mickey's assignment desk



Hit Parade Archive
December, 2001

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Charles Peters once said William Safire's flaw was that "he has the soul of a New York P.R. man." There's a good example of this in today's column, which discusses the new Bush principle that "whenever a government offers safe haven to terrorists" it is open to attack. This seems like a useful doctrine, but in Safire's hands it becomes a neat little press-release theme, with no loose ends. Safire writes:

pressure is on Arafat to defeat his own internal insurrection or be replaced by Palestinians willing and able to stop the terrorists.
And which Palestinians would that be? ... Admitting there might not be any such Palestinians, of course, would spoil the sunny everything's-falling-into-place tone of the day's release. ... You also get the impression that on a dare Safire could sit down and in half an hour turn out an equally persuasive column going the other way ... (12/31)

As noted by all-powerful hit-king Instapundit, the NYT's recent excellent piece on a failed terrorist plot to bomb the American Embassy in Paris lends some support to the welfare-causes-terrorism thesis. The Times' Steven Erlanger and Chris Hedges describe how Islamic radicalism flourishes in the public housing projects of the French suburbs, where immigrants who "have no job. ... no information, no hope for the future" find jihad gives their lives structure and meaning. These bleak communities of people without jobs are, of course, sustained by the French welfare state. Even if specific individual terrorists aren't on the dole, the ghettos in which they thrive, and in which other terrorists are prepared, wouldn't exist without welfare. ... (12/29)

Graybeards to the rescue: WaPo's Charles Lane reports that the procedures for Bush's military tribunals were sensibly made less draconian when Defense Sec. Donald Rumsfeld decided to consult

a select group of centrist senior lawyers who have served in top positions in both Democratic and Republican administrations -- and who, in several cases, are trusted friends of the defense secretary. "He wanted graybeards who've been around the track and who are at a stage of life where they are not trying to make any points," one of those advisers said.
Who were these Gandalf-like gurus? The obvious suspect: Lloyd Cutler. Update: They included (in addition to Cutler) Newton Minow, Griffin Bell, William Coleman and William Webster. Most were listed by Lane in his original story.... The Establishment lives! ... (12/29)

All economic indicators are pointing up, many for the second month in a row. a) This is bad news for paleoliberals, who could use a prolonged recession -- and rise in homelessness, welfare, and joblessness -- to make the argument that old-fashioned left remedies (unionization, welfare, housing subsidies) are necessary to improve the situation of the poor (as opposed to the '90s Clintonian combination of tight labor markets, free trade, declining union power and government assistance tied to work, not mere poverty). b) They laughed when kausfiles rashly predicted, in July, that the economy would emerge "from its current slowdown" on October 25, when the release of Windows XP would provoke a revival of the moribund tech sector. Notwithstanding the best efforts of Osama Bin Laden, WaPo reports,

Even high-tech orders, which have [been] falling since the middle of last year, were also up for the second month in a row. Combined orders for computers, semiconductors and communications equipment "were the strongest since last June," said Ray Stone of Stone & McCarthy, a financial markets research firm. "This sector appears to have bottomed out. This is important because it was this sector that served as a major drag on overall manufacturing activity for about a full year."
[Does this compensate for your 9/12 prediction that 9/11 would be "off the evening news by Thanksgiving," which Andrew Sullivan has just labeled the "Worst Prediction of the Year?"--ed. Hey! I said "I suspect the story will be off the evening news," not "I predict"! And we've almost had a 9/11-free MSN Home Page! Give it up, man. Just let it go--ed. Actually the recovery may also be due to the very phenomenon I was trying to dramatize with that stupid Thanksgiving prediction ... er, suspicion -- namely the tendency of our society "to process information much faster" and thus cycle through emotions more quickly. "There was a lot of fear that the shock could cause consumers to go into hibernation," one Wall Street economist tells the NYT. "The shock of Sept. 11 and all those events seems to have faded more quickly than any of us thought a short time ago." But it was still stupid--ed. Yes.] (12/28)

What does aptly-named tabloid CEO David Pecker, a major violator of basic journalistic ethics when he bossed Premiere (essential details in third graf here), have over Neal Travis? Whatever it is, it's enough to get Travis to run a pathetically lame item about Pecker having dinner with his wife at a New York restaurant. And the news is ... they brought their two small dogs! Wow! Gossip doesn't get any hotter than that! ... (12/27)

Must we all become relativists if we're to live in peace? Kevin Hasson persuasively blasts Bill Clinton, Andrew Sullivan and Thomas Friedman. ... Just because I think Sullivan is profoundly wrong doesn't mean I'm going to try to kill him! ... P.S.: "This battle," Clinton recently declared, "fundamentally is about what you think of the nature of truth." It really is hard to believe he had the balls (or un-self-awareness) to say that. ... [Valued reader feedback -- Hasson writes: "Serious Muslim friends tell me that the Koran provides a basis for them to affirm the human dignity of every person ..." An alert kausfiles reader emails: "I guess Mr. Hasson's 'serious Muslim friends' could not come up with a soundbite on such short notice." That is a weakness, but it's on a different point. Hasson wants religions, including Islam, to make "freedom an inviolable human right," in the manner of Vatican II. But even that may be an unnecessarily grandiose statement of what is required. Do you have to affirm someone's equal and "inviolable human right" in order to not wage deadly war against them? Anyway, the question of whether Islam provides a basis for even minimal tolerance is separate from the realization that minimal tolerance, and not relativism or Vatican II, is all that's required. ] (12/27)

