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

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Electoral Theft In Iran

I left kind of a flip Twitter message about how, unlike in Iran, here in the US we never have stolen elections and irregularities at polling places, but this disputed election and the subsequent protests in the Islamic Republic is actually a bit more serious than that. You could see this coming a mile away - wildly divergent polls, an expected high turnout, a country known for at least limiting their elections, though they are probably more free than other countries in the region. It set the table for the unrest we see:

Supporters of the main election challenger to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad clashed with police and set up barricades of burning tires Saturday as authorities claimed the hard-line president was re-elected in a landslide. The rival candidate said the vote was tainted by widespread fraud and his followers responded with the most serious unrest in the capital in a decade.

By nightfall, cell phone service appeared to have been cut in the capital Tehran. And Ahmadinejad, in a nationally televised victory speech, accused the foreign media of coverage that harms the Iranian people. There was more rioting at night and fires continued to burn on the streets of Tehran.

Several hundred demonstrators — many wearing the trademark green colors of pro-reform candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi's campaign — chanted "the government lied to the people" and gathered near the Interior Ministry as the final count from Friday's presidential election was announced.

The Supreme Leader closed ranks around Ahmadinejad's victory as a "divine assessment." Meanwhile Mousavi denounced a regime based on "lies and dictatorship." I think it's clear we're going to see more protests and, in all likelihood, violent clashes with the Revolutionary Guard, which has vowed to "crush" any popular movement.

Juan Cole lays out the evidence, in compelling fashion, that the hardliners and conservatives stole the election. He doesn't think the protests will eventually have much of an impact:

The public demonstrations against the result don't appear to be that big. In the past decade, reformers have always backed down in Iran when challenged by hardliners, in part because no one wants to relive the horrible Great Terror of the 1980s after the revolution, when faction-fighting produced blood in the streets. Mousavi is still from that generation.

My own guess is that you have to get a leadership born after the revolution, who does not remember it and its sanguinary aftermath, before you get people willing to push back hard against the rightwingers.

So, there are protests against an allegedly stolen election. The Basij paramilitary thugs and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards will break some heads. Unless there has been a sea change in Iran, the theocrats may well get away with this soft coup for the moment. But the regime's legitimacy will take a critical hit, and its ultimate demise may have been hastened, over the next decade or two.

My only hesitation would be that more attention is being paid to Iran now than in the past, and sustained effort would receive support outside the country. But that's quite a burden on the reformers, even if, as alleged, they represent a majority in Iran. And anyway, the White House is cautiously hedging away from lending support to the reformers, mindful that any words from the West could easily be used by hardliners as proof that the infidels are trying to overthrow the government. This spokesman for the Iranian resistance explains:

Robert Gibbs' White House statement may not fully capture the depth of the crime committed against the Iranian people. "But I think it's wise for the U.S. government to keep its distance," Ghaemi says. The White House can and should "show concern for human life and protesters' safety and promote tolerance and dialogue." But to get any further involved, even rhetorically, would "instigate the cry that the reformers are somehow driven and directed by the U.S., whether under Bush or under Obama, and there's no reason to give that unfounded allegation" any chance to spread.

Ghaemi continues to say that the international community should present a united front that gives "no legitimacy" to the election. In particular, he wants U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to express "serious grievances" about how the election was conducted. "Sanctions and military threats, all these things are counterproductive," Ghaemi says. The initiative has to be expressed and promoted by the Iranians themselves, particularly from Mir Hossein Moussavi and other exponents of popular Iranian outrage. "It very much depends on what leading reformers, including Moussavi, ask them to do, and how much responsibility do they take for exposing them to danger. If they put their tails between their legs and walk away, it will be very sad."

Ultimately, the President of Iran holds less power than assumed. But the Supreme Leader Khamenei's assent of this apparent fraud is a bad sign for future engagement with the Obama Administration. The hardliners are consolidating power.

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Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday Random Ten

Not even vacation can stop ten random songs from playing on my iPod.

Hello - Poe
Do You Like Good Music - Wilson Pickett
Now. Now. - St. Vincent
Labor Day (It's A Holiday) - Black Eyed Peas
Damage - Yo La Tengo
Brothers On A Hotel Bed - Death Cab For Cutie
Mixed Bizness - Beck
Microphone Fiend - Rage Against The Machine
We Float - PJ Harvey
CMYK - Ladytron

Special Vacation Bonus:

Mas - Kinky

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Everyone's A Winner In Iran

Both Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have declared victory in the Iranian elections before the polls have even closed. That raises the possibility of an Orange Revolution scenario, especially if the hardliners hand victory to Ahmadinejad, where a popular revolt in the streets forced the ruling party to succumb. Not to be alarmist, but I can see it happening.

Meanwhile, what few seem to be saying is that, with four contestants in the race, it's unlikely that anyone will get the 50%+1 required for victory, and Ahmadinejad and Mousavi will probably go to a runoff.

If he does lose, Ahmadinejad will make wingnut history as the first fascist dictator to lose an election and leave office.

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Give It Up For Not Blogging!

I must say it has its advantages over blogging, at times. Anyway, this will be a good break away from the grind.

As far as I can ascertain, a white supremacist shot up the Holocaust Museum, conservatives are completely defensive about it, that right-wing domestic terrorism report from the DHS was pretty prescient, moderate wankers are wanking on health care reform, and California remains two clicks from the gutter.

Did I get everything?

As for me, allow me to recommend Pappy and Harriet's Pioneertown Palace. Pretty awesome little BBQ and juke joint in the Yucca Valley area that had Eagles of Death Metal and Peaches out for concerts in the last few days.

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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

On The Road

I'm off to Palm Desert, for a week of fun in the sun, and afterwards I have a couple additional days of travel, so expect a light holiday schedule for the next week or so. Which of course kills me, since there's so much going on right now. But the calendar is the calendar.




Mission Accomplished

Domestic terrorist kills Dr. George Tiller, his clinic shuts down.

The Wichita abortion clinic run by a doctor who was shot and killed will remain closed permanently, his family said on Tuesday.

Dr. George R. Tiller’s clinic was one of the few in the country to provide abortions to women late in their pregnancies, and for decades, women had traveled there from all over the nation and from overseas. It was also the only remaining abortion clinic, even for first trimester abortions, in the Wichita region.

“The family of Dr. George Tiller announces that effective immediately, Women’s Health Care Services, Inc., will be permanently closed,” according to a statement issued on Tuesday morning by the family’s lawyers. “Notice is being given today to all concerned that the Tiller family is ceasing operation of the clinic and any involvement by family members in any other similar clinic.”

Women with catastrophic health issues late in their pregnancies have one less outlet for treatment. And Troy Newman of Operation Rescue is absolutely right: Now, "every kook in the world will get some notion” that they can shut down abortion clinics through murder. It's the "outside" of the inside outside strategy to restrict women's reproductive rights. Women don't actually have a fundamental right to choose their own type of medical care in this country. In far too many states there are only a few abortion providers, and patients have to travel hundreds of miles to find them. In the case of procedures like those practiced by Dr. Tiller, only a handful of states provide them. And not enough doctors are willing to follow Rozalyn Farmer Love and go into the practice. Given the outcome of Dr. Tiller, you can hardly blame them.

We have choice in name only in this country. It harms women, threatens doctors and decreases overall public health. Terrorism has worked.

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Run For Your Lives, Suspect Transferred To Domestic Prison!

Today Ahmed Ghailani arrived in New York to face trial over his role in the US Embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998. Remarkably, the city of New York did not spontaneously empty, nobody started running through the streets in terror, and even Fox News - FOX NEWS - continued to broadcast from their New York studios, despite the presence of a Dangerous Terrorist in their city. So far, Ghailani has not broken free from his cell and gone on a jihadist rampage through Manhattan, ending by climbing the Empire State Building and picking helicopters out of the air. Of course, there's always time.

Republican bedwetters continued to shriek in terror at this development, and to be sure they have a salient point - other than Ramzi Yousef, Zacarias Moussaoui, and 216 total prisoners with ties to terrorism, no Dangerous Terrorist has ever been brought to this country before.

Now that Ghailani is here in the United States, he'll probably be given access to all telecommunications material, and can call his Terrorist friend Lakhdar Boumediene, who obviously is the scariest person on the face of the Earth, and should be locked up for another 7 1/2 years the way he was at Guantanamo since 2001.

In an exclusive interview with ABC News, Boumediene said the interrogators at Gitmo never once asked him about this alleged plot, which he denied playing any part it.

