In the LA Times today, Harold Meyerson echoes a common complaint about California's two-thirds rule for approving tax increases and budget resolutions:

The most basic principle of any democracy is that of majority rule, with minority rights running a clear but close second. Simple though this precept may be, California seems to have gotten it backward. The budget deal that emerged from Sacramento on Monday was the result of minority rule — the consequence of a state Constitution that vests more power in the minority party than the constitution of just about any other state.

....Californians need to amend their state Constitution, in convention if need be, to end the practice of minority rule. Democracy — not to mention the future of the state — depends on it.

I agree, but I wonder if Republicans ever stop to think about how badly these rules have hurt them too?  Don't get me wrong: for various reasons, California would probably be a blue state these days regardless of whether we had a two-thirds rule or not.  But the fact is that Californians, like most people, are generally unfriendly to tax increases.  And yet they keep voting for Democrats anyway.  Why?

Well, why not?  Everyone knows the two-thirds rule will keep them from raising taxes, so if you like them for other reasons there's no reason not to vote for them.

But what if they could boost tax rates?  Then, basically, their bluff would be called.  They'd have to either raise taxes, thus pissing off a lot of people and giving Republicans a great campaign issue, or they'd have to leave taxes alone and take responsibility for cutting services.  There would be no Republicans to blame it on.  And guess what?  That might make Democrats quite a bit less popular.

Now, it's unlikely that anything could turn the California legislature over to the GOP in the near future, but in the past 25 years California has had only one Democratic governor — and we recalled him after five years in office.  We're not all that unfriendly to Republicans.  If Democrats had the power to raise taxes — and actually did it — we might become even less unfriendly toward the GOP.

In other words, even though the two-thirds rule is the only thing that currently gives Republicans any influence at all in Sacramento, repealing it might be their only long-term hope of ever taking back the California legislature.  Ironic, isn't it?

Question about Henry Louis Gates' encounter last week with Cambridge's finest: what's up with the witnesses?  The initial reports suggested there were half a dozen onlookers, but I haven't heard anything further about this.  It's hard to believe that no one has managed to round up at least a couple of them since Thursday.  Like, say, the neighbor who took this picture.  Have I just missed something?  Did I read the initial reports incorrectly?  Or what?

Anybody know?

WTF.

An Ohio state rep., John Adams (R, for Ridiculous), has introduced a bill that would require a woman to get written consent from the man she had sex with to conceive. And if she doesn't know who the dad is, she has to submit a list of names of men she's had sex with! Scarlet Letter, here we come.

The bill would make it illegal to lie about who the dad is, and would make abortions without consent a crime. No word on instances of rape and incest, would we need to get a permission slip from daddy then, too?

Listen, I get that a father has a vested interest in seeing his progeny thrive, that's a man's most basic evolutionary instinct. But until men have to carry a growing fetus for nine months, sometimes risking their health to do so, and most certainly altering the rest of their lives, until then, the woman has the final say. If she makes the hard decision that abortion is what's best for everyone, well, sorry boys, you're going to have to be live with that. Just like she will.

Business and Healthcare

Yesterday a reader emailed to ask whether the business community was supporting or opposing healthcare reform.  Well, as the Washington Post notes, the Chamber of Commerce recently came out against it while Wal-Mart has come out in favor:

Less noted has been the diversity of opinion among small and medium-size businesses. Many agree with the Chamber that a public insurance option would undermine the private insurance market and that requiring companies to provide coverage would impair job growth. Others say the current system is so broken that they are assessing whether to support the reform plans.

The wait-and-see approach that many businesses are taking — alternately skeptical and hopeful — is a further sign that the alliances that previously scuttled health-care reform may be scrambled this time around, not just in the health-care industry but also in the business world at large. President Obama and congressional Democrats face formidable obstacles to their reform efforts, but one factor in their favor is businesspeople who may not be as inclined as they were in the past to bring grass-roots pressure against reform.

This is probably about as good as we could have hoped for.  When the bullets finally start flying, it was always unlikely that either big or small businesses would be enthusiastically in favor of healthcare reform.  It's just not in their DNA, and the web of allies and lobbyists they're part of naturally works to keep them skeptical.  Still, the mere fact that they're divided, not rabidly opposed, demonstrates just how far things have come since 1994.  Whether that's enough to help deliver a few Republican and Blue Dog votes is hard to say, but at least it probably won't cost us any.

