Quick Hits

A few items making news and worth a read.

Sharron Angle is dead, the trend is inescapable and the race’s dynamic is fundamentally altered writes Jon Ralston in the Las Vegas Sun.

The Boston Globe reports that the Massachusetts state Legislature is poised to give final approval this week to a new law intended to bypass the Electoral College system and ensure that the winner of the presidential election is determined by the national popular vote.

The world's oceans have for too long been a dumping ground and are clearly in trouble. In an effort to make sense of of the dozens of US laws and overlapping agencies governing policy on oceans, coasts and the Great Lakes, John Holden, the White House Science Advisor, announced that it was forming a new National Ocean Council. The new body, which will include 24 officials from various federal agencies, will not have the power to propose new laws or regulations. Rather it will set broad policy goals and try to referee between conflicting commercial and recreational uses of the nation’s aquatic resources. By signing an Executive Order establishing a National Policy for the Stewardship of the Ocean, Coasts, and Great Lakes, President Obama strengthens ocean governance and coordination, establishes guiding principles for ocean management, and adopts a flexible framework for effective coastal and marine spatial planning to address conservation, economic activity, user conflict, and sustainable use of the ocean, our coasts and the Great Lakes. More from the New York Times.

In a related story, new research from the National Center for Atmospheric Research suggests that climate change is already causing even greater sea level rise along the coastlines of the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea, Sri Lanka, Sumatra and Java—coastlines inhabited by hundreds of millions of people. The same climate change is also responsible for falling sea levels around the Seychelles and a potential weakening of the monsoons. A podcast from Scientific American.

Staying on global warming related topics, Federal officials noted last week that they fear an outbreak of dengue fever in Florida after a survey of Key West residents found that at least 5% had been infected or exposed to the virus. With the exception of a handful of isolated cases along the Texas-Mexico border, there had previously been no cases in the continental United States since 1946 and no outbreak in Florida since 1934. I have had dengue fever twice, once after a trip to the Chocó rainforest and a second time after a trip to Belize. The incubation period takes two weeks, I'd expect to see increased reports of dengue fever in the press the next few weeks. The virus produces high fever and a sensation that your bones are breaking apart. 

Matt Taibbi writes on the shenanigans surrounding a vote on Senator Bernie Sanders' proposal in the Senate to put a 15 percent cap on credit-card interest. Another Senate Charade highlights how Colorado Senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall initially voted "no" but change their votes once it became clear the measure was headed for defeat allowing the Senators to claim that they stood for consumer protection.

Vice President Biden sung the praises of Speaker Nancy Pelosi today while at a fundraiser for Bryan Lentz, who is running to replace Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) who is now running for the Senate. Biden called the Speaker from San Francisco the “most powerful person in U.S. politics.” In what's likely to add to the catalogue of the quotable Biden, the Vice President said that “the single most successful, the single most persuasive, the single most strategic leader I have ever worked with is Nancy Pelosi,” before adding that "Nancy, you are the mother of healthcare.” The full story at The Hill.


The Majority versus the "Majority Makers"

The Hill is reporting that the Speaker of House Nancy Pelosi is expected to unveil a health overhaul bill tomorrow, Thursday, that includes the public health insurance option favored by the party's centrists, the so-called Blue Dogs, and not the Medicare-plus-5 percent public option being pushed by the House's progressive caucus.

Pelosi (D-Calif.) will introduce a plan similar to what a group of Blue Dog Democrats negotiated in July to get a healthcare bill out of the Energy and Commerce Committee. The proposal calls for the officials who run the public plan to negotiate rates individually with physicians and hospitals.

"It looks like that's what it will be," Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) said Wednesday night after leaving a meeting where leaders laid out the bill to those Democrats in their second term in Congress. Pelosi calls them the "majority makers" because their election gave Democrats control of the House.

Pelosi has made it clear she personally supports the so-called "robust" public option that is tied to Medicare-based payment rates, as does a solid majority of the 256 House Democrats. But it has become apparent in recent days that such an option doesn't have the 218 votes she needs to pass it with no Republican support.

Liberals have noted that while it's clear their version doesn't have the votes, there hasn't been a full vote count on the centrist compromise. Winning with negotiated rates assumes that House liberals wouldn't dare block President Barack Obama's signature health initiative.

Or will they? That looks increasingly like the million dollar question. "I am not rolling over," said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

"I will insist on a Medicare-plus-5 [percent] amendment on the floor so that the full caucus can vote on it. We are hopeful that the Rules Committee will allow this amendment, which has tremendous public support, to be voted on for the record."

Meanwhile the other co-chair of the Progressive Caucus Representative Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), said: "When we see what the bill says, we'll decide if we can support it."

Woolsey added that while Progressives don't intend to sign off on just anything that's handed to them, "this isn't walk-away time." She called on President Barack Obama to speak up in support of the public plan.

“He’s not saying it loud enough,” she said.

My own take is that we are Democrats for a reason. Part of that reason is that a robust public option that ultimately leads to a single-payer system is in the best interests of the nation. While I am appreciative of the role that the "majority makers" have played in giving the party control of the House, now is not the time to dilute long-held core principles of the Democratic party. This is about who we are as a people.

In this light Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich gets it right. Late on Wednesday Representative Kucinich put out a press release complaining that Democrats were compromising too much and warned that more compromises in the final bill would water the plan down ever more.

