Kevin Drum

The Circular Firing Squad

| Mon Jun. 22, 2009 9:19 AM PDT

As long as we're on the subject of liberals being their own worst enemies — and we were on that subject, weren't we? — check out Josh Harkinson's piece on the civil war over Waxman-Markey among enviros.  It's been brewing for a while, but it's now starting to go mainstream.  For a look at what they're fighting over, a handy W-M checklist is here.

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Monopoly Healthcare

| Mon Jun. 22, 2009 9:07 AM PDT

Republicans pretty much oppose all Democratic proposals to reform healthcare.  So naturally they oppose the creation of a public option as part of healthcare reform too. No mystery there.  But why do so many Democrats oppose it?  Paul Krugman speculates:

I may have a new hypothesis about the political economy of the health care fight. One thing that’s obvious, if you look at the balking Democrats I chided in today’s column, is that almost all of them come from states with small population. These are also, by and large, states in which one or at most two private insurers dominate the market.

So here’s a suggestion: while the opponents of a private plan say that they’re trying to defend market competition, what they’re actually doing is defending lucrative local monopolies.

There's probably something to this.  It doesn't even have to be especially sinister: politicians routinely pay outsize attention to companies with a big presence in their state even if they aren't outsize campaign contributors.  Though the latter certainly doesn't hurt.

Anyway — interesting theory.

Quote of the Day

| Mon Jun. 22, 2009 8:31 AM PDT

From Sen. John Thune (R–SD), commenting on his disappointment with the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court:

"She doesn't have the punch out there in terms of fundraising and recruiting, I think — at least so far."

That's a real shame, isn't it?  But don't lose hope. I'm sure there's still plenty of mileage left in pretending that Obama wants to take away your guns, force your daughters to abort their babies, and outlaw the Bible.

Best in Blog: 22 June 2009

| Mon Jun. 22, 2009 7:33 AM PDT

Was Sunday's calm the beginning of the end in Iran, or just the calm before the storm? This video of a teenage girl being gunned down suggests the latter. Meanwhile, the EPA declared an environmental emergency in Montana, there's beef in KFC chicken, and Tuesday's debut of the film New Muslim Cool shows how Bush-era Islamophobia affected one Latino family's daily life.

What's Next in Iran?

| Sun Jun. 21, 2009 10:46 PM PDT

The BBC reports that a day after Saturday's crackdown in Tehran, things were quiet on Sunday.  The Guardian suggests this might be the beginning of the end:

Protesters who have shaken the authorities by venting anger en masse at the "stolen" elections that returned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to office spoke of a hiatus, even a despair, settling on the movement after yesterday's Saturday's clashes killed at least 10 and wounded scores more.

But in Time, Robin Wright says this may be the calm before the storm, partly thanks to the widely circulated video of a woman known as "Neda" being gunned down on Saturday:

Although it is not yet clear who shot "Neda" (a soldier? pro-government militant? an accidental misfiring?), her death may have changed everything. For the cycles of mourning in Shiite Islam actually provide a schedule for political combat — a way to generate or revive momentum. Shiite Muslims mourn their dead on the third, seventh and 40th days after a death, and these commemorations are a pivotal part of Iran's rich history.

....Shiite mourning is not simply a time to react with sadness. Particularly in times of conflict, it is also an opportunity for renewal. The commemorations for "Neda" and the others killed this weekend are still to come. And the 40th day events are usually the largest and most important.

If Wright is correct, Tuesday could be a pivotal day.  Stay tuned.

Iran Update

| Sun Jun. 21, 2009 12:03 PM PDT

The New York Times: "Estimates of the death toll in clashes [Saturday] between security forces and demonstrators protesting what they called a fraudulent presidential election varied. State television said that 10 had died, while radio reports said 19 people had been killed.  Major streets and squares of Tehran were saturated with police and Basij militia forces. There were reports of scattered confrontations with the police, but there was no confirmation of any new injuries Sunday evening.".....LA Times: "There was uncertainty over what might unfold next. Would protesters rally again despite the government's blunt warnings it would use force to clear the streets, as they did Saturday? Or were both sides recalibrating strategies to keep the nation from sliding into further chaos?"

Juan Cole: "The regime has arrested Faezeh Hashemi Rafsanjani, daughter of the former president, who spoke at a pro-Mousavi rally, along with 4 other members of that family. This step is typical of an old Iranian ruling technique, of keeping provincial tribal chieftains in check by keeping some of their children hostage at the royal court."

Roger Cohen reporting from Tehran: "I don’t know where this uprising is leading. I do know some police units are wavering.".....Shahram Kholdi: "There is a division in the ranks of the police, which in a way is a good sign. Two close friends [...] were stopped at a check point and their car trunk was full of posters and green bands. The constables took them to their immediate commander who confiscated all the material and ordered them to be arrested. However, as they were taken to another check point where the district commander was, he overruled his superiors [...] As they got in the car to leave the station, the district commander told them that they have to be extra careful and told them Movaffagh Bashid (meaning roughly 'good luck').".....Andrew Sullivan: "Just watch this pitched battle in the streets between a crowd and the riot police (via BBC Farsi). And watch it to the very end, as the police suddenly turn tail and run."

