The Hill has a story today speculating about the possibility that the Democrats might take away Max Baucus' chairmanship of the Senate Finance Committee because Max Baucus is such a terrible chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Brian Beutler's headline at TPM asks "Will Senate Democrats Strip Baucus Of His Chairmanship?" No. No, they won't. The Hill got Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) to talk about Harkin's idea of biannual confidence votes in committee chairmen, and then got one other senator to talk about it with the caveat that he would "send a SWAT team after you" if his name was printed. Reform is imminent!

(Simple Answers to Simple Questions is an Atrios trademark.)

After lots of noise in recent days that the Senate Finance Committee might be nearing a final, bipartisan deal on a bill, CNN reports the (gasp!) shocking news that Mike Enzi (R-Wy.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) think that the bill is "not ready for prime time" and couldn't possibly be voted on before the August recess.

A Daily Kos diarist suggests that this is a sign that committee chair Max Baucus, who has supposedly been trying to get Enzi and Grassley on board, "got played" by the Republicans, who never intended to allow a vote before recess (or perhaps ever).

But why does it have to be that Baucus "got played"? Max Baucus is a smart guy, and he's been supposedly working on this for months and months. He has repeatedly promised bills and repeatedly broken his own deadlines. At what point do we have to start assuming that it's Baucus who is acting in bad faith? Max Baucus runs the Senate Finance Committee. The Senate Finance Committee has repeatedly failed to produce a health care bill. If a bill is delayed long enough, health care reform could fail entirely.

Sometimes the simplest explanation is the right one. Maybe Max Baucus just doesn't think health care reform should happen.

Does anyone think that the Republicans are going to end up voting for the health care bill on the floor anyway? News flash: unless a bill is produced that magically becomes wildly popular, they're not going to vote for it. They're going to vote against it and use it as a wedge issue. That's politics. Max Baucus is not so stupid that he does not see this. He must know that the GOP is probably not negotiating in good faith. So don't you have to conclude that he just isn't that interested in health care reform? There are plenty of reasons to believe that's what's really going on: Baucus takes huge amounts of money from the health care industry. And even if that's not a problem, this probably is.

Forty days after the deadliest of last month's clashes in Tehran, Borzou Daragahi and Ramin Mostaghim of the LA Times report on the latest batch of confrontations:

Thousands and possibly tens of thousands of mourners, many of them black-clad young women carrying roses, overwhelmed security forces today at Tehran's largest cemetery to gather around the grave of Neda Agha-Soltan, the young woman whose videotaped shooting at a June 20 demonstration stunned the world.

....Afterward, the crowds began to gather in front of central Tehran's Grand Mossala mosque, defying authorities who had prohibited the use of the site. Protesters chanted slogans as they rode the subway to the venue, setting the stage for more clashes as dusk approached.

Jon Leyne, the BBC's Tehran correspondent, comments:

It's an ominous moment for the government. Those who run the Islamic Republic know only too well the cycle of protests, killings, then Arbayeen ceremonies from 1979, a cycle that helped bring them to power. They must fear history repeating itself, as similar anniversaries approach 40 days after protesters killed in the recent protests.

....The protests now are not remotely on the scale of the hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of demonstrators who came onto the streets immediately after the election. But they are happening despite repeated threats and intimidation, and they are keeping up the pressure on the government.

This isn't over yet.  There are too many power brokers on the side of the demonstrators who have a vested interest in keeping things hot.  Stay tuned.

Matt Yglesias has responded to questions (raised by The Economist's anonymous Democracy in America blogger and yours truly) about his supposed drift towards Matt Taibbi-style broad cynicism about America's political system. Yglesias points out, quite rightly, that he's always been more of a Taibbi-ite than DiA gave him credit for:

I also would like it noted, for the record, that my interest in political reform does not stem from any “disappointment” in how Barack Obama isn’t able to get anything done. I was writing about this back in December because I always knew that Barack Obama wouldn’t be able to get anything done.

Duly noted. Yglesias also provides a long list of political reforms—DC statehood, the elimination of the filibuster, the end of the electoral college, etc.—that he thinks would improve matters, claiming that "It wouldn’t take a 'revolution' to achieve any of that." That's where he's dodging the question.

Most reasonable people (presumably even Taibbi) are, like Yglesias, "skeptical about the utility of violence in bringing about positive political change." But the reason Yglesias could so confidently assert back in December that Barack Obama wasn't going to be able to get anything done was that the political reforms Yglesias suggests are actually incredibly unlikely to happen.

Just because a reform is possible or even theoretically easy (i.e., doing away with the filibuster or carving out a federal district and making the rest of DC a state) doesn't mean it has any realistic chance of being enacted. So that puts pragmatists like Yglesias and Ezra Klein back in the same spot. If what the country needs is unlikely to happen without political reform, and political reform is very unlikely to happen, what is a pragmatist to do? I don't have the answer. But it's one thing to say a reform doesn't require a violent revolution for it to happen. It's another to explain how the reform is actually going to happen, or how the people who support it are going to make it happen.

I'm also still interested in a Port Huron-style Juicebox Mafia statement of principles.

PS: I'm using the term "Juicebox Mafia" with the understanding that it has been co-opted and is no longer a slur.

