If there's one way to close wounds in modern day America, it's through reality TV. Even the most heinous individuals can build a following with some support from a cable network. And sadly, they can turn a profit too. For the thousands of Madoff victims out there who never want to hear the name Bernie Madoff again, I have a modest proposal that could resupply their empty IRA coffers with a fresh infusion of cash. People, listen to this: Think Oz meets Survivor meets Arrested Development. It's the stuff of genius.

Let's follow Bernie as he paints signs at his new gig and talks about the days of old. Let's watch him bitch about eating frozen peas. Admittedly, this idea came to me when I disgustedly read that Bernie has become a prison celebrity, and that his fellow residents in the Big House constantly ask him for autographs. (Somehow, just as he "excelled" in business, it appears that he's doing pretty well in prison too...paying off the guards perhaps? Or just his fellow inmates?) Justice in the eyes of the law may involve paying restitution, but since $50 billion has just disappeared, why not use more creative means to help those victims who are otherwise SOL?

This week, the Associated Press announced that it was developing a system to "protect news content from unauthorized use online," i.e., set up some kind of DRM for its articles. To explain just how it plans to eliminate cutting and pasting, the Second Pillar of the Internet (you know what the first one is), it released this helpful clip-art laden graphic:

 

Got it? My takeaway is that authorized news "users" will be able to "mash up" AP stories in what looks like a barrel of radioactive waste. Unauthorized news users will be found via a "tracking beacon" and then subject to "enforcement." That makes it sound like the AP is going to go all RIAA on news aggregators and clip-happy bloggers, but tech types say it's hyping its proposed system's capabilities. 

Ironic Sans' David Friedman has a far simpler idea. Noting a recent study that "discovered that people are more honest when eyes are watching them, even if the eyes are fake," he suggests that the AP embed an emoticon-style face in each of its stories:

It’s the Smiley as copy protection. The AP could come up with their own set of ascii eyes, brand it, and include it in every dateline from now on. They could even pretend it has some other official function, like it symbolizes the AP keeping its eyes out for news. But people would see it and know what it means: “This is an AP article. Please don’t steal it unless you would do so even with your own mother watching.”

Brilliant. (Not that it would stop Shepard Fairey from swiping AP photos with eyes in them.) Now please don't copy this post without permission. ;)

The Washington Post has obtained emails showing that Karl Rove, top political advisor to former President George W. Bush, played a significant role in the firing of a number of US attorneys for political reasons. You should go read the Post story 1) if, for some reason, this surprises you, 2) to laugh as a number of Rove's statements are directly contradicted by the facts, and 3) to get the full details.

One quick, journalism-related note on the story. Marcy Wheeler is right that while none of this "is even remotely surprising" it "does suggest we'll have these documents... in the relatively near future." That's great. But I would just point out that if the Washington Post followed the lead of the US attorneys' scandal godfathers at Talking Points Memo—or Mother Jones' own, similar practices—we'd already have those documents. The Post would have put them online so that members of the public could look at the source material and judge for themselves. But it's not like the Post is in the business of informing the public or anything.

A few years back, during the height of illegal immigration-mania, I spent a considerable amount of time for this magazine with the man who seemed to stand for the great fear that this nation was under attack from across the border, that we were losing control of our sovereignty, and that our national agenda was being determined by Mexican President Vicente Fox. That man was Lou Dobbs.

Truth to tell, I kind of liked Dobbs. During our time together—which included staff meetings and live broadcasts, after-work drinks and even a trip to a Hispanic journalists’ convention in Miami—I found Dobbs to be terribly myopic but also blunt, a man who knew he had come from little and now appreciated that he had a lot. He called me pard’ner and loved a dirty martini.

Now, with Dobbs’ border war on the brink of irrelevancy, he has returned to the limelight with another grave concern—the birth certificate of President Barack Obama. The so-called "birther" movement, which demands that Barack Obama prove that he’s really, um, an American citizen, has been debunked by every sane political journalist, as well as officials from the Hawaii Department of Health. But it’s become the centerpiece of Dobbs’ nightly news program and his daily radio broadcast.

I wrote yesterday that Rep. Edolphus Towns had a big decision to make over whether he would join in on Darrell Issa's Countrywide investigation. Well, he's made his decision, opting to steer clear of this politically fraught inquiry. In addition to being busy investigating other financial crisis-related matters, Towns told the AP that VIP loans handed out to Senators Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) (and potentially other congressional lawmakers) are "the subject of current proceedings before the Justice Department and Senate Ethics Committee and it is not appropriate for the committee to interfere with those proceedings."