"Our terrorism against the United States is ...to deter the oppressor so that Ameica stop its support for Israel." That annoying non-issue crops up again! ... (12/27)

Those Wisconsin welfare figures in full: WaPo fronts Robert Pierre's report that "the number of people receiving assistance in Wisconsin is climbing again." Note the actual hard numbers, however. The state's welfare caseload rose from 6,700 families in February to 8,400 families in October, Pierre reports. But this is after falling from 35,000 families in 1997. Plus, because Wisconsin has been tinkering with its welfare system since the 1980s, its caseload had already fallen drastically (roughly by half since 1993, according to this chart) before '97. In other words, the real Wisconsin caseload story seems to be this: The caseload fell dramatically from 81,000 families in 1993 to 6,700 last February. Now, with the recession, it's back up to 8,400. It fell 92 percent, and now it's given up just 2 of those percent. That's a shift, but hardly a big welfare increase (so far) by historical standards. The caseload is still a tenth the size it was in 1993. ... (12/27)

David Broder declares the Jon-Benet Ramsey murder a matter "devoid of importance." I mean, who was involved? Just a 6-year old and some corporate muckety-muck and his family. It's not as if a congressman or somebody were involved. ... Oh, wait! If a congressman is involved, that's not important either! On television last July, Broder huffed that the press should be "shamed," having covered Chandra Levy's disappearance only because she was a "well-connected" intern. (Hmm. Isn't the Ramsey case not "devoid of importance," in part, precisely because it suggests that the "well-connected" -- e.g., Ramsey's parents -- get favorable treatment?) ... So what is Broder's contrasting example of "serious news" coverage? It's last week's "Meet the Press," which featured Laura Bush, Rudolph Giuliani and Cardinal McCarrick gassing about ... sorry, "exploring the moral and emotional aftereffects" of 9/11. ("Giuliani," Broder notes, "wisely pointed to his city's police, firefighters and rescue workers as the real heroes ...") ... Why is Broder flattering "Meet the Press," when Sunday's Laura-Rudy soft-focus group was surely as ratings-driven as most of the press' Ramsey and Condit coverage? It's not as if Broder has made seven appearances on "Meet the Press" this year that have given him valuable, ego-boosting national exposure. ... Oh, wait. ... (It's a conflict of interest! Take it away, Howie Kurtz! ... Oh, wait. ...) (12/26)

More testimonials to the leadership of Bob Kuttner in Cynthia Cotts' Village Voice column: ... "really insecure and paranoid ... just vicious" ... "animus shining like a lighthouse, first on one person, then on another" ... "The two things required to get along with Kuttner ... are 'ideological fidelity and personal obeisance.'" ... It's a blind quote Kuttner-bashing extravaganza! Even I almost feel sorry for him. But not quite! ... How to write for The American Prospect Rule #3: Don't criticize Barbara Ehrenreich! ... Rule #4: Don't like "Al Gore too much." ... At the end of Cotts' piece, kausfiles' Pulitzer-winning scoop of last Friday [see item immediately below] unexpectedly provides an almost upbeat ending. ("Time will tell if Meyerson and Kuttner make good on their New Year's resolution.") What did I do wrong? ... (12/23)

Has "Crazy Bob" Lost Control (of TAP)? When we last left the troubled American Prospect, you'll recall, the magazine's chief funder, Bill Moyers, was giving WaPo's Lloyd Grove the impression that nothing particularly newsworthy had happened at the hurriedly-scheduled meeting following editor Robert Kuttner's abrupt emasculation of expensive new hire Harold Meyerson, who was supposed to make TAP more appealing (i.e., less Kuttnerian). ... But kausfiles has now learned at least part of what seems to have gone on at that meeting, which is that it wasn't nearly as serotonin-boosting a conclave for Kuttner as Moyers' comments suggested. Indeed, word at the TAP is that Meyerson believes that he, not Kuttner, now has day-to-day control over the magazine, including, presumably, the power to hire and fire. (It was Kuttner's sudden firing of Meyerson's #2, Ana Marie Cox, that sparked the crisis.) ... Note to Meyerson: It may sound to you as if Kuttner has lost control of the mag. It sounds to me like you are in for a long, hard guerrilla struggle. If I have "Crazy Bob" pegged, he'll start backtracking on the deal as soon as news of your apparent victory comes out in public (i.e., in this item) ... Note to Lloyd Grove: Buddy, you got snowed! (So did I. But I don't have a deadline to meet.) ... (12/21)

