Leader People, watch this. Listen. Try it.

Then do the right thing at Copenhagen. It's all a dance: diplomacy, negotiations, compromise, agreement.

But first you gotta get on the dance floor.



David Corn and Susan Page joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss the murky origins and potential motivations of the leak of Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry's cables cautioning against a troop increase in Afghanistan.

If you didn't watch Mother Jones' D.C. Bureau Chief David Corn duke it out with Ed Schultz on MSNBC's The Ed Show yesterday, be sure to catch him on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos on Sunday.

He'll be appearing with other powerhouse panelists Bob Woodward, Gwen Ifill, George Will, and David Brooks. Topics include: the Justice Department’s Guantanamo decision, Sarah Palin’s new book, and the latest on the Fort Hood shooting. (And who knows, maybe Lou Dobbs' name might even come up.) Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani will also be appearing. Should be an interesting conversation.

This Week airs at 10 a.m. Eastern, 9 Central, 7 Pacific. Sleepy West Coasters in need a few extra hours of shut-eye can also catch the show when it's posted online.

For more updates on David Corn's TV appearances, follow @DavidCornDC on Twitter. Happy weekend, MoJo readers!

First we bailed out the teetering Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs; then we had to watch this behemoth firm, flush with taxpayer funds,  recoup its losses and plan more big bonuses, while one in ten Americans is jobless. Now we learn, via Huffington Post, of Goldman’s dispassionate analysis of which health care reform scenario stands to make its clients the most money. Best bet, says Goldman, is to jettison reform altogether and watch insurance stocks rise 59 percent. And if that can’t happen, they should hope for the weakest bill possible.

This, folks, is how power really operates in this country. While the rest of us suckers, who cling to the notion that we still live in a democracy, are dutifully calling our members of Congress about health care reform, the movers and shakers are calling their brokers. And when they’ve done that, they make another campaign contribution or send another lobbyist to the Hill. Is it any wonder that we can’t seem to get a decent bill passed?

Today is cat overload day.  For starters, we have exclusive rare footage of Domino playing with a shoe.  I've cleverly titled it "Domino and the Shoe."  And not just any shoe, either.  This one is a nice smelly shoe freshly tossed off a human foot at the end of a long workday.  I don't know what it is about human foot smell that drives cats crazy, but smelly shoes are like catnip to them.  Weird.  In any case, be sure to watch the whole thing so you don't miss Domino's grand finale at the end.

But that's not all!  Two weeks ago, we asked you to vote for your favorite Mother Jones climate cat covers — and to add your own to the meow mix. The results were overwhelming — a cascade of cat covers. Four of the original contestants tied for first place, and I've chosen another eleven for our final cat-off.  A flickr gallery of all the entrants is below, and you can see — and vote for — the final 15 contenders here.

So click here and vote! May the best cat win.

Gregory Craig, the White House counsel, is on his way out. Bob Bauer, the president's personal lawyer, will be taking Craig's place. Bauer, interestingly, is considered an expert in campaign finance law. That's good, because Bauer will need to deal with the fallout when the Supreme Court implodes campaign finance law sometime in the next few months, a senior administration official tells Marc Ambinder. (The relevant case is Citizens United v. FEC, which could open the floodgates for unlimited corporate spending in federal elections.) Here's what the official told Ambinder:

[Bauer's] expertise in election law isn't just relevant so we can write great briefs in litigation. As we enter 2010, having clear rules of the road on what the White House and its staff can and cannot do to help Democratic candidates will become a critical aspect of the White House Counsel's job—and there's no lawyer in America who knows that better than Bob. Such skill is even more critical as we approach 2012—and—here's the wild card—if the Supreme Court does major violence to the campaign finance regulation regime (as most observers expect by June), then deciding how to try to rewrite those laws, or what to do in the wild west regime that will replace current law, will be a critical task.  And who better to have on point than Bob Bauer.

Campaign finance reformers have been trying to promote the idea that an adverse decision in Citizens United might ultimately help their cause—because the resulting deluge of corporate money in elections could create momentum for reform. Until now, that seemed a bit like whistling past the graveyard. But if the administration is already considering "how to rewrite" campaign finance laws in the event that the Supreme Court opens the floodgates, maybe reformers are on to something after all.

Fred Kaplan tries to read the tea leaves in Afghanistan today.  Why is President Obama taking so long to decide on a strategy, and what is that strategy likely to be?

Counterinsurgency involves protecting the local population from insurgency groups, so that the national government is better able to provide basic services, thus winning popular support and undermining the insurgents' appeal. If the government is particularly corrupt or incompetent, it won't be able to build on the security wrought by a good counterinsurgency campaign, thus nullifying our success and sacrifice.

