Though the public option's current prospects for passage in Washington remain dim,  the proposal appears to be turning into a new rallying cry for liberal Senate hopefuls. North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, who is looking to challenge Republican Senator Richard Burr, has become one of two Democratic Senate candidates to sign onto a letter from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee urging the Senate to pass the public option through reconciliation in the current reform bill. The other is progressive favorite Bill Halter, who has issued a high-profile primary challenge to Senator Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas.

“She came out early for the public option and believes that a strong public option is probably the best way to expand coverage and keep the cost of health care from coming up,” Marshall campaign consultant Thomas Mills tells Mother Jones. “She continues to believe that this is the best way to handle reform.”

Marshall, in fact, had kicked off her campaign efforts last October by circulating a petition in support of the government-run health plan. Like Halter in Arkansas, Marshall is also something of a Democratic insurgent, having been snubbed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, who chose to support another Democratic candidate—former state senator Cal Cunningham—to run in the primary instead. “At no time did the Senate leadership meet with Secretary Marshall,” said Mills, calling the moving "irresponsible."


Yes, you read that correctly. The movement for a strong, independent consumer-protection agency has officially reached quasi-celebrity status. Heidi Montag, the reality TV mainstay and failed pop singer, is in a new, tongue-in-cheek video stumping for an independent consumer-protection agency as Congress' financial-reform talks slog on. The video, put together by the online humor site Funny or Die and Americans for Financial Reform, shows Montag poking fun at her recent plastic-surgery marathon while decrying the predatory practices of credit-card companies at the same time ("With hidden fees and standard interest-rate increases, that $11,000 jawline could end up costing you upwards of $50,000"). Now, I'm no celebrity gossip fan, and have no patience for people famous for no discernable reason whatsoever, but this video is clever, pretty damn funny, and worth watching. Here it is:


Former Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y) claims that he was "forced out" of Congress by Dem leaders because of his opposition to health care reform—not because of sexual harrassment allegations that surfaced last week. That accusation is "absurd," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters in a forceful exchange Tuesday morning. "It's absolutely untrue that there was any relationship" between what happened to Massa and health care, Hoyer said.

While it's true that Massa's departure makes passing health care reform a bit easier, the former congressman's explanation for his retirement has changed repeatedly in recent days. On Wednesday, he said that a recurrence of cancer would require him to retire. The next day, after Politico reported that a male staffer had filed a sexual harrassment complaint against Massa, the Congressman told TPM's Brian Beutler that the allegations were "totally false" and he was just a "salty old sailor." On Friday, Massa issued a statement assuring his constituents that "there is no doubt that this Ethics issue is my fault and mine alone." Then, on Sunday, Massa went on a local radio show in his district to explain that Dem leaders—including White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel—were part of a conspiracy to end his political career.

Despite Hoyer's denials, Massa appears to be sticking with his latest story. He's still scheduled to spend an hour talking about the subject on Glenn Beck's Fox News show tonight. "All Americans need to hear him," Beck says.

As President Barack Obama hits the endgame for health care reform, is he making a ploy to associate price-gouging insurance companies with Wall Street greed? Goldman Sachs recently released a report encouraging investors to buy up shares in two large insurance firms and thereby profit from the industry's soaring premiums. Now, the White House is making that brief the centerpiece of Obama's closing argument for overhauling the health system. It appears that Obama is subtly using the Wall Street titan's toxic reputation to demonize the insurance industry and rally public support for a comprehensive bill. 

In a health care speech in Pennsylvania on Monday, Obama delivered a broadside against profiteering insurance firms. As an example of the industry's greed, he highlighted a conference call organized by Goldman Sachs. "An insurance broker told Wall Street investors that insurance companies know they will lose customers if they keep raising premiums," Obama said. But, he added, the lack of competition allows insurers to keep premiums high for their remaining customers. "And they will keep doing this for as long as they can get away with it."

Obama's reference to the Goldman Sachs paper was no isolated incident. The White House press operation highlighted the report in a PR barrage targeting unfair insurance practices. White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer called attention to the study in a blog post on Sunday, while deputy press secretary Bill Burton pushed the report in a press gaggle and on Twitter on Monday morning.

The White House's emphasis on the Goldman brief is especially intriguing considering that the administration has previously come under fire for its relationship with the Wall Street investment bank. Goldman Sachs was the single largest private donor to Obama's presidential campaign, and a number of high-ranking administration officials are Goldman alums, including Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's chief of staff, Mark Patterson. Over the past year, Goldman has been attacked for profiting from everything from AIG's collapse to the Greek financial crisis. But although Obama has recently revved up his rhetoric against Wall Street buck-raking, he has generally trod carefully when it comes to the big financial firms, whose cooperation he needs to pass his financial reform package. Last month, for instance, Obama said that he didn't "begrudge" Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein for taking home a $9 million bonus, noting that some professional baseball players made more money.


US Army Pfc. Donivan Dean maintains a security overwatch as Iraqi soldiers control traffic by the Schmit Bridge in Zaab, Iraq, on Feb. 27, 2010. Photo via the US Navy by Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew D. Leistikow.

