Ezra Klein says "I'm not sure I'd term calls for procedural reform 'radical,' much less 'revolutionary.'" Here's what I said when Matt Yglesias said something similar:

Just because a reform is possible or even theoretically easy (i.e., doing away with the filibuster or carving out a federal district and making the rest of DC a state) doesn't mean it has any realistic chance of being enacted. So that puts pragmatists like Yglesias and Ezra Klein back in the same spot. If what the country needs is unlikely to happen without political reform, and political reform is very unlikely to happen, what is a pragmatist to do?

This conversation has drifted somewhat far afield from its original topic, which was Democracy in America's claim that Yglesias and Klein are not the "fundamentally moderate, process-oriented wonks" the conventional wisdom says they are. I took that claim to mean that such people would be incrementalist third way types who think that change can be accomplished by working within the system and the existing process. But that's not what the young progressive blogosphere is calling for. Instead, Klein and Yglesias are advocating for fairly dramatic changes to the way American politics works in practice. Right now, their message is largely that the system doesn't work, and Barack Obama can't get anything done because the system is flawed. Wouldn't making that system work be a pretty big change? Maybe we're just getting caught up in semantics here. But changing the way the President is elected, or changing the way powerful Senate committee chairs are picked, or making DC a state—as opposed to working within the system we have—all seem like pretty radical changes to me.

The New York Times reports that the communicator-in-chief plans to take his show on the road:

In coming weeks, senior administration officials said, the White House will begin a public-relations campaign in Israel and Arab countries to better explain Mr. Obama’s plans for a comprehensive peace agreement involving Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab world.

The campaign, which will include interviews with Mr. Obama on Israeli and Arab television, amounts to a reframing of a policy that people inside and outside the administration say has become overly defined by the American pressure on Israel to halt settlement construction on the West Bank.

If Obama's pressure on Israel to halt new construction in West Bank settlements was Phase 1 of his Mideast game plan, Marc Lynch says we're now moving on to Phase 2:

This, I suspect, is something very different: a strategic communications campaign designed to build support for a push towards a two-state solution among key Israeli, Palestinian, and Arab constituencies.  Reassurance, yes, but within the context of explaining the  American view of the urgency of the moment for a push towards peace — and of building support for, and even a demand for, such a push towards peace among those publics.  There are many tools which could be deployed in such a campaign — not just the television interviews mentioned in the article, but the whole portfolio of campaign outreach tools, including new media, which could be deployed in support of such a strategic objective.

Along with practically everyone else on the planet, I've been extremely non-optimistic for the past decade about the chances for some kind of Israeli-Palestinian accord.  And Obama or no Obama, I can't say that anything recently has changed my mind.  It still seems politically impossible for Israel to take any serious action on the settlements, just as it seems unrealistic to expect that Fatah and Hamas can come to any kind of agreement that allows them to effectively represent Palestinian interests.  There are distinct limits to what Obama's oratory can do, and this seems like one of them.  But I'm glad he's at least trying.

Follow the Money

Clean-energy companies have increased their K Street spending by 5x over the past couple of years.  But Bloomberg reports it's still a drop in the ocean:

Exxon Mobil Corp., the biggest U.S. oil producer, spent more on Washington lobbying during the first half of the year than all clean-energy companies combined, researcher New Energy Finance Ltd. said.

Exxon Mobil, based in Irving, Texas, spent $14.9 million lobbying in the six months, 23 percent more than the $12.1 million laid out by companies that make solar panels or wind turbines to generate electricity, London-based New Energy Finance said today in a note to clients.

The entire oil and gas industry spent $82.2 million in the first half of the year.  If you're ever wondering why the Waxman-Markey climate bill kept getting watered down so much, now you know.

Business Week has an interesting piece this week about the stigma of lobbying in the age of Obama, and how it's driving lobbyists to rethink how they do business. True to form, some of the industry's heavy-hitters have found a loophole: they've stopped calling themselves lobbyists. Obama pal Tom Daschle is now a "strategist" and "special policy adviser" on health care and finance at Alston & Bird; GOP lobbyist kingpin Ed Gillespie styles his services as "strategic planning," "message development," and "crisis management." The new jargon, of course, means that they don't have to register or disclose information about their lobbying activities. Sorry, I mean their strategizing activities.