Chatham House on irregularities in the vote: "The massive increases from 2005, the collapse of regional variations, and the absence of any clear correlation between increases in turnout and increased support for any candidate on their own make the results problematic.".....BBC: "Iranian authorities have asked the BBC's correspondent in Tehran to leave the country within 24 hours."

Al Arabiya: "Iran's religious clerks in Qom and members of the Assembly of Experts, headed by former President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, are mulling the formation of an alternative collective leadership to replace that of the supreme leader, sources in Qom told Al Arabiya on condition of anonymity.".....The Lede: "More splintering among Iran’s clerics is reported by Reuters.".....Fareed Zakaria: "Something very important has been laid bare in Iran today — legitimacy does not flow from divine authority but from popular support.".....Bill Clinton: "Basically, this is about a government trying to deny the modern world."

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Chart of the Day

| Sun Jun. 21, 2009 10:03 AM PDT

Republicans have been screaming blue murder for months about the cost of the cap-and-trade provision of the Waxman-Markey climate change bill.  It's going to cost us $1,600 each! No, that's wrong: it's going to cost us $3,100 each!  Head for the hills!

So Rep. Dave Camp, the ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means committee, asked the Congressional Budget Office for a verdict.  And guess what?  The net cost turned out to be — at most — $175 per household by the year 2020.  That's less than $70 per person:

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the net annual economywide cost of the cap-and-trade program in 2020 would be $22 billion — or about $175 per household. That figure [...] does not include the economic benefits and other benefits of the reduction in GHG emissions and the associated slowing of climate change....Overall net costs would average 0.2 percent of households’ after-tax income.

Low income households would fare even better.  The CBO's table of net costs is below.

Compare and Contrast

| Sun Jun. 21, 2009 9:31 AM PDT

From McClatchy:

President Barack Obama is morphing into George W. Bush, as administration attorneys repeatedly adopt the executive-authority and national-security rationales that their Republican predecessors preferred.

In courtroom battles and freedom-of-information fights from Washington, D.C., to California, Obama's legal arguments repeatedly mirror Bush's: White House turf is to be protected, secrets must be retained and dire warnings are wielded as weapons.

From the Associated Press:

Gay rights groups expressed dismay with the Obama administration Friday over its championing of the Defense of Marriage Act, a law the president pledged to try to repeal while on the campaign trail.

The government filed a motion late Thursday to dismiss the case of Arthur Smelt and Christopher Hammer, who are challenging the 1996 federal act....It repeated several arguments made under Bush, including the argument that a union between a man and a woman is "the traditional, and universally recognized, version of marriage."

From the Los Angeles Times:

As a candidate for president, Barack Obama wooed environmentalists with a promise to "support and defend" pristine national forest land from road building and other development that had been pushed by the George W. Bush administration.

But five months into Obama's presidency, the new administration is actively opposing those protections on about 60 million acres of federal woodlands in a case being considered by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

....Whatever the strategy, the result has been a series of cases in which President Obama appears to be taking positions in court that run counter to his stated goals....The Interior Department this spring, for example, defended a Bush plan to lease western Colorado's picturesque Roan Plateau for oil and gas drilling....Administration lawyers have also fought environmentalists in court over a coal mining technique known as mountaintop removal.

Hope and change, baby, hope and change.

Friday Cat Blogging - 19 June 2009

| Fri Jun. 19, 2009 12:32 PM PDT

On the left, Inkblot looks like a subject in a Rembrandt still life.  Or so he thinks.  On the right, Domino is getting a bellyful of afternoon sun.  No problems with body image for Domino!  Enjoy your weekend, everybody.

Yet More VAT

| Fri Jun. 19, 2009 11:35 AM PDT

A couple of days ago the New York Times reported that House Democrats were considering a VAT (a tax similar to a national sales tax) as a partial funding source for national healthcare.  Today AP reports this again.  Jon Cohn is pleased.  Ezra Klein isn't.

I continue to think this isn't a serious possibility.  The VAT is just one of half a dozen potential revenue sources that Ways & Means is considering, and in the end my guess is that the others are far more likely to be approved than a VAT.  But I'm happy to see this on the table anyway.  One of these days I think we're going to need a VAT as a funding source for healthcare, but it's not going to happen until the ground has been prepared and it morphs from being viewed as an outré piece of European socialism to being just an ordinary and familiar option to argue over.  It's an Overton window kind of thing, and the sooner it gets started the better.

Bruce Bartlett has more on the VAT here and here.  I've written about it here. Properly constructed, it's transparent, reasonably progressive, able to raise significant sums, and economically efficient.  It's worth trying to give it a higher profile.