You know, back when Obama first told the press that he'd invited Skip Gates and James Crowley to the White House for a beer, I thought it was about as brilliant a piece of political ju jitsu as I'd ever seen.  A beer!  In the White House!  But now that Der Tag is here — well, I'm beset with a grim sense of foreboding.  It just doesn't seem like quite such a great idea in the cold light of day, and it's almost certain to keep this ridiculous incident in the news for another week or so.  Plus there are so many ways it could go pear shaped I can hardly count them.  So we'll see.  Can Obama turn political dross into gold once again?  I wouldn't bet against him, but I sure wish he were spending the day instead with some poor woman who got screwed by her insurance company or something.

Speaking of which, Obama's "bill of insurance rights" is good stuff.  I wish he'd unveiled it about, oh, six months ago or so, but better late than never:

No discrimination for preexisting conditions.

No exorbitant out-of-pocket expenses, deductibles or co-pays.

No cost-sharing for preventive care.

No dropping of coverage for the seriously ill.

No gender discrimination.

No annual or lifetime caps on coverage.

Extended coverage for young adults.

Guaranteed insurance renewal.

I can't predict the future any better than anyone else, but I think this is the right way to sell healthcare reform.  It won't satisfy the wonks, who will continue to debate public options vs. exchanges vs. co-ops, but it's the kind of thing the general public wants to hear.  There should have been a ninth item about being able to see the doctor of your choice, and maybe a tenth about guaranteeing all health decision are between you and your doctor, but it's still better than nothing.  And a lot better than most of the stuff we've seen before.

I can be pretty hard on President Obama. He's broken promises on transparency. His regulation of the financial sector leaves much to be desired. He supports horrible laws. In the midst of all that disappointment, one can lose track of the fact that while he may be continuing many of the last administration's worst policies, Obama is not George W. Bush. The previous president decided that these guys deserved Presidential Medals of Freedom, the country's highest civilian honor:That's a whole heaping bag of fail right there. From left to right, we have the guy who screwed up the intelligence before the Iraq War (George Tenet), the guy who screwed up the troop numbers for the Iraq War (Gen. Tommy Franks), the Decider himself, and the guy who screwed up the Iraq occupation (L. Paul Bremer). Later, Gen. Peter Pace, noted homophobe, also got himself a shiny medal.

The current president has slightly different criteria for awarding this prestigious honor. His list includes Stephen Hawking, Billie Jean King, Sidney Poitier, two Nobel Peace Prize winners, and (tear) Harvey Milk, among others. It really makes that parade of fail above look especially pathetic. It's a small thing, but it is, for once, some real change.

A tip for all the racists out there who want to hold on to their jobs: If you are going to write a really racist email highlighting your deep discomfort with modern American society, don't send it to a journalist.

Is Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) out of line? Senators Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) are questioning the California Republican's motivations for investigating Countrywide Financial's VIP loan program, through which both of the Democrats received financing. "I find it very odd to be investigated and never given a chance to give my side of the story," Conrad tells Politico. "I think that’s unusual." Says Dodd, who's hanging on for dear life to his Senate seat: "This is just too coincidental."

Issa's a pretty committed ideologue, so trying to stir up trouble for his Democratic rivals certainly wouldn't be out of character. But even if his motivations are political, that doesn't mean Countrywide's lending practices and influence-peddling loan program shouldn't be thoroughly investigated. A different question is whether it's appropriate for Issa to be investigating fellow lawmakers in the first place. Former House general counsel Stanley Brand says Issa has stepped "way, way out of bounds" and that the House oversight committee in general lacks the authority to investigate the ethics of a Senator. That job belongs to the Senate ethics committee, a body not known for its hard-nosed investigative prowess but which is nevertheless moving forward with an inquiry into the Countrywide loans handed out to Dodd and Conrad.

While we're on the subject of earmarks...the Post has a discouraging snippet in a piece about defense pork that shows just how tough it is to get rid of even the most ludicrous projects. The piece notes that Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) has vowed to try and remove 540 earmarks for no-bid contracts from the defense budget bill. The catch? "His prior earmark-stripping efforts have succeeded only once in dozens of attempts, and never on defense spending."

Update: The House is debating Flake's amendments now (he's offered one for every no-bid earmark). You can follow along on Twitter if you'd like a blow-by-blow on all 540 of them. They're up to 315 right now...

 

 

President Obama has said repeatedly he thinks Don't Ask, Don't Tell is bad policy that "hurts our national security," but he wants Congress to take the lead in rescinding the law. We can all see the logic here: It would continue a terrible Bush-era precedent (not to mention reek of hypocrisy) if Obama were to issue an executive order eliminating an act of Congress.

We all understand that logic. But I'm having trouble understanding this: Florida House Democrat Alcee Hastings introduced an amendment this week to a military appropriations bill that would cut off funds for Don't Ask, Don't Tell investigations. The next day, he says, colleagues in Congress and in the White House urged him to withdraw the amendment, which he did.

Why would the White House get in Congress' way? The Senate has already committed to hearings on DADT; the House's bill to eliminate the policy has 165 cosponsors. It's not as if quashing Hastings' amendment will slow the momentum. Or will it? Because what kind of message does this send to House members unsure about whether or not to support DADT's end?

Last night, Hastings tried to make sense of it with Rachel Maddow.

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

H/t: ThinkProgress.