The new terminology is convenient in another way, too: It allows Daschle to play the role of an independent expert on health care rather than someone with a direct financial stake in the legislative battle. For instance, Newsweek recently interviewed him about the issue, describing him only as Obama's failed nominee for health care czar who is now "watching from the sidelines." For his part, Daschle coyly noted that he felt "very fortunate to be able to play the role of what I would call a resource to members of Congress and to the White House and to others who are interested in public policy relating to health care."   

The Federal Reserve is not known for its transparency, but in one area the banking regulator may be a bit too upfront—so much so that Wall Street players are able to parlay this openness into huge profits. The Financial Times explains:

The Fed has emerged as one of Wall Street’s biggest customers during the financial crisis, buying massive amounts of securities to help stabilise the markets. In some cases, such as the market for mortgage-backed securities, the Fed buys more bonds than any other party.

However, the Fed is not a typical market player. In the interests of transparency, it often announces its intention to buy particular securities in advance. A former Fed official said this strategy enables banks to sell these securities to the Fed at an inflated price.

The resulting profits represent a relatively hidden form of support for banks, and Wall Street has geared up to take advantage. Barclays, for example, e-mails clients with news on the Fed’s balance sheet, detailing the share of the market in particular securities held by the Fed...

A former official of the US Treasury and the Fed said the situation had reached the point that “everyone games them. Their transparency hurts them. Everyone picks their pocket.”

Michelle Malkin, a person who wrote a book defending the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, was a panel member on This Week With George Stephanopoulos on Sunday. Paul Krugman asks the obvious question, then goes a bit further:

When I saw that Michelle Malkin will be on the Stephanopoulos panel this week, my first thought was that nobody as far to the left as she is to the right would ever appear on such a panel. But then I started to wonder (a) what I mean by that (b) if it’s true.

I don’t want to be like Bill O’Reilly, who considers anyone he disagrees with a "far-left" activist. So we need some objective metric. The most natural would seem to be voter opinion: what fraction of the American public is to Malkin’s right? Would somebody with an equally small number of people to his or her left get on a Sunday morning panel?

Clearly there's a kind of Doppler effect when it comes to politics. Paul Krugman probably sees little difference between someone who's an "8" on the conservative scale and someone who is a "10." The same thing, in reverse, goes for Bill O'Reilly. What to do? Media Matters has some data about the Sunday shows' ideological balance, but right-wingers will obviously dispute some of MM's categorizations of various people as "liberal," "neutral," or "conservative."

Still, Krugman's idea of basing "scaling" on voter opinion is a bit odd. Shouldn't the Sunday shows try to expose viewers to a variety of viewpoints, even if some of those viewpoints are more marginal than others? Minority viewpoints will never become majority ones if people aren't exposed to them.

In other words, even if dramatically more people agree with Michelle Malkin than do with, say, Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi (and I don't mean to suggest an equivalence between the two), that doesn't mean people shouldn't hear what Taibbi has to say.

MoJo DC bureau boss-man David Corn has an interesting post over at AOL Politics Daily arguing that President Obama needs to get mad. Money quote:

In the debate over health care reform, Obama has tried to bring all the parties together: the medical profession, the pharmaceutical companies, the insurance companies. The plan is obvious: buy off the various special interests and prevent them from trying to kill an effort to remake a system by which they now profit greatly. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, on the other hand, has called insurance companies "villains"—a view that many Americans, according to the polls, are sympathetic toward. (I've always believed that an easy way to win an election in this country is to run against health insurance companies and cable companies. Don't most people despise both groups?)

That's right. I read somewhere (anyone remember where this is from?) that Sarah Palin learned during the campaign that mass politics is all about creating a drama with yourself at the center. Barack Obama did an excellent job of that during the campaign. But every drama needs a villain, and right now, the health care fight doesn't have one. People hate their insurance companies, so insurance companies would be a great target. David's right: if Obama's mad, he needs to tell us who he's mad at.

