mickey's assignment desk



Hit Parade Archive
March, 2002

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Moses invests, but put your money next to Noah:

The Wall Street Journal and Washington Post both predict in their Sept. 12 news columns that the havoc wrought by yesterday's events may bring on a recession. Chatterbox thinks they couldn't have it more wrong. ... Why does Chatterbox think it will benefit the economy? Simple: because we live in a very wealthy nation that responds to horrible disasters by spending large sums of money.
-- Timothy Noah, Slate, September 12, 2001

"Sharp Rise in Federal Spending May Have Helped Ease Recession"
-- Headline on front page NYT story, March 23, 2002.

As a lawyer arguing that the just-passed campaign finance law violates the First Amendment, Floyd Abrams does not have a tough job. So how does he begin his opening-shot op-ed in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required)? By denouncing voluntary agreements between candidates "to dissuade out-of-state supporters from placing ads on TV"? Huh? What's wrong with those agreements? Unlike the campaign-finance law, they don't use the power of the state to suppress political speech. They're a voluntary reaction to public opinion. Doesn't the First Amendment say "Congress shall make no law ... " ... You have to wonder about a lawyer who begins his argument with an off-point example that many in his audience will reject. ...The plaintiffs' side has Abrams and one of the most unpopular men in America (Ken Starr) too! Maybe McCain-Feingold-Shays-Meehan's got a chance. ... (3/30)

Attention, warbloggers: Worried that you've run out of blindered, snobbish, instinctively anti-American Fifth Columnists to denounce? This is the event you've been waiting for! Book your tickets today. ... Update: Several alert readers urge me to mention that the Independent Institute (which is sponsoring the Vidal/Lapham event linked above) is a libertarian, not left, outfit. ... (3/29)

Got your goat: GM announced it will revive the Pontiac GTO. Or, rather, it will import the Australian Holden Monaro and sell it as a Pontiac GTO. ... V-8, good. Rear-wheel drive, good. But does it look like a GTO to you? Seems Daewooish and dated to me. Is 90s nostalgia here already? ... Update: There is a ballsier, but still musty, version of the Monaro here. (I'm thinking of the yellow one on the upper left.) Thanks to alert kf reader T.S.. ... (3/29)

The egghead recession: Back in January, kausfiles sniped at NPR's Ina Jaffe for repeating the hardy liberal perennial that the economic downturn was "having its most severe effect on low-wage workers." Weren't dot-comming college grads, not low-wage workers, the people who had been most conspicuously thrown out of work? Kausfiles was promptly shelled with emails critical of this casual empiricism -- including one from Max Sawicky of the left-liberalish Economic Policy Institute. But Sawicky now informs me, with menschly candor, that EPI has posted some new calculations on its site. The result? Casual empiricism 1, Ina Jaffe's reflexive liberal dogma, 0. As EPI's Jared Bernstein and Thacher Tiffany conclude:

... high school dropouts and [those with only high school degrees] are under-represented among those who became unemployed over the course of the downturn. The implosion of the tech bubble most likely contributed to this result, as highly educated workers in that sector were especially vulnerable to the weak economy that prevailed in 2001.
The bar graph makes it all even clearer. ... (3/28)

D ... D ... D ... Delusions? Ben Stein -- a great profile still waiting to be written -- has some questionable ideas about how wonderful the new Cadillacs are. ("The Cadillac is the coolest car in America. They have had a styling triumph and they are going to blow BMW off the road.") Has he seen the new Cadillac CTS, which may be an excellent vehicle but which looks shockingly cheesy up close? It is not going to blow BMW off the road, alas. ... Stein also says: "I think I'd be a good executive of a large corporation. And I have a real interest in writing serious poetry." ... To be sure: Cadillac's brutal razor designs generally do look a lot better than expected. But not the important BMW-fighting CTS. ... (3/28)

After examining my hit counter, I know what kausfiles readers want: More gerrymandering items! And CFR critiques! You just can't get enough of that stuff! ... No? ... Tough! ... In any case, while reading Bradley Smith's disappointing anti-CFR book in a misguided attempt at research, I did come across this excellent Dick Morris quote about the possible clean sources of campaign money:

"... egomaniacs -- people that agree with you ideologically, people that side with your party, people that knew you in high school, and people that hate your opponent -- those are five virtuous ways to take money. And if you maximize them, you don't have to do the sixth, which is to sell your soul.
Of course, Bill Clinton did maximize them, and still wound up selling, if not his soul, then something -- in part to pay the bills of Dick Morris. ... (3/28)

Die Walters Weltanschauung: Sac Bee's authoritative columnist Dan Walters lays out his model of what's wrong with his state's governance. California Governor Gray Davis won't stop thinking about tomorrow -- it's the day after tomorrow he ignores. ... Note that Walters also confirms the logic behind Bush's tax cut: Faced with an economic boom and budget surplus, the state legislature spent the money. Now that revenues are falling, California is deep in the hole, but the spending plans are proving virtually impossible to scale back. Wouldn't a similar thing have happened, albeit a bit more slowly, at the federal level if the surplus had been left on the table? ... (3/27)

The World that changed the Pill: Grim news about the pill and cervical cancer. ...

Fight on the right: National Review effectively flays the haplessly self-righteous WSJ on amnesty for immigrants. This is an argument in which it will be very hard for the WSJ to commit what one of my Slate colleagues calls the Howell Raines Fallacy. The H.R.F. is the automatic assumption that not only are you right but that, because you are right, the great and good American public stands behind you, indeed demands that what you say be implemented immediately. (It's a fallacy, of course, because the great and good American public can at least occasionally be wrong. Sometimes the best position is a deadweight political loser.) ... It's surprisingly easy to fall into the H.R.F.; I think I did it myself just the other day. ... But on immigration, the Journal's editorialists -- who routinely employ the H.R.F. when, say, calling for lower taxes -- must know that their open-border positions are wildly unpopular, especially with heartland Reaganites. ...