"I'm a normal man," said Boumediene, who at the time of his arrest worked for the Red Crescent, providing help to orphans and others in need. "I'm not a terrorist."

The 43-year-old Algerian is now back with his wife and two daughters, a free man in France after a Republican judge found the evidence against Boumediene lacking. He is best known from the landmark Supreme Court case last year, Boumediene v. Bush, which said detainees have the right to challenge their detention in court.

That decision was a stunning rebuke of the Bush administration's policies on terror suspects. It set up a ruling by District Court Judge Richard Leon, a former counsel to Republicans in Congress appointed to the bench by Bush, that there was no credible evidence to keep Boumediene detained.

After what Boumediene described as a 7½ year nightmare, he is now a free man. Boumediene: "I don't think. I'm sure" about torture [...]

Boumediene described being pulled up from under his arms while sitting in a chair with his legs shackled, stretching him. He said that he was forced to run with the camp's guards and if he could not keep up, he was dragged, bloody and bruised.

He described what he called the "games" the guards would play after he began a hunger strike, putting his food IV up his nose and poking the hypodermic needle in the wrong part of his arm.

"You think that's not torture? What's this? What can you call this? Torture or what?" he said, indicating the scars he bears from tight shackles. "I'm an animal? I'm not a human?"

Well, he was so dangerous that a judge found he had no material support to terrorism! What would YOU do to him? We have to torture anyone as long as it protects the country - unless we're talking about right-wing domestic terrorists.

I don't want to see those 17 Uighurs who were cleared for release getting any funny ideas about being free, either.

OK, I can't keep this up.

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On Pseudonyms

I haven't given this any space, but Ed Whelan, a guy who runs something called the Ethics and Public Policy Center, outed the Obsidian Wings blogger Publius because he criticized him. After a couple days of criticism from the left and the right, Whelan apologized and publius accepted.

I run a pseudonym on this site but my name is pretty readily apparent, and for me it's just what I happened to come up with when I started the site, so I kept it. At Calitics we were constantly getting criticism about hiding behind anonymous handles - as if that degrades the quality of the content somehow - so we defused that critique by using our real names. But I completely understand the desire for someone - for professional or personal reasons - to conceal their identity online, and the last thing I would ever think to do is to run down that information and report it to the world. The mentality of someone who immediately thinks that does not compute to me.

For hundreds of years, writers who wished to impact the political debate used pseudonyms - publius is names after one! - for whatever reason, sometimes just to allow the words to take precedence over the personality. If you look at the preening subjects of the Village these days, I think you'd only wish for pseudonyms.

Hopefully this sorry episode reveals an understanding about respecting other people's wishes, on the Internet or off.

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PA-Sen: Sestak Calls For Volunteers

Chris Bowers got back from watching Arlen Specter at a state Democratic Party meeting and came back more determined than ever to support his opponent. He lays out the bill of particulars here. Specter has never been particularly trustworthy, this example gets me the most:

The ultimate fold: You simply cannot trust Arlen Specter. At all. Here is Specter on standing up for what's right:

Prior to the vote on the Military Commissions Act of 2006, he [Specter] went to the floor of the Senate and said what the bill "seeks to do is set back basic rights by some 900 years" and is "patently unconstitutional on its face." He then proceeded to vote YES on the bill's passage.

Joe Sestak is basically in the race running against Specter, and has put out a call for volunteers.

For those who have come to my web-site, I ask you to please stay involved by hitting the “Volunteer” button in our Action Center, and providing us with your contact information.

Many critical issues currently face our country and Pennsylvania. My District office has prevented 400 families from being foreclosed on and losing their home. In the past two years, my office has handled over 10,000 constituent case files; the average Congressional office has handled 3,200.

What we’ve been able to accomplish in my District in terms of support, as well as creating opportunities for economic growth, is what I do believe Pennsylvania needs, especially at this moment in time … when many of us voted for change in the last election. Pennsylvania, does indeed, have a vibrant, dynamic future that stretches well into the horizon … and I look forward to being a part of that.

I endorse anyone in Pennsylvania getting involved. We know far too much about Arlen Specter and his complete lack of principle to stomach him being anointed the Democratic nominee without a fight.

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Green Weeds

The Treasury Department will allow ten banks to repay their TARP money, for a total of $68 billion dollars. I don't have an enormous problem with it, especially considering that the right is whining about socialism and this is more money that the government has given Chrysler or GM combined. But I also agree with Simon Johnson:

The money allows the strongest banks to return federal aid provided at the peak of the fall financial crisis, but few banks have expressed eagerness for the government to end the other forms of support, creating concern that these programs will be habit-forming and more difficult to terminate.

As a result, independent experts warn that the government's relationship with the industry is entering a precarious new phase. As with mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government will no longer share in the banks' profits, but it still stands ready to absorb losses.

"It's good from an individual investor point of view, it's great for the banks, but from a system point of view it's very dangerous," said Simon Johnson, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor and former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund.

Banks have been able to raise plenty of capital on the open market, but they still obviously need government support in the form of quick and easy lending and Federal Reserve programs. They want out of TARP to avoid executive compensation rules, period.

So now we have this situation where everyone makes the happy talk about the banks, but unemployment has far outstripped expectations, to the extent that the President and his team came out and repackaged the stimulus yesterday, promising to get money out this summer at a faster pace, saying that they will create or save 600,000 jobs in the next 100 days. Of course, conservatives want to forget the stimulus entirely because they think things are going so well (but NOT because of Obama, you understand... it's a tough needle to thread).

Here on Planet Earth, what we're starting to see is the groundwork for a jobless recovery.

Although the pace of layoffs appears to be subsiding and the overall economy is showing hints of stabilization, most forecasters expect unemployment to continue to increase in coming months and to recede only gradually as recovery takes hold. In this Economic Letter, we evaluate this projection using data on three labor market indicators: worker flows into and out of unemployment; involuntary part-time employment; and temporary layoffs. We pay particular attention to how these indicators compare with data from previous episodes of recession and recovery. Our analysis generally supports projections that labor market weakness will persist, but our findings offer a basis for even greater pessimism about the outlook for the labor market. Specifically, we suggest that the relatively low level of temporary layoffs and high level of involuntary part-time workers make a jobless recovery similar to the one experienced in 1992 a plausible scenario.

And even that recovery is threatened by the next wave of foreclosures caused by mortgage rate recasts and unemployment, and while the banks have successfully blocked any reform of the system, they may live to regret that choice. Because in truth, the economy remains at the brink:

We have both spent large chunks of our lives working on Wall Street, absorbing its ethic and mores. We’re concerned that nothing has really been fixed. We’re doubly concerned that people appear to feel the worst of the storm is over — and in this, they are aided and abetted by a hugely popular and charismatic president and by the fact that the Dow has increased by 35 percent or so since Mr. Obama started to lay out his economic plans in March. [...]

Six months ago, nobody believed that our banking system was well designed, functioning smoothly or properly regulated — so why then are we so desperately anxious to restore that model as the status quo? Nearly every new program emanating these days from the Treasury Department — the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, the Public Private Investment Program, the “stress tests” of major banks — appears to have been designed to either paper over or to prop up a system that has clearly failed.

Instead of hauling out the new drywall to cover up the existing studs, let’s seriously consider ripping down the entire structure, dynamiting the foundation and building a new system that rewards taking prudent risks, allocates capital where it is needed, allows all investors to get accurate and timely financial information and increases value to shareholders and creditors.

At the very least, we should rerun the stress tests with the new adverse scenario. And if banks want out from federal government restrictions on pay they need to stop using federal funds in lending programs. We cannot roll back the clock to the go-go 90s and expect everyone to pick up their roles again. That would be a disaster.

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Iran's Choice - Rejecting Confrontation

I've been fascinated by Iran's June 12 election over the past couple days, in particular because the result could genuinely surprise, as four years of Holocaust denial and high-profile rhetorical bomb-throwing have possibly threatened Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's chances for re-election. I say possibly because it's so hard to tell: while one "secret poll" reported by Newsweek has the Iranian President trailing Mir Hossein Mousavi by 2-1, a more recent public opinion survey has Ahmadinejad ahead by the same ratio, albeit with 27% undecided. It appears unlikely that either candidate, or the two others, will reach the 50% + 1 necessary to avoid a runoff. Record turnout is expected,with campaign rallies shutting down Tehran, so perhaps the modeling is bad, producing the wildly divergent results. Is there an Iranian Nate Silver?

