In it, but not of it. TPM DC

A funny thing has happened in the Minnesota election trial today -- they're actually making real progress!

After the judges handed down key rulings over the past week that finally established real rules -- they had heard enough from prior witnesses to rule what kinds of ballots would be admitted, and what standards to apply for any new pleas -- the campaigns are very quickly going through the motions with the election officials who do come through.

So far today they have fully examined -- that is, the witness is sworn in, direct-examined, cross-examined, re-direct-examined and excused -- election officials from several different counties, plus four municipalities in Hennepin County (Minneapolis) where the cities run elections. They also finished up an interview of another county official, which had begun yesterday afternoon.

Judge Denise Reilly even thanked and congratulated the parties for getting through "nine and a half" officials.

Who knows, at the rate they're now going they might actually be done by 2012.

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I'm not sure I agree with my boss's assessment of Washington.

You could argue that the entrenched interests stopped the Reagan and Bush administrations from doing what they would have liked, too.

I tend to think the town is more wired for inertia than anything, an entropy that stymies the ambitious goals of every president from Reagan to Obama. But I'm less despairing about it changing, too because crisis provokes change.

One sign of the crack is the Chamber of Commerce. They supported the stimulus plan and the morning after Obama's address to Congress next week, they'll be holding a panel discussion on how the money will be dispensed. Of course, the Chamber will fight Obama on the Employee Free Choice Act and any number of other issues but it's telling that they're not battling him on this.

On another matter I hear the Hilda Solis vote in the Senate could come as soon as Tuesday or at least an effort to invoke cloture and get it moving. It'd be nice to get the cabinet done by March.

The latest Fox News poll shows an interesting way that respondent perceptions can be manipulated for a desired result -- in this case, to focus on those big-spending Democrats in Washington.

In the latest poll, three questions in a row referred to the stimulus bill as "the economic stimulus and spending plan," with two of them listing an $800 billion price tag. It should be noted that the poll falsely says the bill "includes spending nearly $800 billion dollars of taxpayer money," omitting the fact that the bill's price tag includes $350 billion in tax cuts.

Then question 19: "Do you think the economic recovery legislation that passed last week is better described as a stimulus bill or a spending bill?"

The answer was Stimulus 31, Spending 52.

On the other hand, many other questions show results roughly in line with the AP/GfK poll earlier today: Voters widely approve of Obama, just barely approve of Congressional Dems, widely disapprove of Congressional Republicans, and narrowly approve of the stimulus bill. Voters say Obama genuinely sought to work in a bipartisan way with Republicans while the GOP did not return the favor, etc.

Not surprisingly, though, people think the imaginary bill that spends $800 billion in taxpayer money is too big.

... because they may come out of your nose in the course of uproarious laughter. Here's the headline on a new interview from the Austin American Statesman: "Bush rules improved the environment, says former EPA administrator".

And the money quote from Richard Greene, a regional director in the Bush-era EPA who's attempting to defend the agency's environmental enforcement record:

[D]uring the course of the Bush administration, the rules and regulations governing the operations of American business and industry were tightened and improved more than they have ever been. The tendency by some in the media, to pick one or two out of thousands of regulations and to conclude the agency didn't achieve its missions, is just bewildering to me. There were one or two things of controversy. Every one of those items you mentioned, the agency has a response to. The Bush administration even gets reversed in court because it overreached in regulatory rule-making initiatives, in federal appeals.


Yes, judges have overturned Bush environmental rules as overreaching ... in their readiness to violate the Endangered Species Act.

In Rolling Stone's new interview with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), she embraces the notion of "collateral benefit" for major financial corporations that are benefiting from the $700 billion TARP bailout.

The "collateral benefit" idea was first elucidated by Barney Frank (D-MA), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. As Frank explained it to PBS last month, the inextricable intertwining of ordinary Americans' livelihood with Wall Street's livelihood makes it impossible not to help big banks while saving the U.S. economy:

[Y]ou can't help the whole system without some incidental benefits to people that want help. It is the reverse of something terrible that we have learned to live with, collateral damage. That's in a war. ... We have the reverse of this. We have something called collateral benefit. That is, you want to get the credit system functioning again, but you can't create a whole new one from scratch. You have to work with what you have got. So one effect of helping the credit system is you are going to provide some collateral benefit, literally to people you would rather yell at.