On Wednesday, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a DC non profit, announced it was suing the Secret Service over the Obama administration's inexcusable refusal to publicly release White House visitor logs. The president was asked about his broken transparency promises last night, and made some pretty sorry excuses, explaining he had sent a letter to CREW with some of the names of insurance executives who had visited the White House. That's totally missing the point, of course. The point is that White House visitor logs should be a matter of public record, especially now that The Most Transparent Administration In HistoryTM is in office. Over to CREW:

[T]ransparency is not situational. It is not sufficient for the White House to release certain visitor records shortly before a press conference to avoid distraction... Releasing some records because it is politically expedient to do so is not transparency.

This should be a no-brainer.

Kevin is skeptical that we need to worry about the market in carbon derivatives that will be created by cap and trade, observing that most of these instruments will be relatively simple contracts like futures, and that "Waxman-Markey has some pretty good language regulating them in any case."

Well, Waxman-Markey had some good language regulating carbon and other energy derivatives. Most of it was authored by Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan, who wanted to eliminate over the counter (OTC), or unregulated, derivatives altogether and force trading onto exchanges. His measure also called for stricter trading limits and reporting requirements so that no single operator could assume more risk than it could handle or capture so much of the market that it distorted prices.  

However, in the 300 pages of amendments added to Waxman-Markey just after 3.a.m on the night the bill passed, a few new sentences materialized that placed a big asterisk on those safeguards. The final text now says that the sections of the bill regulating carbon derivatives will be overridden by any derivatives legislation that the House passes later in the year.

This wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, if the House enacts tough reforms. But that's not what the lawmakers who engineered the change had in mind: on Wednesday they released a proposal for a far more anemic regulatory regime than the one mapped out by Stupak.

News from our other blogs you may have missed.

Taking the Public's Temperature: Is today's public friendlier to healthcare reform than yesteryear's? Kevin Drum seriously doubts it.

Summer Stock: Sen. Sherrod Brown says that if he has to work in August to finish this  healthcare bill, by Jeebus, he'll do it!

Two of a Kind: Pelosi says she'll work in August too, if it comes to it. Good times.

Escape Hatch: Sen. Orrin Hatch has left the bipartisan "coalition of the willing" that's trying to negotiate a deal on health care.

Shot Down: NRA's concealed weapons bill crashes in Congress.

Big Business: Advertising abounds in the healthcare world.

Bada$$ Bloggers: They're young, they're feminists, AND they blog.

Rape is Funny, Right?: Not so much... how to confront these 'jokes.'

 

Ka-Ching!

I'm glad to see that things are back to normal:

Wall Street, helped by improving profits, is on track to pay employees as much as, or even more than, it did in the pre-crisis days. So far this year, the top six U.S. banks have set aside $74 billion to pay their employees, up from $60 billion in the corresponding period last year.

....Some analysts and investors had especially sharp words for Wall Street rival Morgan Stanley, which reported Wednesday that it had set aside $6 billion so far this year for compensation expenses even as it recorded its third straight quarterly loss. In reporting its second-quarter results, Morgan Stanley said it lost $1.26 billion, after accounting for one-time charges including an $850 million expense related to paying the government back after its bailout. Still, the company set aside $3.9 billion in compensation expenses, representing 72 percent of its revenue for the quarter.

As long as bankers are paid obscene salaries and bonuses, all is right with the world.  I'm sure we'll all rest easier tonight knowing this.

Recently, MoJo published a story about the GOP's hackneyed attempts to crack the web.

Their latest straw-grasp: A YouTube video called "Just Tax," set to Lady Gaga's hit "Just Dance." According to The Guardian, the parody of Obama (sample lyric: "This shouldn't happen, man/Go on and ask Japan") was recently featured at a Republican party meeting as a way to attract young people.

The fact that this got play at an official gathering reveals just how desperate the party has become. Then again, maybe it's not such a bad idea. After all, if Lady Gaga + YouTube + "tax and spend liberals" won't appeal to potential young converts…what will?

Watch below:

Half an hour into tonight's press conference Barack Obama has answered a grand total of three questions.  This is not a good performance.  He really needs to pick up the pace and make his answers crisper and more comprehensible.

UPDATE: Aside from the rambling nature of his replies, I don't think Obama has been good on substance either.  His opening statement had a little bit of good stuff about healthcare security, but he's spent the vast bulk of his time on deficits and cost cutting.  That's just not a good sales job.

UPDATE 2: All done.  I'm curious to hear what other people thought, but this really struck me as nowhere near his usual performance.  Obama avoided giving direct answers, rambled a lot, kept interrupting himself with asides, and didn't explain things in terms that ordinary viewers were likely to understand.  He's supposed to be the communicator-in-chief, but I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of people came away more confused than they were when they tuned in.  Bottom line: There were bits and pieces that were fine, but overall I'd give it a C-.  Other comments?