Certainly Iranians have cause to find fault with their President, who I like to point out is not their leader - that would be the Supreme Leader, who blasted the President for his completely bizarre debate performance a few days back:

In the most significant development, Ahmadinejad appeared to have irked the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, over his performance in Wednesday night's debate with Mir Hossein Mousavi, his main opponent in next week's presidential election.

"One doesn't like to see a nominee, for the sake of proving himself, seeking to negate somebody else," Khamenei said in a speech commemorating the 20th anniversary of the death of the Iranian revolution's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Khomeini. "I have no problem with debate, dialogue and criticism but these debates must take place within a religious framework." [...]

Apparently trailing in the opinion polls, Ahmadinejad attempted to link Mousavi – the main reformist candidate – to the past governments of Rafsanjani and the reformist ex-president Mohammad Khatam, which he said had been guilty of widespread graft. Among others, he singled out Rafsanjani's sons as well as Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri, the current head of the supreme leader's inspectorate.

Khamenei's criticisms echoed those of Mousavi, who told Ahmadinejad during the debate: "This is a sin. We are Muslims, we believe in God. We cannot name people like that and accuse them."

It's not just the Supreme Leader (who still has endorsed Ahmadinejad) who have reason to call out the incumbent for criticism. Reformers who boycotted the last election after Mohammed Khatami failed to make meaningful inroads with his agenda are coalescing around the little-known Mousavi, particularly the young, who are completely turned off by the President's confrontational style. The poor economy has cut off Ahmadinejad from his rural base, who are angered by his policies of driving up inflation and rewarding political friends. And even the conservative elite has turned away from Ahmadinejad, who they find counter-productive.

Powerful reformists and conservatives within Iran's elite have joined forces to wage an unprecedented behind-the-scenes campaign to unseat President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, worried that he is driving the country to the brink of collapse with populist economic policies and a confrontational stance toward the West [...]

They have used the levers of government to foil attempts by Ahmadinejad to secure funds for populist giveaways and to permit freewheeling campaigning that has benefited Mousavi. State-controlled television agreed to an unheard-of series of live debates, and the powerful Council of Guardians, which thwarted the reformist wave of the late 1990s, rejected a ballot box maneuver by the president that some saw as a prelude to attempted fraud.

Some called it a realignment of Iranian domestic politics from its longtime rift between reformists and conservatives to one that pits pragmatists on both sides against radicals such as Ahmadinejad.

"Some of the supporters of Mousavi like his ideas; others don't want Ahmadinejad," said Javad Etaat, a professor of political science and a campaigner for Mousavi. "They've decided that preserving the nation is more important than preserving the government."

I don't think we can know for sure what the results will be, but there certainly are signs that Ahmadinejad's belligerence played better in the "Arab street" abroad than at home. Regardless of who is elected in Iran, the hardline clerics who actually run the country seem determined to continue nuclear energy production which contains the genesis of the entire conflict with the West (although nobody has reasonably explained what has changed from the most recent NIE on Iran, which said that they had not restarted nuclear weapons development, and today). But if Ahmadinejad is defeated on the 12th, it will truly signal that hardliner belligerence can be as much a hindrance for a politician as a help. And that's a good thing.

But I'm more interested in seeing our American Taliban's head spin around at the prospect of seeing the supposedly fascist dictator of Iran defeated in a peaceful election.

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(Don't) Buy American

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg stayed the Fiat-Chrysler deal pending a forthcoming order, perhaps because she simply wanted more time to make and informed judgment, or because she wanted to bring her associates into the decision. At issue are the protestations of three Indiana pension funds, controlled by a Republican state Treasurer, who simply want a better deal on their unsecured Chrysler debt they purchased about a year ago. Apparently the phrase "caveat emptor" doesn't enter into the equation.

Meanwhile, another genius collection of wingnuts have decided that the best way to restore American capitalism is to boycott American car companies.

"In the effort to reverse this lurch beyond the farthest left fringe of previous Democratic statist urges, individual Americans have a role to play. They have to say no to GM products and services until such time as the denationalization occurs," says Hugh Hewitt. He acknowledges that this is a serious step that could hurt people currently working for GM: "But there isn't any alternative, every dollar spent with GM is a dollar spent against free enterprise. Every car or truck purchased from Government Motors is one not purchased from a private car company that competes fairly against all other car companies."

Where Hewitt makes his point as a seemingly reluctant and composed agitator, Rush Limbaugh makes no bones about what he wants in his own praise of the idea. The most amazing thing here is that Limbaugh appears to be openly admitting that the purpose of this is economic and political sabotage -- to prevent President Obama from succeeding at something.

Limbaugh reassures any GM workers who might be listening that the boycotters aren't angry at them. "They don't want to patronize Obama. They don't want to do anything to make Obama's policies work!" he explains.

Quite a needle to thread - boycotting a US company while claiming to have nothing but love for that company's workers. Wow, I don't think Democrats will lose MIchigan for the next 200 years now.

As John Cole notes, just a week or two ago these same people were whining and crying about all the dealers being pushed out of business by Overlord Obama, and not they are conspiring to actively put whatever dealers are left out of business, if successful, by refusing to buy their products. Not to mention the fact that, at this point, the fastest way to return GM to the private sector would be to, well, buy a bunch of their cars, so the government can divest.

But none of this is supposed to make economic sense. It simply reflect the kind of lashing out at whatever perceived enemy that has become the sum total of Republican output these days. They are the wounded animal in the corner, thrashing about incoherently in the hopes that all of America beyond the myopic, paranoid corner that they inhabit will come to love them again.

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Monday, June 08, 2009

Health Care Reform's Enemies Taking Heat

The difference between 1994 and today is not that there are no longer forces who wish to undermine reform and keep the health care sector safe for the profiteers, it's that this time, somebody responds.

Example #1: Ben Nelson boldly claims he will never support a public option in health care. Change Congress and other advocacy groups hammer him relentlessly and run ads in his state. Nelson decides he will not filibuster a health care bill with a public plan.

The Nebraska Democrat, who has skeptically approached the idea of a government or publicly-run insurance program, additionally told state Democrats not to assume that he will oppose such a proposal in a final reform package.

"He's not against anything right now," said Bud Pettigrew, the chair of county chairs for the Nebraska Democratic Party, who fielded a phone call from Nelson on Monday. "But he does want to read the plans that come out first and then make a judgment."

"He is open to some type of government plan but he wants to see the details first," Pettigrew added. "He wishes the liberals would give him a chance."

And yet, even if Nelson were to oppose the final bill, his vote may not hold as much significance as expected. According to Pettigrew, the senator said he will not be the 60th Senator to sustain a filibuster on a bill that he ultimately would oppose. "If it comes to cloture I would vote for it," Nelson said, according to Pettigrew. "I will not be the deciding vote."

Adam Green has done incredible work on this. According to Pettigrew, Nelson told him that "the liberals are kicking him in the ass right now and he is feeling it."

Example #2: Third Way, a milquetoast moderate group, put together a hyper-incrementalist and lame plan for a public option that wouldn't be public, wouldn't be available to everyone, and wouldn't be able to use bargaining power to control costs. Bloggers call them out on it. The aforementioned Adam Green rallied people to call the Third Way leadership. Ryan Grim finds out that the plan was written by "policy analysts with longtime connections to the health insurance industry." Third Way is forced to respond:

Third Way is committed to helping the President and Congress succeed in enacting meaningful and comprehensive health care reform.

Currently one of the most discussed aspects of the President's reform effort is a public plan option. In a draft Third Way memo that has been widely circulated and mis-characterized, we propose a number of policy ideas that would help ensure that a public plan is crafted in an effective way -- and can garner the votes needed to advance broad health care legislation.

There is an urgent need for real health care reform in America. Health care in our country has not worked for average Americans: it is too easy to lose coverage, it is too easy to see premiums rise, it is too easy to be denied access to care. Third Way's latest report found that only 64% of working age Americans have had the high standard of health care coverage: 4 years of uninterrupted private health care.

That is a crisis.

That's why we need health reform that provides stable coverage, stable cost and reliable, quality care for all Americans.

That's a backtrack. They now have absolutely no credibility on this topic.

Example #3: The Blue Dog Caucus puts out a letter laying down their principles for health care reform, including a "trigger" option that would hold back the public plan unless insurers failed to meet certain conditions. In any other time, this would immediately become the only available option in the debate. This time, Health Care for America Now, which had gotten 20 Blue Dogs previously to endorse a public plan without a trigger, called the Blue Dogs' bluff, members of the coalition jumped ship, and the Blue Dogs had to backtrack from their initial hard position, calling it instead a "starting point" for negotiations.