Here's a Richard Cohen column waiting to happen: Muhammad Ali tells a crude Jews-are-cheap joke ("What's the difference between a Jew and a canoe?") and another one involving "a black, a Puerto Rican, and a Mexican" in a car. When this is reported by Lloyd Grove in WaPo, nobody raises a stink! If an average college coach told these jokes, he or she would be fired. If Shaquille O'Neal told these jokes, he'd be traded. ... Note to Cohen: This is the easiest paycheck you've had in a while. Just make three points: 1) You admire Ali too, and maybe he's trying to show he's human, but he's not beyond criticism. 2) You're against PC, and ethnic stereotyping is a universal source of humor, but these are on the line; 3) What puts them over the line is their resonance with the anti-semitic bigotry preached by many Black Muslim leaders. (You can write this graf in your sleep.) And it's not just anti-Semitic bigotry that's getting reinforced. There was a third joke, reported only online, involving Abraham Lincoln recovering from a two-day bender and saying "I freed the what?" Is Ali laughing here at conventional Lincoln-worship or echoing the idea that no white man could possibly have intentionally done something good for African-Americans? Reinforcing a culture of victimization so great it must tear down even the few noblest acts of Americans, etc. etc. You know the drill! ... Even Ali's "a black, a Puerto Rican, and a Mexican in a car" joke has a dual interpretation. The question is "Who's driving?" The punch line is "The police!" Is the joke that these three minorities tend to be crooks or that the police are inveterate racists? ... Update: Cohen's inevitable column on the film "Ali" has now appeared, on 12/21. It's good. But it contains only one cryptic line on Ali's "affection for a certain anti-Semitic joke." If Cohen had ignored the joke completely, he could have gotten a whole additional column out of it! Oh, well. ... Krauthammer, Podhoretz, Safire, Lipsky -- it's all yours. ... OK, then, Bob Herbert! Only you can go to China! ... (12/20)

Ex-King of Quotes Norman J. Ornstein's world-weary Roll Call analysis of the stimulus bill negotiations seems right to me -- despite today's newspaper headlines, there probably will still be a deal. It's the sort of high-stakes bargain that tends to get cut at the last minute, because nobody wants to give up anything unless they absolutely have to. After all, the battle for control of the House may be a zero sum game, but the battle of all incumbents to get reelected isn't. Eventually, the interests of all the "ins" in not getting thrown out by the voters if the recession lasts too long should swamp calculations of partisan advantage. It may take a waters-testing recess for each party to decide just how much it will be blamed for any breakdown, and therefore how much it has to give up. But then there is a bargain to be struck. ... Anyway, that's my prediction and I'm stickin' to it. ... Suggested compromise: Dems let Bill Thomas try out his tax credit idea on recently-unemployed workers -- if the insurance the credits can buy is unaffordable or loophole-ridden, nobody will use the credits and Thomas' idea will be dead, dead, dead. (Or are the Democrats worried it will work?) In exchange, Dems could insist on extending unemployment compensation to more part-time workers. (Or would Dems secretly rather have those workers wind up swelling the welfare rolls, so anti-welfare-reform liberals can say 'I told you so'?) ... [Maybe, thanks to gerrymandering, so few Congressmen are worried about losing their artificially "safe" seats that the classic "oh-my-God-the-voters-might-throw-me-out" reaction doesn't happen anymore -- so the dominant, if not only, calculation is the calculation about which party will win or lose those few seats (generally, seats without an incumbent) that are up for grabs. And that latter calculation is much more likely to produce impasse, since it's a zero-sum calculation. One party may always decide that not having a bill is more likely to give it control than having a bill.--ed.] ... (12/20)

Do you want to read a point-by-point defense of Giuliani's mayoralty? I didn't either! But Fred Siegel's Observer piece is very well-done -- powerful, persuasive, and a bit bitter (which almost always makes for good writing). He's saved up the dumbest Dennis Rivera and Victor Gotbaum quotes for this occasion. ... (12/19)

The city of Cambridge, Mass. has voted to integrate its students by economic class. It should be interesting to see what happens. Cambridge was previously held up as a successful example of "controlled choice," in which parents listed the three schools they preferred and usually got one of the three choices. That system was successful at integrating by race, but not by class -- a few schools remained heavy on poor children, with 70 percent qualifying for free school lunches, while others had only 13 percent or so. Will the more affluent parents tolerate having their kids go to school with the poor? The stumbling block, I suspect, is that there aren't all that many affluent kids in the Cambridge system any more. (The rich either send their kids to private school or just don't move to Cambridge in the first place.) "If you are an upper middle-class parent, you don't even bother with this," one scholar who had studied the Cambridge system told me about ten years ago. The issue, I guess, is whether this new system scares the remaining affluent parents away. ... The rhetoric of class integration is also pretty brutal in its assumption that poor parents are, on the whole, poor parents. ... The less-clunky but even more difficult alternative, of course, is to actually integrate by class where people live--neighborhood by neighborhood. ... See this book for more on integration of schools by class. ... (12/19)

