulting in much smaller capital deficits.

When the Fed last month informed banks of its preliminary stress-test findings, executives at corporations including Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc. and Wells Fargo & Co. were furious with what they viewed as the Fed's exaggerated capital holes. A senior executive at one bank fumed that the Fed's initial estimate was "mind-numbingly" large. Bank of America was "shocked" when it saw its initial figure, which was more than $50 billion, according to a person familiar with the negotiations.

Bank of America's final gap was $33.9 billion, down from an earlier estimate of more than $50 billion, according to a person familiar with the negotiations [...]

At Fifth Third Bancorp, the Fed was preparing to tell the Cincinnati-based bank to find $2.6 billion in capital, but the final tally dropped to $1.1 billion. Fifth Third said the decline stemmed in part from regulators giving it credit for selling a part of a business line.

Citigroup's capital shortfall was initially pegged at roughly $35 billion, according to people familiar with the matter. The ultimate number was $5.5 billion. Executives persuaded the Fed to include the future capital-boosting impacts of pending transactions.

Chill to the makeup of one of the Fed's branch boards:

The kerfuffle about current New York Federal Reserve Bank Chairman Stephen Friedman's purchase of some Goldman stock while the Fed was involved in reviewing major decisions about Goldman's future—well-covered by the Wall Street Journal here and here—raises a fundamental question about Wall Street's corruption [...]

So who selected Geithner back in 2003? Well, the Fed board created a select committee to pick the CEO. This committee included none other than Hank Greenberg, then the chairman of AIG; John Whitehead, a former chairman of Goldman Sachs; Walter Shipley, a former chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank, now JPMorgan Chase; and Pete Peterson, a former chairman of Lehman Bros. It was not a group of typical depositors worried about the security of their savings accounts but rather one whose interest was in preserving a capital structure and way of doing business that cried out for—but did not receive—harsh examination from the N.Y. Fed.

The composition of the New York Fed's board, which supervises the organization and current Chairman Friedman, is equally troubling. The board consists of nine individuals, three chosen by the N.Y. Fed member banks as their own representatives, three chosen by the member banks to represent the public, and three chosen by the national Fed Board of Governors to represent the public. In theory this sounds great: Six board members are "public" representatives.

So whom have the banks chosen to be the public representatives on the board during the past decade, as the crisis developed and unfolded? Dick Fuld, the former chairman of Lehman; Jeff Immelt, the chairman of GE; Gene McGrath, the chairman of Con Edison; Ronay Menschel, the chairwoman of Phipps Houses and also, not insignificantly, the wife of Richard Menschel, a former senior partner at Goldman. Whom did the Board of Governors choose as its public representatives? Steve Friedman, the former chairman of Goldman; Pete Peterson; Jerry Speyer, CEO of real estate giant Tishman Speyer; and Jerry Levin, the former chairman of Time Warner. These were the people who were supposedly representing our interests!

As Spitzer notes (and by the way, can we start blaming Eliot Spitzer's libido as among the causes of the financial crisis?), it's not necessarily corruption at the NY Fed, but a very cozy groupthink, where what's good for America and what's good for Wall Street are seen as equal. Whether you think the stress test portrayed a false picture of overall banking industry health or not, everybody basically agrees that stronger regulation and enforcement could avert the kind of crisis we've already seen. But the Federal Reserve acting as any kind of regulator for large banks and investment firms should invite peals of laughter. It reminds me of Bush hiring top industry lobbyists to regulate the industries for which they used to lobby.

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Friday, May 08, 2009

Friday Random Ten

Just got my copy of Eric Boehlert's new book Bloggers on the Bus: How the Internet Changed Politics and the Press and gave it the "Washington read," where I go to the index and look for people I know. Read the Digby section but I am NOT IN THERE. The nerve! :)

So far it's quite good, if familiar. Will probably read that over the weekend. I really have to get through more books - lately it seems like I read something and put it down and pick up something else, and the cycle repeats.

Hong Kong Triad - Thievery Corporation
Fuck Me Pumps (Live) - Amy Winehouse
Candy Says - Beth Gibbons & Rustin Man
There Is A Light That Never Goes Out - The Smiths
Centre For Holy Wars - The New Pornographers (they're Canadian)
Burning For You - Blue Oyster Cult (yes!)
Seein Thangs - DJ Shadow feat. David Banner
Good Morning - Kanye West
Quiet Town - Josh Rouse
Funky Tamazula - Clorofila

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Accountability For Random Functionaries

I think you have to admit that, even though Obama fired the guy, that's a pretty dope photo.

Worth terrorizing a major American city over? I don't know, it's pretty damn good. Somebody has an eye.

That White House Military Office guy could get a job designing Macy's windows in a second.

I, for one, am thrilled that George Bush and Dick Cheney are having a nice retirement, but the guy who gave the green light on the cool Air Force One pic resigns in disgrace.

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Division Of Labor

The rumors of a deal on the Employee Free Choice Act are really heating up. Card check is likely to drop, but other notable elements may remain. And in place of the new bargaining rules, none other than Dianne Feinstein has proposed a kind of vote-by-mail version of card check that would eliminate the hype from the right about the end of the "secret ballot" in union elections.

To win more support and prevent any intimidation, Senate Democrats are considering a proposal pushed by Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat. In a procedure similar to the early voting that precedes elections in many states, workers could sign cards and mail them to the National Labor Relations Board. If a majority mailed cards, the board would order the employer to recognize the union, as it now does when a majority of workers vote for a union through secret ballots.

It's kind of a novel idea, though I'm sure the right will find fault with it (maybe now we'll get "union voter fraud" cases). But it's important to understand that the union election process as it stands now looks nothing like a political election. Unless in a political election, your boss can bring you into a room and tell you how important it is to vote for John McCain, threaten to give you crappy shifts if you don't, fire the Obama organizers and run nothing but McCain ads 24 hours a day:

That union election dyusfunction must change. The same with the ability for employers to endlessly delay the election and then object to a contract even if the workers vote for a union. The National Labor Relations Board has a mission to ENCOURAGE unions, by the way, but their laws do the opposite. So this vote-by-mail card check at least would end this nightmare of a process. Another possibility is a quick election process, perhaps even in a matter of days, which wouldn't give the employer time to hire the union busters and intimidate their employees.

The other sticking point would be mandatory arbitration 120 days after union recognition, if both sides cannot reach a contract. Arlen Specter, fighting for his political life, has come up with a plan:

Mr. Harkin said, “If the Chamber of Commerce says they’re opposed to everything, then they’re not going to be a player.” He cited a proposal by Mr. Specter that might help preserve the arbitration provisions. Under it, the arbitrator would choose between offers by an employer and by a union. “The last, best offer idea might have legs,” Mr. Harkin said.

Several labor leaders said they would accept legislation with fast elections only if it included arbitration and tougher penalties for companies that break labor laws. One view is to wait until 2011 to push for sweeping labor law changes, on the assumption that Democrats will enlarge their Senate majority in the 2010 elections.

A separate idea would have mediators involved in negotiations instead of giving it all to an arbitrator. Jane Hamsher has more.

My view is that we need to start reforming the broken system, so more mild reforms are a good launching-off point. Eventually, perhaps after the midterms, I would return to this and resubmit the Employee Free Choice Act language as written today.