What's Issa's next move? Slamming Towns for protecting "his friends" for starters. He's also taken his Countrywide campaign to Twitter, asking followers, "What do YOU think Congress should do about this? (Sweetheart mortgages to members of Congress NOT being investigated?)" Towns may have declined his support, but don't expect Issa, who's been bird-dogging this for more than a year, to let this go anytime soon. Personally, I don't care who investigates Countrywide's favorable financing for lawmakers, but someone needs to—and it's unclear whether the notoriously meek Senate ethics committee, which is presently looking into loans made to Dodd and Conrad, is up to the task.

Follow Daniel Schulman on Twitter.

The over-budget and technically flawed Kinetic Energy Interceptor program may have been axed by the Pentagon this spring, but it lives on in the earmark-laden defense appropriations bill currently under consideration by the House. You know, the bill that Obama threatened to veto because it contained billions in pet projects for lawmakers seeking to bring home the bacon to their districts. Much of the work for the KEI project, a missile defense system designed to "destroy enemy ballistic missiles during their boost and early midcourse phases of flight," happens to be taking place in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. That's the hometown of Jack Murtha, whose unrivaled and unapologetic pursuit of pork has earned him congressional infamy—and landed him uncomfortably close to an FBI probe targeting lobbyists and defense contractors with whom he's had dealings. The Washington Post points to one reason why the terminated KEI program is nevertheless poised to reap an additional $80 million in the appropriations bill. 

...Northrop Grumman, the principal contractor, is building a technology center in Murtha's district that would bring 150 related jobs, and Murtha's subcommittee sought its continuation as a way "to recoup the technology," according to an appropriations staff member, who was not authorized to speak on the record.

 

Fiore Cartoon: Beerplomacy

Racial profiling, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran's nuclear ambitions....The world can be a brutal place. Luckily, there's beerplomacy—the booze that makes friends.

Watch satirist Mark Fiore's ad for the cure-all below:

When it comes to politics, it really helps to have a bullshit dectector. I won't pretend that the government never does crazy, stupid things. But when a big, politically controversial bill like health care reform is being written, you should generally assume that the people who are writing it want it to pass. Thus it is unlikely that they will include provisions in the bill that are likely to be universally unpopular and drag the whole bill down with them.

If someone tells you that the bill is going to require that seniors get Soylent Green-style "end-of-life counseling" that will advise them to die, you should immediately recognize that they are bullshitting you. This is doubly true if the person saying this is a notorious liar. Likewise, if someone tells you that health care reform would mean "a doctor would lose his license for providing health care to someone over age 59," you should probably recognize that person is also an insane liar.

Turn on your bullshit detectors, folks. This is not that hard.

Sell Me!

Barack Obama says he's frustrated that it's so hard to get across his healthcare reform message.  Ezra Klein doesn't think selling it is the problem:

The lived experience of most Americans is that health care is too expensive, but not so bad. Similarly, it's that Europe might do a bit better than us on some things and quite a bit worse on others, but they're not very far ahead on anything. And the Veteran's Administration is terrible — didn't you hear about Walter Reed (which most people don't realize is an army, not VA, hospital)?

I don't think the problem for health-care reform is how it's being sold. The problem is the congressional process, and maybe the fact that it's hard to say what this bill gives the median American because it's trying so hard to leave the median American alone.

As near as I can tell I'm practically alone on this, but I think this is absolutely wrong.  It's not that congressional process isn't important.  Of course it is.  This is congressional legislation, after all.

But underneath that, it's all about how it's sold.  Everything has to have a constituency if it's going to get passed.  For ag subsidies it's farmers.  For lax financial regulation, it's banks.  For tax cuts it's rich people.

For healthcare it's.....I dunno.  Who?  But that's the point.  Everyone has been so hung up on congressional process that they seem to have forgotten that Congress responds to the public.  If constituents are mad as hell that their healthcare isn't as good as France's, they'll flood congressional offices with phone calls.  But if they think America has the best healthcare in the world, while the rest of the world is a socialist dystopia of ramshackle hospitals, yearlong waits for hip replacements, and harried doctors who can't see you for months and treat you like a postal customer when you finally get in — well, who's going to get pissed off about the occasional scuffle with their insurance company?  And if the public isn't worked up, then Congress won't get worked up either.

This has always been about public opinion.  Everything is about public opinion.  It's about public opinion being strong enough to overcome the resistance of whatever corporate interests are on the other side.  For some reason, though, liberals don't seem to get that anymore, and because of that we don't spend enough time on either side of the basic vox populi equation: (a) hammering home why individuals, personally, should be unhappy with the status quo, and (b) promising them, personally, lots of cool new stuff if they buy into change.

You don't have to lie to accomplish this.  But you do have to sell, the same way any salesman anywhere sells stuff.  That means understanding your audience, figuring out what they're afraid of, promising them something that will make them better off, overcoming their objections, and then convincing them that they have to call now to take advantage of this one-time offer!  Every pitchman on late night TV understands this.  Why don't we?