All deliberate speed?: A study of New Jersey turnpike drivers found that blacks were twice as likely to speed and even more likely to drive at very high speeds. Heather Mac Donald argues this throws a wrench into claims that N.J. troopers engage in racial profiling. ... I've spent alot of time in recent years on the N.J. Turnpike, and I would say that this study's conclusions about ordinary (if not the ultra-high) speeding do not match kausfiles' casual empiricism. For starters, everybody speeds on the Turnpike (or else you get a large truck up your ass). I'm passed a lot -- but the vast, vast majority (more than the study's 75 percent) of those who pass me are white. ... Wacky possible explanations: 1) Most people speed, but those few drivers who are so pokey they are actually driving under the legal limit tend to be little old white ladies; hence the black "speeding" percentage is higher; 2) Whites slowed down more when they saw the study's radar gun and camera. 3) Blacks driving the Turnpike are disproportionately young men or students, the population group most likely to speed. (It would be interesting to compare the speeding rates of under-45 black men and under-45 white men.) ... Update #1: Mac Donald reports that the study defined speeding as going 15+ over the limit, so forget wacky possibility #1. ... Update #2: is surprisingly tough on Mac Donald, accusing her of overreaching and of ignoring the testimony of actual troopers and the possibility of "other unknown variables." The Journal's best point --"not all highway stops are for speeding." Blacks could be "vastly overrepresented among New Jersey motorists pulled over for having a busted taillight, for driving too slowly--or for no good reason at all." ... You'd think the Journal might be laying the groundwork for a Coulteresque of-course-they-profile-you-got-a-problem-with-that? defense. But it doesn't read as if that's the case. ... (3/27)

Hint, hint: John Podhoretz says some obvious but necessary things about the ghettoization of Sidney Poitier at the Oscars, and the general hijacked-by-the-left tone of the whole evening. ... Did they really run a clip of Al Sharpton at the beginning of the show? (I came in late and missed it.) Say no more! ... But here is the really touchy issue: Those who voted on the Oscars knew, when they were casting their ballots, that the evening would feature a tribute and honorary award presentation to Sidney Poitier, the last African-American to get an Oscar in the leading actor category (back in 1964). ... They also knew that one major story line for the evening was the number (3) of black actors nominated for big awards. ... Did the Academy's voters get the subtle (or not-so-subtle) signal to give the show a rousing, Hollywood-lib ending by voting for Washington and Berry? (Not that Washington and Berry didn't deserve it! But it still smells like a set-up.) ... P.S.: Slate's Oscar dialoggers Lynda Obst and David Edelstein touch on this issue, but give it a positive spin. Edelstein says "there was something in the air." Obst worries about how "coordinated" it looked, but denies any manipulation. “We had no way of knowing about the Poitier award when we voted,” she says. Huh? Poitier’s award was announced by the Academy on January 23. Balloting for the Oscar winners didn’t close until last week. ... P.P.S.: Edelstein did anticipate the problem of Oscarly "affirmative action" in an entry posted last Friday. ... (3/26)

The Blind Quoting the Blind: Is the NYT giving the troubles of Michael Ovitz the mini-Enron treatment (3 stories in four days) because of Ovitz's epic, "Shakespearean" career -- or is it a make-up call to erase the memory of Rick Lyman's recent, laughably uninformed profile of Ovitz's newly-hired "mogul," Mark Canton? ("Dressed in designer black, with his trademark round glasses bisecting a triangular face, Mr. Canton stared out the windows of his new downtown Beverly Hills office toward the 'Hollywood' sign shimmering in the distance. 'Not a bad view,' he said.") ... P.S.: Sunday's 40-incher on the significance of it all, which didn't seem uninformed, didn't even mention Canton. ... P.P.S.: kf reader J.S. notes that even in this latest piece, the Ovitz critics are all nameless. ("One of the top partners at Creative Artists ... One top manager who left the company ... those at Vivendi Universal ...A top Hollywood agent ..." ). We'll know Ovitz is through when someone in Hollywood is willing to criticize him without insisting on anonymity. ... (3/25)

Think of the kittens: Three new entries in kausfiles' prestigious "links" section: The venerable anti-con Howler, the needlessly good ABC News "Note," and the enjoyably quirky Eve Tushnet. ("Remember, every time Andrew Sullivan implies that he speaks for all gay/bisexual Catholics, God kills a kitten.") ... [If "enjoyably quirky" is your criterion, you're in deep trouble. I mean, how many "enjoyably quirky" sites are out there?--ed. Lots and lots, it's true.] (3/25)

Excavating Brownstein: Poor Ron Brownstein writes one of the best political columns in the nation for the L.A. Times only to see it buried at the bottom of Page A10. Perhaps the Times' editors are trying to train their famously nonpolitical readers to check the trailing edge of all interior pages before heading off to yoga. This could well happen in, say, forty years, after the robots have taken over the world! ... But Brownstein has the Web to save him. In this case, ABC's vaunted Note spread word of his cutting analysis of Dem and GOP positioning. ... If you read just the news pages of the major dailies, after all, it's easy to get the impression that either the two parties are always battling to a deadlocked equilibrium -- this impression is one product of the "Republicans say, Democrats say" school of reporting -- or that Democrats are always about to clobber the GOPs on the economy ... no, the deficit!, Enron! ... no, Cheney's task force stonewall! (This impression is the product of the dread Liberal Bias, with its attendant cocooning effect). Comes now Brownstein to state flat out the obvious thing we've been missing: "Republicans are swaggering. Democrats look lost." ... He has some particulars, including a useful few grafs on the incoherence of Sen. Kent Conrad's Democratic budget, as well as the failure of the Democrats to make energy conservation an issue (because Senate Dems defected on the big auto-fuel-economy vote). The underlying problem, he says:

" state Democrats are almost paralyzed by fear that they will be attacked from the right or portrayed as obstacles to Bush."
Of course none of this matters that much because there are no competitive races anyway! ... This is the grim long-term prospect facing Brownstein and other would-be Broders. No big swings. Republicans stay barely in power until rising Hispanic participation eventually gives Dems enough votes to get back in and deal with the health care issue. Then, robots. ... It's enough to make one want to write about the Oscars. Almost. ... [Instapundit comments: "[Y]ou talk about robots taking over as if it's a bad thing." Didn't mean to be judgmental! Some of kausfiles' best readers are robots.] (3/25)

Bill Keller is one of the N.Y. Timesmen you'd least expect to lapse into lazy Zabarsist anti-Right prejudice. Yet how else to explain this passage in his most recent supersized Op-Ed:

"Nor can Mr. Bush be claimed by the culture warriors of the Christian right, although he gave them John Ashcroft and occasionally throws them a steak. The president is not a bigot, or a pessimist. He created an office to promote faith-based social services, but has let it languish."
Huh? Does Keller think that to be a "culture warrior of the Christian right" means to be "a bigot"? ... (3/24)

Hispanic Suck-Up Muck-Up: National Review's John O'Sullivan on the collapse of Bush's Hispanic-courting strategy, which involved bribing them with a massive amnesty for millions of illegal Mexican immigrants. ... O'Sullivan notes three problems: 1) The amnesty is wildly unpopular and will not pass, especially after 9/11; 2) Hispanic voters don't care much about it; 3) The GOP isn't going to get the Hispanic vote in any case. ... All persuasive, but O'Sullivan's analysis leaves the GOP in a grim position -- the only way they can avoid being sunk in the inevitable tide of Latino voters is to radically curtail immigration. ... Is that really the Republicans' sole hope? Won't Hispanic immigrants, like Italian immigrants, eventually become more conservative? The weak spot in Sullivan's scenario would seem to be its heavy reliance on (left-liberal) Harold Meyerson's conclusion that Hispanics' "economic progressivism has consistently trumped their moral conservatism." That's the way things are now, sure. But in the future? (Mexican-Americans aren't irredentist now, either. But in the future?) ... Appealing to Hispanic moral conservatism seems a better bet than either bribing them with amnesty -- which is almost insulting -- or, at the opposite extreme, trying to keep them out. ... ["Muck-up"? Wasn't there a better phrase?--ed. No need to get AOL upset again.] (3/23)

At Joe Klein's L.A. book party Thursday, I pitched him my idea about Bill Clinton's potential new career as a fundraiser/power-broker who would push the Democrats back toward the center. Klein, whose latest book, The Natural, assesses Bill Clinton's presidency, shot the idea down, saying Clinton's temperament wasn't suited to a job that requires him to stiff Democratic candidates who are too far to the left. Clinton (I'm paraphrasing Klein here) would "want everyone to love him," even paleoliberals. ... Then why is Clinton making trouble for Robert Reich in the latter's Massachusetts gubernatorial run? The answer, I suppose, is that Reich betrayed Clinton personally, not just ideologically. ... Klein says one reason he wrote this book now is that (and he's right about this) it's become too fashionable to reject Clinton as a kind of bad dream. ... The book also has some welfare scoop I haven't heard before: I'd always wondered why Clinton, in the spring of 1994, didn't switch strategies and get Congress to pass a popular welfare reform bill -- any welfare reform bill -- instead of his doomed health care bill. Klein says Clinton in fact did send an emissary, pollster Stan Greenberg, to sound out the Democratic House Speaker, Tom Foley, on the idea.

"Foley said absolutely not," Greenberg recalled. The liberals, especially the members of the black caucus, would be totally opposed to welfare reform. Foley believed there was still hope that a health care bill could be pushed through the House.
So it was Foley's fault! I'd always thought it was Hillary's fault (i.e., her ego couldn't stand having her big project back-burnered) and the fault of Congressional anti-reform bullies like Rep. Robert Matsui. ... As Klein notes, Foley and 51 other Democrats paid for their obstinacy by losing their seats, and the House, that fall. And we got a much better welfare bill than they would have passed. A Hollywood ending! ... Psst: Actually, just between us, I still think it was Hillary's fault! If her husband had really wanted to risk dissing his wife by switching the bills, he wouldn't have taken Foley's "no" for an answer, right? Nor, I suspect, would he have used Greenberg, who strikes me as a leftish liberal posing as a centrist liberal, as his go-between. ... (3/23)

Why am I worried that this NYT piece, about the witty, gay right-wing anti-Islamic politician who is the rage of Rotterdam, will give Andrew Sullivan ideas? ... Don't do it, Andrew! It can't happen here. Trust me on this one. (3/22)

Nobody takes you behind the scenes in Tinseltown like kausfiles! Things look bleak for Michael Ovitz's organization, Artists Production Group, to judge from this front-business-page NYT story ("Audit Adds to Ovitz's Troubles in Hollywood"). ... Gee, it seems like only a month ago that the Times ran a front-arts-page piece enthusing over former Columbia-TriStar chief Mark Canton, the new chief executive of Ovitz's moviemaking division. Canton, we were told, was "back in the mogul game," getting a "second chance at the top, as a partner in Mr. Ovitz's production company." ... Rick Lyman's 2/20 Canton piece, which functioned as Ovitz damage control (and featured a hard-to-get puffy quote from fellow Times reporter Bernard Weinraub's wife!) was widely derided in Hollywood circles for its cluelessness, kausfiles is reliably informed. ... (3/22)

City Journal's estimable Heather Mac Donald is rightly troubled by New York's new Bloomberg-appointed welfare commissioner, Verna Eggleston, who talked the language of the anti-poverty (and anti-reform) "advocate" community in a recent New School address. For example, Mac Donald notes:

Eggleston ... repudiated the “cookie-cutter” approach of workfare. Translation: Let’s bring back “education and job training,” those favored dodges from work responsibilities.
But Mac Donald isn't willing to pull the trigger and flatly denounce Eggleston just yet, noting that the new commissioner was "far more supportive of reform" when she testified before the City Council than she was at the New School. ... Mac Donald might not be so charitable after she reads this story. ...P.S.: What's so bad about "cookie cutter" approaches, anyway? Social Security is a cookie-cutter program, and it works fine. You work X years at Y wage, you get a government check for Z dollars. The formula is inflexible and it's the same everywhere in the country. One definition of "cookie cutter approach" is "approach that treats all citizens equally." ... (3/22)

It's not just a 60-day blackout: The ACLU points out that, in presidential election years, the newly passed McCain-Feingold-Shays-Meehan law would suppress issue ads that mentioned the names of any of the presidential candidates for virtually the whole year. ... That's because the law bans such broadcast ads (when they aren't funded by strictly limited PAC contributions) 30 days before a primary, and there's a primary somewhere every couple of weeks! In 2000, the ACLU claims, only August would be left as a free speech month. ... I've now read the law and it sure looks to me as if the ACLU is right about this. ... Another implication: If you don't want to be criticized by name in a tv ad for an entire year, just become a presidential candidate! ... Maybe Al Sharpton is even shrewder than we thought. By running for President, and refusing to drop out, he'll not only get lots of attention -- he can also suppress those who want to advertise against him! ... (3/21)

Reasonably incendiary Tammy Bruce allegations regarding NOW and Clinton. We'll see if they spread beyond NewsMax ... (3/21)

"Think Mexico First:" In NRO, John Fonte again broaches the touchy and explosive issue of Mexican-American dual citizenship. It's actually touchier and more explosive than Fonte lets on -- he doesn't even use the word "secession" (or "Aztlan"). ... If there were 20 million people living in the Southwest who also were Mexican citizens and who voted in both Mexico and the U.S., would they ever consider voting to rejoin their mother country? Gee, would Quebec be secessionist if France were next door? ... Fonte quotes a Mexican cabinet minister, Juan Hernandez, seemingly committing a Kinsleyan gaffe by saying what he really means -- that he's "betting" Mexican-Americans will "think Mexico first." ... (3/21)

No First Amendment Problem, Peter? S.F. Chronicle's Mark Sandalow has a good example of how the new campaign-finance reform bill suppresses speech. The ACLU ran an ad in Chicago this week:

"As speaker of the house, Rep. (Dennis) Hastert has the power to stop the delays and bring the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, ENDA, up for a vote in Congress," a female voice intones. "Send Speaker Hastert a letter urging him to support fairness and bring ENDA to the floor."
The ad isn't even urging people to vote against Hastert -- it's pretty clearly an attempt to promote ENDA, not bounce the Speaker -- yet under McCain-Feingold-Shays-Meehan it would almost certainly be illegal because it names a candidate (Hastert) within 30 days of an election (don't forget the primary!). Sure, the ACLU could still legally run the ad if it set up a PAC ("Political Action Committee") and used only funds raised under a $5,000-per-individual limit. But why should it? Shouldn't David Geffen be able to fund this perfectly honorable ad himself if he wants to? ... In fact, it's hard to believe the courts would allow this ad to be declared illegal. ... I only wish the unappealing Mitch McConnell wasn't going to be such a prominent plaintiff. His overbroad objections to the bill tarnish the legitimate objections. ... [Thanks to ABC's justly-famous "The Note" for the link.] ...Update: That ACLU ad appears to have been a stunt designed to make a point about the new CFR law, which doesn't change the point (but which probably should have been mentioned by Sandalow and suspected by kausfiles) ... (3/20)

More sleazy American Prospect behavior. Josh Marshall has the goods. ... (3/20)

He's Ba-ack: If you thought Arnold Schwarzenegger's political ambitions were terminated by that nasty (and not entirely inaccurate) piece last year in Premiere magazine, click here. Schwarzenegger's leading a ballot campaign in California for more after-school education and recreation ("The After School Education and Safety Act") and is currently in the middle of a two-day campaign swing. ... A worthwhile Austrian initiative! But also the sort of thing you'd do if you were still thinking of running for statewide office and wanted to keep yourself "viable." ... [You've used the universal cliche newsmagazine hed-ed. No. The universal cliche newsmag hed is "The Heat Is On!"] (3/19)

Algorithm isn't a dance in Tennesse: Wouldn't you know it, but there's a pretty good American Scientist article from 1996 on how hard it is to program a computer to automatically draw Congressional district lines. (Thanks to alert kf reader N.K..) ... It turns out to be harder than you might think -- author Brian Hayes' most depressing finding is that sometimes the result is indeterminate, with the computer spitting out a different answer on each run instead of the one true solution. But the complexities don't seem that discouraging to me, though they reduce Hayes himself to a Hamlet-like state. You, the reader, make your own call! ... And remember, you could always combine a computer with an independent commission empowered only to pick one of the first, say, 20 solutions the computer coughed up. ... (3/19)

Axis of Weevil! Michael Hendry ("Dr. Weevil") has what seems like a neat anti-gerrymandering idea: Since political consultants now use computers to draw district lines, why not eliminate the human element and let the computers go ahead and draw the districts by themselves? Machines are neither Democrat or Republican, as someone said a long time ago. ... You could even draw up the criteria that would guide the computers (compactness, contiguity, etc.) under a sort of Rawlsian veil of ignorance! ... One Weevil point I don't understand: Why instruct the computer to put "like" people -- the poor, or blacks, or Latinos -- together? Isn't part of the beauty of cities (and other geographically-defined communities) that they can mix all sorts of people with all sorts of incomes who then find a way to get along as citizens? Why try to make everyone feel part of the community but then split them up by class on election day? ... (3/19)

Those February archives in full. ... (3/19)