WorldNetDaily, which has been riding the birther traffic train all the way to the bank for the past few months, has a document that purports to be President Barack Obama's Kenyan birth certificate. They ask: "Is this really smoking gun of Obama's Kenyan birth?"

No. No, it isn't.

(Simple Answers to Simple Questions is an Atrios trademark.)

GITMO in Kansas?

Obama’s leaked plan to move Gitmo to either Fort Leavenworth in Kansas or the Standish state prison in northeastern Michigan has set off a fresh set of political battles over how to close down the detention facility. The Kansas congressional delegation firmly opposes the idea. "Enemy combatants should under no circumstances be housed at Fort Leavenworth," Sen. Sam Brownback told the AP.

However, some key Michigan Democrats are more receptive to the plan—seeing an influx of detainees as a possible source of relief for a state hit particularly hard by the economic crisis. Because of a state budget squeeze, Michigan aims to close up to 8 state prisons, including Standish, whose prisoners are already being moved out of the facility. Michigan Democrats Rep. Bart Stupak and Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin have both endorsed the idea, according to the Hill, with Stupak touting the notion as a means to save jobs and provide economic stimulus to the area. However, their GOP counterparts aren't so enthusiastic: Pete Hoekstra, the House Intelligence Committee's ranking Republican, opposes the plan.

In January, former Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius—now Obama’s Secretary of Health and Human Services—wrote to Defense Secretary Robert Gates saying that she supported shutting Gitmo down but opposed transferring the detainees to Leavenworth. Here were some of her arguments:  

  • If GTMO detainees are sent to Fort Leavenworth, it is likely that eminent domain would be used to obtain additional land around the Fort… Some of the land expected to be included in eminent domain is prime development land for the region…
  • Fort Leavenworth currently does not have a medical facility, and it is estimated that it will take three to five years to build the required class three medical facilities for GTMO detainees. In the meantime, high risk detainees would be transported through the community to a nearby VA hospital. Based on past escape/break out experiences with the United States Penitentiary, this is an unacceptable risk to local citizens.
  • The local airport is on Fort Leavenworth, and that airport will most likely no longer be available to local citizens. Furthermore, Congress granted a right of way to a rail line to pass through the installation more than 100 years ago, and today more than 50 trains a day use the line to transport goods to Omaha. Additionally, the river running through the Fort has commercial barge traffic. The airport, rail line and river traffic can become security risks, and making them inaccessible will significantly impact the economics of the area.

You might have missed it in all the hubbub about the so-called "beer summit," but health care reform passed a major milestone on Friday. By a vote of 31-28, the Energy and Commerce committee became the third and final committee in the House to pass a version of reform legislation. The three committees' very similar bills will now be combined. Meanwhile, in the Senate, legislation has passed the more liberal Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committee but remains stuck in the Max Baucus-led Finance committee, where a group of three conservative Democrats and three even more conservative Republicans is supposedly trying to craft a bipartisan bill. (I've already written that we should worry about whether Baucus is making a sincere effort.)

There won't be votes on the House or Senate bills this month. The House has already recessed; the Senate has another few days. That means any momentum health care reformed gained from Friday's vote will be long gone by the time Congress gets back from its vacation.

But while the action in DC cools down, the fight across the country will be heating up. Liberals will be gearing up to support the public option and conservatives will be trying to stall reform altogether. What members of Congress see and hear back to their districts will definitely affect their votes when they return to DC. The biggest open question is what impact Barack Obama's campaign organization, Organizing for America, will have. Will OFA put pressure on members of Congress to get reform through? Or will OFA members' voices be drowned out by well-funded and extremely motivated right-wing groups? I'll be listening in to some OFA strategy calls over the next few days and talking to organizers to see what kind of impact the group is having. We'll also be taking a look at the opposition's strategy and reporting on its tactics. It's sure to be a contentious month.