Kevin Drum - October 2009

Obama and the Public Option

| Mon Oct. 26, 2009 11:28 AM EDT

Ezra Klein and Jon Cohn both report that the Senate leadership is getting a little annoyed with President Obama regarding his support for various flavors of the public option.  They want to know exactly where he stands, and he's not telling them.  Ezra:

If the White House wants to advocate for the trigger, fine. If the White House wants to advocate for the public option, fine. But for the White House to host one meeting where they signal that they're uncomfortable with Reid's decision to push the envelope on the public option and then make a big effort to walk that meeting back after the left gets angry is confusing everybody.....Since the administration is considered the most important actor here, no one knows quite how to structure their strategy so long as the White House refuses to fully show its cards.

And Jon:

Supporters of the public plan have made headway by seizing on a proposed compromise first introduced by Delaware Senator Tom Carper — a proposal under which the federal government would create some sort of national public plan, but still allow states to opt out of it....But when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid briefed the president at the White House on Wednesday, Obama responded with a series of tough questions — not rejecting the idea, but not rushing to embrace it, either. When word of that meeting leaked out, public option supporters took Obama's reaction to mean that the administration continued to prefer the "trigger" compromise, under which a failure by private insurers to deliver affordable coverage would trigger the creation of a public plan.

I think this is a case where my sympathies may be more with Obama than with the Senate leadership.  My guess is that Obama (a) supports a strong public option but (b) doesn't really care about it that much.  Like it or not, that's just the way he feels: he'll support anything that Reid can deliver 60 votes for.  So if Reid tells him flatly that he thinks he can pass opt-out, but he needs a full-court press on, say, Nelson and Lincoln, I'll bet that Obama would be on board as long as his own staff agreed with Reid's assessment.

But is Reid telling him anything that clear cut?  Nobody knows for sure, but I'm sure not getting that impression, and no president is going to lay the full power of the Oval Office on the line without that.  This is hardly something unique to the Obama presidency.

Bottom line: everyone's getting frustrated, but this is just a very tricky issue.  It's literally something where one or two senators can make or break it, and Obama might or might not have the leverage to get them on his side.  Either way, though, it strikes me that Reid needs to deliver a very clear message on whip counts, who the holdouts are, and possible bribes to get them in line.  He's really the key player here, not Obama.

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Quote of the Day

| Sun Oct. 25, 2009 1:51 PM EDT

From Azizullah Ludin, chairman of Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission, on how the runoff between incumbent Hamid Karzai and challenger Abdullah Abdullah is going to turn out:

We will have another election, and we’ll have the same result.  Karzai is going to win.

Dexter Filkins of the New York Times reports that Ludin "smiled broadly" when he made this pronouncement.  That's very comforting.  Via Isaac Chotiner.

Futility Bleg

| Sat Oct. 24, 2009 6:11 PM EDT

So I'm watching the Oregon-Washington game, and earlier in the first half, following a sack and a holding penalty, the Ducks were left with second and 36.  Which got me wondering: what's the longest yardage a team has ever had to make a first down?  3rd and 50?  4th and 75?  Anyone happen to know the record in this category?

I'm watching the game on my new "free" hi-def TV.  And the TV itself really was free.  But of course it didn't fit in our current TV cabinet thingy, so we had to buy a new one.  And what's the point of a hi-def TV unless you call up the cable company and order hi-def service?  And hey, as long as I'm at it, why not get a few more channels too?  And maybe I need a Blu-Ray player too.  All told, my "free" TV will probably cost a couple grand just in its first year.  Sheesh.  I'm an idiot.

Plus I now have an old TV and TV cabinet to somehow get rid of.  The cabinet is just a bear.  It doesn't seem that big — maybe five feet wide and as high as my chin — but it weighs a ton.  I can barely move the thing.  I suppose this probably means it's well built, but at this point I sort of wish it were a little flimsier.

Death is Public, So Why Not Taxes?

| Sat Oct. 24, 2009 2:46 PM EDT

Via Alex Tabarrok, this AP dispatch on egalitarianism gone wild is pretty interesting:

In a move that would be unthinkable elsewhere, tax authorities in Norway have issued the "skatteliste," or "tax list," for 2008 to the media under a law designed to uphold the country's tradition of transparency.

....To non-Scandinavians, it would seem to be a gross violation of privacy.  The tax list stirs up a media frenzy, with splashy headlines revealing oil-rich Norway's wealthiest man, woman and celebrity couple.

....The information had been available to media until 2004, when a more conservative government banned the publication of tax records. Three years later, a new, more liberal government reversed the legislation and also made it possible for media to obtain tax information digitally and disseminate it online. Norway's 2007 law emphasized that ''first and foremost, it's the press that can contribute to a critical debate'' on wealth and the elaborate tax scheme that, along with the country's oil wealth, keeps Norway's extensive — and expensive — welfare system afloat.

Apparently the Norwegian data includes total wealth, not just income, which is a little surprising.  Does Norway have a wealth tax?

UPDATE: Turns out the United States tried this experiment for a couple of years back in the 1920s.  However, "popular discomfort with the 1924 experiment prompted lawmakers to repeal the publicity provision two years later."  Thanks to Philip Klinkner for the pointer.

Fox Update

| Sat Oct. 24, 2009 11:43 AM EDT

Did the Treasury Department try to exclude Fox from conducting a pool interview with pay czar Kenneth Feinberg on Thursday?  That was yesterday's story, but today it's all being chalked up to a big misunderstanding:

Feinberg did a pen and pad with reporters to brief them on cutting executive compensation. TV correspondents, as they do with everything, asked to get the comments on camera. Treasury officials agreed and made a list of the networks who asked (Fox was not among them).