....Some advocates of the strategy have cautioned that counterinsurgency campaigns take years, even decades, to bear fruit....In the meantime, Obama told [Jake] Tapper that he and his advisers "are identifying not just a national government in Kabul but provincial government actors that have legitimacy in the right now."

This suggests that Obama is seeking ways to go around the central government — striking separate deals with provincial leaders or providing more or less intensive levels of support — if Karzai proves to be a feeble partner in our counterinsurgency campaign. Or it might suggest one way to exert leverage over Karzai — to make clear that we will empower regional players, and thus weaken his own standing, if he doesn't clean up his act, thus making his regime more legitimate in the eyes of his people and therefore better able to beat the Taliban in the competition for hearts and minds.

That's....plausible.  Obama likes the counterinsurgency approach, but without a credible government to back it up, it won't work.  Solution: find another government to work with. Make deals with tribal and provincial leaders instead of Hamid Karzai.  So he's asking his team to figure out if there's any chance of making that work.

It's an interesting thought.  Especially for a president trying to convince the country that his policy in Afghanistan is still reality based.

Abortion Politics

Roughly speaking, the Stupak amendment is simple: it says that anyone receiving a federal subsidy can't buy healthcare insurance that includes abortion coverage.  There's a bit more, but that's the piece that's causing most of the backlash from pro-choice forces.

But as bad as that is, there's a fear that it might be even worse than it sounds.  Anyone who gets a federal subsidy to buy private healthcare insurance is required to buy a policy through the "exchange," but not everyone who buys through the exchange gets a federal subsidy.  So what if insurance companies decide it's too much trouble to offer multiple options, and simply remove abortion coverage from every policy offered through the exchange, regardless of how it's paid for?  Ezra Klein:

If health-care reform began with huge exchanges, in which only a small portion of the participants were on subsidies and the Stupak amendment only applied to a fraction of the market, insurers would probably offer mostly policies that included abortion coverage. In reality, almost 90 percent of the population on the exchanges will be subsidized, so there is no real market for insurers to present a policy that covers abortion. That presents a much bigger problem.

The exchanges are not likely to stay small. They will gradually add larger and larger employers....Over time, that could mean that the norm becomes an insurance market that doesn't cover abortion as opposed to an insurance market that does....If it sets the standards for the exchanges and the exchanges eventually become the standard for the whole insurance market, then the Stupak amendment could transform coverage for not just poor women, but all women.

But here's my question: how much trouble is it, really, for insurance companies to offer two different policies that are identical except for their abortion coverage?  Not much, I'd guess.  As one data point, the Republican National Committee was embarrassed recently when reporters found out that their group health policy included abortion coverage.  Here's Politico on the RNC's response:

According to several Cigna employees, the insurer offers its customers the opportunity to opt out of abortion coverage — and the RNC did not choose to opt out.

....“We were not aware of this, obviously, and this will, of course, be fixed,” said James Bopp Jr., a Republican National Committeeman from Indiana. “I think Chairman Steele will see to it that that’s the case.”

So with Cigna, anyway, they already have separate insurance policies because that's what the market wants.  I'll bet other insurance carriers do the same, and that means that offering multiple options on the exchange is no trouble at all.  They already have them, there's no reason not to offer both, and even a modest amount of public pressure will almost certainly be enough to make sure of it.

I'd be happiest if the Stupak amendment were removed entirely in conference, but failing that, it wouldn't be much trouble to add language requiring insurers to offer both kinds of policy on the exchange.  Ditto for language ensuring that the amendment isn't interpreted to mean that small businesses getting federal subsidies are prohibited from opting to include abortion coverage if they want to.  If it's really true that the Stupak bloc in the House merely wants to replicate current restrictions on federal funding of abortions, they shouldn't have a problem with this.

And on a slightly different topic, I'll add this: I sure wish that overall subsidy levels in the current healthcare bills produced the same kind of uproar as abortion and the public option.  In terms of real-world effect on real-world people, subsidies are the biggest issue by a mile.  But not a very sexy issue, apparently.  That's too bad.

Security Theater

Bruce Schneier on security theater vs. real security in an age of terrorism:

Security theater refers to security measures that make people feel more secure without doing anything to actually improve their security. An example: the photo ID checks that have sprung up in office buildings. No-one has ever explained why verifying that someone has a photo ID provides any actual security, but it looks like security to have a uniformed guard-for-hire looking at ID cards.

....Security is both a feeling and a reality. The propensity for security theater comes from the interplay between the public and its leaders. When people are scared, they need something done that will make them feel safe, even if it doesn't truly make them safer. Politicians naturally want to do something in response to crisis, even if that something doesn't make any sense.