How stupid was Corey Robin's Sunday NYT Magazine attack on Atta-was-gay theorizing? As if people might look for explanations of why a sophisticated human being would kill himself and thousands of innocent people! As if sexual desires and fears were significant factors in human behavior! ... Robin implies there's been a good deal of "media insinuation" about Atta's sexuality, and that there's been little consideration given to his possible political motives ("an American-backed repressive Egyptian regime, the gulf war and the Oslo peace accords") -- both propositions that are ludicrously false. ... And why is it arrogant to assume that some "pathology" might be involved in mass murder? (Robin says we shouldn't think it so odd that Atta rejected "liberal democracy." But he did rather more than that.)... After all this Kalb-like huffing and puffing, Robin doesn't even tell us if the guy was gay or not! ... If we can't speculate about the sexuality of Gary Condit because he's not as important as 9/11, and we can't have even a little speculation about the sexuality of the perpetrator of 9/11 because he's, well, too important, whose sexuality can we speculate about? ... Hmm. Don't you think a guy who would write an article like Robin's is clearly, you know, a bit obsessed with the topic? ... [Also Robin is having it both ways, in the time-tested manner of Howie Kurtz: He entertains us with the sexual gossip about Atta in the course of decrying sexual gossip about Atta.--ed] ... P.S.: You know American Taliban John Walker's father, Frank Lindh? He's gay! (That's according to the S.F. Examiner.) But I'm sure his leaving his son's mother for another man when his son was 16 had no effect on his son's psyche! Mentioning it is really just a clumsy attempt to distract attention from the necessary "reconsideration of U.S. foreign policy." ... (12/19)

"The official story is, Marty is not giving up control": We pause in our around-the-clock coverage of The American Prospect to mention a magazine that people actually read, The New Republic. Gabriel Snyder of N.Y. Observer asks the crucial question about how, exactly, current owner Martin Peretz and his two prospective partners will direct the publication. Snyder doesn't answer this question (perhaps because it is still the subject of negotiation, which means the deal could still fall through) but he does dig up a very relevant old quote from Peretz: "Two people running a magazine doesn't work." ... But three people -- hey, that's another story! It's an odd number. No tie votes! (And only one vote, one suspects, for Al Gore.) ... (12/18)

Moyers' Deep Game: Everything's hunky-dory at The American Prospect, to judge from Lloyd Grove's column today. Captain Queeg ... I mean, "Crazy Bob" Kuttner is jollying up his contented staff by wearing a blond wig. A suddenly-scheduled meeting with the Prospect's angel, Bill Moyers, may or may not have resulted in an additional infusion of funds. "We had a good meeting," Moyers told Grove. Just a happy, happy chat! ... Meanwhile, the hunt for Harold Meyerson's balls is focusing on a mountainous wooded region east of Boston ... [Why do you have it in for Kuttner?--ed. I don't like his dogmatic, constituency-based, Euro-worshipping, economistic version of liberalism. For starters. (I wrote a whole book about it.) But then isn't it better if Kuttner wastes his energy, and Moyers' money, putting out an elaborate magazine that nobody reads? After all, if TAP collapsed, Kuttner would probably focus on being a columnist, where he can be highly effective and could actually do some damage.--ed. I think you've hit on it! By God, Bill Moyers isn't as big a fool as he seemed. It's all becoming clear now. ...Remember, it was Moyers whose powerful documentary in the mid-80s blamed welfare for the explosion of single-motherhood and jump-started the whole welfare reform movement that so troubles economistic, Euro-worshipping libs. Now Moyers is masterminding a scheme that lures all the best and brightest young writers on the left and puts them to work under Kuttner, virtually guaranteeing that their editorial product will be so boring that they might as well be writing in Urdu for all the impact they will have. Moyers is not just neutralizing Kuttner -- he's immobilizing much of the American Left! There's $10 million efficiently spent! ... Moyers' ingenious double-game reminds me of that scheme Lenin cooked up to lure all the anti-Bolshevik spies into a sham organization that was really under Lenin's secret control. ... Yes, it's all going according to plan! ... (12/18)

Exceptionally clear update in Monday's WSJ by John McKinnon and Shailagh Murray on the stimulus negotiations. Key points: a) Yes, the negotiators are talking about broadenig unemployment compensation to include more part-time workers (a good idea) rather than just extending UE benefits to those who already qualify for them, which is only about 40 percent of the work force; 2) The big dispute is over the structure of the health care tax credit for displaced workers. Democrats want to administer the credit through the workers' former employers; Republicans want the money to go to individuals. Dems suspect (presumably rightly) that House Ways & Means Chairman Bill Thomas wants to use the credits as an opening wedge in his campaign to end the link between employers and health insurance. But isn't Thomas right, in the long run, about breaking that link? ... Democrats tried to build a national health-care system on the basis of "employer mandates" in the Clinton years, and hit a dead end. Portable, individual benefits have been an ancient dream of enlightened labor leaders (Medicare ain't employer-based) and seem better suited to a future in which everybody's a freelance consultant anyway. ... Or do you like filling out COBRA forms? ... In any case, this seems a legitimate, complex, almost non-ideological dispute (since Democrats have been on both sides of the "employer-basing" issue in the past) ... Today's WaPo has a bit more on the tax credit dispute, while the NYT remains mired in the procedural politics -- and the crude "business tax cuts vs. helping the unemployed" aspect -- of the debate ... (12/18)