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The Twin Crises

Browsing the papers today, I'm noticing quite a bit of confusion between the parallel crises California faces with respect to the budget. Jean Ross explains the difference pretty nicely between a cash flow crisis and a budget crisis in this post. The Legislative Analyst identified a cash crisis that arises out of the difference between when payments are due and when revenues enter the state's coffers. Because of that disparity, California and most other states must go out into the bond market and sell "revenue anticipation notes" to cover short-term cash needs, to be repaid when the revenue comes in. The budget crisis exacerbates the cash flow crisis, but the two are not the same thing. And the Legislative Analyst himself appeared to conflate them by claiming in his report that California faces $17 billion dollars in borrowing needs, but failure of Prop. 1C, 1D and 1E would require $23 billion in borrowing. Well, so would passage. Prop. 1C enables the government to BORROW against lottery revenue. This may not be short-term notes, but borrowing is borrowing, and due to the state's horrific credit rating, the interest rates will remain high no matter what kind of borrowing it is.

That borrowing will cost the state money and widen the deficit somewhat, but a decent amount of that is known beforehand, and baked into the cake of any budget deal. As Ross notes, the Legislative Analyst did not update his projection that the state faces an $8 billion dollar shortfall through July 2010, based on lower revenues than the projection in the February budget. However, John Chiang today estimated that current revenues through April are $2.1 billion out of balance with budget projections. According to the Legislative Analyst, this shortfall can be added to the $8 billion, because most of that referred to the next fiscal year. Doing the math...

Meanwhile, the Public Policy Institute of California just released a poll showing Propositions 1C, 1D and 1E trailing. Those measures would provide $5.8 billion in budget cash in 2009-10. Of particular concern for budget officials is that Proposition 1C is failing badly (32 percent for, 58 percent against), since it would provide $5 billion in cash.

If the ballot measures fail, the state would be looking at a $16 billion deficit (the LAO's $8 billion plus Chiang's $2.1 billion plus the ballot's $5.8 billion). But the LAO number came in March, after which economic indicators grew worse, which means the overall deficit figure could be higher than $16 billion.

Meanwhile, in the above-linked LA Times piece, the Schwarzenegger Administration floats a proposal to significantly address the prison overcrowding crisis:

As the ballot measures lag in the polls, the administration of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has begun revealing the cuts it is weighing as an alternative.

On Thursday, the administration advised law enforcement officials that it was preparing plans to commute the sentences of 38,000 state prison inmates, including all illegal immigrants. It also is considering closing some prisons and sending inmates to county jails, according to a copy of the proposal obtained by The Times.

Under the plan, 19,000 illegal immigrants -- 11% of state prisoners -- would be turned over to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency after having their sentences commuted. An additional 19,000 "relatively low-risk offenders" would have their sentences commuted as well.

The Governor tried this late last year and nothing really happened with it. Some of these ideas are OK and some are horrible - overburdening county jails won't exactly help either fiscally or from a public safety standpoint. But if the crisis can actually start a dialogue about our insane prison policies, I'm all for it.

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Stupid CIA Tricks

Marcy Wheeler has done the heavy lifting on this story that has cable news in a tizzy about how Nancy Pelosi, according to the narrative, knew about torture techniques in 2002 but said nothing, implicating her in the nefarious scheme. I just want to make a few possibly redundant point.

• CIA agents are a group of professional liars. I don't even think that's slanderous, it's pretty much their job description. They exist to collect intelligence but the means they have used, and the missions on which they have embarked, have strayed far from this purpose and into the areas of disinformation and false flags and just out and out lying. We've already seen their psy-ops training put to work in the traditional media recently, when they got ABC to falsely report that Abu Zubaydah was only waterboarded once, and that it succeeded famously. I am thoroughly unsurprised that the CIA went to the very same network to get favorable treatment on their latest story implicating Pelosi. Within a matter of hours, eagle-eyed journalists spotted the flaw - a letter accompanying the documents, none of which prove conclusively that the CIA told Pelosi about waterboarding, states that the information about the briefings may not be accurate or reliable. It says, and I quote, "In the end, you and the Committee will have to determine whether this information is an accurate summary of what actually happened." Sounds definitive to me! Nancy's a liar!!!1!

• Let's say for the sake of argument that Pelosi was briefed about techniques that constitute torture. First, based on the clear timeline, she was briefed after the torture was committed. Second, I find it curious that the wingers appear to be shocked that Pelosi didn't leak classified information by revealing the contents of the briefings. There is a reasonable debate that can be had over whether the speech and debate clause of the Constitution pre-empts the classification process, and whether Pelosi could have taken to the House floor to raise an objection. I'm wondering whether she would have been praised for her consistency by the right, at that point. Or whether she would have been rhetorically hung as a traitor who damaged national security. In fact, there were few options for anyone to register a complaint. If anything, this entire exercise proves that the briefing process for classified information, and the Select Committees on Intelligence themselves, are terribly broken. Marcy's post on the briefing process should leave no doubts about that.

• Furthermore, pointing to dishonest and discredited CIA documents and taunting "See, your leaders are just as responsible" may be, if it were true, a useful piece of information when determining why many Democrats aren't exactly gung-ho for prosecution or accountability, but from a civil liberties standpoint it means absolutely nothing. War crimes are not mollified by their bipartisan nature, or by a caveat that others were briefed about the war crimes after the fact. Those of us who expect accountability when people in government break the law really aren't concerned with the letter next to their name designating their political party. In fact, this only further cements the need for an independent prosecutor who can bring his own judgments untainted by party to this whole affair. And if Republicans think that threatening to look into crimes from the Clinton Administration will send a chill among those who desire accountability, they're wrong. It would relieve us that we're finally putting down childish things and moving away from the make-believe land of American exceptionalism in all things and into a recognition that people are fallible and they deserve to take responsibility for their actions.

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Game Of Chicken In The Middle East

At the AIPAC conference, both the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Vice President called for a settlement freeze in the West Bank as a step toward peace in the region. Benjamin Netanyahu appears to have responded by saying "Um, no."

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is beginning to implement, on the ground, what he talked about in the course of the election campaign. A high-ranking source close to Netanyahu said that the prime minister planned to unfreeze land for construction in the existing settlements for the purpose of natural growth.

He also said that as for the clash that could arise on this subject between him and US President Barack Obama, Netanyahu will tell the president that he does not intend to break promises made by the previous government and does not intend to build new settlements. "We are going to open the tap so that people can live," he said, only one day after the UN issued a report saying that there were contingency plans in Israel for building 30,000 housing units in the Etzion Bloc.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman yesterday expressed a similar position during his visit to Berlin. He said that it was premature to talk about an arrangement with the Palestinians that is based on "two states for two peoples."

Netanyahu's making a distinction without a difference. Settlement construction is settlement construction, and it deeply damages the peace process. Of course, the right-wing government in Israel wants no part of peace, so that follows logically.

Obama does, however, and this sets up an interesting showdown between the two leaders. Obama would be expected to hold the cards, but peace requires a partner. MJ Rosenberg has an interesting take:

The new president is committed to the two-state solution and intends to insist that the Israeli government not take actions that thwart that goal. That means moving against ever-expanding settlements (which the Israeli press today reports are about to be expanded even more by Netanyahu), easing the flow of goods in and out of Gaza, and removing checkpoints and other obstacles to Palestinian freedom of movement. The administration is also moving away from Israel's ironclad opposition to dealing with Hamas [...]

So is a clash inevitable?

In my opinion, no. That is because I believe that no Israeli government can successfully oppose a popular American president who sets out to pursue Arab-Israeli peace [...]

And not only because it is the United States that is the super power. It is also because President Obama will not be asking Israel to sacrifice any vital interest. On the contrary, in leading an effort to achieve peace, Obama will be advancing Israel's security, along with our own.

That is also why American Jews will rally behind him. It is not because they are indifferent to Israel's security but because they understand that maintaining the occupation undermines Israel's long-term survival.

