Comrade Bukharin Receives New Assignment: More good news from the American Prospect, where everything's fine, just fine, these days. ... The talented Josh Green left. The talented Scott Stossel left. The talented Nick Confessore left. And now Executive Editor Harold Meyerson, formerly the magazine's great new (and expensive) hope, who only recently was engaged in a power struggle with tediously dogmatic TAP editor Robert Kuttner, has received a glorious promotion to Editor-at-Large, where he will "provide more in-depth political coverage" and be able to spend more time with his family! ...For TAP's Pravda-like bull---- announcement, click here. ....P.S.: In an e-mail to his colleagues, Meyerson says TAP is looking to hire a new executive editor to replace him. If you're a talented exec who missed out on Enron and can't land that new WorldCom job, this is a fallback you should consider. ... 9:00 P.M.
Vouchers and the Dems: Slate's Will Saletan and Newsweek's Jonathan Alter wrote essentially the same article last week--debunking the idea that the Supreme Court's ruling on school vouchers would "turn the political tide in favor of vouchers and Republican candidates who support them" (Saletan's words). Rather, the decision was "probably a win for liberals," said Alter.
Why? Both writers claim the voucher issue is like the abortion issue. On both issues, the traditional Democratic position (pro-choice, anti-voucher) has been more popular with the voters. But when the Supreme Court took the abortion issue off the political table, in Roe v. Wade, that energized the Republican pro-life movement (while the pro-choicers sat back and relied on the courts). When the Court made abortion part of the political debate again -- by permitting some restrictions on abortions in its 1989 Webster decision - that forced the liberal, pro-choice majority to mobilize and carry the day. Similarly, the argument goes, by making vouchers into a political, not constitutional, issue last week, the Court will force voucher opponents to mobilize and put the hurt on any Republican who dares promote such a scheme.
One problem with these instant-contrarian pieces is that they're attacking a conventional wisdom that doesn't exist. Did you hear many people saying last week that the voucher ruling would help Republicans politically ( in the fall campaign for example)? I didn't. Neither Alter nor Saletan provide even the required solitary straw man expert making this political argument, so we can safely assume he wasn't to be found. What commentators did say was that the voucher decision was a boost for vouchers, which seems undeniably true. (Even if vouchers don't spread very rapidly, it has to help that they are now a constitutional possibility.Roe may have hurt liberals, but it's hard to argue it didn't increase abortions.)
And it's easy to think of at least three reasons why -- even on the crassly political "who benefits" question -- the voucher issue isn't like the abortion issue:
1) Vouchers split the Democratic base: Both Alter and Saletan note that vouchers are popular with inner city blacks, whose children otherwise have to attend failed public schools. This is a potentially big deal, since Republicans have been unable to crack the black Democratic voting bloc in decades of trying. Was there a comparably pivotal Democratic constituency that opposed abortion? [Working-class Catholics--kf reader. By Webster in '89 weren't those that were going to leave the party already gone, for a host of reasons? In contrast, blacks have been amazingly loyal Democrats, and vouchers may be the only potential wedge Republicans have found with which to pry some away.]
2) Dems are locked in on vouchers: School choice (including voucher plans, but also independent, public "charter" schools) is a potentially good issue for Republicans not because it's now wildly popular with a majority of voters. It's a good issue because, should the pro-voucher side gain a majority, the Democrats will be unable to move to accommodate the shift. The teachers' unions, which are inalterably opposed to vouchers (and more subtly opposed to charter schools) won't let them. Abortion, on the other hand, is a question of ideology and morality, not the concrete material interest of an identifiable, well-organized group -- so the Democrats have much more flexibility. If the pro-life position becomes more popular, the power of the pro-choice lobby in the party will decline, and the Democrats can simply shift to a less-pro-choice position.
3) The problem vouchers are designed to solve isn't getting any better: Do you see urban school systems across America revitalizing themselves in the absence of competition from school choice? I don't. Meanwhile, education becomes more and more important for economic success. In contrast, the abortion issue is more of a static moral dispute. Either it's murder or it's not. The pro-life side can't argue that it's more murder now than it was in 1970.
None of this means Republicans are going to make great electoral hay out of vouchers in 2002 (again, nobody argues this position). It does mean that vouchers are potentially a Reaganesque cause, in that they might start out as an unpopular position (as were many of Reagan's hawkish and antigovernment views in the 1960s) but become a majority position -- in which case the Democrats are in political trouble.