Gerrymandering update: Alert kf reader A.C., an Arizonan, says his state's theoretically unpartisan Independent Redistricting Commission managed to create only one competitive seat out of eight (though Rep. Jim Kolbe's district would also be competitive if Kolbe weren't so moderate). Plus one of the districts looks pretty ugly, the result of infighting among Indian tribes. ... Kausfiles' response: One competitive district out of 8 is still a whole lot better than 2 competitive districts out of more than 100, which is what we got from partisan political line-drawing in California, Texas, and Illinois. Not to mention that one of those two required the local Congressman-for-life to have an extramarital affair with a young constituent who then disappeared from the face of the earth! ... To us Californians, that Arizona map looks like a Mondrian painting, the lines are so clean! ... (3/19)

The anti-gerrymandering bandwagon picks up the support of eminent blogger Will Verhs ("Quasipundit"). That makes about three of us! ... But it's become clear to me, as to Vehrs, that many of the ills of our politics stem from too many safe seats, the product of manipulative redistricting. Why do voters feel they don't have any control over their lawmakers? Because they don't! (Thanks to gerrymandering.) Why is Congress gridlocked? Because Congressmen are more extreme (their constituents are either all Republicans or all Democrats, thanks to gerrymandering). And Congressmen don't worry about losing their seats if they fail to compromise on legislation (they can't lose anyway, thanks to gerrymandering). ... Stopping gerrymandering, Vehrs suggests, deserves at least half the attention that's being paid to campaign finance reform. ... Meanhwile, Charlie Cook's latest National Journal column, which is also about gerrymandering, contains this startling finding: Following the post-census redistricting in California, Illinois, and Texas, in these three huge states containing a quarter of the population there are a grand total of two (2) competitive Congressional races -- and one is the special case of Gary Condit's seat. Worse, as Cook notes, competitiveness is typically at its peak in the first elections after a census. The seats only get safer from here on out! ... Note: You need a subscription to NJ to read Cook's excellent column online. But you can have it e-mailed to you for free by signing up here. ... [Twit! How do you possibly stop gerrymandering?--ed. By having the courts or a non-partisan body draw the lines. They do it in Arizona!] (3/19)

Old hobbyhorse returns to the stable: Paul Krugman is almost certainly right about the coming clash between the rising cost of advanced health care and the size and cost of the current Medicare system. He suggests we have a stark binary choice: "[W]e must either come up with more money or deny health care to retirees." More money, Krugman implies, "ultimately" means taxes. But there is a Third Way! Or at least a third solution that might help -- means-testing, that is, charging richer citizens more for their Medicare benefits than poorer citizens. We could also charge everyone higher fees to discourage overuse. ... Means-testing was a respectable budget solution among opinion elites in the late 1980s, then fell out of favor as the deficits dwindled (and the idea became associated with Ross Perot). It will be back. ... (3/19)

Worthwhile American Prospect Initiative! If even press-fave (and kausfiles-fave) liberal tax policy expert Bob McIntyre is worried about fraud in the Earned Income Tax Credit program, maybe the rest of the left will finally "go beyond denial" on this issue -- and maybe reporters will stop writing cheap articles like the NYT's David Cay Johnston's that seem to imply there's something wrong with the IRS auditing a program in which $10 billion out of $34 billion is awarded to people who aren't supposed to get it! ... (3/18)

Boy do I think Laura Ingraham is right in her attack on the WSJ's extreme no-borders policy on immigration, which new ed page chief Paul Gigot doesn't seem to have altered. ... The debate reminds me of (yes) the mid-60s debate about welfare. Conservative Milton Friedmanites argued for a guaranteed income that would brush aside tedious moralistic distinctions between those who worked and those who didn't -- while a less sophisticated conservative governor, Ronald Reagan, attacked the guaranteed income idea as a "superdole" that violated the work ethic. Similarly, the WSJ today argues that we should give amnesty to those who've overstayed their visas -- and never mind Ingraham's tedious point that "rewarding illegal behavior is unwise" in the long run. ... Ronald Reagan won the welfare debate, of course, despite the championing of the guaranteed income by mainstream Republicans like Richard Nixon. And Bush's championing of amnesty for immigrant lawbreakers opens up a huge hole for some Reaganesque conservative (or, for that matter, liberal) who stands up to bien pensant pro-amnesty thinking on this issue (without, I hope, turning it into an attack on immigration or immigrants). ... John McCain, are you listening? ... P.S.: The WSJ says, "Seventy percent of those eligible [for the amnesty] are children or spouses of American citizens or permanent residents." I've never understood this form of argument. If seventy percent of the recipients are worthy, why not restrict the amnesty to that 70 percent? Why also reward the 30 percent who broke the law without an appealing excuse? (Similarly, welfare defenders used to argue that a majority of recipients worked. That wasn't true, but even if it were, why not then restrict the benefit to that deserving majority?) (3/18)

"Albuquerque Battles to Leave Arsenic in Water": LAT's Elizabeth Shogren makes it clear why the issue of arsenic in water is more complicated than the PR-driven anti-Bush critique of last year had it. ... (3/18)

Tribal Loyalty in the Cambridge: Tim Noah rebuts Larry Tribe's slippery defense of his buddy, Doris Kearns Goodwin. ... (3/18)

Davis, undull: You've probably seen this revealing Gray Davis ed board interview, since it's flagged by Drudge, who ridicules California's governor for egomania. ("I kept the lights on in this state. Do you understand that?"). But there's more to it than that. In the interview Davis is frank and authentic, in the sense that blunt, solipsistic defensiveness is authentic -- and because it's raw Davis is oddly convincing, if not presidential. Samples:

On his energy critics "They don't know squat. ..."