Most people I know understand this, that from the basis of demographic reality, a two state solution is the only way to have a functioning Jewish Israeli state without apartheid, although on the extremes there are a few holdouts (with increasingly ugly views). But given this argument, and I urge you to read the whole thing, the issue of whether Obama will get a peace deal rests with Obama.

He is scheduled to meet with Netanyahu later this month. What will he decide?

...A key component of all of this is what to do about the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Though everyone knows that Israel has nukes, they are not signatories, and this makes it very hard in the Muslim world for the United States to demand Iran's cooperation on their nuclear programs. Over time, I find it crucial to bring Israel and all the other states with weapons into the framework of the NPT, but obviously this will only bring more resistance from the Israeli government. In a typical Solomonic compromise, I could see Obama bargaining this away in exchange for progress on a two state solution.

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Next Up, Specter Steals Candy From Baby

Even for someone as unprincipled as Arlen Specter, this is cynical:

He's touting--and raising money from--a website called, which he describes as "a bold new initiative to reform our government's medical research efforts, cut red tape and unstrangle the hope for accelerated cures."

But the money he's raising isn't funding research grants, or advocacy, or treatment for patients who can't afford it. It's funding the Senate re-election campaign of one Arlen Specter.

He will be running for in Pennsylvania as a Democrat in 2010 in what could be a fraught and dramatic campaign, and if he's primaried, he may need buckets full of money to prevail. This is one...creative...method of raising that money.

Brian Beutler is being far too charitable. The site, while specifically describing that money raised would go to Specter's re-election, has the look of a charity for cancer research. There's also the false notion that cancer research dies without Arlen Specter guiding it in the Senate.

Lots of politicians build these websites around particular initiatives of theirs that are actually list-building tools and donation-grabbers. I haven't seen one quite as egregious as Specter's, essentially saying "Vote for me or your mom will die of cancer."

All the more reason why we need a primary in PA-Sen next year. The PCCC is running an online straw poll over whether "a Draft Sestak movement (should) be created to take on Sen. Arlen Specter in the Pennsylvania Democratic primary?" The poll's running about 88% yes. Add your voice to it.

...let me re-emphasize that Sestak is not great. He voted for the FISA Amendments Act and war funding and is wavering on a public option for health care. He's a fairly moderate to conservative Democrat. But that beats a Republican pretending to be a Democrat to keep his job, in my book.

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Look To The Data And Frame Accordingly

So here we go with another blogosphere-level talk about framing, this time applied to the health care debate. Frank Luntz has dispatched his memo, and Celinda Lake dispatched hers, and then every winger parrots the Luntz points, and then liberals get all indignant about it, and finally George Lakoff comes in and tells everyone that Democrats are nurturant parents and Republicans monsters.

Where exactly do we get with this exercise? Luntz' talking points date from 1993 and actually much further back than that. We've been having these arguments since Harry Truman proposed national health care in the 1940s. Each side thinks they can outsmart the public into accepting their views, but I really think political insiders make too much of this. In the 40s and 50s, doctors were more plentiful and the greed baked into the current system not as obvious. Now everyone who interfaces with the health care system winds up unhappy about one aspect or another. They hate the insurance companies and like their doctors. You can try and leverage that any way you want, but masking over this essential truism will never fly. That's why I actually think that progressives have been smart to foreground the idea of a public health insurance plan over everything else, even though the cost containment and how to fund the overall plan are far greater obstacles to success. According to Lake's poll, 70% of the public supports a public option, and they are completely resistant to attacks. That's because current insurance options suck, and everybody knows it. They also generally like the President, and will support who he supports, and that (at this point) includes a public plan.

In the end, public opinion actually does strengthen with experience. It's easier to fool people about something abstract, but there's nothing abstract about health care. People understand the devil they know; it cannot possibly be worse than the devil they don't know. You can put rings around the rhetoric and make it look pretty, but in the end, people will support you if you relate to their lives.

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Chairman Of The New York Fed Resigns

This got shockingly little attention:

Stephen Friedman, the chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, abruptly resigned on Thursday, days after questions arose about his ties to Goldman Sachs.

Mr. Friedman was chairman of the New York Fed at the same time he was a member of Goldman’s board. He also had a substantial stake in the firm as the Fed was crafting a solution to keep Wall Street banks afloat. Denis M. Hughes, deputy chair of the board, will take over as the interim chairman, the New York Fed said in a statement.

Because the New York Fed approved a request by Goldman to become a bank holding company, the chairman’s involvement in Goldman was a violation of Fed policy, The Wall Street Journal said in an article earlier this week.

Incidentally, Friedman replaced Tim Geithner in this capacity.

Well, score one for the forces of good against the endless culture of cronyism and conflicts of interest between Wall Street and Washington. Now we just need to find out about Byron Dorgan's wife, who lobbied against the cramdown provision as her husband voted against it, and Barney Frank and Nancy Pelosi, who refused amendments capping credit card interest rates in the House reform bill, and just about every manager of every public pension fund in America, and...

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Most Dangerous Trouble Spot In The World Update

I'd like to know what triggered this, whether the White House simply demanded it or the Pakistani government realized the threat or what.

Pakistan declared war on its homegrown Islamic extremists Thursday in a dramatic move that could trigger a wider conflagration.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, in a late-night televised address to the nation, said Pakistan would launch a full-scale offensive against Pakistani Taliban guerrillas who've seized control of the vast Swat valley, which is about 100 miles north of the capital.

Pakistan will no longer "bow our heads before the terrorists," Gilani said in an 11 p.m. address as he called on citizens to rally behind the armed forces. He said that the government had tried peaceful negotiation with Taliban entrenched in the Swat valley, but the strategy hadn't worked.

Pakistan had "reached a stage where the government believes that decisive steps have to be taken," he said, and the army's job now was to "eliminate the militants and the terrorists."

This is very strange and I wouldn't take it at surface value. Especially because it appears to be a snap decision. After all, the country was clearly unprepared for the civilian exodus from Swat, suggesting that they never planned for it entirely.

Obviously the visit of Asif Ali Zardari to Washington could have sparked this. However, according to McClatchy some officials in DC still haven't seen army regiments pulled off of the border with India - so far just the paramilitary forces are leading the effort. I think the push from the Administration has been to forsake the illusion of a security need on the Indian border and put those troops into the fight. But for Pakistan to do that would unwind 60 years of history - they have always considered that the main threat. It's more likely that public opinion allowed Pakistan to move at this time.

The government's call to arms only seemed possible because of a seismic shift in public opinion against the militants, which only took place in the past few weeks after a deal with the Taliban in Swat went badly sour.

"After a long time, the people see a ray of hope," said analyst Khadim Hussain, of the Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy, an independent research organization in Islamabad. "For the first time, the majority of the population, the people in the conflict zone, and the military, are thinking along the same lines."

Nawaz Sharif just spoke out against the Taliban occupation of Swat, giving the blessing for this offensive.

If the public opinion really has moved, that would really change the dynamic in Pakistan. However, a large humanitarian crisis numbering in the hundreds of thousands seems to be the consequence of this as well. Juan Cole has more.

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Tales Of Harry Reid Speaking Out Of Turn

Harry Reid tries to reassure those nervous about Arlen Specter changing his party affiliation but not his votes since becoming a Democrat by assuring everyone "on procedural votes he'll be with us all the time." When asked, Specter just didn't offer the same impression.

Well, Fox News caught up with Specter today and asked him about that: "Specter merely smiled and repeated several times, 'I'm going to have to talk to Sen. Reid about that.'"

Reid told Fox in response: "I have talked since Monday night of last week on Specter. I'm not going to talk any more about it. I have explained and re-explained and the re-explaining is over with."