On Friday, the White House crowned its latest czar: Edward Tufte was named to the newly created Recovery Independent Advisory Panel, making him the Obama administration's unofficial data visualization guru, at least for all things stimulus-related. That's exciting news for graphics and data geeks, who generally revere Tufte as an evangelist of clean yet complex information design, the inventor of sparklines, and the sworn enemy of chartjunk and slideware. For non-geeks who need a translation: He's good at drawing charts. Plus, Tufte has some experience cutting through visual bureaucracy: He did risk-assessment work for NASA following the Challenger and Columbia explosions, concluding that the agency's unthinking reliance on bullet points and PowerPoint helped bring down the Space Shuttles. So what can E.T. (as the faithful call him) do for an administration that, for all its messaging failures, is pretty good at tooting its horn in chart form? His advisory panel is tasked with explaining the use and abuse recovery funds. On his website, Tufte is vague, saying that "I'm doing this because I like accountability and transparency." At the very least, let's hope Tufte uses his time in D.C. to drum up some support for bipartisan chart reform so we never again have to see an abomination like this:

Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, Reinhold Niebuhr, even Billy Graham: charlatan hucksters. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference? Anglicans and Episcopalians? The Society of Friends? The Catholic priests who stood at the vanguard of the US civil rights demonstrations and world human rights movements? Freedom-hating commies. If you love America, then you must run from them. No less a theological expert than Glenn Beck has spoken.

Beck took the opportunity on his radio and television shows last week to issue his faux fatwah against churches who espouse social and economic justice. His declaration of jihad—wrapped, as always, in fear, loathing, and repetition—is worth quoting at length:

I'm begging you, your right to religion and freedom to exercise religion and read all of the passages of the Bible as you want to read them and as your church wants to preach them...are going to come under the ropes in the next year. If it lasts that long it will be the next year. I beg you, look for the words 'social justice' or 'economic justice' on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, the idea - hang on, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes! (H/T to First Things; full audio is here.)

And just as the universe tends towards entropy, so, too, did Beck's rant, ending in incoherent bauble about commies and Nazis:

California Senator Roy Ashburn has always been staunchly anti-gay. He's voted against establishing Harvey Milk Day, expanding anti-discrimination rights to cover sexual orientation, and allowing homosexuals to wed.

So it was somewhat surprising to hear him announce he's gay.

Ashburn came out after an arrest last week for driving drunk on the way back from a gay bar in Sacramento. Following the admission, he stated, "Those are the words that have been so difficult for me for so long."

Infuriating hypocrisy. But also kind of sad.

California is, as the time-worn adage has it, our nation's bellwether, and nowhere is that truer than in the Golden State's prison crisis. California's inmate population is among the highest in the nation. Its complex of prisons spills over with tens of thousands of inmates housed in every available inch of space and sleep-stacked three-high. So overcrowded are California's prisons that the state penal system has been successfully sued for violating the constitutional rights of inmates—essentially by subjecting them to a public-health crisis. That its inmates consistently resort to violence in prison should come as no surprise.

The dire state of California's prisons can, in part, be traced to its draconian "three-strikes law," which throws three-time felons behind bars for a mandatory 25 years. Overflowing prison populations have, in turn, contributed to that state's bleak economic future, helping consign California to a perpetual budget deficit, annual financial crises, and repeated deep cuts in education and social funding. The state currently spends a staggering 10% of its annual operating budget, or $10.8 billion, on its prison system and its nearly 170,000 prisoners—more than it spends on the University of California system, once the jewel in the crown of American public higher education.

If you really needed any more reasons to read WorldNet Daily on a regular basis, its latest issue of Whistleblower magazine might be it. The news site, which has cornered the market on right-wing political paranoia, has come out with a special issue of its print magazine focused on "Team Obama's strategy for maintaining permanent power." Among the many underhanded ways Obama intends to steal the election, according to WND, is passing secret legislation to impose universal voter registration, which would naturally result in the registration of some illegal immigrants who "would be afforded the opportunity to vote in multiple locations."

Then there's the union-backed scheme for immigration amnesty, plus the court challenges designed to let felons vote. As WND warns ominously, "polls show felons overwhelmingly prefer Democrats." And it wouldn't be a grand conspiracy without the involvement of financier George Soros, who is backing a group called the Secretary of State Project that is, according to WND, "gearing up to steal the 2012 election for Obama and congressional Democrats by installing left-wing Democrats as secretaries of state across the nation, from which posts they can help tilt the electoral playing field."

As the magazine editor writes, all of this points to a nefarious plot by lefties to run the country by any means necessary.

"The people currently running the show in Washington," said Whistleblower Editor David Kupelian, "come from the radical leftist world of Saul Alinsky in which everything they do -- no matter how unethical, corrupt and flat-out illegal -- is morally justified if it advances their agenda. Winning votes and elections by any means possible is their stock in trade."

 Really, you just couldn't make this stuff up.