In the face of relentless progressive advocacy, the forces that would rather keep the status quo turn to jelly.

However, I still fear that progressives aren't aiming their guns at all the targets. Inside that HuffPo piece on Ben Nelson, he acknowledges that he opposing capping the employer deduction for health care benefits.

In addition to telling Pettigrew about his take on the public plan, Nelson also relayed word that he opposed a measure to end the tax exemption for employers who provided health care coverage to their workers. That proposal, which has gained some traction in Congress (including with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus), is seen as a practical way to help pay for reform.

That idea has not been properly explained to the public and will get crushed if the situation persists, leaving a yawning gap of funding that nobody seems to want to pay for. And Steny Hoyer has already objected to using MedPAC to lower Medicare costs, again a policy that has been ill-explained to the public and will cause a revolt in Congress without popular support.

I love what progressives are doing around health care, but if they don't target the funding mechanism it won't pass.

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Making Joe Lieberman Cry

Jane Hamsher reports that the Lieberman-Graham detainee photo suppression amendment has been dropped from the war funding supplemental, owing to pressure from liberal Democrats, who refused to vote for a bill that would undermine the Freedom of Information Act and increase executive power. They only got into that position because conservatives in the House refused to vote for a war supplemental that included increased funding for the IMF. But progressives took full advantage of the opportunity and struck the first blow against agglomerated executive power that I can remember in a long, long time.

The underlying bill doesn't much send a thrill up my leg either. But progressive Democrats saw a leverage point, picked it, and attacked until the forces supporting increased executive power had to give up. And that's a good thing. Hopefully they'll keep using this muscle.

...Here's how Huckleberry and Holy Joe will respond to this loss - with the equivalent of a temper tantrum:

"We strongly believe that the first responsibilities of government are the nation's security and the protection of those brave Americans who go into harm's way to defend it.

"The President has said that the release of the photos of detainees in US custody would 'put our troops and civilians serving our nation abroad in greater danger.' We agree with the Commander in Chief.

"We will employ all the legislative means available to us including opposing the supplemental war spending bill and attaching this amendment, which was unanimously adopted by the Senate, to every piece of legislation the Senate considers, to be sure the President has the authority he needs not to release these photos and any others that would jeopardize the safety and security of our troops.

"The release of the photos will serve as propaganda and recruiting tool for terrorists who seek to attack American citizens at home and abroad. We should strive to have as open a government as possible, but the behavior depicted in the photos has been prohibited and is being investigated. The photos do not depict anything that is not already known. Transparency, and in this case needless transparency, should not be paid for with the lives of American citizens, let alone the lives of our men and women in uniform fighting on our behalf in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

"Let it clearly be understood that without this legislation the photos in question are likely to be released. Such a release would be tantamount to a death sentence to some who are serving our nation in the most dangerous and difficult spots like Iraq and Afghanistan. It is this certain knowledge of these consequences of having the photos released that will cause us to vote against the supplemental and continue our push to turn our important amendment into law."

I didn't know you could actually hear crying in press release form.

I wouldn't slam Graham and Lieberman by the way. It certainly seems to me that they're running interference for the President. Direct the inquiries to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

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Our Parole Failure, From Those Who Know

Here's an excellent Q&A, really a must read, with UC Berkeley Law Professor Jonathan Simon, an expert on parole policy. Using the killing of four Oakland police officers by Lovelle Mixon, who was on parole at the time, Simon sets aside the myths about parole and looks at the hard facts - that this is an unbelievably broken system, particularly in California, one that really cannot fulfill the mission set out for it 100 years ago. Parole was something of an employment agency upon its inception, supervising ex-convicts at their workplace and letting them go on with their lives. In today's environment of social Darwinism, ex-cons are sent back onto the streets with no money and no skills to get a job, and so they devolve into homelessness or drug abuse, making it nearly impossible for parole officers to even find parolees, let alone keep them out of trouble.

It really can’t work — which you’ll see if you look at the category of parolees who are simply of unknown whereabouts. These parolees are described as PAL, for “parolee at large,” in official California statistics.

Statewide, 14.6 percent of all parolees were PAL in 2005; in large cities like Oakland and Los Angeles it’s probably closer to 25 percent. This sounds alarming, although authorities have little basis for knowing the status of these people. Is the parolee-at-large wandering around homeless and has he forgotten to come in for an appointment, or to take his medications if he or she is on psychiatric treatment? Or, as with Lovelle Mixon, has the person gone back to doing some very serious crimes and is he evading detection? We’re fooling ourselves if we think that this century-old method of surveilling people in the community, through periodic contacts, can work with a population as isolated and marginalized as the one upon which we now focus our penal attention.

Simon theorizes that California's parole system works even worse than most states because we eliminated early release through parole, but maintained the strict supervision requirements that invariably send parolees back to prison:

But unlike many other states that also eliminated early release through parole, California continued to require parole supervision in the community for all released prisoners. And that, I think, is a big part of what’s broken. People are sent to California prisons for a determinate amount of time, based upon the seriousness of their crime. After they’ve served this sentence, it’s neither justified nor effective to add up to three years of parole supervision for each and every ex-offender — without making any distinction between those whose criminal record or psychological profile suggest they’ll commit a crime that will harm the community, and those who pose no such threat.

So the parole system has little real capacity to monitor and protect us from those who pose a danger of committing serious new crimes. And it exposes ex-offenders — many of whom pose little threat of committing such crimes — to the likelihood of being sent back to prison. (This is a really big problem, when you think of our prison overcrowding and our budget crisis).

Parolees are required to consent to searches of their person and property. If officers stop a car in Oakland, and somebody in that car is on parole, police have a lot of leeway to disregard normal constitutional limits on search-and-seizure authority. They can use any evidence collected in this situation against the parolee — and also, of course, can attempt to use the coercion of plea bargaining to get evidence against other people in the car.

In recent years, as many as 70 percent of those on parole in California have been sent back to prison — only a small percentage of whom have committed a new crime (14 percent in 2007); more than half were sent back for what are called “technical” parole violations. These parolees are “returned to custody” by the Board of Prison Terms, very often for conduct that would not earn them (or other California citizens) prison time in a court. Turning in a positive drug test is an example; even missing an appointment with parole staff can result in re-imprisonment.

By the way, no other state has the recidivism rate of California, and certainly no other state sends as many people back to prison for technical violations of their parole appointments. And due to the three-strikes law as well as increased sentences over 30 years, we have more Californians in prison on life sentences - about thirty thousand - as there were TOTAL PRISONERS in 1977. The parole board is theoretically supposed to monitor the "lifers" and let out those who served their mandatory minimums and can be reasonably seen as representing no risk to the community, but in reality we let out something like 5 per year. Meanwhile more life sentences are given to thousands of prisoners every year, and the problem simply grows.

Even Arnold Schwarzenegger's supposedly bold plan to release all undocumented immigrants from prison and deport them - something he hasn't bothered to run by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement arm of the federal government - has so many strings on what type of prisoners should be allowed to go free (one felony conviction, nonviolent and nonsexual crime, etc.) that only 1,400 out of 18,000 would qualify.

Tough on crime policies have very simply destroyed California, leaving every lawmaker looking over his or her shoulder trying to be crueler toward criminals than their opponents. In the end, we all suffer, as scarce resources get taken up by a prison-industrial complex that is the fastest-growing sector of the state budget. These policies have been discredited, and other states have proven that you can maintain the peace and provide for public safety while not stuffing prisons with a seemingly endless amount of criminals. We can bring the idea of corrections, and rehabilitation, back to the corrections process, if we only shake off the fear that practically every politician exudes when promoting these terrible policies.

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The Big Big News About A Random GOP Fundraising Event

This Sarah Palin-Newt Gingrich dust-up over who gets to speak at some Republican fundraising dinner, and the fact that people aren't just talking about it but CONSUMED with it, shows you how Washington is wired for conservatives. Not one American gives a crap who speaks to a bunch of well-heeled conservatives at a dinner in DC, but the chattering class is all a-twitter. It may be a bit of fun to watch useless conservative muckety-mucks fight with one another, but it adds absolutely nothing to anyone's life.

Which of course is why Hardball led with it today. With Nixon's Jew counter Fred Malek as the main talking head. The junior high students in the Village media think that which Republican passed which note to which other Republican in the back of the class is the most fascinating thing ever. Good thing 6 million people haven't lost their jobs in the last 18 months or anything, because surely that would give them something else to talk about!