And Reid's spokesman Jim Manley said Reid was being "hopeful and optimistic" about Specter's vote, and reiterated what he told me yesterday about this: "Sen. Reid never takes any votes for granted."


Meanwhile, Tom Ridge, who decided against a run for the Republican Senate nomination in Pennsylvania, won't say if he'd vote for Pat Toomey in a general election matchup against Specter. Pat Toomey, as in, the guy who'll be the nominee Pat Toomey.

Hopefully Joe Sestak or some actual Democrat can step in and beat all these clowns.

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CFT Sues Arnold For Education Funding Under Prop. 98

At last count, the California Teachers Association has dumped $10 million dollars or so into a FAIL whale of a special election, so they could secure their out-of-court settlement for $9.3 billion dollars in education money. It's important to understand what that money at stake in Prop. 1B represents. It's OWED to the schools. Not a gift, not a reward for good behavior, but owed. Under Prop. 98, the state must provide a minimum level of baseline funding to education, based on an algorithm that can be calculated in a number of ways. This Governor has consistently tried to under-calculate Prop. 98, and most recently, his Administration determined it in such a way that shortchanged the schools by $9.3 billion dollars. The education community could have demanded payment under statutory law, but instead the CTA decided to enter into what ultimately appears to be a failed bargain, whereby schools would receive money down the road from Prop. 1B if Prop. 1A, the funding mechanism for those payments, passed. The California Federation of Teachers, which unlike CTA has opposed Prop. 1A, yesterday did what would have been much cheaper for CTA to do, which is sue the state for the money owed the schools.

"Proposition 1B is going to fail, and besides that, we still have to worry about funding for 2009-10," said Marty Hittelman, CFT president. "We need to do this right away so we can take care of 2009-10, since they're already debating that. We want to make sure they understand they have to repay us."

After revenues sharply declined, the state cut 2008-09 school funding by $7.9 billion, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger believed the state did not legally owe that money back to education. School groups disagreed and threatened to sue the state before Schwarzenegger and lawmakers put Propositions 1A and 1B on the ballot to repay that money, plus another $1.3 billion owed from 2007-08.

CFT also wants the courts to resolve for good whether the state owes schools money in similar budget situations in the future.

Arnold Schwarzenegger has simply been untrustworthy when it comes to education, and has repeatedly broken the law when it comes to funding. You don't bargain with that, you fight it. Eventually, CFT and SEIU Local 99, also on the lawsuit, will win in court. And by the way, they'll end up getting the money faster than under Prop. 1B, which doesn't pay out until 2011-12. Not to mention that Prop. 1B is, you know, losing.

More on the PPIC poll here. Every ballot measure looks to fail, and PPIC has been more generous than the traditionally more accurate Field Poll.

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Only 539,000?

The news that businesses laid off "only" 539,000 jobs in April is supposed to be positive, and yet the February and March numbers revised upwards, and most important, the jobless rate increased at basically the same rate as previous months, to 8.9%. Despite less jobs lost, nobody is creating jobs in any meaningful way to re-employ those people.

I know employment is a lagging indicator, but if this is the good news, I don't want to see the bad.

But the Obama Administration has clearly taken the message from the green shoots they're reading through the tea leaves: the banks can "earn their way" out of the crisis (Geithner even said that today. Wow), and then they can capitalize everything else. We know the stress tests lightened up on their adverse assessment to paint as pretty a picture as possible for the banks' economic outlook. "If this picture proves to be wrong, then it means that we will have unnecessarily delayed the clean-up of the financial system," as Dean Baker says.

Paul Krugman has more, noting that while the banks will "make it" through the recession, and lending through the government's other programs may fill in the gap for weak banks, lots could go wrong.

It’s not at all clear that credit from the Fed, Fannie and Freddie can fully substitute for a healthy banking system. If it can’t, the muddle-through strategy will turn out to be a recipe for a prolonged, Japanese-style era of high unemployment and weak growth.

Actually, a multiyear period of economic weakness looks likely in any case. The economy may no longer be plunging, but it’s very hard to see where a real recovery will come from. And if the economy does stay depressed for a long time, banks will be in much bigger trouble than the stress tests — which looked only two years ahead — are able to capture.

Finally, given the possibility of bigger losses in the future, the government’s evident unwillingness either to own banks or let them fail creates a heads-they-win-tails-we-lose situation. If all goes well, the bankers will win big. If the current strategy fails, taxpayers will be forced to pay for another bailout.

But what worries me most about the way policy is going isn’t any of these things. It’s my sense that the prospects for fundamental financial reform are fading.

This is why I'm stressing the importance of the modern-day Pecora Commission. Revealing the true rot at the heart of Wall Street is key to forcing regulatory reform down the throats of the banksters.

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Character Assassination, Village-Style

The Swift-Boating of Sonia Sotomayor has really been an object lesson for how the Village treats people it decides not to like for whatever reason. Jeffrey Rosen at The New Republic decided to write a gossipy hit piece based on anonymous sources that was immediately taken up by conservatives looking to torpedo a top Obama Supreme Court possibility, and set impressions among official Washington. Though other news outlets were able to find named sources to praise Sotomayor, the characterization made by Rosen's article clearly provided those inclined to oppose Obama with a rationale. After lots of criticism from the blogosphere, which Rosen wouldn't have dealt with in past years, when he would just be able to inject a hit piece into the DC bloodstream, he had to offer an apologia, where he blames the headline writer for creating a misimpression.

Many people have mischaracterized my argument, and I can understand why. The headline--"The Case Against Sotomayor"--promised something much stronger than I intended to deliver. As soon as the piece was published, I regretted the headline, which I hadn't seen in advance. The piece was not meant to be a definitive "case against" Judge Sotomayor's candidacy. It was intended to convey questions about her judicial temperament that sources had expressed to me in the preceding weeks. That's why I concluded the piece not by suggesting that Sotomayor was unqualified for the Supreme Court, but by suggesting that "given the stakes, the president should obviously satisfy himself that he has a complete picture before taking a gamble."

I would definitely blame the headline writer for the parts of the piece where Rosen calls Sotomayor "not that smart" and "not the brainiest." How could that headline have steered us wrong?

Then Rosen defends his anonymous sources by pointing to the Almanac of the Federal Judiciary item on Sotomayor, again picking out a few negative comments despite the line "most of lawyers interviewed said Sotomayor has good legal ability." He defends the line in the original piece where he says that he hasn't read enough of Sotomayor's opinions to make an informed judgment (really) by claiming no, he had read enough, and found them "good but not great."

Quite a bit of the other "evidence" for Sotomayor's opinion in the piece comes out just wrong. Rosen's assertion that a footnote from a "senior judge on the Second Circuit" was misleading, but a law professor pretty conclusively argues that the footnote says just the opposite. Rosen had little to say in his defense - "there's more than one way to read that footnote," he claims. That's just not true. Rosen cropped the comment of one of the few named sources in the article to make Judge Jose Cabranes, who called Sotomayor "tough and tenacious and also smart" in the original quote, seem like a critic.

Glennzilla sums this all up:

What really happened here is now manifest -- and typical. A couple of Rosen's secret friends don't like Sonia Sotomayor and called him to encourage him to smear her in the pages of The New Republic. Rather than do the work to determine if these "questions" about her abilities had merit -- by, say, conducting a thorough survey of her key judicial opinions the way a conscientious law professor might -- he instead set out dutifully to undertake the mission assigned to him by these "eminent legal scholars" by calling the people they handpicked for him, who then eagerly attacked Sotomayor. Rosen then mindlessly wrote it all down -- including facts that were either false (the footnote) or highly distorted (Judge Cabranes' New York Times statement about Sotomayor, which was clearly a compliment, not a criticism), and then sent it to TNR, which slapped a provocative and (by Rosen's account) misleading headline on it and then happily published it. That Rosen himself was a chief champion of John Roberts, and had already expressed concerns that Obama might take diversity into account when appointing someone to the Supreme Court, undoubtedly made Rosen more than happy to be chosen to carry out this dirty task against someone who is most assuredly not part of his circle.

