Via Noah Shachtman comes the shocking news that the Pentagon doesn't want its employees ghost riding the whip (or the MRAP, as the case may be). The military is actually encouraging social media, but telling soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines to use it carefully.

None of that means we can't reminisce, though:

 

After creating quite the spectacle at the Press Club yesterday, the Yes Men were on Capitol Hill on Tuesday showing off their Survivaball suits to unsuspecting senators and passersby.

The Survivaball, as they describe it, is "the stupidest costume known to humankind," intended to "highlight the absurdity of the Senate's slow pace in responding to climate change." They market the climate-change survival suits to potential customers as a "gated community for one."

Today's activities apparently included harassing Arlen Spector (D-Pa.), a senator who has been on the fence about passing climate change legislation this year. From their blog:

At another point, a fleet of Survivaballs chased Senator Arlen Spector outside the Hart Senate Office Building. "Anyone as wishy-washy on climate issues as the Senator, who thinks that clean coal is an answer, needs a Survivaball," said Ross Finlayson, a top Surviva-model involved in the chase. "Maybe he ran away because he knew that even he couldn't afford one."

Our September/October 2009 Fiji Water expose had a big impact, and it's still going strong. Today the story was tweeted by Fox News anchor Julie Banderas... and by Celine Cousteau, granddaughter of filmmaker Jacques Cousteau and daughter of oceanic explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau. Celine Cousteau travels the world on expeditions, and her family owns the Jean-Michel Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort, an "Eco Friendly Resort" on the island of Vanua Levu in Fiji. I'm not sure if the Cousteau resort stocks Fiji Water, but it's good to see the story strike close to Fiji Water's home.

Follow Jen Phillips on Twitter.

Big Finance may be breathing a sigh of relief these days, but what about the rest of the country? With foreclosures at a record high and the national unemployment rate at 9.8 percent, I went to talk with some of the people still waiting for their recovery, their bailout, at a massive homeowner relief event in the San Francisco Bay Area. Organized by the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, the "Save the Dream" tour offers many people a last-gasp hope at saving their homes—and for many, their American Dream.

Watch the video below to meet them and hear their stories.

Quote of the Day

From Andrew Ross Sorkin, on Hank Paulson's plan to meet socially with the Goldman Sachs board of directors in summer 2008 during a trip to Russia:

For fuck's sake! Wilkinson thought. He and Treasury had had enough trouble trying to fend off all the Goldman Sachs conspiracy theories constantly being bandied about in Washington and on Wall Street. A private meeting with its board? In Moscow?

"Wilkinson" is Treasury Department chief of staff Jim Wilkinson.  For the full context, see here.

I hope the fine folks at CBPP won't take offense if I point out that this might be the new winner in the "Most Boring Headline Ever" sweepstakes:

Excise Tax on Very High-Cost Health Plans Is a Sound Element of Health Reform

Still, you can't argue with the truth.  It is a sound element of health reform for two big reasons.  First, since it's a tax on health plans, it rises at the same rate as healthcare costs.  This helps ensure that funding for healthcare reform stays budget neutral not just for its first ten years, but over the long haul as well.

Second, providing funding is only half its appeal.  It's also one of those rare policy measures that (a) might actually pass and (b) might actually slow down the growth of healthcare costs:

The proposed excise tax would make a major contribution to slowing the growth of health care costs by discouraging insurers from offering, and firms from purchasing, extremely generous health insurance coverage that can encourage excess health care utilization. That, in turn, would reduce incentives for excessive health care spending.

Congressional Budget Office (CBO) Director Douglas Elmendorf has stated that changing the tax treatment of high-cost health insurance to reduce its attraction is one of “two powerful policy levers” the federal government has available to encourage changes in medical practice and thereby slow the increase in health care costs. (Changing Medicare’s payment rules is the other.) “Nearly all analysts agree,” CBO has reported, “that the current tax treatment of employer-based health insurance — which exempts most payments for such insurance from both income and payroll taxes — dampens incentives for cost control because it is open-ended.”

For more geeky goodness, read the whole thing.  It might be opposed by both labor unions and Republicans, but it's still a good idea.

Financial Autopsies

Mike Konczal writes today about the Grayson/Clay/Miller amendment, aka the "Financial Autopsy" amendment.  Basically, it would require the new Consumer Financial Protection Agency to take an annual look at the consumer products that have caused the highest rates of bankruptcy and foreclosure and report back on what ought to be done about them.  Here's Mike:

The CDC has a response team for when it finds cancer clusters. I like the idea of the CFPA having a similar response team, that can be called in for expert opinion in the case of foreclosure and bankruptcy clusters. A team of forensic accountants and financial experts who can be called in by members of Congress, or as a result of their own statistical samplings, to give opinions on what is going on on the ground in a member’s district when it comes to the end result of financial innovations. Financial detectives, if you will, who can shift through all the noise one finds with dealing with consumer finances to see if there’s any signal that is the result of changing products and options available to consumers.

And maybe the producers of House could create a spinoff series called Plank that solves financial mysteries.  Ripped right out of the headlines!

Anyway.  My first reaction is the same cynical one that Felix Salmon has: this might actually be mildly effective, so it will never see the light of day.  At least, not in any way that runs the risk of keeping it effective.

My second reaction, however, is that this is exactly the kind of thing I was talking about a while back when I objected to the Fed trying to do stuff like this.  As Mike points out in his post (and as Alan Greenspan acknowledged a few days ago), the Fed is institutionally incapable of this kind of regulation.  The only way it will ever happen is if it comes from an agency in which this is part of its cultural DNA.  An agency like the CFPA.

