Think You Can Run the Minnesota Recount? Here's a Test

| Thu Nov. 20, 2008 11:17 AM EST

Minnesota Public Radio has been photographing ballots in the Franken/Coleman Senate recount to illustrate just how hard it is to determine voter intent. What do you do, for example, when someone votes for Franken but also writes in "Lizard People"? What do you do when someone votes for Franken, but then draws an arrow to the Coleman circle? What do you do when someone doesn't mark a circle, but puts a scribble next to one of the candidates' names? Take a look for yourself here, and vote on whether each ballot should count here. (You know who could run this recount? David Corn. He has experience from Florida in 2000.)

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Gutting the Trout

| Thu Nov. 20, 2008 11:12 AM EST

GUTTING THE TROUT....Ezra informs us today that the healthcare insurance industry has blinked. But it's sort of a Sarah Palin blink:

The big news of the day is that the insurance industry has offered a deal: In return for a mandate in which every American must purchase health care coverage, they will stop refusing to sell insurance to those with preexisting conditions. Some deal. They're basically saying that if we legislate that every American must purchase insurance coverage, they will sell insurance coverage, at some price, to every American.

Needless to say, this is a deal that every industry in America would love. Take GM, for example. Why bother bailing them out with taxpayer cash? Just pass a law instead mandating that every American has to buy a Chevy, let GM set the price, and they'd be back in business!

Of course, it's actually worse than that. At least if you mandated car purchases, the car companies would still compete for business by lowering prices. Healthcare companies, conversely, don't want your business if you have a preexisting condition. Why would they? So they'd actually do just the opposite, jacking up prices steadily to ensure that someone else will end up getting your business if you happen to be a diabetic or have a family history of coronary trouble.

Ezra explains all this in more detail, but for now I'll just observe that a blink is a blink, even if the deal on the table is patently ridiculous. It means the health insurance industry is scared that we might actually do something in 2009 and they want to be seen as something other than completely obstructionist. That means only one thing: they've shown fear, and now it's time to bore in for the kill and gut them like trouts. Let's get to it.

Victory on Capitol Hill: Waxman Takes House Energy Committee

| Thu Nov. 20, 2008 10:53 AM EST

henry-waxman250x200.jpg Huge news. Great news. Michigan Representative John Dingell, who has spent over 50 years in the House of Representatives being the auto industry's babysitter, has lost his position as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to the younger and more liberal Henry Waxman. The House Democratic caucus voted by secret ballot this morning. Members had a choice between voting for seniority or the possibility of bold and necessary action on climate change. They made the right choice, 137-122.

Newt Explains It All For You

| Thu Nov. 20, 2008 10:45 AM EST

NEWT EXPLAINS IT ALL FOR YOU....In the Wall Street Journal today, Newt Gingrich and Peter Ferrara tell us why median wages have sucked so badly during the Bush era:

Marginal tax rates for middle-income families in the 25% tax bracket are too high. Add in effective payroll tax rates of 15% and state income taxes, and these workers are laboring under marginal tax rates of close to 50%. No wonder middle-income wage growth has slowed sharply.

Yep, that explains it: George Bush has kept taxes too damn high and no one wants to work anymore. It's analysis like this that has made Newt the conservative visionary he is.

Who's Really Calling The Shots on The Economic Bailout?

| Thu Nov. 20, 2008 10:30 AM EST

The Project on Government Oversight (POGO), a non-partisan watchdog group that advocates transparency and accountability in Washington, today fired off a letter to leaders of a half dozen relevant House and Senate committees, requesting more information on how lawmakers decided to approve the $700-billion economic bailout package. Danielle Brian, POGO's executive director, complained of a "continued lack of openness concerning the government's response" to the financial crisis and urged Congress to ensure that appropriate safeguards are put in place to prevent fraud and abuse.

From the letter:

We take no position on the merits of the various actions over recent months to address the crisis. However, Congress needs to act now to ensure that the ongoing expenditures of billions—even trillions—of the taxpayers' funds are subjected to extraordinary scrutiny.
Too few questions are being asked about the how, and even the why, behind these enormous undertakings. Even when questions do get raised, as at recent hearings, numerous important questions go unanswered. This issue is so critical we feel compelled to urge you to demand those answers, either directly from policymakers and recipients of these taxpayer funds, or through your own independent investigations.
At this writing, nearly half of the $700 billion appropriated under the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) has gone out the Treasury's door with little openness. The public needs to know how the beneficiaries of their tax funds are chosen, how conflicts of interest are guarded against, and whether the integrity of the process has been assured...
Our overriding concern is the utter lack of information about who is making critical decisions involving untold billions of taxpayer dollars. It is not clear how banks or other institutions are chosen to be bailed out or allowed to fail. It is a mystery to us and to the public why one industry is favored and another is left to suffer. We are at a loss to understand how particular companies or institutions within particular industries are blessed and others are not. Irrespective of whether the decisions are made by political appointees, career employees, or Members of Congress, the decision-making process has been a nearly perfect black box.

Right-Wing Paranoia About an Obama Supreme Court

| Thu Nov. 20, 2008 10:17 AM EST

The conservative legal powerhouse, the Federalist Society, is holding its annual convention in Washington this week. In past years, the group has had smug gatherings highlighting all of its many members who've been installed in lifetime appointments to the federal judiciary and into other top government jobs. It's crowning moment: the confirmation of longtime member Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.

This year, though, the right-wing scholars and judges headlining the events seem a bit more subdued. Barack Obama has put a huge brake on their quest to remake the federal courts into bastions of conservative legal thought (and dashed the career plans of a new generation of conservative lawyers). Among the rank and file this morning, talk revolved around fear of the direction the Supreme Court might take under an Obama administration. There was wild speculation that Obama would be replacing moderate liberals like John Paul Stevens (who was actually appointed by Gerald Ford), with "radical leftists."