Amazingly, Judith Miller -- writing about the Bin Laden video on the front page of the NYT -- reports erroneously that:

There are no references to Palestine, Kashmir and other Islamic causes on the tape.
Miller, who wrote a book on Islamic radicalism, somehow missed the discussion of "revenge for the children of Al Aqsa," a seeming reference to the current Palestinian intifada (see item below). ... Will the NYT print a correction of this significant howler? ... Will Ira Stoll point it out on smartertimes.com? (Don't hold your breath. Stoll's in the Israel's-not-the-issue reality-denial camp.) ... (12/14)

Today's mystery: How did Martin Peretz, editor-in-chief of the suddenly right-sized New Republic, manage to stick Roger Hertog and Michael Steinhardt with two-thirds of the stock without giving them two thirds of the control? ... Possible answer: An alert kausfiles reader suggests that Steinhardt and Hertog may be able to use the tax losses that come with owning 2/3 of the stock, so it could make sense for them to get stuck with the losses without gaining control. But to qualify, under the tax code, they'd probably have to "materially participate" in management, spending 500 hours a year each on the business. That's 10 hours a week of meddling -- sorry, "material participation" -- from two new moguls. Two new opinionated bosses to please; two new sets of friends who can be offended by articles. ... Doesn't sound as if TNR will become a more enjoyable place to work. ... (12/14)

OpinionJournal Can't See the Monkeys for the Fish! OpinionJournal's normally clearheaded "Best of the Web" blog seems obsessed with denying what even ardent defenders of Israel such as David Gelernter have long since admitted -- that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a big motivating factor for Bin Ladenite terrorists. Thus BOTW led with this reaction to the damning Bin Laden video:

Remember all those sophisticated thinkers who informed us that America brought the attack on itself by supporting Israel? The video makes not one mention of the Israeli-Arab conflict.
The point of the "sophisticated thinkers," of course -- or at least the sophisticated "sophisticated thinkers" -- was that the Israeli-Arab conflict was a powerful recruiting tool for Bin Laden, not necessarily something he himself cares about, so you wouldn't expect him to babble about it in private. But let's play OpinionJournal's game. ... Sure enough, a search of the video's transcript for the word "Israel" comes up blank. ... Same for the word "Palestine." ... But what's this reference to the 9/11 Bin Laden "operation against America" being "in revenge for the children of Al Aqsa"? That wouldn't be a reference to the Al Aqsa mosque, would it? And, gee, where is that mosque again? Oh, it's on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the emotional focal point of the current Israeli-Arab conflict. Indeed, the second, most recent, "intifada," which started when Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount, is called the "Al Aqsa Intifada." ... Looks like a) the Arab-Israeli conflict was very much on the minds of Bin Laden and his "brothers;" b) OpinionJournal got it wrong; and c) the sophisticated sophisticated thinkers were righter than they imagined. You might even say the tape's a "smoking gun"! ... (12/13)

Special Bin Laden Spinoculator:

"... when people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse."
-- Osama Bin Laden
Looks like Bin Laden agrees with Charles Krauthammer that military victory is the best way to win hearts and minds. But of course there is an asymmetry here. OBL runs a smallish Islamic extremist movement that wants to get bigger. The U.S. runs a large movement (global democratic capitalism) that wants to prevent all the smallish movements from reaching the increasingly small critical mass needed to mount deadly mass terrorist operations. It's not clear that victory alone will win that many hearts and minds. ... (12/13)

Alan Kreuger's NYT column on why poverty doesn't breed terrorism gets interesting toward the end. Profs. Fearon and Laitin argue that poor countries don't have terrorism -- they have civil wars. The countries that have terrorism are those (e.g., Ireland, Spain, Saudi Arabia) rich enough to suppress and frustrate the movements that would start civil wars in poorer countries. ... What's the upshot? Maybe we don't have to end world poverty to end terrorism. That's a relief, of sorts. But wouldn't it help if Islamic countries were richer and hence didn't have such a damn inferiority complex? Beyond that, wouldn't democracy at least help in some countries (e.g. Saudi Arabia). Beyond that, what about the decentralization (and preservation of distinct cultures) that can flourish under the umbrella of globalized trade and government? ... Of course, there is no peaceful solution for those who follow the creed of:

"I was ordered to fight the people until they say there is no god but Allah, and his prophet Muhammad."

