Oprah's free chicken coupon led to a Kentucky Fried throwdown this week. The Des Moines Register reported a "large, middle aged woman" hollered profanity and spat on the arm of the employee who turned down her free two-piece grilled chicken meal coupon on Tuesday. 

Oprah's threw her unweildy star power behind KFC's newest venture and the response overwhelmed both Oprah.com and Kentucky Fried Chicken, who couldn't meet the demands of the salivating hordes. New York magazine chronicled the agony and the estacy of customers. Some felt discriminated against because they used Linux and couldn't download the coupon (they're people too, O), or are Canadian (no freebies for O Canada). Others pleaded that they needed the nearly unattainable free chicken to feed their children.

Drop in at KFC.com and you'll understand the excitement. The website features happy chicken lovers two-fisting pieces of un-fried poultry while doing the "mix it in your bucket" dance. After redeeming millions of coupons, the company had to call a chicken hiatus and issued an apology and rain checks until chicken supply meets chicken demand.

China and North Korea

Is there a point at which China will finally tire of the antics of its North Korean neighbor and put its foot down?  Barbara Demick of the LA Times offers up a modest data point today:

North Korea's latest nuclear test raises the question of just how long the bonds forged between old communist allies will endure....Increasingly, China itself is questioning whether the relationship is worth the effort.

Within the Chinese intelligentsia there is a deep divide over how to handle North Korea. The Global Times, a newspaper with close party ties, Tuesday published a survey of 20 of the country's top foreign policy experts. It found them split down the middle — 10 arguing for tough sanctions against North Korea, 10 opposed.

It's not much.  Just a blip.  But I'll bet that even five years ago opinion wouldn't have been split much at all, and if it had it wouldn't have made it into the pages of a newspaper close to the party.  The times may be — slowly, subtly, silently — changing.

The Washington Post has an article today arguing that the value added tax (VAT), which is popular in Europe and used in more than 130 countries, is getting a "fresh look" in the United States. Hogwash.

A value added tax is like a sales tax that applies at every stage of the production cycle. The tax is collected from wholesalers and raw materials suppliers, not just retailers, but the end result for consumers is the same, since the businesses pass their tax costs down the supply chain. Other countries have found VAT useful because the costs of collecting it fall largely on businesses, not government, and because its structure discourages the black markets that high sales taxes often create. And economists say VAT doesn't discourage work, savings, or production as much as some other taxes do. But most liberals don't like VAT because, like sales taxes, it's regressive—its burden falls disproportionately to the poor.

According to the Post, Kent Conrad, the Democratic chair of the Senate budget committee, is giving the VAT a look-see because the Dems are hoping to find a way to pay for universal health insurance. Well, it may be "on the table," as Conrad said, but VAT isn't going anywhere soon. When you consider the politics of the situation, it seems pretty clear that the Dems are trying to look like they're considering all the options. But any sort of significant VAT isn't really in the cards. "While we do not want to rule any credible idea in or out as we discuss the way forward with Congress, the VAT tax, in particular, is popular with academics but highly controversial with policymakers," Kenneth Baer, a spokesman for White House Budget Director Peter Orszag, told the Post. That's a long way of saying that VAT is an interesting idea that isn't politically viable right now. Consumption taxes raise the final prices of goods and services. Consumers would definitely notice even a modest VAT when they bought their apple pie, beer, and baseball tickets. Do the Democrats, now at the height of their power, really want to be blamed for instituting a new regressive consumption tax in the middle of a recession? Don't bet on it.

Headline of the Day

From the LA Times:

Protesters found to be a nuisance

Yes, I suppose they are, aren't they?

Over at In These Times, David Sirota advances a new theory of American history:

The birthing of the most famous political periods and the success of their transformative agendas almost always hinge on struggles between Radical Teabaggers and Establishment Douchebags. And typically, the teabaggers of a prior era have defined the next epoch’s politics.

The point that Sirota's trying to get at is another riff on his familiar refrain—progressives need to embrace populism, or, as he puts it in this piece, "stop spending their time ridiculing teabaggery and start co-opting it through their own brand of full-throated populism." But couching such an argument in the language of UrbanDictionary is a new twist. It's definitely an attention-grabber.

Kiplinger's magazine has just named its ten best cities to live in America, and San Francisco isn't on the list. Washington, DC, however, is number three. Why, you ask? This year's list is "all about jobs," Kiplinger's says, and DC is a great place to find and keep a job in a recession:

For better or worse, the federal government is big and getting bigger. And for the Washington, D.C., area economy, that means for the better. "The government just keeps spending and adding jobs," says city spokesman Sean Madigan.