But logistically, all of the cameras could not get set up in time or with ease for the Feinberg interview, so they opted for a round robin where the networks use one pool camera. Treasury called the White House pool crew and gave them the list of the networks who'd asked for the interview.

The network pool crew noticed Fox wasn't on the list, was told that they hadn't asked and the crew said they needed to be included. Treasury called the White House and asked top Obama adviser Anita Dunn. Dunn said yes and Fox's Major Garrett was among the correspondents to interview Feinberg last night.

Hmmm.  This doesn't quite feel like it's the entire story, but for now I guess the ball is back in Fox's court.  Did they initially ask for an interview with Feinberg or not?  Inquiring minds want to know.

Today's Mystery Guest Cat: Deacon

| Sat Oct. 24, 2009 1:19 AM EDT

It's Laura, all Tamiflued up to bring you Kevin and David's Friday Week-in-Review podcast, the latest mystery guest cat pic, and a fun way to turn your cat into a world-saving MoJo cover model.

First, the podcast: Which health care reform gun is attached to the trigger option? Who's behind the new World-of-Warcraft-like Obama conspiracy online game? And what will Inkblot and Domino be doing for Saturday's International Day of Climate Action, other than posing naked on the cover of Mother Jones? Listen to the latest Week-In-Review here.

I can haz climate treaty? Check out Inkblot and Domino on the cover of MoJo's new Facebook app, then make your own family version and consider online holiday cards done this year.

Last, congrats to Guest Cat #4, appearing completely unruffled by Fox minions in Kevin's Drum Beat newsletter today and below. [For Kevin's newsletter-exclusive weekly bonus post and mystery cat news, sign up here.]

Reader Mynda McGuire: Deacon was a hungry stray who entered church services one Sunday every time the doors opened. Ushers took him out only to find him right back in. Hence his name.

Laura McClure hosts weekly podcasts and is a writer, editor, and sometime geek for Mother Jones. Read her recent investigative feature on lifehacking gurus here.

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Friday Cat Blogging - 23 October 2009

| Fri Oct. 23, 2009 2:48 PM EDT

The house ad running over on the right says, "Put your kid (or yourself, or your cat) on our climate cover!"  I think we can all guess how that's going to play out around here, can't we?  So here they are: October's latest cover models, urging you to turn down the thermostat this winter and just curl up under the blankets with your staff humans if you get cold.

Want to create your own cover?  Just click here.  It's fun for the whole family, feline and otherwise.

Big Ag

| Fri Oct. 23, 2009 2:28 PM EDT

I still haven't gotten used to writing for a bimonthly magazine.  I've spent the past six weeks buried so deep in a story about the finance lobby that I'd almost forgotten that I wrote a short piece about the ag lobby before that.  But I did.  And now it's on newsstands everywhere.  Or you can just click the link and read it online.

It's all part of our special climate section in the current issue, which you can see here.  Or you can go to your local Barnes & Noble and buy a copy.  Or subscribe!  We're all about choices around here.

Fox and the White House

| Fri Oct. 23, 2009 12:59 PM EDT

Just a few minutes ago I emailed a friend that I thought it was probably a good idea for Obama's folks to take some shots at Fox News, but that "keeping it up would make him look whiny and unpresidential.  He's gotten the conversation kicked off, and that's all he can do.  He should now drop it and let everyone else keep it going."  Then I read this:

In a sign of discomfort with the White House stance, Fox’s television news competitors refused to go along with a Treasury Department effort on Tuesday to exclude Fox from a round of interviews with the executive-pay czar Kenneth R. Feinberg that was to be conducted with a “pool” camera crew shared by all the networks. That followed a pointed question at a White House briefing this week by Jake Tapper, an ABC News correspondent, about the administration’s treatment of “one of our sister organizations.”

This is really inexcusable.  If the White House wants to have a public feud with Fox News, that's fine.  It's a political decision, and they'll either win or lose on a political basis.  But excluding them from the press pool displays an appalling lack of judgment.  Someone in the press office needs to take a deep breath and rethink exactly how far it's appropriate to take this.

NATO and Afghanistan

| Fri Oct. 23, 2009 12:30 PM EDT

NATO's defense establishment speaks up on Afghanistan:

NATO defense ministers gave their broad endorsement Friday to the counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan laid out by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, increasing pressure on the Obama administration and on their own governments to commit more military and civilian resources for the mission to succeed.

....Although the broad acceptance by NATO defense ministers of General McChrystal’s strategic review included no decision on new troops....

I guess my first, cynical reaction is: wake me up when anyone in Europe agrees to actually send more troops.  Until then, I'm not sure I care what their defense ministers think.

That's my second reaction too.  But my third reaction is a tiny bit of cautious optimism.  In the end, I don't think Obama can withstand Pentagon pressure to send more troops to Afghanistan, and if that's the case then additional NATO support increases the odds of success.  Even if it's mostly peacekeepers and civilians — hell, maybe especially if it's peacekeepers and civilians — it makes a difference both in terms of raw numbers and legitimacy.  So a bit of pressure from the the European defense establishment is helpful.

On the other hand, to return to my first and second reactions, the Times notes this at the end of the story: "At the same time, though, some allies with forces in Afghanistan are cautiously discussing how and when to end their deployments there."  Big surprise.  Overall, I'd say the odds of Europe having more troops in Afghanistan at the end of 2010 than they do now are pretty slim.