On his negotiations with power generators: "The generators did not have to sell us power. I didn't tell them this, but in my heart of hearts, I was not going to let this state go dark. ... This was a game of chicken. They had all the cards. I had none. All I had was bravado, bluster, threats and lawsuits. ... "

On Bush: "But the bottom line is Bush did help us with natural gas. ... He appointed Brownell and Pat Wood. They helped save our behinds. He may have taken a while to do it, and I think the world of President Clinton but the Clinton administration didn't give us any help."


The Gore Rebound--Tomorrow's CW Today! Sometimes the unfoldings of the political conventional wisdom (CW) are as predictable as the motion of the planets. So it is with the CW on Al Gore. Currently, the Gore CW is that he blew it and he's over. But John Ellis points to what is almost surely the Next CW--that Al Gore is the most credible Democrat in the presidential race. Why? This still-to-come CW will tell us, as Ellis tells us today, that all the other Democratic candidatess are lacking something -- stature, depth, breadth of appeal, etc.. ... Of course, at some point in every presidential campaign (without a Democratic incumbent) the CW goes through a phase where it declares the entire Dem field lacking. (Typically, they're called "dwarves," especially if there are seven of them.) That this utterly predictable "bunch-of-midgets" CW can now be pressed into the service of the only slightly-less-predictable Gore Rebound CW only reinforces the certainty of their joint appearance in a matter of weeks, if not days. ... P.S.: Does the commentariat ever issue blanket condemnations of the GOP field? If it does, I don't remember it -- and I'd argue this asymmetry is an artifact of pro-Democrat bias, if not the actual dreaded "liberal" bias. Reporters want to fall in love with a Democratic candidate, the way they'd like to imagine they fell instantly in love with Jack or Bobby Kennedy. When the reality falls short of their dreams, they grouse. But they have no similar hopes for Republican candidates. Political reporters don't eye the GOP field like citizens looking to find someone they can support only to be disappointed that, say, John Edwards is a bit light or John Kerry a bit phony. Republican primaries are a foreign country. There's no ground for disappointment with the field since it's assumed that no JFKs will be found in that field. The only question for the press is which one of "them" is going to win. ... McCain was the exception that proved the rule, as lawyers like to say, since he was idolized for his rebellious dissents from GOP orthodoxy. ... (3/17)

Clinton v. Reich: You know whose side I'm on! ... Clinton's, of course. ...Josh Marshall thinks the fight's really mostly about Monica. Kausfiles, predictably, think it's about welfare reform. Clinton complains that Reich didn't support his policies "at critical points," and welfare reform is the most critical point at which Reich didn't support him. .... Ask yourself this: if Flytrap had never happened, would Reich have dissented from Clinton's welfare policy and used that dissent to advance his slightly fictionalized self-image as a more righteous, principled Democrat than his former Rhodes buddy? You bet. Would Clinton have been annoyed at this? I should hope so! ... Plus, if Clinton had resigned during Flytrap, that would have put Gore, whom Reich despises, into the presidency. ... (3/15)

Eroding Journalistic Standards at TAP! The American Prospect's Natasha Berger blames bloggers for unfairly persecuting Doris Kearns Goodwin. Berger sees a "serious problem of quality control in the increasingly powerful blogging world," which she says is "an ideal breeding ground for character assassins" who are "shifty with their sources." ... It's quite possible that new electronic media make character assassination easier. The problem with Berger's piece -- apart from the issue of whether Goodwin is or isn't being persecuted -- is that none of the people she cites as alleged Goodwin character assassins is a blogger. Timothy Noah, for example, writes for a conventional Web publication, Slate. Jonathan Yardley writes for The Washington Post. There's apparently a non-blog e-mail campaign against Goodwin, while the main Goodwin pursuer, Philip Nobile, doesn't seem to have a blog either (though he does write for, a left publication funded, as is The American Prospect, with Schumann Foundation money steered its way by Bill Moyers). Given Berger's fundamental failure to offer a single example to back up her thesis, it's pretty amazing that she blasts blogs as "editor-free." Did she have one? .... P.S.: Berger defends Goodwin against Noah's point that a Harvard student "caught doing the same thing would be punished with suspension" (her words). "Goodwin's position in no way corresponds to that of a student," she declares, somewhat snottily. But if standards for students and professional historians differ, shouldn't the standards for professionals be higher? Update: "Dr. Manhattan" applies Berger's rules-are-for-peons reasoning to the Enron scandal. ("Nor is it exactly fair to argue ... that Ken Lay is getting his just desserts because a 'middle manager' caught doing the same thing would be punished with jail.") ... P.P.S.: The misspelling of "just deserts" is Berger's goof, not Dr. Manhattan's. Standards! .. [Note: The Berger piece is so bad that trashing it was beneath Instapundit. But not beneath kausfiles! Thanks to Glenn Reynolds and others for pointing out Berger's central, hypocritical failure.] (3/14)

Despite a cheerleading headline ("Sanchez Win Could Blunt GOP's Edge") WaPo's Dan Balz seems decidedly less impressed than the NYT's Andres Martinez with Texas Democrat Tony Sanchez's chances to ride a Hispanic wave into power. ... (3/14)

There must be lots of interesting things to write about the Reich-for-Governor campaign: How does this yuppie academic mix it up with pols and blue collar workers? Has Reich been attacked for his long paper trail of occasionally iconoclastic, occasionally half-baked ideas? For his fictional memoir? What does Reich actually want to do as governor? What groups support him? Unions? How is he drawing on his academic and Clintonite network? But all WaPo's Mark Leibovich can think of doing is to spend three-quarters of his "Style" profile on the trite and trivial (and decidedly Reich-friendly) issue of the former Labor secretary's height. Pathetic. ... (3/14)

The Democrats' Dialectic: The recession will save us! ... What's that? ... Well, then, Hispanics will save us! ... Today's useful NYT ed-page analysis of the Texas gubernatorial race reeks of wishful thinking. ... Kausfiles' line: Health care will save you! Eventually. ... [What you mean "you"?--ed. "Us." "Us." It's still "us." Just a slip.] (3/12)

