Kurdistan

The recent provincial elections in Iraq excluded the four provinces of Kurdistan but did include the mixed border province of Nineveh, which was won by Al Hadbaa, an Arab nationalist party. McClatchy's Leila Fadel reports:

Along a 300-mile strip of disputed territory that stretches across northern Iraq [] the elections have rekindled the longstanding hostility between Sunni Muslim Arabs and Sunni Kurds, and there are growing fears that war could erupt.

....Because Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki ran on a strong central government platform and America's restraining influence will wane as U.S. troops draw down during the next three years, there may be nothing to stop a Kurdish-Arab war.

"They will actually try to draw a new green line," said Joost Hiltermann, the deputy program director for the Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis Group. "Kurds have been strong since 2003, and now they're not as strong and they've somewhat overreached. The question is: Are they going to concede some things or are they going to fight over this?"

"Violence could happen for sure," Hiltermann said. "Eventually, the strongest is going to win. The question is, who is the strongest? The Kurds have pushed the bridge too far, and they don't have the power to realize it."

The good news, I suppose, is that a Kurdish-Arab war has been right around the corner for years, but it never happens.  So maybe it won't this time either.  But this is still the soft underbelly of Iraqi federalism and worth keeping an eye on.

He's only been out of office a month, but already the public is clamoring to see George W. Bush—Will Ferrell as Bush, that is.

In the Broadway show You're Welcome America. One Final Night with George W. Bush, Ferrell reprises his popular SNL impression of Dubya. And while few have made pilgrimages to see the real 43 at his Texas digs, Ferrell's lampooning has already drummed up $5 million in advance sales.

Critics are calling the show—which opened early this month and will run through mid-March—fun, if predictable. Notes The Guardian: "It does not induce surprise or provoke new debate...(but) it does offer a perfectly competent performance; rather more than you could say of its subject."

Is it too much to hope that Tina Fey/Sarah Palin will be next?

Oscar Time

It occurred to me last week that I don't care about the Academy Awards this year.  Not a big deal, of course — lots of people don't care about them — but this is sort of unusual for me.  I'm not a huge film junkie or anything, but I probably see 30 or 40 movies a year and I always love watching the Oscars.  It's the only awards show I like.

But this year?  Eh.  If I miss it I won't care much.  It's the movies themselves, I guess.  The odds-on favorite for Best Picture is Slumdog Millionaire, a movie that was entertaining enough to watch but that wore badly on me the more I thought about it.  The game show schtick began to fray about halfway through, and the rest of the plot contrivances were worthy of a mediocre cable drama series.  If this had been an American movie made in Hollywood, it wouldn't have gotten a second look from anybody.

And the rest?  I enjoyed Benjamin Button, but it's an inch deep.  Frost/Nixon was OK but never really did much for me.  The Reader left me entirely cold.  By process of elimination, I guess that means my favorite is Milk, which had a great performance from Sean Penn but was otherwise pretty flat.

And the Best Actress category?  What a travesty.  Melissa Leo gave the best performance of the year, but Nate Silver says she has a 0% chance of winning, and who am I to argue with Nate Silver?  The two top picks, Kate Winslet and Meryl Streep, gave performances that I thought were grotesquely bad, and I can hardly stand the thought of seeing one of them take home the statue.

On the other hand, I'm OK with Heath Ledger winning for his Joker portrayal, and both Mickey Rourke and Sean Penn are good picks for Best Actor.  So it's not all bad.  More broadly, though, I can't remember the last time there wasn't even a single movie whose chances I cared much about.  How about you?

Down in the Hood

The new chairman of the GOP really knows how connect with the youth of America:

Newly elected Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele plans an “off the hook” public relations offensive to attract younger voters, especially blacks and Hispanics, by applying the party's principles to “urban-suburban hip-hop settings.”

This is ridiculous.  I'm a 50-year-old white guy from Orange County, but even I've seen the nationally televised ad that makes clear just how antique that phrase is.  What's next?  A GOP initiative to attract all the hep cats from North Beach?

Carbon Dioxide Followup

My post last night about the EPA regulating carbon dioxide emissions was a quickie, just intended to pass along the news and note some of the political implications.  But David Roberts says I may be downplaying how important these new EPA regs could be:

This element of Obama's impending energy policy hasn't gotten nearly the attention it deserves. If he does it right, it could be the secret weapon that kills new coal plants for good — with far greater certainty than a middling cap-and-trade program. Obama has always said, to those who were listening closely, that he plans to prevent the construction of a new fleet of dirty coal plants, if not by carbon pricing then by other means. EPA regs are the other means. Beyond that, and perhaps even more importantly, EPA regs could hasten the demise of existing coal plants.

Read the whole thing for a more detailed understanding of what EPA may end up doing.  And for the wonks among you, David also has a more detailed explanation than I did of the difficulties with using the machinery of the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases.

New coal plants are already expensive and hard to build.  If EPA institutes even modest new CO2 regs they'll become so prohibitively expensive that we'll never build another one on U.S. soil.  Politically, this will cause (a) howls of protest from the midwest, which relies heavily on coal-fired electricity, and (b) enormous pressure to set up an alternative regulatory regime.  But any plausible alternative, even if it's weaker than the EPA regs, is likely to raise the price of building a coal-fired power plant beyond what anyone is willing to pay for it.  There's a pretty good chance that this is, finally, the beginning of the end for coal.

