America's Studliest State Rep Lives in Olympia, WA

State Representative Geoff Simpson of Olympia, Washington, has had it with chain emails from foot soldiers of the Christian Right. He's read the Bible and he's hitting back, and likely violating every rule he was taught in Staying In Office 101 in the process.

Public Financing Bill: Go Time!

The public financing bill that I mentioned last week was introduced in Congress Tuesday. It's called the Fair Elections Now Act, and good government groups are already lining up behind it. Here's Common Cause, in an email to supporters:

Our nation is facing many challenges. But instead of focusing on addressing important issues like jobs, the economy and healthcare, elected officials in Washington are spending countless hours fundraising to make sure they can afford to run their next campaign.

And the problem is getting worse. Because the costs of campaigns are skyrocketing, our officials are more and more dependent on big contributions from wealthy donors and lobbyists, giving special interests undue influence over important policy decisions.

We need our leaders to spend more time on the job, instead of on the fundraising circuit. The bipartisan Fair Elections Now Act – introduced in Congress today – will make that possible.

Common Cause suggests you go this site and send a form email to your representatives.

Public Campaign Action Fund and Democracy 21 also quickly climbed on board. You can learn more about the bill at the website of Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), one of the co-sponsors of the bill.

Update: Change Congress gets in the game with a nifty vote whipping tool.

Rachel Maddow Live!

OK, it's not live.  She was live at a MoJo fundraiser on Saturday, though, and we taped her conversation with editors Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein so everyone else could see it too.  The clip on the right is all about Maddow's secrets to ratings success, and there are more clips here.  View them all!

It was a packed event, and when it was over I was almost afraid Maddow was going to get trampled by the throngs of fans who wanted their picture taken with her.  Marian and I didn't stand a chance against the crowd, though, so no pictures of us I'm afraid. Maybe next time.

Can Obama Get Anything Done?

John Dickerson says Obama has (justifiably) given up on working with Republicans:

At a recent lunch with reporters, Budget Director Peter Orszag was asked if he could name a useful idea submitted by Republicans. He couldn't — and didn't even pretend he'd considered many. When House Republicans put out a budget last week, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said, "The party of no has become the party of no ideas."

Gibbs probably wouldn't have said that 40 days ago, when the White House was treating the issue of bipartisanship more carefully. But after party-line votes in the House and Senate and minimum flexibility from GOP leaders, Obama aides say that Republicans are not "acting in good faith." Which leads them to two conclusions: One, their acts of conciliation buy them nothing in negotiations with the GOP; two, and more important, they've decided they'll pay no political price for acting in a more partisan fashion.

Jon Chait says he's not getting much support from his own party either:

The last Democrat who held the White House, Bill Clinton, saw the core of his domestic agenda come to ruin, his political support collapse, and his failure spawn a massive Republican resurgence that made progressive reform impossible for a decade to come. The Democrat who last held the White House before that, Jimmy Carter, saw the exact same thing happen to him.

At this early date, nobody can know whether or not Barack Obama will escape this fate. But the contours of failure are now clearly visible. In Obama's case, as with his predecessors, the prospective culprit is the same: Democrats in Congress, and especially the Senate. At a time when the country desperately needs a coherent response to the array of challenges it faces, the congressional arm of the Democratic Party remains mired in fecklessness, parochialism, and privilege.

A landslide victory isn't what it used to be, I guess.  Opposition has made Republicans near monolithic, while victory has done nothing for Democrats except sharpen their longtime infatuation with the circular firing squad.  It's times like this that make me wish I were a heavy drinker.

Sending a Message

Jeffrey Goldberg talks to Israel's new prime minister and reports back:

In an interview conducted shortly before he was sworn in today as prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu laid down a challenge for Barack Obama. The American president, he said, must stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons — and quickly — or an imperiled Israel may be forced to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities itself.

....In unusually blunt language, Netanyahu said of the Iranian leadership, “You don’t want a messianic apocalyptic cult controlling atomic bombs. When the wide-eyed believer gets hold of the reins of power and the weapons of mass death, then the entire world should start worrying, and that is what is happening in Iran.”

....Neither Netanyahu nor his principal military advisers would suggest a deadline for American progress on the Iran nuclear program, though one aide said pointedly that Israeli time lines are now drawn in months, “not years.” These same military advisers told me that they believe Iran’s defenses remain penetrable, and that Israel would not necessarily need American approval to launch an attack. “The problem is not military capability, the problem is whether you have the stomach, the political will, to take action,” one of his advisers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told me.

I don't believe Israel has the military means to take out Iran's nuclear facilities.  Hell, even the U.S. only barely has the means.  So why is Netanyahu bluffing like this?  To put pressure on Obama, obviously.  But to what end?  Why go out of his way to start off his relationship with Obama with warnings and threats?  This isn't a smart move on his part.

