Sometimes you just can't take the watch out of the dog.

From Henry Waxman's latest shop comes this letter, delivered to health insurance company execs, requesting financial disclosures on salary, perks, revenues, and expenditures. It begins:

The Committee on Energy and Commerce is examining executive compensation and other business practices in the health insurance industry.

What a grand idea. And they're not just asking for bundled totals, companies need to aggregate claims, revenue, expenses, and total profits for the following sectors: the self-insured employer market, the insured employer market, the individual market, and all government programs they're part of (like Medicare or Medicaid). Which means analysts will get true cost and revenue data over the past four years according to various types of plans. Oooh, a rich dataset to work with, good news for the good guys.

All of Congress' reform proposals include provisions that would close the healthcare reform money gap by increasing taxes in some way, shape, or form. Some proposals are more progressive (House, Obama) than others (Senate, surprise) but under any scenario the yield will be significant: at least $30 billion in revenue per year, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Of course, these proposals have long been considered, and were crafted with the understanding that public coverage (aka, the unfortunately lingoed 'public option') was part of the endgame. There are plenty of liberals, and moneyed ones at that, who would be willing to forgo some of their deductions or otherwise take a significant tax hit in the name of health care reform. But without a public option those tax dollars go not into the public coffers to fund a program that will increase competition and lower costs in the long run, instead they'll go right to insurance companies. This is something rich liberals, and likely key Dem congressmembers, won't go for. If the public option is indeed just a sliver, then insurance companies, who's stock prices soared Monday after the public option became non-essential, are the real winners in all of this. Not the reform anyone had in mind.

 

Sidenote: An interesting parallel argument from James Pethokoukis over at Reuters: the GOP playbook against health care legislation mirrors the Dems battle against Social Security reform efforts in 2005. Messages both times: Reform would leave the elderly at the mercy of the market, and, hey, there isn't really a problem here.

 

From a press release announcing some of the dirty laundry that former DHS secretary Tom Ridge will air in his upcoming memoir:

• How Ridge effectively thwarted a plan to raise the national security alert just before the 2004 Election.

Paul Bedard of US News adds that this was "something he saw as politically motivated and worth resigning over."  Juicy!  The book will be released September 1st.

Joe Klein says the Republican Party has been taken over by "nihilists and hypocrites":

An argument can be made that this is nothing new....There was McCarthyism in the 1950s, the John Birch Society in the 1960s. But there was a difference in those times: the crazies were a faction — often a powerful faction — of the Republican Party, but they didn't run it. The neofascist Father Coughlin had a huge radio audience in the 1930s, but he didn't have the power to control and silence the elected leaders of the party that Limbaugh — who, if not the party's leader, is certainly the most powerful Republican extant — does now. Until recently, the Republican Party contained a strong moderate wing. It was a Republican, the lawyer Joseph Welch, who delivered the coup de grâce to Senator McCarthy when he said, "Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?" Where is the Republican who would dare say that to Rush Limbaugh, who has compared the President of the United States to Adolf Hitler?

Yep.  Both parties have their extreme wings, but the GOP's is not only way deeper into crazy land ("death panels" for them vs a public option for the most liberal Dems), but it's virtually all they have left.  Michele Bachman is pretty much the modal Republican now, not just a fringe nutball.  Conversely, Dennis Kucinich, who's far to the left but perfectly sane and coherent, barely gets the time of day from the mainstream core of the Democratic Party.

I don't actually mind if most or all Republicans vote against healthcare reform.  They're Republicans!  They're opposed to expanded government programs and private sector regulation and new entitlements.  But the death panels and the home nursing inanity and the "healthcare racism" and the town hall screeching and all the rest are the mark of a party that's gone completely off the rails.  They're doomed until they figure out a way to extricate themselves from the Beck/Limbaugh/Fox News axis of hysteria.

The tabs this week are full of juicy political “news.” We read them so you don’t have to. From the August 24 editions:

Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin is this week’s headliner in the Globe, which reports that she and “first dude” Todd Palin are splitsville due to stress over her political success, daughter Bristol’s illegitimate child, and ongoing rumors that Palin had an affair in the mid-1990s. The Globe claims that Palin is “so fed-up with Todd, 44, that she’s thrown her wedding ring away, booted him from her bed and is planning to move with her kids to Montana, where she is said to have purchased land.”  A Palin spokesperson denies all charges. “No divorce. No affairs. No land in Montana. Nothing! All lies and fabrications," she tells the Globe.  (No links, btw. The tabs are strictly paper products.)

The Star also leads with the Palin marriage crisis, observing that after Palin publicly resigned as governor on July 3, she jumped into a waiting SUV and bolted, leaving husband Todd at the curb. “They left me,” Todd reportedly chuckled—a sign, the Star notes, of things to come.  The Star also provides a handy photo chronology of Palin’s bare hands to back up claims that she threw her wedding ring in Lake Lucille shortly after her resignation speech. A photo dated July 26, from Palin’s swearing in of the new governor, shows she still wasn’t wearing it three weeks later.
 

Fixing the World

Bloomberg reports on the upcoming central banker pow-wow:

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and fellow central bankers gathering in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, are showing scant signs of reprising the coordinated stance they took fighting the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression as they deal with its aftermath.

....Bernanke, 55, and other policy makers, who meet on Aug. 20-22, are already staking out differing positions as they gain traction in their battle against a crisis that has cost financial companies worldwide about $1.6 trillion in writedowns and losses.....“What you would hope to happen is much better coordination internationally,” [Mohamed] El-Erian said. “What’s likely to happen, however, is that national interests are going to dominate.”