It sure looks as if Phi Delta Kappa altered its poll question on school vouchers to make them look unpopular. Fools! A smart special interest group would have used a biased poll question from the start, avoiding the need for embarrassing alterations. ... Note that even with Phi Delta Kappa's scarier wording, support for vouchers has grown from 24 to 34 percent since 1991. ... (3/12)

Does Sprawl Fight Terrorism? The front page of Sunday's NYT celebrates the end of sprawl in L.A.. Sounds great -- but hasn't 9/11 given sprawl new appeal? Dispersion, after all, is one way to frustrate terrorists with W.M.D.s. One reason my fellow Angelenos feel a lot safer (perhaps complacently so) compared with New Yorkers is that Angelenos believe their great city has no especially valuable terrorist targets. .. . Even "Hollywood" isn't really there! ... Remember, if Al Qaeda disappears, there will soon enough be someone else with a different grudge and the ability to construct such (increasingly compact and inexpensive) weapons. Just as people buy SUVs to protect their families in car crashes, so they may simply decide to move out of blast range. Except that, in the dispersal case -- unlike the SUV case -- individual self-protection actually serves the cause of collective self-protection by decreasing the number of highly attractive targets in the area. ... (3/12)

Alert kf reader J.S. of D.C. (my, er, boss, actually) notes that columnist Clarence Page made the connection between Daniel Pearl's kidnapping and the WSJ's decision to hand over an Al Qaeda computer well before the Jakarta-based source discussed below. Page writes that prior to Sept. 11, "a newspaper voluntarily turning over hot information to the government probably would have created a much bigger controversy" -- but then he adopts an issue-ducking no-easy-answers stance. ... (3/12)

What the New Republic doesn't understand about welfare reform: Maybe President Bush doesn't provide enough money to pay for his plan to require work of more welfare recipients -- further study required! -- but The New Republic's editorial sure doesn't convince me of it. TNR claims the Wisconsin experience shows that requiring work costs 45 percent more than just handing out cash welfare, which makes some sense (you have to pay for day care, supervisors, tools, etc.). But Bush would preserve, uncut, the entire $16.5 block grant to the states -- and that $16.5 billion figure was set to match amount of federal welfare money the states were getting in the early '90s when there were twice as many people on welfare as there are today. So the states are now getting roughly twice as much per recipient -- or 100% more than before -- while requiring work costs only 45% more. Sure sounds like the states will come out way ahead, even after you factor in inflation since the early '90s. ... This is not even taking into account that Bush would only require work of half the caseload, and that requiring work will itself cause the caseloads to decline further -- freeing up more funds --- as potential recipients decide they might as well go straight into the private sector without ever visiting the welfare office. ... Keep in mind that in 1996, when welfare reform was being debated, liberals (myself often included) bleated that there wasn't enough money, you couldn't do reform on the cheap, etc. Conservatives said the decline in caseloads would save so much money it could easily pay for the extra cost of work. The conservatives turned out to be right. This time around, liberals should bear some sort of burden of proving the conservatives aren't right again, a burden TNR doesn't come close to meeting. ... I'm not saying TNR's editors were predictably grasping for a Bush-bashing angle, however weak, in order to avoid the ignominy of agreeing with him on a domestic policy issue. ... Well, actually, that probably is what I'm saying. ... (3/9)

Mighty Instapundit ridicules Congress for passing a "stimulus" bill just as the recession ends -- and sneers at the idea of "these guys second-guessing corporate executives on their business judgment." But wait a minute. What caused the recession in the first place? Wasn't this the first downturn in a long time to be produced, not by some sort of policy mistake or external shock but by a colossal failure of business judgment on the part of the executives, corporate and non-, who wasted billions on idiotic projects? They could have used some second-guessing! A little humility seems in order from the defenders of executive acumen. The bust is the sort of thing that wouldn't happen if the market were as perfect as it's sometimes cracked up to be, right? .... (3/8)

On a Jakarta-based Web site ("We digest; you decide" -- the slogan needs some work), ex-WSJ staffer G. Pascal Zachary finally broaches the sensitive, unspoken issue of whether the Journal's decision to hand over to the U.S. government an al Qaeda computer it had obtained played a role in Daniel Pearl's brutal murder. ... Kausfiles' line: The WSJ did the right thing in turning over the computer, but that decision will then have consequences for its reporters, and how others view its reporters. They can no longer plausibly claim to be neutral. They will need to take extra security precautions, and there will be some stories they won't be able to get. ... That's not to say that Pearl's murderers singled him out because he worked for the Journal. I don't know the answer to that, and neither does Zachary. But the computer business can't have helped Pearl. ... P.S.: Zachary doesn't inspire confidence when he veers into a simplistic anti-Bush rant toward the end of his column. (That didn't stop Lucianne, where I got this link, from plugging it, to her credit.) ... (3/7)

"Our problem was that the Arabs had paid him more:" Quite amazing Christian Science Monitor account of the U.S. raid on Tora Bora, which seems to have been at least a partial failure. CSM reporter Philip Smucker says Bin Laden escaped by walking over the Pakistani border at the end of November. Hundreds of other Al Qaeda fighters also escaped. Local Afghan commanders we thought we'd bought were bought back by Al Qaeda, and some escape routes were left unblocked. ... [Thanks to Max Power for the link.] (3/7)

Bush backtrack backstory: Wednesday morning, Jonathan Peterson of the LAT reported that the Bush administration wanted to exempt workfare from the minimum wage laws -- a story WaPo picked up. By lunchtime, HHS Secretay Tommy Thompson had issued a statement backing off that position. ("President Bush and I will insist that welfare recipients receive at least the minimum wage ...") But this was not the the ominous Bush cave-in to media pressure that it at first appeared to be. Here's the real story:

1) There are very good reasons to pay public service workers a bit less than the private sector minimum wage. "Workfare" jobs are inevitably less stressful than most minimum wage private jobs, and if the pay's the same ex-welfare recipients may prefer to stick around in workfare jobs for years. (Or, worse, if workfare pays above the minimum, people may start quitting private jobs to go on welfare and get workfare jobs). Even FDR recognized this principle, arguing that WPA workers shouldn't make a wage "so large as to encourage the rejection of opportunities for private employment." (He had to break a strike over this issue.)