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Roeder, Terrorist, Lights The Ticking Time Bomb

Last week I wrote this post about applying the standards of terror policies against Muslim extremists to the anti-abortion right, and when I cross-posted on Daily Kos I used the provocative title Should We Waterboard Scott Roeder? A lot of people got really mad, failing to read the entire post and just angered that I would suggest such a thing. Of course I wasn't, I was merely playing out the implications of the belief that we must torture terrorists who might have information on future attacks, and presumptively detain suspects who might engage in attacks in the future, and try them in national security courts instead of the criminal justice system.

Now we have yet another data point.

The man charged with murdering a high-profile abortion doctor claimed from his jail cell Sunday that similar violence was planned around the nation for as long as the procedure remained legal, a threat that comes days after a federal investigation launched into his possible accomplices.

A Justice Department spokesman said the threat was being taken seriously and additional protection had been ordered for abortion clinics last week. But a leader of the anti-abortion movement derided the accused shooter as "a fruit and a lunatic."

Scott Roeder called The Associated Press from the Sedgwick County jail, where he's being held on charges of first-degree murder and aggravated assault in the shooting of Dr. George Tiller one week ago.

"I know there are many other similar events planned around the country as long as abortion remains legal," Roeder said. When asked by the AP what he meant and if he was referring to another shooting, he refused to elaborate further.

The conservative philosophy of a "one percent doctrine" means that if there's a one percent chance Roeder is telling the truth, then we must use every tool at our disposal to stop attacks. So intellectually honest conservatives like Dick Cheney will presumably endorse harsh interrogation tactics and indefinite detention for the anti-abortion right.

Waiting for that press release to come by my desk any time now.

Of course, like John Cole I don't think any of these policies work. And in fact, the Justice Department reacted to the Roeder comments by stepping up enforcement at abortion clinics. Which is how you deal with crime, through the system tested for 200-plus years that provides the right balance between liberty and security.

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Obama Needs To Act On DADT

The Supreme Court declined to get into the political fight over the military's Don't Ask Don't Tell policy and hear a challenge to the law from a former Army captain. This has two implications:

1) It makes it far less likely, at least to me, that the same Court would hear a challenge to Prop. 8 which former adversaries Ted Olson and David Boies have been pushing. Typically the Court stays out of political fights, and given the similarities between these court challenges, I just wouldn't expect this Court to weigh in, even if the violations of equal protection are made pretty clear. It's a conservative Court, regardless of the Sotomayor nomination.

2) It's time for the President to step up. The courts won't bail him out.

It's time for Obama to step up. He doesn't have to wait for legislation, although legislation to overturn DADT should be passed ASAP. Obama is the commander-in-chief. He has tools at his disposal to prevent further discharges. He can issue an Executive Order according to a study by the Palm Center. If Obama wants to make a real statement during LGBT Pride Month, instead of just a proclamation, taking action to prevent further discharges under DADT would be a good one -- a very good one.

We're waiting, Mr. President.

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Fed Up

Late last week I received a statement from an anonymous state employee working at the Employment Development Department, which included some pretty stunning allegations about how Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature are dealing with state workers. For example, the Governor would reduce all state employee salaries by 5%, including ones not paid out of the General Fund but through other dedicated resources, including federal dollars. Our budget deficit is a General Fund crisis, not a crisis of those other resources, and so there is absolutely no necessity to reduce those salaries. In addition, the Governor has proposed furloughing such workers, an illegal action since state law excludes Special Fund workers from these types of job reductions. The State Compensation Insurance Fund just successfully sued the Governor over this matter.

Perhaps worst of all, the Governor and the Legislature have in recent years used special fund money to balance the budget. This is EXACTLY what Props. 1D and 1E would have done, moving dedicated funds into the General Fund. And yet the Governor and a compliant legislature goes ahead and does it anyway when the funds at risk are more murky and have lower-profile champions. This parallels the Governor, despite failing with Prop. 1A, budgeting a $4.5 billion dollar reserve for the upcoming fiscal year, despite the "rainy day" we're currently facing, essentially moving forward in violation of the will of the voters with a spending cap.

Democratic lawmakers are floating a plan to use that projected reserve, but resist augmenting that with new revenues, leading to $19 billion in additional cuts and borrowing from local governments, really a terrible plan considering the alternative options on fees. The unions are getting impatient with the lack of leadership, and advocacy groups seem more interested not in working with them but just going the heck around them. This note at the bottom of the LAT piece from Lenny Goldberg is the buried lede:

The next step for unions could be going directly to voters. One labor-backed group, the California Tax Reform Assn., has prepared a possible ballot measure to repeal the three corporate tax cuts Democrats agreed to in the last year to get GOP support for the budget.

"It's ready to go," said Lenny Goldberg, the group's executive director.

Reading the statement from the state employee, which I've posted below, gives you some of the reasons why workers feel they have no allies in Sacramento anymore.


I'm a California State Employee and I'm currently working approved overtime in the middle of a state financial crisis. I work for the Employment Development Department (EDD). EDD is conducting massive hiring. In the two months alone, my office alone has hired 30 trainees and is continuing to hire. This action is allowable because approximately 90% of EDD's budget is paid directly with federal dollars. The majority of the remaining balance is paid by seven other special funds. Only one quarter of a percent derives from the General Fund.
Gov. Schwarzenegger would have Californians believe that all state employees are lumped into one sole classification. In reality, state employees work for departments that fall into one of two categories: General Fund or Special Funds.

Special Funds Departments budgets are allocated by either self sustaining revenue funded entirely on fees or premiums and/or have been designated for a sole purpose by California Voters or funds from the federal government. There are 51 state departments whose budgets are derived from the Special Fund. The current State financial crisis is a General Fund crisis, NOT a Special Fund crisis. Politicians and the media fail to emphasize the distinction. They would have you believe that there is one state indistinguishable budget.

For example, The Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, The Department of Community Services and Development, and The State Council on Development Disabilities and are funded entirely out of federal dollars and receive no General Fund dollars. The Department of Motor Vehicles and California Highway Patrol are funded entirely out of special funds.

I and my co-workers are at a loss to understand why the governor is proposing to reduce all state employee salaries by 5%. His action is illogical. Special Fund employee salaries are not paid out of the General Fund. This is wasteful management of resources and of personnel. There is no justification for this action. Why reduce an employee's salary when there is no necessity to? Why continue to hire if the state is in cash flow crisis? Anyone can review the State Personnel Board's web site ( ), and can see for themselves that the State is still hiring. There are currently over 2000 job vacancies with the State of California.

On top of the proposed 5%, the governor implemented a two day furlough for all state employees. The reality is that I am mandated to report to work on my furlough days to meet public need and not get paid for it. The official policy is that the furlough days are accrued and can be taken at a later date. However, due to the high work load, requests for time off in exchange for furlough days are denied. There is a deadline for which all furlough dates must be taken: June 2010. Use it or lose it. The California Attorneys, Administrative Law Judges and Hearing Officers in State Employment have filed a lawsuit on behalf of its Special Fund Employees as being unlawful. Interested parties can read the brief at
The lawsuit cites how each department is funded and its impact on the General Fund.

My co-workers and I work overtime to recoup lost hours just to pay for my necessities of life, such as my food and my mortgage. Contrary to popular opinion, the average employee does not make six figures. In issuing furloughs and the proposed 5% cut, the state increases its budget deficit in that it loses income tax revenue from state workers.

In recent years, the governor and the legislative branch have dipped into the Special Funds Budget to cover the General Fund deficit. Gov. Schwarzenegger balanced last year's budget by borrowing $574 million from various special funds. Where does this money go? How is it repaid? No one truly knows. Californians rejected his budget measures in the May 19 special election to shift money from special funds for mental health services and early childhood care and education. Why is this practice still being continued?

On February 5, 2009, The Los Angeles Times reported that the U.S. Labor Department objected to EDD employees being furloughed since the salaries were primary paid with Federal dollars. ( The Labor Department notified the governor that the furloughs could impact EDD's performance in meeting criteria for the timely handling of unemployment claims and appeals. The Labor Department notified the EDD that failing to comply could violate Social Security laws. The governor was unmoved.

Similar to 911, this is a game of power and politics. It is a tactic to instill fear in the general public to justify actions that would not normally be endorsed or approved. The governor should follow the President Obama's lead and use a scalpel rather than an ax to make precise cuts. The governor can not have budget reform without the trust of the people and without providing the state with crucial and vital details of the nature of the budget.