Well, so much for Ben Bernanke being greeted as a conquering hero.  Either that or else conquering hero-hood just isn't what it used to be.

Credible Threats

Via ActBlue, Blue America has raised nearly $200,000 for members of Congress who have pledged to vote against any bill that doesn't contain a public option.  Pretty impressive.  If push comes to shove, and the choice is no bill vs. a bill without a public option, I sort of hope these guys all break their word and vote for it anyway.  (Or at least enough of them, anyway.)  But my preferences aside, this is a pretty good way of solving a big problem for the public option supporters: how do you make a threat to vote No credible when everyone knows liberals are champing at the bit to pass healthcare reform?  Well, this is one way.  It's a lot harder to make a U-turn and vote Yes after taking a very public stand against it and then accepting a bunch of activist money based on giving your word to stand firm.1

1Which isn't to say they won't do it anyway.  These are politicians, after all, and thus capable of just about anything.  But it's definitely harder.

UPDATE: Ezra Klein says my email explanation of the point I was making was much clearer than my actual post.  So here it is:

The Blue America money helps make the promise to vote against any bill without a public option more credible.  Right now, no one believes it.  Everybody thinks that, in the end, liberals will cave and vote for it regardless.  But with this money in place, which is going to people on condition that they vote against any bill without a public option, it makes it genuinely hard for them to turn around and vote Yes after all.  It helps turn a meaningless threat into a credible one.

CORRECTION: This money was raised by Blue America.  ActBlue is just the conduit.  The text has been corrected to reflect this.

Today, U.S. News and World Report released its 2010 college rankings. A few things have changed since last year: Harvard now shares first place with Princeton on the magazine's national universities list. And while on last year's liberal arts list Williams and Amherst tied for first place, now Williams is number one and Amherst is number two. Overall, though, the same old usual-suspect schools represented in the top tens.

Another thing that hasn't changed much: relatively low participation in the repuation survey. Inside Higher Ed reports:

U.S. News said that 48 percent of all institutions responded to the reputation survey that can be filled out by presidents, provosts, admissions deans or others and that counts for the largest portion of formula used in the rankings. That's up two percentage points from last year. Among liberal arts institutions, this year's 46 percent participation was also up two points. In both cases, these upticks still don't make up for a lot of lost ground -- just a few years ago the national participation rate was 67 percent.

That drop in participation from a few years back reflects some growing uneasiness with the survey, which accounts for 25 percent of a school's overall score, and as I said yesterday, is not exactly scientific. Which brings me to my next point: The completely unscientific, very first MoJo Mini College Guide. The ten schools on our list are a diverse bunch—public and private; collleges and universities; religious and secular; urban and rural. They may not juke their stats to improve their USNWR rankings, but here's what they do have: good values and good value. See which schools made our cut—and nominate your alma mater for next year's edition—here.

Also part of the MoJo Mini College Guide: The first annual Hellraiser Awards honor the year’s best feats of student activism. These cool jobs don't require a piece of sheepskin—but do pay the bills. And speaking of cold hard cash, turns out there’s a scholarship out there for every kind of student, from hard-core Trekkies to duct tape artists.
 

Ensign: IOKIYAR

Senator John Ensign says his sleazy recent affair wasn't nearly as bad as Bill Clinton's blow jobs in the Oval Office:

"I haven't done anything legally wrong," the Nevada Republican told the Associated Press in an interview. "President Clinton stood right before the American people and he lied to the American people," Ensign said. "You remember that famous day he lied to the American people, plus the fact I thought he committed perjury. That's why I voted for the articles of impeachment."

There you have it.  Ensign may have carried on with with a friend's wife for months, leaving their family in shambles, and he may have then bribed them to stay quiet in small chunks deliberately designed to evade IRS rules, but by God he didn't lie to the American people.  So that's OK.

Is that what those silencers were for? The big news today is that the CIA outsourced a program to assassinate Al Qaeda operatives—the program Leon Panetta was in such a hurry to brief the congressional intel committees on—to Blackwater. The program was never fully operational, but when it was brought to the attention of Panetta in June, CIA officials were proposing to take this operation to the next level and begin training assassination teams, the Washington Post reported in July. Panetta promptly shut the program down. According the New York Times' Mark Mazzetti, who broke the story of Blackwater's involvement, the private security company's role in the program "was a major reason" that Panetta "became alarmed" and proceeded directly to the Hill to come clean.

At this point, Blackwater's precise role in the abandoned assassination program is a bit hazy—and it's likely to remain that way since the operation never actually got off the ground. Mazzetti reports that the company "helped the spy agency with planning, training and surveillance" and says "it is unclear whether the C.I.A. had planned to use the contractors to actually capture or kill Qaeda operatives." The Post, which advanced the story a bit further today, reports that Blackwater was in fact "given operational responsibility for targeting terrorist commanders and was awarded millions of dollars for training and weaponry."

The enormous oversight and accountability implications of outsourcing this type of covert op to the private sector are evident, so why would CIA officials even entertain this notion in the first place? The answer is buried in the Post story: apparently it had everything to do with Blackwater's revolving door relationship with the CIA (among other government agencies).

The program was initially managed by the CIA's counterterrorism center, but its functions were partly transferred to Blackwater when key officials from the center retired from the CIA and went to work for the private contractor.