David Corn and Michael Isikoff joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss Liz Cheney and William Kristol's new political organization and how the Obama administration will respond.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

As the adage says, if you're a friend to everyone, you're a friend to no one. This seemed to be confirmed Monday when Fatah, the moderate Palestinian political party that controls the West Bank, distributed a memo saying that its support for President Obama "evaporated" after he bent to pressure from the Zionist lobby. But since Obama also drew Israeli criticism in June for opposing Israel's construction of settlements in Palestinian territories in a Cairo speech, the Fatah statement comes as a surprise. The dominance of the hard-line American Israel lobby has receded in recent years and President Obama is widely seen as more supportive of the Palestinian Authority than his predecessors. So why the ire?

Upon closer examination, Fatah's statement says more about Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' political capital than it does about Obama's leadership. As the AP writes, it is unclear whether Abbas was even involved with the memo:

The memo comes at a time of turmoil within Fatah after Abbas quickly reversed a decision to suspend efforts to bring Israel before a U.N. war crimes tribunal in connection with the Gaza war.
The document, dated Oct. 12, was issued by Fatah's Office of Mobilization and Organization. The office is headed by the party's No. 2, Mohammed Ghneim.
It was not immediately clear whether the document reflects Abbas' views or whether it was leaked to pressure Obama to bear down harder on Israel. Abbas' aides had no comment and Ghneim could not immediately be reached for comment.

Taxing and Spending

Conservative apostate Bruce Bartlett explains why he became an apostate:

During the George W. Bush years [supply side economics] became distorted into something that is, frankly, nuts — the ideas that there is no economic problem that cannot be cured with more and bigger tax cuts, that all tax cuts are equally beneficial, and that all tax cuts raise revenue....As a consequence, we now have a tax code riddled with tax credits and other tax schemes of dubious merit, expiring provisions that never expire, and an income tax that fully exempts almost on half of tax filers from paying even a penny to support the general operations of the federal government.

Indeed, by destroying the balanced budget constraint, starve-the-beast theory actually opened the flood gates of spending. As I explained in a recent column, a key reason why deficits restrained spending in the past is because they led to politically unpopular tax increases. But if, as Republicans now maintain, taxes must never be increased at any time for any reason then there is never any political cost to raising spending and cutting taxes at the same time, as the Bush 43 administration and a Republican Congress did year after year.

The supply-siders are to a large extent responsible for this mess, myself included. We opened Pandora's Box when we got the Republican Party to abandon the balanced budget as its signature economic policy and adopt tax cuts as its raison d'être. In particular, the idea that tax cuts will "starve the beast" and automatically shrink the size of government is extremely pernicious.

In most countries, there's sort of a natural cycle to politics.  For a while, voters elect liberals who promise lots of goodies but also raise taxes.  People like the goodies, but eventually get tired of the taxes, and throw the bums out.  Conservatives then take office promising to cut taxes and restrain spending growth.  People like the low taxes, but eventually they get itchy for more goodies so they throw the bums out.  Rinse and repeat.

Whether deliberately or not, Reagan and the supply siders killed this cycle.  They decided they could stay in office forever by cutting taxes and increasing spending, thus pleasing everyone.  It even worked for a while.  In the ensuing 28 years Republicans held the presidency most of the time and controlled Congress for much of the rest.

But eventually the piper has to be paid.  We still haven't quite come to grips with that, but we can't avoid it too much longer.  Either we (a) slash government spending in ways that the public quite plainly isn't willing to do, (b) raise taxes in ways that the public isn't yet willing to do, or (c) allow the rest of the world to do it for us.  I used to be more optimistic about the possibility of avoiding (c), but lately I've begun to wonder.  I've read more than a few pronouncements over the past couple of years about the death of the tax revolt — I think I've even written a few myself — but I have to admit that it's not really looking all that dead these days.  Not here in California, anyway.

On the other hand, Italy hasn't collapsed yet, and we're still several years away from being as bad off as they are, so we've got time.  Maybe we'll come to our senses sometime in Obama's second term.  Maybe.

Another Day, Another Two Solar Steps in California

It seems like every week there's another photo op for California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signing a new solar power bill, preparing to plunge a shovel into the earth at the groundbreaking ceremony for a new PV plant or standing on a rooftop, surveying a new solar array.

This week was no exception. On Sunday night, the Governator signed two new solar bills into law.

