Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been in Washington this week, selling Iraq as a success story of national reconciliation and democracy and looking for businesses willing to invest there. On Wednesday, he met with President Barack Obama at the White House and claimed he was working hard against sectarian conflict--even as he's been criticized for increasingly playing sectarian politics.

On Thursday morning, Maliki spoke to policy wonks and reporters at the United States Institute of Peace. He didn't make much, if any news. He hailed the "democratic process in Iraq," maintaining that all sects are treated equally by his government. Asked whether US military forces will remain in Iraq after the ongoing withdrawal is completed in 2011, he said that Iraq might request that the United States provide military training. He said nothing significant about Iran and the political upheaval there. He did contend that his government had "achieved a great victory" in fighting the corruption that it had inherited from Saddam Hussein's regime.

With that remark in mind, after Maliki concluded his speech, I headed toward the microphone set up for questions. I had a simple query. How could he claim victory against corruption when his own government had chased out of the country the two leading anti-corruption investigators: Salam Adhoob and Judge Radhi al-Radhi? (I've written about each.) These two men have repeatedly blasted Maliki for heading a government rife with corruption, from top to bottom. And how had Maliki and his aides rewarded Radhi and Adhoob for trying to investigate corruption cases that represented what they claimed to be billions of dollars in fraud? Maliki and his crew accused these two men of being corrupt, and the pair were forced to flee Iraq, out of fear of being murdered.

So I was prepped to press Maliki on all this. But several people elbowed me to reach the mike, and with Maliki giving long-winded answers to questions (as do most politicians), time ran out before I could question him. He then scooted off.

As the crowd left the room, I mentioned to another journalist the question I had composed for Maliki. "Or," he said, "you could have asked him how his son got all that money to buy that luxury hotel in Damascus." (It only cost a reported $35 million.) I suppose I could have, had I been given the chance, but no one else had. And by now, Maliki was long gone.

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Ensign Jason Revitzer, Supply Officer of the Virginia-class attack submarine USS New Hampshire (SSN 778), kisses his wife during the return of New Hampshire from its maiden deployment. (Photo courtesy navy.mil.)

Do the high costs of health care keep you up at night? Then like millions of people, you too may have health care-exia nervosa.

Watch Doctor Decline, the invention of satirist Mark Fiore, discuss the condition below:

 

If you are uninsured and were hoping to see action on health care sooner rather than later, you should know that your needs aren't nearly as important as senators' need for vacation and Republicans' pleas that, after 60 years, what they really need is more time to think about whether or not we should have a country where everyone has access to affordable health care.

So yeah, no health care until September. If ever.

As you may have heard, The Onion has been sold to the Chinese. Not really, of course, but you could be fooled by their site this week. It's a much-needed comedic shot in the arm after the recent sad news that their California print editions are shutting down.

The funniest bit isn't actually any of the China-related content on the Onion homepage, but the website they set up for their fake Chinese parent company, Yuwanmei Amalgamated Salvage Fisheries and Polymer Injection Corp. From the "Company History":

Founded in 1998 without incident or legal complication, what is now a glorious 300,000-square-foot processing center began as a humble 230,000-square-foot warehouse.

Clicking through the Yuwanmei website I can't help but think that we're witnessing the birth of a new—and potentially game-changing—comedic genre: the fake website. While fraud and deception are nothing new to the internet, and fake websites have been sometimes innovative promotional tools for movies and TV, the culture is still barely scratching the surface. Besides the Chinese Onion, the best example I've come across is an extensive spoof website featuring the comedian Charlie Murphy as Leroy Smith, the man who motivated Michael Jordan. Nike is apparently behind this project, which explains the bells and whistles, like the Leroy Smith video game. The ease with which this stuff can go viral (Leroy's website comes fully equipped with Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and iPhone apps) has to have entertainment execs salivating.

Look for Hollywood to follow the lead of the website for the new Apatow flick, "Funny People", which features long fake trailers for the fake movies its protagonists star in.

Have a favorite fake website? Leave your links in the comments. But first, watch a video of Charlie Murphy (yes, Eddie's brother) as Leroy Smith, the man who motivated Michael Jordan, after the break.

Update: The Onion has taken it even farther than I had realized. Check out the Yu Wan-Mei Corp. Twitter feed (h/t to commenter Yu Wan Mei).

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.