Employee Proudly Serving the State of California

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The Buying Of America

The Supreme Court just barely did the right thing in the case of a West Virginia coal baron who bought a judge, exposing the right wing of the Court as openly hostile to the rule of law so long as corporations are involved.

When West Virginia coal overlord Don Blankenship’s company lost a $50 million verdict to one of its competitors, Blankenship set out to buy a judge. Rather than appeal his case to a fair tribunal, Blankenship spent $3 million to elect a friendly lawyer to the West Virginia Supreme Court, even running ads accusing the lawyer’s opponent of voting to free an incarcerated child rapist, and of allowing that rapist to work in a public school. Once elected by a Blankenship-funded campaign, the newly-minted justice cast the deciding vote overturning the verdict against Blankenship’s company.

Today, the Supreme Court held that this kind of justice-for-sale bribery has no place under the United States Constitution. But all four of the Court’s most conservative members voted that there is no problem when a wealthy businessman literally buys a judge. In a dissent joined by conservative justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito, Chief Justice John Roberts argued that this decision — on a case so egregious that John Grisham turned it into a legal thriller — would encourage “groundless” charges that other “judges are biased”.

Despite the slaivishness of the Scalia-Thomas-Alito-Roberts faction, the Court ruled correctly that wealthy defendants should not interfere with the legal process through campaign contributions. But what about the wealthy who contribute to the campaigns of politicians who make decisions affecting their interests?

It seems strange, almost surreal, to say this, but the Republican Party, and arguably the whole conservative movement, is not the left's biggest enemy at the moment. On keeping a public plan in healthcare reform; streamlining student lending; and passing the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), cap and trade, financial regulation and a host of other structural economic reforms progressives hope to enact, the GOP is more akin to the garbage men than the alderman.

"Most Republicans aren't waking up every day thinking, How do we kill banking regulation?" says Goehl. "Most people who listen to Rush Limbaugh aren't waking up thinking about how do we kill banking regulation. But the people with the deep pockets who have power in DC are thinking that [...]

While the Republican Party shrinks, corporate interests are deftly molting their old K Street Project skin and crawling en masse inside the big tent being pitched by the Democratic Party. These same corporate interests have always had a purchase on Democrats, of course. But for much of the last decade, business interests had the luxury of spending most of their resources aiding their allies in the GOP.

No more. Writing on The Atlantic's website, Scott Bland and Ronald Brownstein identify the emergence of what they dub "The Democratic Industrial Complex." Energy and healthcare companies, automakers and banks all understand that the Democrats control much of their fate, so they've cast their lot with the majority party in a big way: John Kerry got less than 20 percent of the donations from electric utilities; Barack Obama got almost 60 percent. So far in this cycle, Democrats have captured two-thirds of the donations from the healthcare industry.

If big business's old legislative strategy was centered on relentless opposition to progressive initiatives--an approach that continues in areas like EFCA--the new strategy is to subvert legislation through co-optation, as in healthcare and cap and trade. By converting themselves, ostensibly, from opponents to "partners," corporate lobbies are trying to have it both ways: to block reforms while changing overt power struggles over the future of the economy into seemingly cooperative negotiations. At these negotiations, to use the president's favorite phrase, "everyone has a seat at the table"--except, the lobbyists get by far the best seats. (Alinsky didn't have much patience for this approach. "This liberal cliché about reconciliation of opposing forces is a load of crap," he once said. "When one side gets enough power, then the other side gets reconciled to it.")

Paul Krugman kind of gets at this today, in discussing the imminent fall of Gordon Brown in Britain. He generally acknowledges that thrall to financial innovation is a bipartisan problem, and the punishment from the electorate just depends on a kind of musical chairs, where whoever happens to be in the leadership bears the brunt of the pain.

Now, I don't expect this Supreme Court to strike down all campaign contributions. But it certainly does argue for full public financing, to remove this coziness between the oligarchs and the government they routinely buy.

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Health Care, Progressive Action and the Myth of Bipartisanship

This was the weekend when the make-or-break battle for health care reform that may define the fortunes of the Democratic Party for the next several decades began. The President signaled a willingness to get more involved. Citizen town hall meetings were held all across the country. More engagement from Obama is expected, with the public and inside the Capitol.

However, from the policy side, the more significant action came from the Progressive Caucus on Friday, when they mapped out their principles for a public option, and the bare minimum such an option must include to get their votes. Most importantly, they demanded that such an option not be conditioned to a "trigger", and not enacted unless insurers don't meet certain requirements.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus calls for a robust public option that must:

Enact concurrently with other significant expansions of coverage and must not be conditioned on private industry actions.
Consist of one entity, operated by the federal government, which sets policies and bears the risk for paying medical claims to keep administrative costs low and provide a higher standard of care.
Be available to all individuals and employers across the nation without limitation
Allow patients to have access to their choice of doctors and other providers that meet defined participation standards, similar to the traditional Medicare model, promote the medical home model, and eliminate lifetime caps on benefits.
Have the ability to structure the provider rates to promote quality care, primary care, prevention, chronic care management, and good public health.
Utilize the existing infrastructure of successful public programs like Medicare in order to maintain transparency and consumer protections for administering processes including payment systems, claims and appeals.
Establish or negotiate rates with pharmaceutical companies, durable medical equipment providers, and other providers to achieve the lowest prices for consumers.
Receive a level of subsidy and support that is no less than that received by private plans.
Ensure premiums must be priced at the lowest levels possible, not tied to the rates of private insurance plans. (emphasis mine)

In conclusion, the public plan, like all other qualified plans, must redress historical disparities in underrepresented communities. It must provide a standard package of comprehensive benefits including dental, vision, mental health and prescription drug coverage with no pre-existing condition exclusions. It must limit cost-sharing so that there are no barriers to care, and incorporate up-to-date best practice models to improve quality and lower costs. All plans, including the public plan, must include coverage for evidence-based preventive health services at minimal or no co-pay. All plans, including the public plan, should be at least as transparent as traditional Medicare.

That boldfaced bit means that the public plan could potentially use bargained rates to lower costs. This is all very, very good. And unlike the more fractured Blue Dog Caucus, the Progressives seem united around this. Max Baucus now expects a public option in the Senate Finance Committee version, the most skewed to the right of any of the plans. Considering that critics of the public option are using its selling points to criticize it, I'm reasonably certain that public opinion will also line up along with a popular President and the bulk of the Democratic caucus for a public option.

Len Nichols, the director of health policy at the New America Foundation and the co-author of a proposal to level the field through governance and pricing regulations, said that state employee health plans are “proof of concept” that governments can maintain fair competition. “They do not unleash this impulse to take over the world,” Mr. Nichols said. “I don’t see this leviathan behavior.”

But critics argue that with low administrative costs and no need to produce profits, a public plan will start with an unfair pricing advantage. They say that if a public plan is allowed to pay doctors and hospitals at levels comparable to Medicare’s, which are substantially below commercial insurance rates, it could set premiums so low it would quickly consume the market.

Yes, that would be HORRIBLE.

It's brilliant politics to line up the argument as one between those who seek to lower premiums for Americans and those who think the current broken system is the best the world has ever known. I know who wins that politically. My fears, however, are over this myth of bipartisanship that animates discussion of major issues. I don't understand this mentality:

Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican on the Finance Committee, recalled how Mr. Obama made a personal pledge of bipartisanship when he and Senator Max Baucus of Montana, the committee’s Democratic chairman, joined the president for a private lunch at the White House last month.

“I said, ‘Yeah, it’s a problem,’ ” Mr. Grassley said of the public plan, “and he said something along the lines of, ‘If I get 85 percent of what I want with a bipartisan vote, or 100 percent with 51 votes, all Democrat, I’d rather have it be bipartisan.’ ” [...]

Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who is a longtime proponent of revamping health care, said Mr. Obama seemed to be wrestling with how far he could push Congress.

“The president is very much aware that to bring about enduring change — health care reform that lasts, gets implemented, wins the support of the American people and does not get repealed in a couple of years — you need bipartisan support,” said Mr. Wyden, who was among two dozen Senate Democrats who met with Mr. Obama about health care last week. “So he’s grappling with, how do you do that?”

I just don't agree with that. Medicare was a bipartisan vote - and not even very bipartisan - in an ideologically jumbled and mixed-up time period. The ideological cleansing of the parties has basically been completed, and you're simply not going to get more than a token couple Republicans to vote to reform health care in any meaningful way. The durability of the plan after passage relies on its effectiveness. If it drives down costs, if it increases access and quality of treatment, no politician in their right mind would vote it out of existence. And so Obama ought to craft the policy that affords the most chance at success. In 20 years, nobody will be able to name who voted for or against the plan. The cost curve bending or stiffening will not be dictated by the number of Republicans in support. The goal should be to get the best plan with the amount of votes needed for passage. Any extra really is gravy.