P.S.: Alter gets in a good shot at the hack liberal New York Times editorial declaration that "[w]hat is holding the public schools back, however, is not lack of competitive drive but the resources to succeed" (i.e. money). Says Alter, "This is an example of exactly the kind of ivory tower thinking that is poison for liberals." Contrast the NYT's weary cant with WaPo's shockingly open-to-vouchers editorial and you have a good illustration of the different paths being taken by these two great Democratic papers. 3:10 A.M.
A late Watergate hit: Doesn't the Supreme Court's 2000 decision in Bush v. Gore cast a retrospective pall over its 1974 Nixon tapes decision? Maybe in the earlier decision -- ordering Nixon to turn over the fatally-daming tapes to the courts -- the justices weren't striking a historic blow for democracy and open government after all. Maybe, as in 2000, they just thought it was a good time to step in and pick a president. ... 3:10 A.M.
Sunday, June 30, 2002
The End of L.A.: In a long article worthy of the NYT Magazine, New Times' Jill Stewart explains why almost 40 percent of Los Angeles may secede and form the sixth largest city in the country. ... Political pros I respect swear that San Fernando Valley secession will be defeated once voters get scared about the consequences and learn that the breakup of LA's huge school district isn't part of the package. But, like Stewart, I smell another Prop. 13 in the making, and suspect the area's political establishment (virtually all of which opposes secession) is going to be shocked. ... How, exactly, can you make the argument to Valley voters that their new city would be less efficient when a) it wouldn't be saddled with L.A.'s expensive labor contracts (and 20-years-and-retire pension system) and b) it wouldn't have to deal with the social problems of the South Central ghetto? .... The unions are apparently worried. They recently staged a big rally that, Stewart argues in a second secession piece, only reminded Valley voters of why they might want to opt out. .... 1:30 A.M.
Saturday, June 29, 2002
The Decline of N.Y.: For the story on Martha Stewart's society broker offering to squeal in exchange for immunity, it's hard to believe the Daily News and Lucianne.com both missed the obvious headline "'WALKER,' TALKER!" (or "He 'Walks,' He Talks!") ... 11:20 A.M.
Friday, June 28, 2002
Maryland Stalking Horse Spotted: Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Democratic candidate for governor of Maryland , has picked as her running mate retired admiral Charles Larson, who was a registered Republican until he switched his registration and became a Democrat 17 days ago. He also campaigned in 2000 for John McCain, described in WaPo as a "Naval Academy buddy." ... Hmm. Could Larson be, in effect if not intent, a stalking horse for the long-fabled McCain Party Switch?... If the McCainite conspiracy sent Larson over the top to see if the Republicans machine guns are working, it looks from today's story as if they aren't. .. Even if (as is likely) Larson's move was a surprise to the McCainites, will McCain be able to resist following Larson's example once he sees the adulatory press Larson gets? ...1:15 P.M.
The Shrumist Menace, Episode 27: And WorldCom wouldn't have fudged its books if Gore and Clinton had still been in office? Very unlikely, when you consider all the corporate shenanigans that were going on before 2001 (see Robert Musil for some of the details). ... Gore's Lot 61 attack is a good example of how a Shrumesque, us-vs.-them, populist spin ("You see now what it means to have an administration that's that committed to fighting and working on behalf of the powerful , and letting the people of this country get the short end of the stick") renders phony a pitch that could be a valid campaign point for Gore.. ... Imagine how much more persuasive it would be if Gore had said: "These big business frauds were happening on our watch. They're happening even more on their watch.We've all woken up to the problem -- but if I'm President, you can count on me to fix it. Can you really count on George Bush?" ... 2:00 P.M.
Washingtonpost.com seems to have started a feature, "World Opinion Roundup," that surveys coverage in the foreign press. It's a shameless ripoff of Slate's "International Papers," which is nothing to apologize for. Since Jefferson Morley's writing it, it can be expected to bring you views not normally featured in the current domestic wartime consensus. (Current headline: "Mugged by American Crooks.") Also, since Morley's writing it, it will be well-done. .. 1:15 P.M.
Kausfiles' Provisional Unified Court Theory: Even if you accept, or actually welcome, yesterday's Supreme Court decision saying it's not unconstitutional to give parents vouchers good for tuition at parochial and other schools, the NYT's "balkanization" objection isn't crazy. The Times notes:
In public schools, Americans of many backgrounds learn together. In the religious schools that Cleveland taxpayers are being forced to sponsor, Catholics are free to teach that their way is best, and Jews, Muslims and those of other faiths can teach their co-religionists that they have truth on their side.