The Fleecing of Bill Moyers, Part III: Only days after The American Prospect's Robert Kuttner e-mailed to accuse kausfiles of a "cheap shot" for reporting on "defections and intrigue" at his magazine, the turmoil reaches near-meltdown proportions. Lloyd Grove's "Reliable Source" reports that Kuttner flew to Washington earlier this week to terminate D.C.-based senior editor Ana Marie Cox. In response, the magazine's managing editor has quit and three authors (one of them Cox's husband) have pulled pending stories. ... Why is this more than just one of those "turbulent transitions" publications occasionally go through, as Prospect benefactor Bill Moyers characterized it to Grove? Because Cox was the editor whose job it was to wrestle the Prospect from under the paranoid grip of the tediously-doctrinaire Kuttner. Indeed, Moyers had given the magazine millions on the condition that it shift its center of operations to Washington, away from Kuttner. A new Executive Editor, Harold Meyerson, was brought in from L.A. at a salary of well over $100,000, and was widely expected to take over day-to-day leadership while Kuttner drifted upstairs. Instead, Kuttner has taken Moyers' money and humiliated Meyerson. Cox had been Meyerson's hire, told that her job was to battle Kuttner to make the Prospect more readable. Meyerson tried to protect her but couldn't. "Harold may be able to make some non-custodial visits to his testicles," says one TAP insider. ... What was Cox's sin? Grove says Kuttner was "angry that last week, during an editorial lunch he did not attend, Cox had jokingly called him 'Crazy Bob.'" Hey, at least he's not thin-skinned and insecure! ... Was Kuttner really afraid that Cox and Meyerson would hurt the Prospect -- or that they'd succeed in making it a publication people actually read? (Where would that leave Kuttner?) ... Moyers, meanwhile, seems oblivious, telling Grove "I think they've really improved their Washington presence," even as the people who've improved their Washington presence are purged and marginalized. ... (12/13)

Peter Kilborn's NYT piece on welfare reform's "five-year limit for benefits" exhibits almost no trace of the feared liberal bias and makes the essential point (ignored by the left during the 1996 debate) that no state is actually required to cut off recipients after 5 years. States can exempt 20 percent of their caseloads, but even beyond that they can exempt anyone they want simply by switching the bookkeeping so benefits are paid with "state" funds. Remaining issues: 1) The fuss over the 5-year limit may have done a lot to scare families off the welfare rolls. But if it turns out families are routinely exempted, won't the limit lose most of its deterrent effect? 2) To avoid having the threat revealed as toothless, will some states decide to cut off large numbers of families after five years even if they don't have to? Will this include recipients who really can't find private sector jobs? The CW among reformers (reflected in Kilborn's article) is that the 5-year limit is not a big deal -- that the ongoing process of "sanctioning" recipients who fail to look for work is where the action is. But at least one welfare guru whom I respect thinks that thousands of recipients really will be cut off when the time-limit hits. Will they be given case-by-case review -- making it more like a mass sanction -- and will it be fair? Further study by kausfiles is required. 3) Why worry about whether people who hit the limit can find a private sector job? Why not offer them a public job and put them to the test? That's what Mayor Giuliani of New York has been doing -- offering the limit-hitters jobs cleaning up the parks. Will Giuliani's successor, Michael Bloomberg, continue this sensible policy? Don't count on it. But are any other jurisdictions moving toward public jobs? ... Tips, suggestions and reports from readers appreciated! ... Correction to the NYT: Kilborn's story inaccurately says that Washington "Gov. Gary Locke ordered permanent exemptions for all but 120 of 3,200 families" who'll hit the limit. In truth, Locke's policy is not that insane, though it's generous. Only about 600 of the 3,200 will get permanent exemptions, according to local press reports. About 2,500 will get a one-year extension and be required to work. ... A simple phone call would have gotten the right answer! (Actually, a simple NEXIS search!) ... (12/12)

Zero-sum Alert: WaPo reports that negotiations over the "stimulus" bill

"are complicated by a growing sense in both parties that it may be more advantageous politically for the talks to fail."
Reminder: The fight for control of Congress is a zero-sum game. Both parties can't be right in thinking the failure of the stimulus package will be advantageous to them. ... But this is the sort of thing both parties typically say in a show of bravado just before they cut a deal. One of them is usually bluffing. In this case, it's probably the Republicans, the Post convincingly suggests. Will voters really remember in November, if there's still a recession, that it was Senator Daschle who blocked the bill? Seems unlikely. Will voters blame the "in" party that controls the White House and House. Seems highly likely. ... (12/11)

Those November archives in full. (12/11)

Kausfiles Gets Defensive: Several valued kausfiles readers have criticized this recent item for stating the obvious. (Sample comment: "Duh! OF COURSE it's in Bush's interest to prolong the war. Did you ever think otherwise?") Three points: 1) Yes, it was pretty obvious from the war's beginning that it saved Bush from a potential political pickle (although many people argued pre-9/11 that Bush was in good shape for reelection, and David Broder, for one, was writing that Bush's domestic agenda was "overstuffed", as opposed to nonexistent). But -- in part because it was so obvious, in part because everyone wanted to support the war-- not many people said it. 2) In particular, the front page of the NYT carried a Richard Berke/Thom Shanker story last week denying this obvious thing, claiming that Bush's political advisers want him to "declare victory and retreat to domestic issues." Either the NYT reporters are fools who believe this analysis of Bush's self-interest (Mugger's theory), or Bush's advisers are fools, or Bush's advisers are conning the Times into misreporting their thoughts (or some combination of those possibilities). That seems worth noting. 3) It's especially worth noting now that we are about to enter a post-Afghanistan phase of the war in which Bush will have to decide what may be close questions about whether and where to continue the conflict, and how vigorously to disrupt life in America. [Yeah, but (2) was your peg. You buried it under a mountain of McCain blather-ed.] (12/10)