In other words, Rosen did what the modern journalist of the Respectable Intellectual Center does by definition: he wrote down what Serious People told him to say, agreed to protect their identity, and then published their very purposeful chatter without doing any real work to verify, investigate or scrutinize it. As a result, a woman who spent the last four decades of her life using her talents and intellect and working extremely hard to reach amazing heights in the face of great obstacles is now widely viewed as an intellectually deficient, stunted, egotistical affirmative-action beneficiary who has no business being on the Supreme Court -- all thanks to the slimy work of Jeffrey Rosen, his cowardly friends of the Respectable Intellectual Center, and The New Republic.

John Cole has some more thoughts, noting that Rosen irreparably harmed Sotomayor's reputation and changed her life, all because his friends wanted to stop her career rise. The "white man's burden" argument picked up by the more subtle parts of the Village media complex is just an recapitulation of Rosen's story, making the snap judgment that Sotomayor isn't "deserving" of the appointment, in the way, oh, a white man would be. I'd gather this happens far more than we all think - the Gladys Kravitz gossips in the Village whisper to one another about such-and-such, whether because of jealousy or backstabbing or whatever, then find enough anonymous sources to confirm the storyline and enough facts they can twist to back it up. And the target gets smeared in enough high places to set that storyline in concrete, and wherever he or she walks in Washington, they are subjected to disapproving stares and the shaking of heads. Somewhere in the Village, there's a list of those on the inside and those on the outside, and the insiders guard their turf in the most zealous, vindictive way possible.

I didn't know much of Sotomayor before this week, but I really WANT her to get the appointment now. She has the right enemies.

...The NYT Ed Board hit back at this pretty hard today.

Never mind that President Obama has not even tipped his hand about his choice to replace Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court. It’s never too early, it appears, to start the character assassination, especially against one possible candidate, Judge Sonia Sotomayor [...]

Supreme Court vacancies have long been political fights, sometimes intense ones, but generally, they begin when a candidate is picked. This time, the attacks have already begun, many aimed at Judge Sotomayor and beyond the pale of reasonable debate. She is being called insufficiently intellectual despite her stellar academic credentials. Her temperament is being assailed, generally by anonymous detractors. Online critics have even groused about her weight [...]

The White House has no doubt been reviewing a long list of nominees. When President Obama makes his decision, he should ignore the uninformed and mean-spirited chattering and select the best person for the job.

As Glenn says, the Times could have mentioned Rosen by name, but this remains fitting.

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Happy Stress Test Day

Well, huzzah, the stress tests are here, and good news, everything's OK, just a matter of $75 billion dollars and we're ready to roll, just a rounding error, really. I can see why everyone's so excited. After all, if you can come up with a solution to a capitalization problem that involves "get(ting) the government to pay them more than three times the market value of their stock," I don't think you'd have anything to worry about either. And of course, the more that investors consider the banks to be healthy, the more healthy they quantitatively are, in a sense.

So my best guess is that this is a quite deliberate effort (there are credible reports of active efforts to squeeze short sellers) to pump up the bank stocks to facilitate their fundraising. John Dizard had urged central banks sponsoring road shows nearly a year ago to help them raise the needed equity. I'd prefer an open sales effort to this mingling of hucksterism with supposed regulatory policy. And they have clearly been intermingled. Note how the prime objective of the stress tests has been above all to restore confidence. Huh? The most important aim should be to assess their condition so as to determine what if anything needs to be done. To subordinate proper regulatory action to reassuring "the markets" is backwards. If the public had faith in the integrity of the process, the need for a confidence exercise would vanish.

One problem for the banksters: the outliers. Several bigger banks do need a good degree of capital, and at least in the case of GMAC, a lot more capital, comparatively speaking.

The federal government has ordered the financing arm of General Motors to raise $13.1 billion in new capital to ensure the firm's stability in the face of heavy losses in mortgage and auto lending and costs related to taking over new loans for Chrysler dealers and customers, said sources familiar with talks between government and industry officials.

The sum is among the biggest required for any U.S. financial institution, and could prove difficult for GMAC to raise because of the limited nature of its business and poor quality of its loans. The firm has struggled in the past to raise money from private investors and has already received $5 billion in federal assistance. It is likely that the federal government would end up providing much, if not all, of the needed capital, but it remained unclear where that money would come from.

About $4 billion of the total would be needed to cover the cost of assuming Chrysler Financial's dealer and retail auto loans, said one senior financial industry executive.

As James Kwak notes, this means that GMAC has negative capital at the moment, which, um, means insolvency.

Some smart people at the Times' Room for Debate series give their thoughts. I basically consider this a sham based on rosy scenarios and grade-grubbed by the subjects, but as has been said, we lost the debate inside the White House, and they're going to do what they must to keep the banks afloat. I think we have to focus on this Pecora Commission idea that's passed both houses of Congress (some helpful background here), which can lay the groundwork for major regulatory reform, through investigation of what happened to create the crisis. Obviously this comes out of Congress, so who knows what kind of teeth it will have, and historically blue-ribbon panels don't have much of a track record, but take a look at the potential of this thing:

The Financial Markets Inquiry Commission is empowered to hold hearings and to issue subpoenas either for witness testimony or documents and will have more than twenty substantive areas of focus, including:

the role of fraud and abuse in the financial sector
state and Federal regulatory enforcement
tax treatment of financial products
credit rating agencies
lending practices and securitization
corporate governance and executive compensation
Federal housing policy

Additionally, the bill requires the commission to examine the role of fraud and abuse towards consumers in the mortgage sector, examine the extent to which the legal and regulatory structure governing financial institutions creates the opportunity for financial institutions to engage in regulatory arbitrage, examine the role of credit default swaps and the impact of financial institutions that are “too big to fail” on market expectations, and examine the causes of major financial institutions that failed or were likely to fail without government assistance. The Commission will report their findings and conclusions to Congress by December 15, 2010 and is required to refer any person who may have violated U.S. law in relation to the financial crisis to the Attorney General (AG) or state AGs.

We can put people in jail. We can set the future. We can shrink the financial sector. And we can do it through this panel. Let's push for a real commission.

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Common Ground In Education

I don't consider it all that unusual to see Barack Obama meeting with Newt Gingrich today. First of all, Obama does this all the time, and my ability to be shocked by it has worn thin. I'm more concerned with results and support leaders talking to people with whom they don't agree. Second, the subject of the meeting (which also included Al Sharpton and Michael Bloomberg) was education reform, and I've long said that this is an area where Republicans ought to work with the President, especially because they're on the same side. The President supports charter schools, he supports high standards, he supports some kind of merit pay, he comes down on the reform side of the debate between reformers and teacher's unions, and so do his top advisors, like his Secretary of Education. They may not like Obama ending the privatization of the student loan system and making Pell grants permanent, but there's a substantial amount of common ground there.

As for fearing the elevation of Newt Gingrich, I don't think that keeps anyone in the White House awake at night. Nobody really likes him out in the country.