The Congressional Research Service has a nice preview document laying out all the issues in health care reform. And Ezra Klein peeks at a document setting October 1 as the soft deadline for a bill on the President's desk. Here we go.

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Arab Summer?

Media types looking for connectivity will try to draw a line between Barack Obama's Cairo speech and the victory of pro-Western parties over Hezbollah in Lebanese elections. That would just be untrue. But we can be cheered that Lebanon held peaceful elections and arrived at their own conclusions - Hezbollah groups allege that the US threatened to pull aid for the country if they took Parliament, but there's not a lot of evidence supporting that.

Tim Fernholz is right to not read too much into the results:

In Lebanon, however, little will change due to this election -- the current government remains in power, admittedly with more legitimacy, and Hezbollah will continue to keep about the same number of seats in parliament, its arms and its own agenda. Some speculate that Hezbollah might be pleased with this turnout, since the burdens of running a government would be onerous to a party of resistance. But the result does indicate the difficulty of being both a Shi'ite and nationalist resistance movement in an ethnically variegated country, and may raise further questions from the rest of Lebanon's population about Hezbollah's role in defining their country abroad.

Andrew Exum has more at his new digs. I think post-Bush we understand that democracy means more than elections, so hopefully we don't turn away from Lebanon at this point and work to strengthen their civic institutions. Otherwise any bold prediction that the country "turned away from extremism" will not have follow-through.

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Lee And Ling Sentenced To 12 Years

North Korea sentenced Euna Lee and Laura Ling to 12 years hard labor for illegally crossing the border with China and committing unspecified "hostile acts." I think everyone expected this development as a prelude to negotiations to release the two Current TV journalists. Considering how largely responsible his network is for this situation, Al Gore should be on a plane right now.

Now Lee and Ling are bargaining chips in a larger game, tied up in the discussions over North Korea's nuclear tests. The US may add the DPRK back to the list of state sponsors of terrorism, which would add new sanctions, and may try to interdict North Korean ships suspected of carrying nuclear weapons materials (how exactly do they know?), which I think would consign Lee and Ling to that prison camp for a long time. Obviously the US would prefer to have the issues decoupled, but that's hardly possible now.

It's very frustrating to feel like there's nothing to do about this.

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Sunday, June 07, 2009

The Rest Of The Week In Review

As I said, next week's posting should be light. Monday should be a normal schedule, but the rest of the week I'm in Palm Desert soaking up rays. Making it extra-important to rid me of these confounded links beforehand:

• The Washington Post managed to put a story about how Obama's election has energized left-leaning advocacy groups and think tanks and how Obama's election has depressed the Left and out-maneuvered them. The two actually could both be right, but with the latter written by mini-Dowd Dana Milbank, you can pretty easily dismiss it. Jane had a good take. Basically the advocacy groups and think tanks have a bit more money, but they aren't challenging the Administration in a meaningful way, and this reluctance has stunted the growth of the movement, which is more about policy than personality. I expect this to continue through the first year, and I'm actually OK with that. But at some point we can no longer care about the person but the policy.

• That fulcrum point may be the Employee Free Choice Act, and the expectations from labor for its passage. We're seeing squeezing from both ends, with the Change To Win labor coalition targeting wavering Senators from the employer perspective, and a coalition of business leaders ALSO arguing for passage, from the CEO perspective. And at the very least, it looks like we've got Alaska GOPer Don Young, a former Teamster.

• This was a week for optimism in Pakistan, as US officials claimed to have shaken Al Qaeda in the region through drone strikes and Pakistani military pushback, and taunted that the Taliban was falling out of favor in the country after multiple suicide attacks and acts of cruelty. However, let's not break open the champagne just yet. Drone attacks may be hurting Al Qaeda but emboldening the next group of extremists who've seen their civilian families die from airstrikes. And the US-Pakistan relationship will not survive non-stop bombings.

• Throughout the Sotomayor nomination we'll hear a lot about "judicial activism" from conservatives, but it's increasingly clear that they define "judicial activism" to mean "making a ruling I don't like." Because actual activism, like overturning a section of the Voting Rights Act passed consistently by Congress since 1965, causes nary a peep among these people. Witness Stuart Taylor on a different ruling, the Ricci case, which will also require some "activism" on behalf of the judges who vote to overturn it. The whole notion of "activism" is ridiculous.

• James Inhofe thinks he can still slow walk legislation combating climate change, but the profit motive has passed him by: green energy has now passed fossil fuels in terms of attracting private investment. Business has figured out that renewables make environmental and economic sense. Sorry, James.

• Cuba returns to the OAS. The speed of the thawing relations between the US and Cuba does shock me a bit.

• Some good Ezra Klein interviews about health care with Christina Romer on the CEA report and Bernie Sanders on single-payer. I don't have too much to say about them, other than that, as health care legislation ramps up, you all should read Ezra Klein 15 times a day.

• The agreement on common education standards among almost every state in the nation makes some sense to the education community, and I know Arne Duncan wants to bring his reform message across the country, but is he aware of the financial constraints facing local schools these days? Closing 1,000 schools and turning them around is a high-risk, high-reward scenario, and states can't afford it. He also seems to be operating under this delusion that these turnarounds are magic. They really depend on the circumstances.

• So Arlen Specter gives a speech to a group of medical equipment suppliers, and he finishes the speech by openly asking for campaign contributions. Is that at all normal?

• Obama needs to explain his EPA's decision not to block mountaintop mining in coal regions.

• Kim Jong-il's eventual replacement seems just as nutty as his father. He reportedly loves the NBA, so I'm envisioning him as that puppet kid who keeps bothering Kobe and LeBron in the Nike ad.

• This story about the Mayor of San Angelo, Texas falling into a homosexual affair with an undocumented immigrant and leaving the country will break your heart.

• Anyone watching Oprah for the health tips should probably think again. This kind of pop medicine cannot totally be regulated, but really represents a danger to the public interest. Good journalism like this can at least blunt the damage.

• I guess some incompetence doesn't end: "The federal government mistakenly made public a 266-page report, marked “highly confidential,” that gives detailed information about hundreds of nuclear sites and programs."

• According to tobacco-state Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), the mint- and cinnamon-flavored tobacco lollipops marketed in containers that look like cell phones aren't being marketed to children. Of course they aren't! Seniors love sucking candy made by the cigarette companies!

• And in the continuing Silvio Berlusconi chronicles, now there are pictures of topless women at his private villa in Sardinia, in addition to a shot of the former Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek in a state of, um, arousal. I would be disappointed if someone that rich DIDN'T have fun naked parties at his house. And come on, Berlusconi is obviously something of a lecher.



Indiana State Teasurer Harold WATB

Three Indiana pension funds are holding up the sale of Chrysler to Fiat, despite multiple losses in bankruptcy courts. We'll know sometime tomorrow afternoon if they were successful, as the Supreme Court decides whether or not to stay the sale. The Indiana Treasurer uses words like "fiduciary duty" to argue in favor of more compensation for their secured debt:

The appeal heard Friday had been filed by the Indiana funds, which objected to the sale because they sought more compensation for the Chrysler secured debt they hold. A federal bankruptcy court in Manhattan previously approved the sale, which would transfer most of Chrysler’s assets to a newer, healthier company run by a group led by Fiat.

Lawyers for Chrysler and the government argued that the sale to Fiat needed to be completed as quickly as possible to preserve its viability and to save thousands of jobs. Fiat can walk away if no agreement is struck by June 15.
Late Sunday, Judge Arthur J. Gonzalez of United State Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District in New York approved the sale to Fiat, overruling more than 300 objections. On Monday night, he agreed to shorten a customary 10-day stay of the sale to four days, though the Court of Appeals stayed the transaction pending its hearing.

When Chrysler emerges from bankruptcy, a union retiree trust will own 55 percent, Fiat a 20 percent share that could eventually grow to 35 percent and the United States and Canadian governments minority stakes.

Would a collapse of the national auto industry be positive for the state of Indiana? Its pensioners? Furthermore, the Chrysler debt represents less than one percent of the total fund assets. James Kwak explains further:

The pension funds in question bought the Chrysler debt in question last July for 43 cents on the dollar. (They stand to get 29 cents on the dollar in the restructuring.) I guess the difference between that and speculation is that “speculation” is something that bad people do; when pension funds by distressed debt, it’s called “investment.” I have no problem with pension funds buying modest amounts of risky investments, but they are taking the same risks that hedge funds are taking, and if they lose money on bad investments, that’s the fault of the pension fund managers.