Congressman Kucinich noted that the Progressive Caucus has already compromised on single payer by backing a public option, and now we are being asked to compromise the public option with negotiated rates." He goes to warn that "in conference, we will likely be asked to compromise negotiated rates with a trigger. In each and every step of the health care debate, the insurance companies have won. If they get hundreds of billions of dollars in new taxpayer subsidies, they get to raise their premiums, and increase their co pays and deductibles, while the public is forced to pay for private insurance, then the insurance companies win big."

“If this is the best we can do, then it is time to ask ourselves whether the two-party system is truly capable of representing the American people or whether they system has been so compromised by special interests that we can’t even protect the health of our own people,” Kucinich said. “This is a moment of truth for the Democratic Party. Will we stand for the people or the insurance companies?”

Indeed that is the question.

There's more...

Without the GOP is Just Fine

Perhaps the Democratic Party is capable of learning from its past mistakes. Perhaps the leadership has finally realized that they do have a mandate to enact health care reform that includes a public option and that the hour is both late and urgent. Perhaps they merely learned how to count and maintain party discipline. Or perhaps they have (re)discovered that one of the guiding principles of the Democratic Party for more than sixty years has been enacting universal and affordable health care. And while there is no doubt that having Republican support to pass health care reform this year is preferable, trying to placate the implacable is poor politics.

In this light, the Speaker of the House seems to get it. From The Hill:

While Democrats are still hopeful to attract Republican support for their health care reform bill, they're committed to bringing it up for a vote "with our without" GOP votes, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Wednesday.

Pelosi said the "short answer" was yes when asked if she'd commit to bringing up the House's health care reform bill regardless of Republicans' position on the package.

"While we believe that our bill is the best path to quality, affordable health care for all Americans and would hope that our Republican colleagues would share that goal," Pelosi said in a web chat with the liberal blog Crooks and Liars, "we will pass a comprehensive bill with a robust public plan in the House with or without Republican support."

This is precisely the attitude that is needed. With or without. Frankly, I'd like to see how Republican members of Congress explain to their constituents why they opposed enacting legislation that will save lives and reduce health care costs.

There's more...

Whatever Happened to AIPAC Jane?

Oh this AIPAC Jane saga just gets better and better, well, unless you're AIPAC Jane. Who knew she harbored hopes of an Ambassadorship? I'd send her to Lesotho in a heart beat in the hopes of you know getting a real Democrat to represent the California 36th Congressional District but what did Lesotho ever do to us to deserve such a shrill?

From the New York Times:

Speaker Nancy Pelosi acknowledged for the first time on Wednesday that she had been briefed by the Bush administration "maybe three years ago" that Representative Jane Harman, Democrat of California, had been picked up on a wiretapped phone conversation as part of a government investigation.

Ms. Pelosi said she had been barred from telling Ms. Harman about the recorded call.

She also said Ms. Harman was apparently not a target of the surveillance, and insisted that the incident did not factor in her decision to deny her colleague the top post on the House Intelligence Committee after Democrats won the majority in 2006.

That decision is still a source of friction between the two Californians, who are both powerful and wealthy women, and yet in other ways as different as the districts they represent. Ms. Pelosi's district covers most of San Francisco, while Ms. Harman represents parts of the West Side of Los Angeles and beach areas to the south.

Their tussle over the committee post was back in the spotlight this week after reports that Ms. Harman had been secretly recorded agreeing to intercede on behalf of pro-Israel lobbyists, who were under investigation for violations of the Espionage Act, in exchange for help in pressing Ms. Pelosi to give her the intelligence job.

While the two women do not display overt hostility, Ms. Harman seems to have never quite gotten over the slight. Colleagues say that since Ms. Pelosi, 69, thwarted her ambitions for a more prominent role on security issues, Ms. Harman, 63, has grown weary of Congress and has been eyeing a post in the Obama administration, perhaps as an ambassador.

Those hopes may be clouded by revelations about the taped call. Ms. Harman has forcefully denied the accusation that she offered to aid the operatives for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, known as Aipac.

While Speaker Pelosi suggests that AIPAC Jane wasn't the target of the surveillance but in 2005 the FBI was in fact investigating whether AIPAC Jane, an outspoken supporter of Israel, may have improperly influenced an ongoing Justice Department probe of AIPAC. In October 2006, AIPAC Jane dismissed the investigation as "laughable" yet here we are again and I am pretty sure no one is laughing even if the amusement factor is quite high.

Even more bizarre, if that's the right word, according to David Corn over at Mother Jones who finds that former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez isn't exactly denying the most recent allegations against him, that is that he killed the FBI inquiry because AIPAC Jane, then the ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee, could help the Bush administration defend its use of warrantless wiretaps. Quid quo pros galore. In Washington of all places.

I think it fair to note that Jane Harman is a player, a heavy hitter in Washington politics and even if I find her brand of blue dog politics less than savory, it doesn't bring much satisfaction asking whatever happened to AIPAC Jane. Or does it?

There's more...

Investigate Torture

The liberal advocacy group MoveOn.org is to release this 30 second spot calling on Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate how the Bush Administration arrived at the decision to institute torture as an instrument of state policy.

In addition House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is pressing the case for the creation of a special "truth commission" to investigate the interrogation of terror suspects during the Bush administration. While several House committees already are examining the issue, the Speaker suggested "it might be further useful to have such a commission so that it removes all doubt that how we protect the American people is in a values-based way."

The San Francisco Democrat said she is open to holding potential witnesses, including former government officials, harmless from prosecution for cooperating with the commission, but only in a limited way. "I don't think you take immunity off the table," she said, suggested immunity could encourage cooperation. But Speaker Pelosi stressed immunity "should not be granted in a blanket way."

There's more...


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