Frank's "collateral benefit" theory makes no attempt to get at why more and more Americans have entrusted their financial future to the market over the past two decades, thereby making it impossible to save the economy without keeping Wall Street afloat.

But conservatives know the source of this cultural shift -- themselves. Right-wing strategists have long attempted to solidify a long-term Republican majority through promoting stock ownership. Listen to conservative godfather Grover Norquist, telling Frontline in 2005:

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As soon as Tom Daschle withdrew his nomination to be HHS Secretary , a lot of liberal bloggers started throwing around the names of Howard Dean and John Kitzaber, both former Democratic governors and both physicians, to replace him. Neither, we noted at the time, was seriously in play. We seem to be right. (Whew.)

We did mention Kathleen Sebelius and while there's no certain confirmation that the Kansas Governor will be nominated to be Barack Obama's HHS Secretary, outside groups following this closely tell me that Sebelius is undergoing final vetting and the White House wants to be extra, extra careful not to have this one blow up. After all it would be the fourth withdrawn cabinet nomination, following Tom Daschle, Bill Richardson and Judd Gregg. Sebelius was vetted for vice president but that's not enough. Everything is being updated, I hear. The announcement could come this week and certainly by Obama's address to the nation and a joint session of Congress on Feb 24 where Sebelius is likely to be in the gallery seated near Michelle Obama.

There's some disappointment among liberal groups about Sebelius's nomination, not because of her positions which they like but because she had the best shot at a Democratic pickup of the Senate seat that will be vacated by Sam Brownback, the Kansas Republican, when he retires at the end of his term.

You might be forgiven for thinking the Minnesota trial is quite simply insane.

Earlier today Franken lawyer David Lillehaug was cross-examining Pamela Fuller, the election official for Republican-friendly Olmsted County, attempting to show how lost ballots in a Rochester precinct had resulted in a net minus-two for Al Franken in the recount.

Then Coleman lawyer Joe Friedberg got back up to demonstrate how the math really shows that Coleman lost a net-one vote here.

Lillehaug objected. To which Friedberg snapped back: "I believe he started this, your honor!" Lillehaug was overruled, and Friedberg continued.

He started it!

In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine posted today, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) edges toward endorsing the congressional proposal to create a "truth and reconciliation commission" that would investigate a panoply of misdeeds perpetrated during the Bush years.

When interviewer Tim Dickinson asked if Pelosi could "foresee a scenario in which senior members of the Bush administration are actually prosecuted," she replied:

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The new AP/GfK poll shows that the public is optimistic that the stimulus plan will work, and they approve the performance of Democrats on the economy -- and disapprove of the Republicans.

The poll was conducted from February 12-17, during the final days of the compromise process for the stimulus bill. So we now have a look at public opinion during the period when it became clear that the bill was going to pass:

• 52% of Americans approve of the stimulus bill, with 41% disapproving. And the public is confident by a 54%-45% margin that the plan will result in significant improvement.

• President Obama's overall approval rating comes in at 67%, with only 24% disapproval. His specific approval on the economy is 68%-27%.

• Congress' approval is at only 31%-59%, but additional questions show a much more complicated picture. The number for Congressional Democrats is at 49%-45%, while Republicans are at 33%-59%. The Republicans appear to be cramping Congress' style.

• Only 30% say Obama hasn't done enough to cooperate with Republicans in Congress -- the GOP base vote, basically -- while 62% say he's doing the right amount and 6% say it's been too much. Flipping it around, only 27% say Republicans have done enough to cooperate with Obama, with 64% saying not enough and 5% saying too much.

• And here's another interesting number. Respondents were asked whether various measures would help the economy -- and 65% say pulling out of Iraq would help.

Yet another anti-stimulus GOP governor, who had been hinting previously that his state would be turning down cash, is now accepting the money.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who co-wrote an op-ed piece with South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford about all the things that were wrong with the bill, has now informed the White House that he'll accept the money. (By the way, Sanford is taking some of the money, too.)

Perry is, however, leaving the door open to not taking all of it, as he doesn't want to spend money that would expand existing social programs, and thus trap him into having to continue the increases later on with state money. Perry's spokeswoman said that they are studying the aid package "line by line to determine what is in the best interest of Texas taxpayers."

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