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Something to Brighten Your Day

| Tue Mar. 4, 2008 4:16 PM EST

Tonight's primaries have saturated every minute of the news for a while now, and I understand if you're feeling burnt out. So before results start rolling in from Ohio and Texas, and before MoJo's coverage starts up, rest your brain by watching videos of adorable, super-talented children.

That video is filthy awesome. I hope that kid becomes a huge star someday. And I hope he always performs between two fuzzy cars wearing a diaper and no pants. This one, called "Star Wars according to a 3 year old" is pretty good, too.

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Something to Brighten Obama's Day

| Tue Mar. 4, 2008 1:52 PM EST

Barack Obama has been enduring some rough treatment, and it's showing in the polls. The press is getting testy. You know what would turn things around? Unleashing 50 superdelegate endorsements that the campaign has been keeping in its back pocket.

Talk about a game changer. Five endorsements a day for ten days, either kicked off or capped by an announcement of February's supposedly stunning fundraising total — that'll get things back on track.

Clintonites Claims "Unanswered Questions" Dog Obama; Obama Camp Says No; Voters to Decide

| Tue Mar. 4, 2008 12:57 PM EST

clinton_obama_profile.jpg Unanswered questions about Tony Rezko, a friend and contributor, who is now on trial for corruption and extortion. Contradicted denials about a campaign adviser's contact with the Canadian government concerning NAFTA. And don't forget that lack of experience on national security.

The Hillary Clinton campaign seems rather satisfied with its current lines of attack against Barack Obama. On this morning's conference call with reporters, as voters in Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island, and Vermont were hitting the polls, top Clinton aides hammered these points repeatedly, noting they were pleased that reporters covering Obama were beginning to ask him about these matters. Obama has "credibility questions," asserted Phil Singer, who handles opposition research for the Clinton campaign. Howard Wolfson, the communications director, made much of the fact that the Obama campaign had sent an aide to take notes at the trial of Rezko, a developer indicted on corruption charges. His trial began yesterday. The aide's presence "belies the fact," Wolfson maintained, that Obama has downplayed his relationship with Rezko, who helped raised about $150,000 for Obama and who bought a strip of property next to Obama's home.

The Clintonites suggested that Obama could be a witness in the trial--though the list of expected witnesses made public on Monday did not include the Illinois senator--and Wolfson noted that Obama will continue to be "dogged by questions" related to Rezko unless he "answers them fully." Due to these "unanswered questions," Wolfson said, Democratic voters will not want to seal the deal with Obama.

Clinton Attacks Working? Obama Poll Numbers Down For First Time

| Tue Mar. 4, 2008 12:37 PM EST

Just over a week ago, Hillary Clinton decided to throw the "kitchen sink" at Barack Obama — that is, hit him with every single attack her campaign had. It might be those attacks, or it might be the NAFTA flap, but something's working. Obama is actually trending down in Texas. Check out this chart from pollster.com:

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Chris Hayes over at the Nation says this is the first time in the entire campaign that Obama's averaged poll numbers have declined. (Pollster.com averages all polls, making it a better source for numbers than any individual poll.) That sounds right to me. I do know this is the first time I've ever seen his numbers declining as he heads into a primary.

All hail the kitchen sink.

Obama Pandering Watch: We 'Should Never Fear to Negotiate' - Except With Hamas

| Tue Mar. 4, 2008 12:33 PM EST

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One of the fundamentals of Barack Obama's foreign policy pitch—and one of those rare areas of real disagreement between him and Hillary—is that he is willing to meet with the leaders of all nations. As his Web site puts it, "[Obama] will do the careful preparation necessary, but will signal that America is ready to come to the table, and that he is willing to lead." On this position, which he applies to even such official boogeymen as Raul Castro and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Obama likes to quote JFK's line that "We should never negotiate out of fear, but we should never fear to negotiate."

That Obama has vigorously defended his pro-negotiations posture, even in the face of criticism that will no doubt intensify if he is the nominee, makes the senator's response to a question about whether he favors negotiations with Hamas particularly striking. From an event for Jewish leaders in Cleveland last week:

Hospital Shakes Down Post-Op Patients, In Their Beds

| Tue Mar. 4, 2008 10:27 AM EST

Once upon a time, people in hospital beds fresh out of surgery were off limits for bill collectors. That, apparently, is no longer the case. I spent all last week sitting at St. Mark's Hospital in Salt Lake City with my dad, who had knee replacement surgery last Tuesday morning. St. Mark's used to be a nonprofit hospital, run by the Episcopal Church. Today, though, the hospital is owned by HCA, the Nashville-based hospital chain founded by the family of former Senate majority leader Bill Frist. Frist's brother and nephew are still on the HCA board of directors. Given my dad's experience with HCA, I am greatly relieved that Frist is no longer making health care policy in this country.