"Religion and patriotism make this a nice place to work": One of the last quirky Washington institutions, Sholl's Colonial Cafeteria, has closed. John Fund writes a good, nonpartisan obit in Friday's Wall Street Journal. Fund makes the essential point that Sholl's was a great class-mixer, in part (but only in part, I think) because it was cheap and good. "Construction workers, students, lawyers, and even bag people -- all were welcome and at busy times shared tables." ... Wait! I thought in the world of the Wall Street Journal class segregation was valuable -- the poor need to live in worse neighborhoods and eat at worse restaurants because that will give them the incentive to make enough money so they can eat at the restaurants of the rich! ... Oh, never mind. ... The cafeteria did seem to go downhill a bit, I have to admit, when founder Evan Sholl died in 1982. ... A few years before then, when I was working at the Washington Monthly, I interviewed Sholl as part of a plan my boss, Charles Peters, had to write about "institutions that work." I was more or less a leftist at the time, and had some notion that Sholl's must be a hotbed of worker control over production. Worker control is good, Sholl's is good, therefore Sholl's must have worker control, I figured. Sholl was not receptive to this line of reasoning, I was distressed to discover ... He did get quite animated describing how he taught his employees to get down on their hands and knees when cleaning the floor, because "If you use a mop, you're just pushing the dirt around." Both he and Joan Crawford were right about that! ... [Aside from being cheap and good, what do you need for a class-mixing business?-ed. I was hoping you wouldn't ask me that one. Something that makes the well-to-do want to go there even though they can pay more elswhere. My working theory is that Washington retains (retained?) a certain democratic ethos because local status comes from power, not money -- and power comes from the voters, who tend to punish snobbery. Also, the cultural tone is (was?) largely set by the present and former administrative assistants of Congressmen, who often come from smaller towns where social equality still thrives. ... ] (12/10)

33,000 visits from 14,282 distinct visitors last week. Thank you. ... How many millions of dollars of Bill Moyers' money does Bob Kuttner pay in direct mail costs to get his 50,000 (claimed) American Prospect subscribers again? ... (12/9)

Time for Chris Hitchens to drop the anti-antiwar theater and get back to Kissinger-bashing. Seemingly damning new evidence in WaPo ... (12/7)

WaPo's Style section attempts to cover a Jesse Helms speech. It's not pretty -- sort of like watching a really bad date -- and it includes what seems to be an especially dumb, awkward, snide, condescending bit of hack-left interstitial editorializing:

"The terrorists of the 21st century are, in truth, the modern successors to the murderous ideologies of the 20th century," [Helms] says.

What anti-Western Islamic radicals have to do with Hitler and Stalin is left unargued. Others would be happy to connect the dots for the senator: American arms to the mujaheddin to fight the Soviets adds up to one fairly compelling bridge. Perhaps, for Helms, the connection is essentially semantic: anti-American is anti-American is anti-American ...
Isn't there a pretty obvious similarity between the suffocating antiliberal cultures of Hitler, Stalin, and the Taliban Islamic state, whatever the equally obvious differences? ... The Post's Philip Kennicott also, pathetically, snipes at Helms for a mundane typo ("Strobe Tablott") in his speech text. ... (12/7)

Andrew Sullivan, and several valued kausfiles readers, are saying how wonderful Thomas Friedman's recent columns have been (and Howie Kurtz Style-hypes him today). Sorry, I don't get it! Take Friedman's most recent effort, "The Intifada Is Over." It's disconcertingly sloppy in at least two places. a) Friedman argues that the recent spasm of suicide bombings in Israel represents a shift to Bin Ladenism, which he defines as "the nihilistic pursuit of murderous violence against civilians, without any political program and outside of any political context." [Italics added] But don't the bombers have a fairly clear program: the elimination of Israel? The context is clear too -- they want to stop any peace deal that would involve recognition of Israel. That's a goal to be condemned. But it doesn't seem like nihilism. (b) In an impressively clotted sentence, Friedman says:

...if it is impossible anymore for Arab-Muslim leaders to distinguish between Palestinian resistance directed at military targets and tied to a specific peace proposal, and terrorism designed to kill kids, without regard to a peace plan or political alternatives, then over time no moral discourse will be possible between American and the Arabs.
Does that mean Friedman would tolerate suicide bombers "directed at military targets" if they were designed to produce a concrete concession on a peace plan -- say withdrawal of Israel from 100 percent of the West Bank and Gaza? I doubt it. Friedman has just devoted the previous three paragraphs to denouncing such violence, on the (sensible) grounds that the Palestinian response to the Barak peace proposal should have been a counterproposal, not another Intifada. ... What do these analytic lacunae have in common? In both instances, Friedman is pushing too hard to come up with a more extreme and vivid way to say what his audience wants to hear, namely that the Palestinians should make a peace deal, not sabotage it with terror. ... When Friedman tells his readers something they don't want (or don't expect) to hear, without incoherence, then I'll agree he's on a hot streak. At the moment, among columnists, Fareed Zakaria is hot. Friedman is not. ... (12/6)