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Today In The Utterly Crazy

Let's take a moment to meditate on this tenured professor at Cornell Law School, who has now spent close to 36 hours publicly obsessing over Barack Obama's choice of Dijon mustard for his hamburger. In any other country, anywhere in the world, the story itself, accompanied by 10 updates, two companion articles, and continued smug pronouncements that "I must have hit a nerve" uncovering the evil Dijon mustard/Presidential agenda and the refusal of the lib media to report the FACTS, would be followed by a small group of men coming to his house and asking if he would like to lay down for a bit, perhaps with some herbal tea and a friend. In America, this brilliant insight gets picked up by multiple top-ranked radio outlets and the most heavily-watched cable news station in America.

This guy hasn't even discovered yet that the mustard DOESN'T HAVE AN OFFICIAL AMERICAN BIRTH CERTIFICATE.

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Arnold: I Forgot, Am I Supposed To Scare People Or Reassure Them?

Jackfolsum alludes to it, but I wanted to highlight it as well. Arnold got tripped up a little bit today in front of the Jesusita Fire, caught in between telling Californians what they wanted to hear, or telling them they're all going to die. It's pretty amusing:

One of Schwarzenegger's strengths has been to respond to emergencies and assure local residents he will provide all support necessary. But that message clashes with his statements earlier this week that fire services would be jeopardized if voters reject the ballot measures on May 19.

Because he declared a state of emergency for the Santa Barbara fire, he said he was able to get the federal government to pay for 75 percent of the costs.

"This is very helpful for us because as you know, we have a financial crisis in California," Schwarzenegger said. "But I wanted to make sure you all know, even though we have this crisis, we will not be short of money when it comes to fighting these fires."

Oops! But Arnold's "strong leader/warrior/protector" shtick clashes with his "vote for my spending cap or you will BURN BURN BURN!!!" shtick. So he backpedaled.

"First of all, let me just make it clear, because there's always the question that comes up, what happens to the fire departments and to the budget if those initiatives don't pass," Schwarzenegger said. "The first thing you should know is, I will always fight and get every dollar I can for public safety, that is the important thing you should know."

"No. 2, it is very clear that when the initiatives fail there will be $6 billion less that will be available, so therefore there will have to be additional cuts made, if it is in law enforcement, fire, education," he added. "...But I will fight for every dollar, and will always make sure we have enough manpower and enough engines and helicopters ready to fight those fires."

Interesting use of "when the initiatives fail," not "if" there. Arnold reads the polls, I guess.

He really has no idea what he's doing. He wants to scare and please at the same time, so it comes out like mush.

Come to think of it, Arnold sounds a lot like the Californians seduced by the Two Santa Claus Theory, who want to cut services in general but protect services in particular. So maybe he's just giving the people what they want.

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Could Obama Stop The Firing Of Gay Military Members?

This talk about a potential gay or lesbian Supreme Court justice bubbled up over the past couple days, leaving us with the perverse dichotomy of allowing a gay or lesbian to preside over the nation's highest court - in fact, thinking it absurd to even question someone's fitness along those lines - but not allowing a gay or lesbian to serve their country as an Arabic linguist.

Dan Choi, a West Point graduate and officer in the Army National Guard who is fluent in Arabic and who returned recently from Iraq, received notice today that the military is about to fire him. Why? Because he came out of the closet as a gay man on national television.

Some readers might think it unfair to blame Obama. After all, the president inherited the "don't ask, don't tell" law when he took office. As Commander-in-Chief, he has to follow the law. If the law says that the military must fire any service member who acknowledges being gay, that is not Obama's fault.

Or is it?

A new study, about to be published by a group of experts in military law, shows that President Obama does, in fact, have stroke-of-the-pen authority to suspend gay discharges. The "don't ask, don't tell" law requires the military to fire anyone found to be gay or lesbian. But there is nothing requiring the military to make such a finding. The president can simply order the military to stop investigating service members' sexuality.

That's a compelling case. Especially considering that there's documentary proof that Obama has expressed his commitment to repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell.

Sandy - Thanks for the wonderful and thoughtful letter. It is because of outstanding Americans like you that I committed to changing our current policy. Although it will take some time to complete (partly because it needs Congressional action) I intend to fulfill my commitment. — Barack Obama.

I get the sense that Obama likes, or is at least comfortable with, the tangle of needing Congressional action. He can claim his hands are tied and until Congress acts, he is powerless. But the above article has another opinion - Obama could block implementation. It would be controversial, to be sure. But leaders don't bow to controversy.

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Terrorizing The Rule Of Law

The GOP geniuses think they've found an issue they can run with. This has slowly built over the past several weeks, but now they've done a full rollout. It starts with the movie trailer, a preview of coming attractions.

Then they followed through with the main event, a bill literally called “The Keep Terrorists Out Of America Act,” which would prohibit the transfer of any "Terrorist" from Guantanamo Bay into a prison facility in the United States, without approval from the state's Governor and legislature, and some other legislative hoop-jumping.

Taken to its extreme, Republicans would call for the immediate closure of all prisons ("criminals... in your community!"), and the dispatching of all 2.3 million prisoners to some offsite floating barge, Australia, or that island of plastic in the Pacific. To suggest that a maximum-security prison could not possibly hold a Dangerous Terrorist is an insult to the men and woman of the federal corrections system, who already hold convicted terrorists in custody who received justice through a court of law, and basically acknowledges that those facilities are completely insecure, and should be feared by local residents. I'm sure the RNC and the Republican members of the House will pick up the costs of moving every single prisoner over to that plastic island. Because think of the children.

When pressed on the point that Americans held 425,000 German POWs at the height of WWII, bill sponsor Pete Hoekstra, who is crazy, incidentally, casually remarked that the threat of Al Qaeda surpasses the Nazis.

A substantial chunk of the Republican Party believes that people who live in caves represent a greater threat to the American way of life than the Third Reich. Just so you know.

However, I'm convinced that this is a bit of misdirection and Overton Window-lifting. Of course the idea that Scary Terrorists would endanger local communities while in prison is absurd and should be rejected. But that's not really the ultimate plan. John McCain and Lindsey Graham posted on the conservative blackboard, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, with the more "sensible" view - that we must hold suspects indefinitely without trial for as long as we please, in violation of habeas corpus statutes, until they are tried in sham courts without Constitutional criminal justice protections.

• Second, military commissions remain the appropriate trial venue for these individuals. We would strenuously oppose any effort to try enemy combatants in our civilian courts. By an overwhelming bipartisan vote in 2006, Congress passed the Military Commissions Act, which set forth procedures for trying enemy combatants for war crimes.

Our domestic criminal laws -- including their treatment of classified information -- are ill-suited for the complex national security issues inherent in the trial of enemy combatants. We have great faith in our military justice system -- appropriately modified for war crimes trials -- and we believe that military judges and lawyers render fair and impartial justice not only for our troops, but for enemy combatants as well.

• Third, preventive detention will continue to have a place in the war on terror . Under the law of war, the idea that an enemy combatant has to be tried or released is a false choice. Rather, it is well-established that combatants can be held off the battlefield as long as they present a military threat.

While there is little doubt that we initially cast the net too broadly in determining who merited enemy combatant status, the Department of Defense estimates nearly one in 10 detainees released from Guantanamo have returned to the battlefield, including Said Ali al-Shihri (al Qaeda in Yemen's second-in-command), and Abdullah Gulam Rasoul, who reportedly now serves as the Taliban's operational commander in southern Afghanistan. We cannot let this continue.

A significant group of detainees still in custody at Guantanamo may be too dangerous to release, but they are not suitable for war crimes trials. In these cases, a system needs to be devised in which a designated national security court, with a uniform set of standards and procedures administered by a civilian judge, hears the petitions for habeas corpus authorized by the Supreme Court, and an annual interagency review is conducted to determine whether the detainee remains a security threat to the United States.