Edsall Slams Greenspan

Going after Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman, these days is like shooting dead fish in a drained-out bathtub. But Thomas Edsall spanks the onetime Oracle something awful in HuffPo. The piece opens:

On June 10, 1999, at the height of his power, Alan Greenspan told members of Harvard's graduating class how, in the future, they should assess their lives: "The true measure of a career is to be able to be content, even proud, that you succeeded through your own endeavors without leaving a trail of casualties in your wake."

As Edsall goes on to detail, there's now plenty of bloody mess in Greenspan's wake. He notes that Greenspan had a hand in most of the major regulatory actions (or, put more accurately, non-actions) that led to the current collapse of capitalism as we (and he) know it. These days, the former acolyte of Ayn Rand is advocating the "temporary" nationalization" of "lemon banks" to "facilitate a swift and orderly restructuring." From free-market laissez-faire to corporate socialism, what a long, strange trip it's been. Too bad he took the rest of us on it.

Pack Journalism

Ezra sez:

I love Mike Allen's Playbook. Unabashedly. I wouldn't even deny that it's "the 4chan of political reporting." But it's the best guide to the morning news, and Allen mixes "drive the day" trivia — and there is a lot of that — with a good eye for the substance in stories.

Eh.  Count me out.  We all complain about pack journalism and the glorification of process over policy, but then we all start out our days with.....Playbook.  And The Note.  And The Page.  And Memeorandum.  And then we all spend the rest of the day writing about the exact same bunch of process trivia because Mike Allen woke up before us and that's what he told us to write about.

There's nothing to be done about this.  It's human nature.  But I don't have to like it, and I don't.

California Budget Watch

California finally has a budget, and all it took was a cigar-filled arm twisting session with Arnold Schwarzenegger to procure the final required Republican vote.  The arm twisting, however, wasn't done by Arnie:

Under the arrangement, Sen. Abel Maldonado of Santa Maria provided the final Republican vote needed to pass a spending plan with billions of dollars in tax hikes. In exchange, Democrats agreed to rewrite election rules that Maldonado said had allowed the Capitol to become paralyzed by partisanship, leading the state to the brink of financial ruin.

....Democrats initially said Maldonado's call for "open" primaries, in which voters could cross party lines and candidates of all parties would compete in the same primary, followed by a runoff of the top two vote-getters, was too substantial to be pushed through in a budget deal. But Maldonado said the current budget stalemate proved that California could not return to fiscal sanity without fundamental changes in the way it elects its representatives.

Stay tuned.  We've already been through this twice, first in 1996, with an open primary initiative that passed but was later ruled unconstitutional, and then again in 2004 with a modified initiative that failed.  Maldonado will get his ballot measure, but there's no telling if he can get it past the voters.

Yesterday I noted that Louisiana Governor and hardline Republican Bobby Jindal is contemplating turning down stimulus funds as a way to burnish his conservative credentials in advance of a 2012 or 2016 presidential run. Now it looks like the rest of the GOP's potential presidential candidates are doing the same. Here's MSNBC's First Read:

A half-dozen Republican governors are considering turning down some money from the federal stimulus package, a move opponents say puts conservative ideology ahead of the needs of constituents struggling with foreclosures and unemployment. Who are these GOP governors? They're a "who's who" of possible presidential candidates in 2012 -- Sanford (SC), Jindal (LA), Palin (AK), Perry (TX), and Barbour (MS).

This is a dangerous game. For the sake of making a ideological stand (and scoring some political PR points), these governors are endangering the livelihoods of their constiuents. There is no serious argument for turning down stimulus funds, after all. Sure, these governors may have (wrongly) thought that tax cuts would serve as a better stimulant of their local economy, but now that the federal money is available, it's not as though it can make things worse. And if we have a national tax increase 15 years from now to pay for all this spending, certain states won't be exempted because of the actions of their governors today.

Last year the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA is required to decide if carbon dioxide is a pollutant as defined by the Clean Air Act.  The Bush White House basically just ignored the ruling, but now there's a new sheriff in town:

The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to act for the first time to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that scientists blame for the warming of the planet, according to top Obama administration officials.

....Lisa P. Jackson, the new E.P.A. administrator, said in an interview that she had asked her staff to review the latest scientific evidence and prepare the documentation for a so-called endangerment finding....If the environmental agency determines that carbon dioxide is a dangerous pollutant to be regulated under the Clean Air Act, it would set off one of the most extensive regulatory rule makings in history. Ms. Jackson knows that she would be stepping into a minefield of Congressional and industry opposition and said that she was trying to devise a program that allayed these worries.

This is sort of a good-news-bad-news situation.  The bad news is that the Clean Air Act probably isn't a very good vehicle for regulating greenhouse gases.  Its state-based machinery just wasn't built for something like this.  The good news is that this very fact might act as a spur for Congress to enact something better, such as a national carbon tax, cap-and-trade plan, or even simply some more appropriately designed regulation.  Of these, cap-and-trade seems to be the most likely candidate, since it has support both in Congress and the White House already, and it might pick up some Republican votes it wouldn't otherwise get if the alternative is to let the hated EPA start writing its own rules.

And if it doesn't act as a spur?  Then it's still good news, because it means at least we'll get something, even if it's not the most efficient regulatory regime we can imagine.  All things considered, I'm a fan of cap-and-trade myself, but I figure any port in a storm.  If I can't get what I want, I'll settle for the EPA at least getting the ball rolling.  Eventually the business community will scream hard enough to make Congress do something intelligent.