....Unfortunately for politicians, the security measures that work are largely invisible. Such measures include enhancing the intelligence-gathering abilities of the secret services, hiring cultural experts and Arabic translators, building bridges with Islamic communities both nationally and internationally, funding police capabilities — both investigative arms to prevent terrorist attacks, and emergency communications systems for after attacks occur — and arresting terrorist plotters without media fanfare. They do not include expansive new police or spying laws. Our police don't need any new laws to deal with terrorism; rather, they need apolitical funding. These security measures don't make good television, and they don't help, come re-election time. But they work, addressing the reality of security instead of the feeling.

The arrest of the "liquid bombers" in London is an example: they were caught through old-fashioned intelligence and police work. Their choice of target (airplanes) and tactic (liquid explosives) didn't matter; they would have been arrested regardless.

The whole thing is worth a read, and I'm glad Bruce included the last two paragraphs in the excerpt above.  A common problem with essays and articles about security is that they spend mountains of time criticizing pretty much everything the government has done in the years since 9/11, but precious little time explaining what should be done.  Even in this essay, Bruce only spends a few sentences on concrete suggestions.  But we really need more of that.  Like it or not, the public is always going to demand a response to terrorist events, and politicians being what they are, they're going to provide one.  It's up to security experts to figure out a way to make effective responses compelling enough that they become serious alternatives to security theater.

In fact, I'd like to see an entire long essay on exactly that point.  Bruce has made a pretty good start with this one.

Former AIG chairman Maurice "Hank" Greenberg paid a visit to the Federalist Society at the right-wing legal group's annual Washington meeting Friday. And the man who spent 27 years at the helm of the insurance giant that nearly brought down the entire American financial system was as unrepentant as ever about any role he might have played in the crisis. On hand (er, phone, actually) as part of a panel discussion on the Wall Street bailout, Greenberg devoted the bulk of his time painting AIG as a victim of government incompetence and favoritism.

By his telling, the government has given AIG pretty shoddy treatment since it first loaned the company $85 billion and took an 80 percent share. Observing that the government doesn't do a very good job of running companies—witness the Post Office—he said he was "puzzled" by how the bailout terms became so punitive and why the government wasn't more interested in helping the company get back on its feet. He wondered how federal officials decided to stick it to AIG and not other companies that then got propped up with money funneled through AIG. "Why is one institution going to be liquidated while others have been guaranteed?" he asked.

To that end, Greenberg advocated the creation of a commission made up of "prominent Americans" (i.e., not members of Congress) who would have subpoena authority and get to the bottom of some of these lingering questions. Greenberg insisted that when AIG was bailed out, the "insurance entities of AIG were very solid," a "national asset." (No matter that back in March, AIG itself told the Treasury Department that it needed even more federal funds because of problems with its life insurance sector, not because of the disasterous credit default swaps coming out of its now-infamous financial products division.) In Greenberg's view, if the government had simply provided guarantees for all those credit default swaps, it would have restored liquidity and there would have been no need to take over the company.

But if the industry lion was hoping for a sympathetic ear from the conservative lawyers assembled in the Mayflower Hotel ballroom, Greenberg must have been sorely disappointed. During the question period, a law student from Washington and Lee got up and demanded to know why AIG deserved any government aid given the way it had behaved and allegations that it had illegally tried to squash competitors. Greenberg said AIG had never been found guilty of anti-trust violations but he conceded that "I happen to agree that bankruptcy might have been a better outcome for everyone." Mostly, though, he stuck to his talking points about AIG as a victim of government caprice and his deisre to learn just who picked the winners and losers in the bailout.

Greenberg has good reason to want the government to work harder to restore AIG to its former greatness rather than sell off its assets. When the company collapsed, he lost the bulk of his vast fortune along with it. Even though he left in 2005, under a cloud of fraud charges, Greenberg was still AIG's largest shareholder when it went down. Presumably he still owns a few of those almost-worthless shares in the company. Still, his Wall Street mindset still prevails. In response to a lawyer's question about whether executive pay limits might be a good idea, Greeberg thought it would be impossible to run a successful company paying people only a measly $200,000 a year, as has been proposed by the Obama administration's "pay czar."

At the end, I asked Greenberg whether he had any remorse or regret about the role that his company played in wrecking the economy. "No," he declared. "I think we had a very good record." And when I asked whether in retrospect there was anything he might have done differently that might have prevented the current financial disaster, Greenberg stuck with his usual defense: It didn't happen on his watch. He claimed that the riskiest activity at AIG took place in the seven months after he departed. "I can't be responsible for what happened after I left," he said.