"Preventive detention" is a nice turn of phrase. "I think you may steal a candy bar later. Better put you in jail for a few months until everything blows over."

And unbelievably, this "fallback" position, which I always considered the reason to close Guantanamo in the first place, has gained traction inside the White House.

The Obama administration is moving toward reviving the military commission system for prosecuting Guantánamo detainees, which was a target of critics during the Bush administration, including Mr. Obama himself.

Officials said the first public moves could come as soon as next week, perhaps in filings to military judges at the United States naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, outlining an administration plan to amend the Bush administration’s system to provide more legal protections for terrorism suspects.

Continuing the military commissions in any form would probably prompt sharp criticism from human rights groups as well as some of Mr. Obama’s political allies because the troubled system became an emblem of the effort to use Guantánamo to avoid the American legal system [...]

In a news conference this week, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. emphasized that if the administration did use military commissions, the rules must give detainees “a maximum amount of due process.”

But, speaking of detainees whom American officials have accused of involvement in major terrorist plots, Mr. Holder added, “It may be difficult for some of those high-value detainees to be tried in a normal federal court.”

These military commissions represent a total obviation of the rule of law, an attempt to gather convictions they could not otherwise get. And what's left unsaid is the always shaky phraseology of the Obama plan, where some Gitmo detainees would be tried, some released, and this vague "third category," where the legal black hole of Guantanamo apparently remains.

It does no service, particularly in relating to our allies, to just insource Guantanamo with the same methods. People weren't angry about the site or the symbol, but the policies. But because the Republicans are being so transparently ridiculous with their "Eek! Prisoners going to prison, they'll kill us all!!!" pose, there may be a tendency to back up the White House's viewpoint. Not until they make perfectly clear that they intend to either try Gitmo prisoners in American courts, or release them. Any other options are unacceptable.

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Public Enemy

The health care debate thus far has really focused on creating a public option to compete with private insurance companies. The various players are choosing up sides. The Obama Administration, expressed by their Health and Human Services Secretary, supports it, as a means to encourage competition and innovation. The White House is joined by 70-odd members of the House who have said no public plan, no deal, and 21 members of the Senate (so far), including moderates like Claire McCaskill and Jim Webb. On the opposite side are, well, Republicans, and their paymasters in the health insurance industry, simply because they want to preserve their monopoly over the market and their advantages that don't impact the bottom line for consumers, but instead get shoveled into profit margins and executive pay. The health insurance lobby's view is that they will adopt modestly more fair practices (guaranteed issue, modified community rating) as long as the government forces individuals to buy health care and subsidizes them, an indirect payment from the Treasury to the insurers themselves. Not surprisingly, these views mirror those of "moderates" like Ben Nelson, who coincidentally has taken millions from the insurance industry in campaign contributions, and previously owned a major insurance company.

(By the way, memo to the media: what the insurance industry is offering does not add up to a concession. These are the same "concessions" made by the industry in 1993, and yet they bashed the final plan and stopped its passage. These measures would reform insurance but not reform health care, which can only come through increased competition and a resetting of the perverse incentives that insurers have to limit treatment. Only real reform would lower costs and provide better care, and forcing a monopoly doesn't exactly get all the way there.)

Chuck Schumer has tried to design such a plan, and does a good job of defending it and naming it ("Plan USA"), but under the guise of a "level playing field," it's hard for me to understand how his plan would be anything more than a non-profit insurance option doing little to truly lower costs unless it were scaled up massively. Sure, this kind of public plan would limit overhead and advertising costs, and wouldn't pay executives. But if it can't bargain for lower rates in the way Medicare can, in fact over time you'd probably see what happened in Medicare Advantage (the private insurance supplement to Medicare), where the playing field got tilted to the private market until the government stepped in this year to put a stop to it.

We all know that the only way to truly bargain down costs is through a single payer option. I'm willing to support a public option grafted onto the current system, for now, as long as it retains any ability to bargain for lower costs in the way that single payer would. However, we're getting a bit afield of the nut of the issue if we continue to discuss the mechanism of the public plan. Because a far bigger obstacle to meaningful health care reform is how the hell to pay for it. Literally every funding stream that has been discussed gets quickly shut within a matter of days. Today, Charlie Rangel ended the option of capping or taxing employer-provided health benefits. Earlier they cut out Obama's plan to cap charitable deductions. We're talking about well over a trillion dollars, with big outlays in the short term to get the system to bend costs downward, and if nobody wants to determine a way to pay for it, health care reform dies.

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Worst. Candidate Recruiters. Ever.

You would think that a former Governor, someone extremely competitive in the general election against an incumbent, would be an easy mark to recruit for the Senate. Unless the person in question is Tom Ridge, and the party in question the Republican Party. Here's his statement:

After careful consideration and many conversations with friends and family and the leadership of my party, I have decided not to seek the Republican nomination for Senate.

I am enormously grateful for the confidence my party expressed in me, the encouragement and kindness of my fellow citizens in Pennsylvania and the valuable counsel I received from so many of my party colleagues. The 2010 race has significant implications for my party, and that required thoughtful reflection. All of the above made my decision a difficult and deeply personal conclusion to reach. However, this process also impressed upon me how fortunate I am to have so many friends who volunteered to support my journey if I chose to take it and continue to offer their support after I conveyed to them this morning how I believe I can best serve my commonwealth, my party and my country.

It's clear from the statement that he didn't want to deal with the whackos of the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate either. Kos had numbers showing him losing to Pat Toomey in the primary.

Two things here: first, this is all the more reason to support a primary of Arlen Specter. With Ridge's departure, the probability that Pat Toomey will win the Republican nomination go up significantly. Sure, the party poohbahs will try to find someone not fated to lose, like Rep. Jim Gerlach from the Philly suburbs. But Toomey has the momentum. And he cannot win a general election. Democrats in Pennsylvania should know that they can put someone who shares their values in the race with every expectation that they can win the seat.

Second, this is an epic FAIL for the GOP recruitment team. Combine this with Mark Kirk's demurral to run for the Senate in Illinois, and you have two high-profile candidates begging off a run. Nobody wants anything to do with the Republican Party. And why would they? Consigned to a minority for the near future, unable to gain traction with the same old ideas, and in the face of a popular President, the Republicans have nothing to offer their candidates, let alone America.

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CA-32: Two Weeks Out

The League of Women Voters sponsored a forum in Baldwin Park last night for candidates in the May 19 special election to replace Hilda Solis in the Congress. The two front-runners in the race, Gil Cedillo and Judy Chu, emphasized their strengths.

Cedillo said he has had about 80 of his bills signed into law and said he has worked with the governor to save 25,000 jobs. Chu told the audience that she was proud to have the endorsement "of everybody in the family" of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, who held the congressional seat until her cabinet appointment this year.

At the forum at Baldwin Park's Julia McNeill Senior Center, many of the candidates agreed on some issues, including the need for immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship, eliminating tax loopholes for corporations using offshore accounts to shelter income and the need to reform education, especially regarding the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Calitician and Judy Chu netroots advisor Todd Beeton has more at his Twitter feed.

With two weeks to go, the signals I'm getting suggest that Gil Cedillo is nervous. The massive unforced error of those negative Emanuel Pleitez mailers makes me believe that Cedillo fears Pleitez is capturing a good bit of the Hispanic vote. The earlier negative mailers on Judy Chu showed a similar lack of substance (attacking someone for returning tax refunds OWED?). Negative mailers don't inspire turnout, they suppress it. And the May 19 election will already feature low turnout. Which magnifies the importance of GOTV, and with the Democratic Party and key labor groups having endorsed Chu, I would probably be throwing the kitchen sink at everybody in the race myself if I were Cedillo.