Millions Of Americans Travel Abroad For Health Care

Remember when we were the gold standard? Now, there's an entire niche industry springing up to help Americans get good health care they can afford.

From CNN:

Sandra Giustina is a 61-year-old uninsured American. For three years she saved her money in hopes of affording heart surgery to correct her atrial fibrillation. "They [US hospitals] told me it would be about $175,000, and there was just no way could I come up with that," Giustina said.
So, with a little digging online, she found several high quality hospitals vying for her business.... Within a month, she was on a plane from her home in Las Vegas, Nevada, to New Delhi, India. Surgeons at Max Hospital fixed her heart for "under $10,000 total, including travel."
How do they do it? With wacky ideas like these one: "Max neurosurgeon Dr. Ajaya Jha said the hospital can provide high-quality care at low prices because the staff work hard to cut waste. 
"I've seen hospitals in the US where they open up something costing $10,000 and say, 'Oh it's not working. OK, give me another one.' We would never do that here. Even for 100 rupees (about $2) -- we would say, "Do we need to open this suture? Do we need to open this gauze?' We are very conscious of cost."
The salary of a US surgeon is five times that of a surgeon in India. "We [surgeons in India] want to make a profit, but we don't want to profiteer. We don't want squeeze people and I think American industries should also think that way," Jha said.

Profit, not profiteering. What a concept.

Keeping Banks Small

Given all the problems caused by banks too big to fail, should we just put a cap on bank size and be done with it?  Rortybomb says big banks don't charge lower interest rates, Steve Waldman says big bank size is a proxy for a lot of other problems, and Felix Salmon agrees with all of the above even if it's true that "there are no good and politically-feasible answers" for putting American banks on a diet.

But let's say this is all true, and that somehow it did become politically feasible to cap bank size.  What would be the result?  What follows is a little scattered, but maybe some other people who understand the industry better than me can pick it up where I leave off and provide some better analysis.

Felix suggests a cap of $300 billion in assets.  Fine.  But a cap on assets necessarily implies a cap on liabilities, and that means deposits are effectively capped too.  Let's call the deposit cap $200 billion in round numbers.  That means the end of nationwide banking since no bank that size can serve the entire country, but maybe you're OK with that.  A small price to pay etc. etc.

So here's what I wonder: what happens when you have a whole bunch of banks all operating at their maximum allowed size?  Do they keep taking in money but just sitting on it?  Of course not.  Do they essentially shut down, not taking any new customers?  What about natural growth among existing depositors?  (For that matter, what about natural asset growth?)

Even more important, what happens when banks can't compete with each other by growing?  What would they compete on?  My guess is that they'd compete on keeping the biggest, most profitable customers and would pretty much lose interest in smaller customers.  So small depositors would find themselves increasingly unwelcome, paying higher fees and penalties, having a harder time securing loans, and so forth.  After all, what incentive would a capped bank have to treat small depositors decently if they don't really want them in the first place?

Now, it might be that none of this would be a problem.  Capped banks would still compete with other capped banks to some extent, and unhappy customers could presumably still leave for smaller banks, who would compete for their business.  This is where I'd be interested in hearing from more knowledgeable people.  If you game this out, what does the industry end up looking like?  A regulated electric company that's effectively limited by the size of its service area?  A monopoly cable company?  A bunch of networks of loosely affiliated midsize banks?  Or what?  Anybody have a good idea?

The long saga of the missing White House emails may be finally nearing its end. The Obama administration and two nonprofits that are suing it over millions of missing Bush-era emails have called a truce. A joint motion (PDF) and proposed order (PDF) filed by Justice Department lawyers and the plaintiffs, the National Security Archive and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), call for an indefinite stay of the case so the two sides can continue settlement negotiations. Both the White House and the nonprofits will have to withdraw their pending motions (including a White House motion to dismiss the case) and update the court on settlement proceedings in three months. But the whole ordeal could be over well before that—if contentious issues are resolved in the next few days or weeks.

"We just got a stay from the judge to give us some room to try to work things out," says Meredith Fuchs, the general counsel for the National Security Archive. "It will take a while before we know whether our talks are successful because our ability to resolve the case depends on nailing down lots of details: what happened, was it fixed, and will it happen again."

The National Security Archive and CREW have been pushing the White House to disclose information about millions of missing emails for years. The case began in 2007, after the Bush administration warned that it may have lost millions of emails that should have been archived under federal record-keeping laws. That brought the lawsuit to force the recovery of the emails and the adoption of a better archiving system. Bush administration lawyers fought the plaintiffs tooth and nail, successfully passing the buck to the next administration and keeping secret the details of how and why the emails were lost. In January, the Obama administration became the defendant in the case, and at first showed signs of continuing the Bush administration's legal strategy, filing a motion to dismiss the case the day after the new team took office. It's unclear what the Obama White House is now offering. But, no doubt, its more than what the Bush administration ever put on the table.