Is it finally over for the "energetic lemming"? If you only read one more carpet-bombing of Salon and its serotonin-poisoned leadership, try this one. Close to definitive, I think, although it unfortunately avoids making the delicious, cheap points it could have made with pompous self-important quotes from editor David ("I'm handling sucess really well") Talbot. ... Update: And the award for most vicious Salon-slag goes to: Ken Layne.com! "David Talbot and his Cash Incinerator have done more to destroy the future of independent publishing than any burst bubble or recession. ... The Emperor has no clothes. But he still spent $74 million at the cleaners." Can anyone top that? ... (12/5)

WaPo's Guy Gugliotta summarizes almost-reassuring doubts about how scary the prospect of a terrorist "dirty bomb" is, and implicitly raises an obvious question about his paper's big Woodward-Kaiser-Ottaway story of Monday: If, at a meeting with Bin Laden, one of Bin Laden's associates "produced a canister that allegedly contained radioactive material" and "waved it in the air," just how radioactive could the material have been? If it was radiocative enough to make a really dirty dirty bomb, then it would have killed the associate and Bin Laden, right? ... (12/5)

Robert Kuttner corresponds:


Bob Reich has not in fact taken a leave of absence from the Prospect, as a tiny bit of telephone reporting by you would have discovered. (Are vanity webletters such an innovative form of journalism that they dispense with reporting?)

Bob is seriously exploring making the race. He might well continue his column if he did run, though he might need to take a leave as our chairman. Your description of Bob as "a glib, slick popularizer of ideas" sounds an awful lot like one Mickey Kaus.

Regarding "defections and intrigue" at the Prospect, our circulation is now 50,000 and growing, so keep the cheap shots coming and just spell our name right. ... [Emphasis added]
Kausfiles responds: American Prospect staffers are certainly under the impression that Reich has taken a leave -- though I concede that, given the intensity of Reich's recent involvement with the magazine, it might be hard to tell!
P.S.: Write online, attract enough readers to pay the freight, and you have a "vanity webletter." But fool Bill Moyers into pouring millions in Schumann Foundation money down an editorial rathole, and you have ...

Speak long and carry a short schtick! Kausfiles hears that Robert Reich has taken a leave of absence from The American Prospect in order to further his attempted run for Governor of Massachusetts. Reich is a glib, slick, publicity-addicted popularizer of ideas (many his own) who doesn't worry too much about the contradictions -- in other words, a potentially effective politician. Running for office will require him to shape his ideas in ways that appeal to citizens instead of the bookers at the PBS NewsHour. If he wins, he'll be accountable in a way pundits are not. He also risks humiliating rejection. ... Good for him! ... We'll see if those Framingham union workers like to be talked down to as if they were third-graders! ... Or is Reich really running for governor in order to take a leave of absence from The American Prospect, wracked as it is by defections and intrigue? ... (12/3)

How Did the Dems Steal the 'One America' Issue? Ramesh Ponnuru, writing about that Carville-Greenberg-Shrum memo a few weeks ago, made a good point I wish I'd noticed at the time, namely that Republicans are now paying a price for "their failure over the years to offer an agenda that speaks to Americans' fears of Balkanization." Now that (post-9/11) everyone is saying multiculturalism and identity politics ignore the essential unity of Americans, wouldn't the Republicans look good if they'd been pressing the same point all along -- by making the case against bilingual education and race-based preferences, for example -- instead of chasing vainly and unimaginatively after the Hispanic vote? Can't they start making that case now -- now that the terrorist attack has made it potentially popular? Isn't this anti-balkanization strategy the counter to Democratic talk about the "power of community"? ... Michael Barone also makes the anti-multi-culti point. ... (12/3)

"Tape it all day, will you?" Here's the best account so far of that Taliban prisoner revolt, and the week-long battle to end it. ... The Taliban even booby-trapped CIA agent Spann's body. ... The dispatch is from Time's Alex Perry, who also delivered that spectacular phoner at the beginning of the battle. ... Perry offers evidence that more Americans may have been killed in the battle than the Pentagon admits. ... Meanwhile, was the NYT's Carlotta Gall (whose coverage has also been excellent) implying that if the Taliban prisoners who "were being locked up" in a "metal shipping container" hadn't seen "a journalist," something un-Geneva-like would have happened to them? .... (12/3)

A kf exclusive: Preview the new MKN Network Version 7 home page! ... Look quick, because it might not be there for long. ... Note from crack kf legal team: This is a "parody," chock full of valuable political and social commentary. And poor taste! ... (10/17)

Current kausfiles home page

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Archives for December, 2001
A crazed fundamentalist madman wreaks havoc ... but enough about The American Prospect!
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Does Welfare Cause Terrorism? You knew Mickey's Assignment Desk would come to this.

Is it in Bush's Political Interest to Prolong the War? Get tomorrow's cliche right here.

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