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Dog Helps Orca

| Wed Nov. 19, 2008 9:00 PM EST


Photo copyright Fred Felleman

It's been a bad year for the southern resident population of orcas in Puget Sound. Seven have gone missing and are presumed dead. Including the nearly 100-year-old matriarch of K Pod, along with two reproductive-age females vital to the future of the whales. One female, L-67 showed clear signs of emaciation before she disappeared in September. That leaves only 83 animals in this culturally-unique population of orca.

It's been a bad year for salmon too—the primary prey of southern resident orca. Researchers suspect the missing whales may have starved. Now researchers at the U of Washington Center for Conservation Biology are trying to answer that question using a specially trained dog. The Seattle Times reports how Tucker, a black Lab, has been deployed two of the past three summers to track orca scat from the bow of a research boat.

Analysis of hormone levels in the scat suggest mortality among the orca was highest when their thyroid hormone levels were lowest. This means they're malnourished. Katherine Ayres, a UW graduate student working on the study says: "It is interesting and sad. We have a link to what scientists have been saying for a long time."

New DNA Tech May Allow Cloning, Re-Creating Mammoths

| Wed Nov. 19, 2008 8:00 PM EST

600px-Mammoth_mg_2805.jpgHave scientists learned nothing from Jurassic Park? A group of genomicists from Pennsylvania State University published research on their experimental procedure that's decoded "a large fraction of the mammoth genome," reports the New York Times. The procedure uses two $500,000 machines to extract genome information from mammoth hair.


| Wed Nov. 19, 2008 5:17 PM EST

OOGEDY-BOOGEDY....Kathleen Parker blames the demise of the Republican Party on its "evangelical, right-wing, oogedy-boogedy branch," and Jonah Goldberg is annoyed:

What aspects of the Christian Right amount to oogedy-boogedyism? I take oogedy-boogedy to be a perjorative reference to absurd superstition and irrational nonsense. So where has the GOP embraced to its detriment oogedy-boogedyism? With the possible exception of some variants of creationism (which is hardly a major issue at the national level in the GOP, as much as some on the left and a few on the right try to make it one), I'm at a loss as to what Kathleen is referring to. Opposition to abortion? Opposition to gay marriage? Euthanasia? Support for prayer in school?

OK, maybe "oogedy-boogedy" wasn't the most felicitous phrase to use. Sway to the music all you want and no one will mind. But I think conservatives do themselves a disservice if they pretend not to know what Parker is talking about.

There will always be plenty of votes for a culturally conservative party. That's not the problem. The problem is the venomous, spittle-flecked, hardcore cultural conservatism that's become the public face of the evangelical wing of the GOP. It's the wing that doesn't just support more stringent immigration laws, but that turns the issue into a hate fest against La Raza, losing 3 million Latino votes in the process. It's the wing that isn't just a little skittish about gay marriage, but that turns homophobia into a virtual litmus test, losing 6 million young voters in the process. It's the wing that isn't just religious, but that treats belief as a precondition to righteousness, losing 2 million secular voters in the process. It's the wing that isn't just nostalgic for old traditions, but that fetishizes the heartland as the only real America, losing 7 million urban voters in the process. It's the wing that goes into a legislative frenzy over Terri Schiavo but six months later can barely rouse itself into more than a yawn over the destruction of New Orleans.

Now, the GOP didn't lose all those votes solely because of their embrace of cultural victimhood. It was a Democratic year, after all, and the economy worked against them too. Still, exit polls suggest they had already lost most of this ground by 2006, and the economy had nothing to do with it back then. Conservative gains after 9/11 may have masked the problem for a while, but fundamentally these are voters who saw the Republican Party turn into a party of rabid identity politics and turned away in disgust. It's probably cost them (so far) about 10 million votes, and in an era where 53-47 is considered a big victory, that's a helluva deficit to make up elsewhere.

A party that merely wants to move more slowly and more deliberately than liberals in the cultural sphere wouldn't have lost all those votes. But the real-life GOP, a party whose primary association in much of the public mind is with revulsion toward gays, immigrants, urban elites, and the non-churchgoing, did. That's oogedy-boogedy.

Putting the Noise Machine in its Place

| Wed Nov. 19, 2008 4:41 PM EST

PUTTING THE NOISE MACHINE IN ITS PLACE....Ezra Klein isn't sure that Barack Obama made the right choice by tapping Eric Holder as his nominee for attorney general:

It's hard for me to believe that Obama couldn't find anyone for the post who wasn't the workhorse behind Bill Clinton's pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich. Holder, obviously, was just doing his job, but appearances matter in this town. Republicans will have no problem attacking the choice, and your average voter will be rather confused as to why Obama made it. Whatever Holder's merits — and I grant that they are many — it's a nomination that recalls the worst of the Clinton era, and it's not clear why that needed to be done.

Leaving Holder's broader merits (or lack thereof) to one side, I'd offer a different take on this: do we really want to hamstring ourselves by worrying too much about what kind of temper tantrum the Republican Party is likely to throw over Obama's nominees? I don't doubt they'll do their best to smear Holder, but the Rich pardon happened eight years ago and Holder's role in it was fairly modest. Obviously it's not a good idea to give Republicans too many free shots early in his term, but if Obama truly thinks Holder is the best man for the job, then I think he's done the right thing. Let the talk show clowns wail and the congressional leadership send out their streams of faux outraged press releases. This is a pretty good chance to show that this stuff just doesn't work anymore, and I'll bet Obama realizes it.