Among the many hospital personnel who stopped in to see my father after surgery was a "financial counselor" from the billing office, who basically started stalking him from the minute he left the intensive care unit. After making several unsuccessful visits to his room on Tuesday and Wednesday, she slipped her card under the door asking my dad to call her. A little busy recovering from major surgery, my dad didn't get around to it. So on Thursday, the woman called him on the phone in his room, waking him from a much needed painkiller-induced nap to demand a $1500 down payment on his surgery.

Still connected to IVs, a morphine pump and creepy-looking blood drains, my dad had enough to worry about without getting hassled by the billing office, like dying from a blood clot, or acquiring a drug-resistant infection from the guy in the next room. (Family and hospital staff alike were visiting the guy barehanded despite a big sign on his door warning people not to come within three feet of him without gowns, gloves and masks.) So I went down to the billing office to complain. A supervisor informed me that the counselor was making a "courtesy call" to inform my dad of the limits of his insurance policiy, but she acknowledged that it was hospital policy to wrest as much cash as humanly possible out of patients before they leave the building.

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John McCain Is a Lobbyist Whore; I'll Endorse John McCain

| Tue Mar. 4, 2008 9:32 AM EST

Mississippi Governor and former RNC Chair Haley Barbour endorsed John McCain yesterday. He wasn't so excited about McCain eight years ago; in fact, he had the same criticisms of McCain that many Democrats have today. Witness:

Several things to note:

(1) Haley Barbour was once a super-lobbyist. McCain can't get rid of them!

(2) President Bush (now McCain-friendly) had the same criticism of the Arizona Senator back then. See more at AMERICAblog.

(3) Cynicism alert! This is politics. This stuff happens.

Mob Rule in the Democratic Primary

| Mon Mar. 3, 2008 9:27 PM EST

Prison.jpg What happens to the Democratic primary when you plug it into the Prisoner's Dilemma? You know, that classic game theory tool born from mathematics and economics. Well, things get unruly. Read up at The Blue Marble.

Why Superdelegates Are a Mob

| Mon Mar. 3, 2008 9:13 PM EST

Prison.jpg What happens to the Democratic primary when you plug it into the Prisoner's Dilemma? You know, that classic game theory tool (born from mathematics and economics and now used across many disciplines to analyze optimal behavior strategies when the outcome is uncertain and is dependent on the choices of others). Well, you might think superdelegates are good. You might think they're bad. But according to polysciblogger Jay Cost at RealClearPolitics the outcome is essentially anarchy:

The core problem is that the Democrats have empowered the super delegates to break a tie, but they have not empowered anybody to manage the super delegates. There are no rules that demand the super delegates convene and discuss with one another. There is nobody in charge of regulating the debate. There is nothing to punish the super delegates who are small-minded, nothing to reward the big-minded. There are no time restrictions that require them to make up their minds prior to the convention. They are wholly unfettered. Thus, the super delegates have a great deal in common with a mob. They're a mob of experienced, qualified politicos who care about the party. If the Democratic Party were to be put at the mercy of a mob—this is the mob you'd want. But it is a mob nonetheless. This is why large institutions—like the House and the Senate—have reams of rules governing member behavior. If the members of those institutions are to do their jobs ably, they need a framework for interaction. Otherwise, their talents may be squandered amidst the chaos.

Squandered talents. Amidst the chaos. Sounds like Normal to me… Thanks to Jake Young blogging at Pure Pedantry for pointing the way on this.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the John Burroughs Medal Award. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Who's Your (Secret) Favorite Candidate?

| Mon Mar. 3, 2008 7:55 PM EST

228705707_b26afccb91_m.jpg Want to find out? Take the 10-minute online Project Implicit test designed by psycholowonks at the U of Washington, the U of Virginia and Harvard. The test is fun, made me laugh, and will crack that oh-so-dark door to your secret feelings about the main candidates. Check it out at The Blue Marble.