Snowe Votes Yes

Bizarrely enough, the most important person in the galaxy right now appears to be Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine.  And apparently Snowe has come through, announcing that she'll vote for healthcare reform.  "When history calls, history calls," she said.

And with that, my forecast for healthcare reform, which has already increased from 60% to 70% to 75%, now goes to about 90%.  There are still plenty of details to fight over, but Snowe's decision makes success of some kind far more likely than not.

Shut Up!

Disagreements about healthcare policy or cap-and-trade emission auctioning are all well and good, but if we're going to yell at each other about something, shouldn't we yell about TV ads that yell back at us?  Over at his blog, Berin Szoka provides a libertarian laundry list of reasons why the government shouldn't enact rules that regulate the audio volume of TV commercials.  Here's one of them:

I understand that most users probably do wish that commercials probably weren’t so loud. But, this very fact, combined with the ease with which users can now skip all commercials (36% of U.S. homes have a DVR), creates a pretty powerful incentive for the TV industry to self-regulate the volume level of advertising. “Noisy or strident” advertising is just another example of the “tragedy of the commons” at work: Absent any rules, every individual advertiser has an incentive to jack up the volume in order to attract attention, and doing so will probably work up to a certain point of increased annoyance by the user. But collectively, such ads hurt all advertisers because they increase ad blindness, ad deafness, and/or outright commercial skipping.

The same dynamic plays out on the Internet, where flashing, blinking, bouncing, strobing dancing ads really drive users nuts and make them turn to tools like AdBlock Plus and Flashblock — which is why ad networks like Google have policies that implement their own “time, place and manner” rules out of pure self-interest. Such rules are useful and valuable. They benefit advertisers, consumers and the ad network alike, because there exists a basic harmony of interests between them: annoying ads don’t really benefit anyone in the long-term.  Do we really want government bureaucrats making these decisions instead?

Yes.  Yes I do.  You see, blaring TV commercials have been an obvious and fixable problem for several decades and no "basic harmony of interests" has yet manifested itself.1  This suggests to me that it never will unless the industry is pressured into doing it.  Plus there's this: the industry has been promising to enact voluntary standards off and on for years, but oddly enough, they never seem to make any progress unless Congress starts making threatening noises about doing it for them.  Since I expect this state of affairs to last approximately forever, I would be delighted to see Congress call their bluff and just pass a bill setting out some reasonable standards.

This comes via Peter Suderman, who agrees with Szoka and is therefore now my sworn enemy.2  Nothing personal, of course, just business.  However, I did learn something new from him.  Namely that "there are various technological solutions from companies like Dolby and SRS that help keep TV volumes on a more even keel."  Really?  I didn't know that.  But click the links and judge for yourself.  This technology doesn't appear to be very widespread yet, and I suspect that managing volume at the source is a better approach anyway (especially since the most annoying ads are deliberately engineered to be annoying).  Still, it's better than nothing since neither the industry nor Congress has made much progress over the years.

But does it work?  Does anyone out there have one of these wonder devices?  What's the skinny?

1A shortcoming, by the way, that's made worse by the artistic decisions of certain shows.  The worst for me is 24, which I have to crank up in order to hear the hoarse stage whisper that Kiefer Sutherland affects in his Jack Bauer role.  The ads are loud even at the best of times, but they're really loud when you've already turned up the volume just to hear the show itself.

2This is an issue, like the Do Not Call registry, that transcends politics.  I don't really care whether volume regulations are liberal or conservative or trample the Bill of Rights or whatever.  I just want the noise to stop.  If it takes jackboots to stop it, then so be it.

Since everyone's always grousing about the washer/dryer sock mystery thing, I'm not going to belabor that point. What I will say is this: I am convinced that my feet are extra sharp, owing to the really remarkably short length of time a typical pair of socks lasts me before one gets a hole. For those afflicted with pointy heels like mine (or flimsy socks), a few ideas from AltUse.com and Yankee Magazine's excellent book Don't Throw It Out:

1. Protect your shoes: Slip socks over shoes to keep them from scuffing in your suitcase.

2. Make a chew toy: Knot a sock up, or tie a few together around a rubber ball. Hours of fun for Fido. Don't you wish you were so easily entertained?

3. Warm up your arms: Like leg warmers: Cut the toe off an old pair of socks and bunch 'em up on your forearms. If you want to cover your hands, too, you can cut a thumb hole into the heel.

4. Store ornaments: Kids' socks work well for covering delicate Christmas ornaments. This trick works well for packing up tchotchkes for a move, too.