Only about one in eight workers in the Washington area—spanning D.C. proper and big chunks of adjoining Virginia and Maryland—are employed directly by the feds. Still, the government fuels nearby companies in almost every industry, especially law firms, lobbyists, and aerospace and defense companies.

We'll try to keep an eye on all of them for you.

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former CBO director and John McCain campaign advisor, wants to start up a new conservative think tank, a "Center for American Progress for the right."  Matt Yglesias, who works for the actual Center for American Progress, isn't impressed:

This seems pretty misguided to me. In particular, DHE needs to think harder about the fact that there are already well-resourced conservative think tanks with plenty of capabilities. Before CAP came on the scene, there really wasn’t a “Heritage of the left.” On the right, Heritage and AEI already exist. The problem they face is that the conservative movement, as presently constituted, is not prepared to accept anything other than “tax cuts” as a solution to anything. Consequently, they’re not really even prepared to accept the premise that other problems exist. Tax cuts can’t solve climate change, so there must be no such thing! Tax cuts can’t curb inequality, so there must not be a problem with growing inequality.

But there's another way to look at this.  After all, a decade ago conservatives would have said that liberals already had think tanks too: Brookings, the Ford Foundation, CFR, etc.  The problem is that they were the wrong kind of think tank: they may have leaned toward the left institutionally, but they weren't overtly partisan.  They weren't dedicated to a cause.

So liberals decided they needed more direct competitors to Heritage and AEI, and CAP was one of the results.  Likewise, although Holtz-Eakin may say his proposed think tank is CAP for the right, my guess is that it's really more a DLC for the right.  That's what the conservative movement needs, after all.  They have plenty of partisan, conservative think tanks at their disposal, but they've ossified so much that they're now as much a part of the problem as the Republican Party's special interest base itself.  What they need is a think tank that tries to move the party back toward the sane center, one that produces ideas beyond bashing gay rights, extolling endless tax cuts, pretending that global warming doesn't exist, and cheerleading the death of ever more people from central Asia.  They need a conservative DLC, and I'll bet that's what Holtz-Eakin really has in mind.

Yesterday, as the political and media world was processing President Barack Obama's nomination to the Supreme Court of federal appellate judge Sonia Sotomayor, I noted that his decision could split the right. Social conservatives immediately called a crusade against Sotomayor, but Senate Republicans and GOP chair Michael Steele were keeping their powder dry, obviously concerned about the political consequences of attacking the first Latina nominated to the highest court.

And more evidence of a possible split between the party's base and its leadership in Washington is emerging. I asked conservative strategist Grover Norquist if he believes the Sotomayor nomination would revive conservatives and become a rallying point for the right. "Is the organizer in you happy this happened?" I asked. Norquist emailed a reply: "Yes. Unifies the right. She said what conservatives fear liberals really think--on judges making the law, racial quotas, personal interests trumping the law." In other words, Sotomayor is the right's bogeywoman. And Norquist wants to see his side go after her.

Richard Viguerie, a founder of the modern conservative movement, also yearns for an anti-Sotomayor crusade. The day after her nomination was announced, he declared:

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The nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court is only 12 hours old and I'm already sick of it.  Conservatives, who seem constitutionally incapable of viewing any non-white nominee as anything other than identity politics run wild, have already decided she's just a crass affirmative action hire.  Out of a decade-long appelate court career, the only opinion of hers they seem to have heard of, or care about, is Ricci.  And unlike all the middle class white guys on the court, who are apparently paragons of race-blind rationality, they're convinced that she's just naturally going to be incapable of judging any case before her as anything other than a woman and a Hispanic.

Not that it matters.  We all know how this is going to play out.  First, everyone is going to start looking for some dark secret in her background that will derail her nomination.  That will probably fail.  Then she'll testify before the Senate, and everyone will ask what she thinks of Roe and Casey and Kelo.  She'll dutifully claim that she's never even heard of these cases, and on the off chance that any of them ring a bell, she'll sing the usual song about how it would be improper to say anything about any matter that might come before the court in the future.  Which is everything.  After a few weeks of this, all the Democrats and maybe a dozen or so Republicans will vote to confirm her and she'll join the court in time for the fall term.

It's all so tedious.  So instead of going though with it, why don't we just pretend we did all this, confirm her tomorrow, and then get back to something important, like fighting a couple of wars, trying to rescue the world economy, creating a national healthcare plan, and stopping global warming?