What I'd prefer to hear about, instead of who endorsed whom and such and such negative attack, are concerns of the local area. El Monte is crashing. The city made 60% of its tax revenue off of the auto dealerships that lined the city, and with the demise of the auto industry throwing auto sales off the cliff, revenue has shrunk. Many cities with clusters of dealerships will soon face the same problem. What can be done at the federal level to diversify the local economy, and shouldn't the efforts to revive the economy in auto manufacturing states like Michigan extend to cities with a proliferation of car lots like El Monte? If anyone from the campaigns is reading, maybe we can get an answer to that.

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I Love A Good Republicans In Disarray Story

In the past, when the Republican Party was riding high, the idea that they had a three-legged stool, with economic conservatives, national security conservatives and social conservatives together in a mutually beneficial truce of sorts, was seen as a positive. I always viewed it as a ticking time bomb. It's basically like having Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, Stephon Marbury, Ron Artest and a malcontent to be named later on your sports team. When you're winning, everyone's happy. When you're losing, forget about it. That accurately describes the chaos we see in the modern GOP. Any time they try to emphasize one leg of the stool, those who inhabit the other issue silos get angry. Here's a perfect example - values voters are angry that the Republican rebranding effort doesn't include their views.

The [NCNA's] priorities, which were unveiled at a pizza parlor press conference, include the economy, health care, education, energy, and national security. Notice anything conspicuously absent? Former Gov. Jeb Bush explained the values void by saying it was time for the GOP to give up its "nostalgia" for Reagan-era ideas and look forward to new "relevant" ideas. (Yes, because that worked so well for Republicans in 2006 and 2008!) Bush ignored the fact that abandoning the array of principles that Reagan espoused is exactly what got the GOP into this mess. [...]

Too many Republicans leaders are running scared on the claims of the Left and the media that social conservatism is a dead-end for the GOP. If that were the case, why are pro-family leaders like Mike Huckabee creating such excitement in the conservative base? The Republican establishment doesn't draw a crowd. Governor Sarah Palin does. Also, take a look at the recent Pew Research poll, which showed overall support for abortion in America has dropped eight percentage points in the last year and support for it among moderate and liberal Republicans has dropped a whopping 24%. Based on that, how can the GOP suggest that life is a losing issue? If there were a road sign for the GOP on this new journey, it would read: Welcome to the wilderness. You're going to be there for awhile.

Another example is this self-pitying, gobbledygook letter from one of the teabaggers describing their "movement" as in a "very disconcerting position at the moment."

Ultimately, what happens with malcontents in sports is that the team finds themselves unable to co-exist with them, and they are either released or traded. Get ready for an explosion of hard-right third parties. The Joe the Plumber Party - coming to a stump near you.

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Did We Forget We're In A Recession?

I guess people are having a bit of fun with President Obama's $17 billion in trims in his FY2010 budget, with cuts to 121 programs. I wonder why we're doing this now. Not all of it - certainly the Education Department doesn't need an attaché in Paris. But didn't we pass a massive stimulus package just a few months ago? Maybe it's a symptom of the "green shoots" talk about the economy that we're deciding to reduce government spending at a time when overall demand still falls short.

I recognize the desire to at least make a nod to fiscal responsbility - and reading this background briefing, the cuts make a lot of sense.

Let me give you a few examples of things that we are terminating or reducing. First, LRNC, which stands for long-range radio navigation system. It's a system that is now made obsolete by the prevalence of GPS. It's not used, it's unnecessary, it costs us $35 million a year, and we perpetuate it just through inertia. We are proposing that we eliminate the LRNC navigation system.

Abandoned mine land payments. We continue to make payments to states to clean up abandoned mines even after those states have completed the task of cleaning up the mines. So we are no longer going to be -- or we are proposing that we no longer pay states to clean up mines that have already been cleaned up. That saves $142 million [...]

The Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation costs $1 million a year. It has an overhead rate of about 80 percent, so about 20 percent of that million-dollar appropriation -- or only 20 percent, I should say -- is actually paid out in fellowships and awards. That's obviously inefficient and we are proposing that that appropriation be eliminated.

All fine. I don't necessarily want my tax dollars wasted. And yet, anything in here that produces a job means that a job will be lost. And someone else will get on unemployment. And they'll spend less. And so on.

Anyway, you can see the whole budget here, and an explanation of the trims here.

...Obama made some remarks on this today, and maybe this part works:

But these savings, large and small, add up. The 121 budget cuts we are announcing today will save taxpayers nearly $17 billion next year alone. That’s a lot of money, even by Washington standards. To put this in perspective, this is more than enough savings to pay for a $2,500 tuition tax credit for millions of students as well as a larger Pell Grant – with enough money left over to pay for everything we do to protect the National Parks.

And this is just one aspect of the budget reforms and savings we are seeking.

Maybe if we actually put the money to use that way, I could live with this.

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Don't Make Me Save The Planet!

So those centrist House Democrats have bought into the myth that government can do too much, asking Nancy Pelosi to set aside their climate change bill in favor of health care - even though the Senate has managed the health care bill and the House the climate change bill, an appropriate division of labor. Pardon me for suggesting another reason - these centrists want to protect the polluting industries in their districts.

Democratic centrists are pressing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to set aside a flagging climate change bill to focus on what they think is a more achievable goal: overhauling the nation’s healthcare system.

But those close to Pelosi (D-Calif.) say she is charging forward on cap-and-trade legislation, despite the potential defections of Democrats who represent states with industries that would be adversely affected by the bill [...]

Democratic aides say the sentiment for putting healthcare first is felt most strongly among New Democrats.

“A lot of our members feel that healthcare has a higher likelihood, so getting that done first and then doing energy makes sense,” said an aide to a New Democratic leader.

“New Dems are in a tough spot,” said one Blue Dog member, explaining that New Democrats are more likely to have an environmental constituency at odds with their business constituency. Blue Dogs, by comparison, have more freedom simply to vote no on climate change legislation.

Whew, I wouldn't want those Blue Dogs to feel conflicted about voting against doing something about a boiling planet! Thank Jeebus they have some "freedom."

We hear plenty about the costs of action. Artur Davis (D-AL) says in this article, "in the throes of a recession, more of a burden on industry is not a good idea.” But inaction has a cost, too. Bills that quantify a certain change in policy must be scored and the costs must be announced. The cost of doing nothing can more easily be ignored. That would be a grave mistake.

The real cost of carbon emissions is far from zero. Each new scientific report brings proof of a changing climate that promises to disrupt agricultural patterns, set off a scramble for dwindling resources, raise sea levels, propel population shifts and require massive emergency spending as we try to react to the growing crises. These are the costs of inaction.

A smart climate policy can create a mechanism to put the right price on carbon, and rapid economic change will follow that firm price signal, along with reduced climate risks. Our work with more than 100 economists nationwide and at demonstrates the weight of economic analysis supporting this point.

The whole point of climate legislation is to price externalities that we already spend. When children acquire asthma from pollution, when naval ships ensure safe passage for petroleum from the Middle East, when droughts affect farm crops, when houses flood and rivers pour over their banks, those costs come, at least in part, from burning carbon. We have several options for pricing those carbon emissions, but the most important thing we can do is employ a cap, to bend the curve of the increased costs from climate change in exactly the same way that we must bend the curve of increased health care costs by eliminating the hidden costs of the uninsured. The problems are exactly the same.

If we fail to cap carbon because some coal-state lawmakers refuse to take a tough vote, then in 5 or 10 years, we'll return to Congress, talking about capping carbon after spending hundreds of billions as a result of making parts of the planet uninhabitable. The political system doesn't deal with the future very well, sadly.

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