5. Clean with precision: Dusty, hard-to-reach corners are no match for your sock-covered hand. Spritz the toe with cleaning solution and attack.

ABC may be looking to wash its hands of Ugly Betty (returning to TV this Friday with a two-hour premiere), but the formula that provided America Ferrera with perpetual braces and Salma Hayek with a small screen career is not about to give up that easily. Adapted from the insanely successful Colombian telenovela, Yo Soy Betty, La Fea, Ugly Betty has spawned a small army of imitators, from the Philippines to China, Brazil to Germany. 

Despite the telenovela's relative obscurity in the English-speaking US, they have a long history of international success. Adapted for Indian TV in the 1980s, the Latin American soaps have enjoyed significant popularity in parts of Africa and the former Soviet Union. But none has been as well-received (or as frequently copied) as the story of Beatriz Aurora Pinzon Solano, the original Betty protagonist of the 1999 Colombian serial. In anticipation of Ugly Betty's Friday premiere, here are a few of the best adaptations of Betty: 

Israel: "Ugly Esti"

Is Cost Shifting Bogus?

If the government cuts Medicare reimbursement rates, will healthcare providers just make up for it by charging the rest of us more?  This is called "cost shifting," and Keith Hennessey doesn't believe it:

While doctors and hospital administrators swear by it, I have always been skeptical of the cost-shifting argument.  If you believe that a hospital will raise the prices it charges privately insured patients in reaction to cuts in reimbursement rates from government programs, you must believe (1) the hospital has pricing power and (2) it has until now charged less than it could.  (1) is quite plausible in some circumstances.  I find (2) incredible.  If someone has pricing power, I generally believe they will exert it.  Are we to believe that providers of medical care were charging privately insured patients less than they could have before the cuts in government payment rates?  I am happy to hear arguments on the other side.

Austin Frakt makes a similar argument here, but I'll push back a little bit on this.  My experience is that companies as a whole (or divisions of companies) will often tolerate underperformance in one area as long as they're meeting their overall goals.  Whatever performance measure they use — earnings, return on equity, stock price, etc. — they're frequently satisfied if they meet it for the entire operation.

Strictly speaking, this is irrational.  Businesses should insist that every individual operation be as profitable as possible.  But humans just don't always work that way.  There are only so many hours in the day, only so much bandwidth you can expend on problem areas, it's not always clear how far you can push things, and competitive pressures are different in different areas.  However, if companies fail to meet their broad performance measure, then the pressure builds to start taking a closer look at individual operations, and as a result they might push harder to raise prices in places they haven't before.

Ezra Klein passes along a Lewin Group study that suggests, on average, about a 40% cost shift in one particular area of medical care.  That strikes me as about right: sometimes reduced payments will prompt healthcare providers to push back in other areas, sometimes they won't.  It depends on the bigger picture, which makes it more an empirical question than a theoretical one.  It might also be a place where the long-term effect is quite different from the short or medium-term effect.  More research, please.

Last week, in his first successful piece of legislation, freshman Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) persuaded the Senate to approve a measure banning federal contracts with defense companies that use mandatory binding arbitration clauses in employment contracts that prevent sexual assault victims from suing. The measure not only proves once again that elections matter, but it also comes as a major rebuke to none other than former Vice President Dick Cheney.

The back story: Franken's bill was inspired by Halliburton/KBR contractor Jamie Leigh Jones, who was allegedly raped by her co-workers and held hostage in a shipping container by her employer in Iraq in 2005. Not only did the Justice Department and the military fail to investigate or prosecute her attackers, but as Mother Jones reported back in 2007, Jones was unable to sue the company, either, in no small part thanks to Cheney.

Cheney had been the Halliburton CEO who instituted a company-wide policy to include mandatory binding arbitration clauses in employment contracts. Jones was forced to sign such a contract before heading off to Iraq in 2005 and has spent four years fighting in federal court to void the contract. Jones wasn't the only defense contractor/sexual assault victim prevented from suing because of arbitration clauses.Franken was understandably outraged, and he gave a surprisingly compelling speech from the Senate floor, saying:

The constitution gives everybody the right to due process of law … And today, defense contractors are using fine print in their contracts do deny women like Jamie Leigh Jones their day in court. The victims of rape and discrimination deserve their day in court [and] Congress plainly has the constitutional power to make that happen.

Franken was so persuasive that even a few Republicans got on board; his amendment passed 68 to 30.