2) The clever Clinton-era compromise, which has worked OK, is that the minimum wage laws apply but, significantly, food stamps count as part of the workfare 'wage.' This means that workfare ("community service") effectively still pays a bit less than a minimum wage job at, say, McDonald's. If you're poor and do workfare, you get $5.15 an hour in cash and food stamps. If you're poor and work at McDonald's, you get $5.15 an hour in cash plus food stamps on top of that.

3 Bush's new, post-backtrack position is to simply continue this serviceable Clinton-era status quo. Some Bush aides might prefer to entirely exempt workfare from the minimum wage laws, but that more conservative idea, the Bushies say, was left in their proposal in an oversight, without top level approval. It's now been dropped, presumably because it's one of those ideas that not only wouldn't get through Congress but would buy Bush a world of bad publicity as it was dying in committee. ... Even if you don't buy the "oversight" story (and I tend to buy it) the key point is that Bush hasn't agreed to water down current law, and will (presumably) fight to keep it. ... [You did some reporting? Ominous precedent--ed An accident, I swear. It won't happen again.] (3/7) ,

Friends of Cokie: The surprise of the morning is Lucianne Goldberg going to bat for Cokie Roberts, who seems to be successfully convincing the world she wants to spend more time with her family. I'm even feeling a twinge of Cokie nostalgia myself. Roberts is an authentic Voice of the Beltway, with the good and bad that implies (she's subtle, well-informed, human, imprisoned by the CW and disconnected, in a complicated, scared and condescending way, from the rest of America). ... (3/6)

Friends of Doris: The Boston Globe's Tom Oliphant unpersuasively defends Doris Kearns Goodwin, arguing:

In essence, a major screwup that was acknowledged by the author the instant it was disclosed and led to a thorough reexamination of material by the author herself, has been given a fresh push in the press by a scandal-monger who has sought to take advantage of her diligence.
Hmmm. Why didn't "the author" undertake her "thorough reexamination" when the "major screwup" was first brought to her attention, in the lawsuit by Lynne McTaggart that was settled in 1987? Could it be because Goodwin thought she'd shut McTaggart up with a confidentiality agreement? It's only when Goodwin's "screwup" is disclosed in public -- i.e. when she gets caught -- that she has a fit of ethics and "thorough" self-examination. ... P.S.: Oliphant coyly says "My dissent stems neither from friendship nor from the fact that Goodwin is an occasional guest like me on broadcast programs ..." Is Oliphant admitting or denying that he and Goodwin are friends? If they're friends, why doesn't he just say it clearly? Is he trying to sneak in the necessary ass-covering, credibility-sapping conflict disclosure while making it read, to the uninitiated, as if the conflict isn't there? ... P.P.S.: In Slate, Tim Noah has a more thorough summary of the weakness in Oliphant's position. David Greenberg mounts a not-much-more-persuasive defense of Goodwin, pointing out that:
She's in an impossible bind: The more she tries to fix her mistakes, the more attention she draws to them.
Well, er, yes. The way out of this cruel bind is to not write books riddled with "mistakes." (Note that Greenberg here adopts the euphemistic "mistakes" terminology he condemns elsewhere in his piece. Were he to use the real word, "plagiarism," his sentence's ludicrousness would be too obvious.) ... (3/5)

The estimable Matt Miller scores some points with his contrarian pro-Skilling, anti-grilling column. He even blames Sherron Watkins for causing the "run on the bank" that led to Enron's collapse. ... Obvious snipe: Miller defends "asset-light" businesses -- but doesn't a smart CEO acquire assets because then his or her firm can't be blown away by a quick "run on the bank"? ... (3/4)

The most persuasive -- make that the only persuasive piece I've read arguing that the Enron and Global Crossing scandals may provide the legitimate basis for a powerful Democratic anti-corporate populist campaign was written by ... [drum roll] ... Bush cousin and Election 2000 lightning rod, John Ellis! He's pissed off! ... Ellis doesn't claim there's a political scandal, but rather a scandal of eroding corporate ethics that could be leveraged by the Democrats into an election issue if the party weren't run by slick, quick-buck operators like Terry McAuliffe. ... P.S.: Ellis doesn't think the recession's over yet either. ... (3/1)

Well-executed (i.e. funny) David Plotz extrapolation of the shadow government story. ... (3/1)

Joe Conason reassures those who might not want to be interviewed for his Harry-Thomason-bankrolled "Hunting of the President" Clinton documentary that he and his crew will have the freedom to "do what we want." ... Note to WaPo's Lloyd Grove: Hello! Nobody's worried Conason won't have the freedom to do what he wants. They're worried he will have the freedom to do what he wants. You know this! Why play dumb? ... Schmidt, Isikoff and Gerth would have to be insane to cooperate with Conason. ... (3/1)

"Too soft and not sophisticated enough": The NYT reports that Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon had some hurtful things to say about George H.W. Bush in 1971, though Slate had that story ten days ago, including more on its weird subtext (Nixon "wanted to torture Kissinger with the possibility that he'd name someone else" emissary to China) and provenance (the transcript comes from Kissinger's taping of Nixon, not vice-versa). ... (3/1)

February 2002 archive

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Gerrymandering, speeding, immigrating ...
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Andrew Sullivan
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Best thumbsucking toesucker.
Weekly Standard
See them snipe at Bush.
The Occasional
Bright young 'wingers.
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Gold in every column.
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How the pros start their day.
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He still ain't got no transcripts.
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