So how can it survive the usual gauntlet of opposition from bankers who don't want this kind of troublesome attention?  I'm not sure, but divide and conquer seems like the best bet.  There must be some corner of the financial industry (credit unions? community banks?) that mostly prospers from being careful and prudent, and would therefore benefit from having their least scupulous competitors put under an occasional microscope.  Bankers in general are so allergic to regulations of any kind that it's not clear you could get their support even for one that clearly benefits them, but you never know.  It's worth a try.

Poll Flippery

Ezra Klein writes today about a Washington Post poll asking people if they support the idea of requiring people to get health insurance.  56% say yes, 41% say no.

But wait!  If you tell the opposers that low-income families will get assistance buying health insurance, 34% of them flip to supporting the idea:

In other words, a solid majority supports the individual mandate. And a third of the opponents become supporters if they learn that there will be subsidies for people who can't afford insurance. I'm sure you can fashion attacks that scare people about this provision, but advocates aren't struggling against an underlying philosophical objection to the basic principle.

I have an assignment for an ambitious young PhD candidate with some free time on her hands.  I've seen poll results like this a million times, and when you add some additional detail you always get a certain number of people to flip sides.  I'm pretty sure you could quote a couple of lines from Jabberwocky, ask an "in that case" followup question, and get a fair number of people to change their minds.  So what I'd like to know is: what's the average flip rate?  Obviously this depends on a lot of things, so maybe it's more than just a single number, but I guess I'd like a single number anyway.  Basically, when I see something like this I'd like to have a general idea of whether the flip rate is just the usual flip rate for everything or if it's actually bigger than usual (and therefore more meaningful).  It's sort of like wanting to know if a wage increase is bigger than inflation.  It tells me whether there's really any kind of real-world increase at all.

Of course, maybe someone has already done this research.  If that's the case, maybe some bloggily-inclined political science type would like to enlighten us about it?

Ending the Flimflam

Today the Washington Times parrots the latest right-wing talking point on healthcare reform:

Advocates of health care reform are relying on budget manipulations to stick with President Obama's pledge to overhaul the system without adding to the deficit, critics on and off Capitol Hill say.

Both independent budget analysts and Republicans say a Senate vote expected this week on a 10-year, nearly $250 billion Medicare reimbursement bill is the perfect example. They say it was sliced out of the reform plans because it would send the cost of Mr. Obama's top legislative priority over $1 trillion.

I assume this is all over Fox and talkradioland as well.  It's really shameless.  What Obama and congressional Democrats are doing is ending some budget trickery that's been going on for years: the annual barnyard dance in which scheduled reductions in Medicare reimbursements to doctors are put on hold.  We could keep doing this on a "temporary" basis every single year forever, of course, but what's the point?  Why not just ditch the charade and put the money back in the budget where it belongs?  It won't cost any more or less than doing it annually, but it's more honest.  Jon Chait:

So why is Obama getting attacked so bitterly over this? Because he's acknowledging it. It's the same thing that's happened to fiscal policy since he took office. The Bush administration hid the true fiscal picture with a plethora of accounting gimmicks — keeping all war costs out of the budget, pretending the middle-class tax cuts would expire, and on and on. Obama has tried to make the budget reflect reality. Alas, reality is a bummer. (And yes, the long-term deficit is entirely the fault of policies Obama inherited.) So Obama gets attacked for a "shell game" when all he's really doing is admitting the shell game that's been going on for years.

Political opportunism is the main force behind conservative complaints here, and that's fine.  Politics ain't beanbag etc.  But what's really driving conservatives mad is the fact that Obama is tacitly showing them up.  They're supposed to be the fiscal tightwads who watch every dollar and don't play games with the budget, but for the past eight years they've been doing almost nothing but playing games.  Now Obama is doing the responsible thing and ending it, so they're doing the same thing as any kid whose hand gets caught in the cookie jar: yelling and screaming and insisting that it's everybody else who's really at fault.  It's not a pretty sight.

Anyway, as Chait says, this has nothing to do with healthcare reform and there's no reason it should be part of the healthcare bill.  Democrats are right about that.  The only way in which it really is related is that this is basically the bribe being paid to doctors to support Obamacare.  Unfortunately for conservatives, they can't really complain too loudly about that because they've been paying the bribe for years themselves.  Nobody wants to piss off doctors, after all.

Pimpin' All Over DC

Rapper Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, of "Yous A Ho, "What's Your Fantasy," and "Obama is Here" fame, will be speaking at a National Press Club luncheon on Friday. The event follows "Accelerating Energy Innovation: Lessons from Multiple Sectors" and precedes a "New and Old World Wine Tasting Benefit," so please don't get confused. You want more details? I've got more details:

The entertainer created the Ludacris Foundation in 2001 to increase leadership through education, healthy lifestyles and community engagement. The luncheon precedes the Foundation’s annual Benefit Dinner, to be held for the first time in the nation’s capital on October 24 at the Ronald Reagan Building & International Trade Center.

Yes, Ludacris is headed to the Ronald Reagan building after his luncheon at the National Press Club. No word yet on when Lil Jon gets his luncheon. If you want a preview of the kind of insights you can expect from the luncheon, behold this, from the press release:

In today's world we have new issues and new challenges. The old way of looking at these issues and challenges have not rendered the outcomes we want. Logical thinking, while necessary is not sufficient - we need lateral thinking (thinking outside our current frame of reference). We need a new type of leadership.

I'm not paying the admission fee ($17/$28/$35 members/guests/general admission) for this, but please let scoop [at] motherjones [dot] com know if you go.

Also, quick question for @APStylebook: What's the appropriate style for rendering Lil Jon's (and Lil Wayne's and Lil' Kim's) names?