Now, the popular defense of the Indiana pension funds is that they have a fiduciary duty to their beneficiaries to maximize the value of their assets. (Hedge funds should have the same duty to their limited partners, unless I’m missing something, but let’s set that aside.) There is a deal on the table worth 29 cents on the dollar. Apparently they think Chrysler can do better by finding a a higher bidder (not likely at this point), or they can get more in liquidation. But that is far from a certainty, and the value of Chrysler is deteriorating as time passes; and if they manage to drag this out past June 15, Fiat can back out of the deal. So it’s not at all clear that their actions have a positive expected value for their beneficiaries.

So what’s going on here? Either (Indiana State Treasurer Richard) Mourdock really thinks that the chances of getting more than 29 cents outweigh the very real risk of getting less (and of blowing up Chrysler in the process). Or Mourdock (and Mitch Daniels, the Republican governor of Indiana?) believes that the order of priority of creditors in bankruptcy is more important than maximizing value for their retirees. Or Mourdock is trying to shift the blame for losing pension fund money on distressed Chrysler debt. Or he wants to score political points and embarrass President Obama.

I think it's the latter. And let's not kid ourselves about this being an example of the "little guy" going up against the big bad gobmint.

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A Quiet Push On Regulation

There are two arguments about why the regulators and the government missed the financial crisis. One, that the regulations were gutted by corporate interests in both parties; two, that the regulators had all the oversight abilities they needed but simply looked the other way. Really it's a combination of both. Legislation like the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, and to an extent Gramm-Leach Bliley, did remove some of the regulations over the banks, certainly the SEC under Chris Cox and the Bush Administration actively resisted enforcement of any kind. So while I do believe we need a regulatory overhaul, simply enforcing the law with existing tools would improve our ability to manage the financial industry and the risk to the greater economy.

Therefore I'm excited to see, for example, Sheila Bair at the FDIC taking on Citigroup.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. is pushing for a shake-up of Citigroup Inc.'s top management, imperiling Chief Executive Vikram Pandit, people familiar with the matter said.

The FDIC, under Chairman Sheila Bair, also recently pressed a fellow regulator to lower the government's confidential ranking of Citi's health -- a change that would let regulators control the firm more tightly.

The FDIC's willingness to take an increasingly tough position toward one of the nation's largest and most troubled financial institutions is setting up a bitter clash between regulators -- some of whom disagree with the FDIC's position.

It's completely within the purview of the FDIC to regulate Citi, and just this threat is enough to keep them and other banks more in line. Meanwhile, with respect to new regulations, the Obama Administration is floating an executive rule to appoint a Special Master for Compensation that would enforce laws passed during TARP:

The Obama administration plans to appoint a "Special Master for Compensation" to ensure that companies receiving federal bailout funds are abiding by executive-pay guidelines, according to people familiar with the matter.

The administration is expected to name Kenneth Feinberg, who oversaw the federal government's compensation fund for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, to act as a pay czar for the Treasury Department, these people said.

Mr. Feinberg's appointment could be announced as early as next week, when the administration is expected to release executive-compensation guidelines for firms receiving aid from the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program. Those companies, which include banks, insurers and auto makers, are subject to a host of compensation restrictions imposed by the Bush and Obama administrations and by Congress.

Wall Street has been anxiously awaiting more details on how the rules will be applied. "The law is confusing and a bit ambiguous, and so we're looking for certainty as to how to structure pay incentives," said Scott Talbott, senior vice president of government affairs for the Financial Services Roundtable, a trade association.

There's an excellent debate to be had over future regulations. But I think that we would be served perfectly just by making sure the laws on the books are enforced.

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Newsmakers 1972

Fox News Sunday opened today with the question "Are we saving the economy or heading toward socialism," (By the way, we're not.) featuring such pearls as Richard Shelby blaming the Obama Administration for legislation passed in the fall of 2008, during, um, the Bush Administration. But I was more interested in one member of the panel, Fred Malek, listed as the head of "Thayer Capital Partners." I knew I'd heard that name before, and David Corn jogged my memory.

It's one of the more gothic stories about Nixon related in Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's The Final Days. As they tell it, late in 1971--the same year, coincidentally, that the Washington Senators moved to Texas and changed their name to the Rangers--Nixon summoned the White House personnel chief, Fred Malek, to his office to discuss a "Jewish cabal" in the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The "cabal," Nixon said, was tilting economic figures to make his Administration look bad. How many Jews were there in the bureau? he wanted to know. Malek reported back on the number, and told the President that the bureau's methods of weighing statistics were normal procedure that had been in use for years.

In 1988, when George Bush pere installed Malek as deputy chairman for the Republican National Committee, Woodward dusted off his notes and, with the Washington Post's Walter Pincus, further revealed that two months after Malek filed a memo on the matter--he'd counted 13 Jews, though his methodology was shaky--a couple of them were demoted. (Malek denied any role and said Nixon's notions of a "Jewish cabal" were "ridiculous" and "nonsense.") The 1988 story raised a predictable ruckus, and Malek beat a hasty retreat from the RNC. As exiles go, Malek's was pretty painless. He still got to run the 1988 Republican Convention (and in 1992 he would be Bush pere's campaign manager). He joined George W. Bush's syndicate to purchase the Rangers, he went on the board of the American-Israel Friendship Society, he took over Northwest Airlines, and he started an investment firm, Thayer Capital Partners.

"Nixon's Jew counter" for some reason never came up on Malek's chyron today.

Malek's just one of those upwards-falling Republicans in Washington. Actually I found the Corn piece because he was discussing Malek's hiring as finance co-chair for the McCain campaign. The DC establishment finds keeping one of these guys going through the revolving doors of power perfectly normal.

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The Votes Aren't There For All Cuts

While Willie Brown reads tea leaves, actual votes are taking place in Sacramento. And the budget conference committee, in the end, rejected cuts to Cal Grants and Hastings College that the Governor requested.

California took a multimillion-dollar step backward Friday in cutting its budget.

Assembly and Senate members in a budget conference committee balked at derailing the Cal Grant program of college aid or stripping Hastings College of the Law of nearly all its state funding.

By rejecting the two proposals by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, however, the committee created a new $235 million headache in its bid to fix a gaping fiscal hole.

The panel is rushing to balance the state's recession-wracked budget by curing a projected $24.3 billion shortfall.

Republicans actually claimed they were against eliminating Cal Grants but wanted to find additional offsets in the budget. But in the end, they voted to get rid of every aid grant for 77,000 low- and middle-income California students who want to attend an institution of higher learning. You would think that the Democrats could do something with that.

With respect to Hastings College, the budget committee averted what could have been a costly disaster.

Schwarzenegger's Hastings proposal would have eliminated about $10.3 million in state funding for the University of California law school, leaving it with only $7,000 in general fund support and $153,000 from lottery revenue.

Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, argued Friday that the cut was much deeper than those targeting other UC programs and would raise Hastings' annual tuition from $28,600 to about $36,600.

Leno said the cut could launch a costly court fight over terms of the law school's creation, which called for Judge S.C. Hastings to donate $100,000 to support the campus – and for the state to pay his heirs that sum, plus interest, if the state ever abandoned its financial support.

Leno said the governor is attempting to "privatize" the law school, and if the Hastings heirs sued, the state could wind up owing more from 130 years of accumulated interest than it could save from its budget-cutting proposal.

Seriously, did anyone in the Governor's office even think about the possibility of paying 130 YEARS' WORTH of accumulated interest on a $100,000 contribution in order to save $10 million, and how those numbers do not compute?

I think you can see where this goes. The conference committee is not nearly in the mood to accept the most extreme of the Governor's proposals - I don't think they'll tell those AIDS activists in the streets that they can no longer get their drugs, for example. And then we'll have a fairly large remaining gap after the committee's work is done. The first pot of money the budget committee will attack will be the absurdly large $4.5 billion reserve in the Governor's plan, essentially ignoring the will of the people not to institute a spending cap and socking away billions of dollars in the middle of a near-depression. After that, we're going to see a big fight. We need to continue to leverage grassroots pressure, wedge Republicans who are starting to waver on a cuts-only approach, and let Democrats know that they must hold the line on things like eliminating welfare and children's health care, and incorporate a majority-vote fee increase to make up the difference. We're already seeing cracks in the rush to shock doctrine California. Let's break it open.

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