In practice, this may not be a big problem. I doubt the inner-city kids who go to parochial school to escape lousy public schools will all become Catholics, nor would it be troubling if they did. But if we start having radical Islamic madrasas or creepy cult campuses springing up, using voucher money, that could be a problem. (All religions are not equal when it comes to coexisting comfortably with tolerance and freedom.) So here's a question: Suppose, as a matter of policy (not constitutionality), a failing public school district wanted to hand out vouchers but restrict them to non-religious schools. Could it do that, constitutionally -- or would that be an unconstitutional discrimination against religion? ...
One broad rationale for the Court's voucher decision is the same rationale that would overturn the Ninth Circuit's somewhat unpopular "pledge" decision -- namely this simple chain (suggested by an excellent Luke Menand essay on the teaching of evolution):
- Schools have to teach something.
- Someone will always be deeply offended by that something.
- The best you can do is give them the opportunity to opt out of that something, be it Darwinism, or Catholicism, or the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.
- That's mainly what the Constitution requires -- not "neutrality" on religion (which is not-implausibly interpreted by anti-secularists as the removal of religion), not a lowest-common-denominator pledge, not a "balanced" presentation of evolution alongside whatever other theory anti-Darwinians can cook up and promote. That way lies madness.
Under this rationale, of course, you could have a lot more Christianity in the schools than "under God," as long as parents could have their children opt out of that part. But you could also restrict public money to non-religious schools, just as you could restrict public money to schools that teach modern physics and not phlogiston theory. Religion becomes just another idea, the same way the "press," also singled out for special mention in the First Amendment, is (under the theory I'd favor) really just another form of speech.. ... I'm probably missing something. I'll go to Prof. Eugene Volokh's site now to see if he can make it all clear ... P.S.: Dahlia Lithwick has a different -- O.K., opposite -- view that also ties together the voucher and Pledge decisions. 3:00 A.M.
Thursday, June 27, 2002
"Amend It, Please Don't End It": It's one thing for a politician to denounce the Ninth Circuit's "pledge" decision. I'm not crazy about it myself. But isn't it grandstanding and oneupmanship beyond the call of politican ambition, betraying a certain lack of judgment, to immediately call for amending the Constitution -- even before the full appeals court and the Supreme Court have reviewed the three-judge opinion? Which Democratic presidential aspirant just did that? Joe "Please Don't End It" Lieberman. ... Do we want a hair-trigger Constitutional revisionist in the White House? Doesn't Lieberman's overreaction give implicit support to all others (e.g. flagburning-banners) who want to add various less-than-crucial or even annoying sentences to our founding document? (If we're going down that road, I've got a bit of editing I'd like to do to the Fifth Amendment myself). ... Lieberman, down arrow; Edwards, up arrow: If Clintonian centrist Bruce Reed is doing the issue briefing at John Edwards' fatcat retreat, as reported by Howard Fineman of Newsweek, perhaps Edwards really is more than the cliched Shrumian populist portrayed earlier in these pixels. .. .2:40 P.M.
Late-breaking "homeland"-replacement nominee: Department of Counterterrorism. 2:30 P.M.
Daschle's Bluff: Does Tom Daschle really want to go into the fall elections with the Democratic Senate not having voted on a bill to extend the 1996 welfare reform law? I don't believe it. If the Democrats pretend they're ready to do that, they're bluffing. There will be a vote. It's just too dangerous for Senate Dems (defending a one-vote margin) to risk a last-minute charge that they obstructed a wildly popular law they claim to support. They know they're vulnerable on the welfare issue, and for good reason -- voters may suspect that the same Democrats who a few years ago were fulminating against the reform law have not actually changed their attitudes. ... Contrary to much of the press' coverage, the crucial debate isn't over child care -- that's just money! -- but over whether the details of the work requirements will make them less strict than they sound, perhaps by allowing two years of "vocational education" to count as "work." (It looks as if the bill approved by the Senate Finance Committee yesterday opens up at least a two-year "voc ed" loophole -- maybe worse, depending on what this suspicious-looking Olympia Snowe Amendment means. Meanwhile, this Kent Conrad Amendment could be read to exempt single moms whose children have asthma.) ... The Dems would like the press to say it's all about child care, since stalling the whole bill because you want more child care funding is more popular than stalling it because you want to weaken work requirements. But still not popular enough!... 1:45 A.M.
Who says more designer dresses would sell if they made them in size 12 or 14? 1:26 A.M.
If stunning results like this hold up it will be hard to resist a move to same-sex education, even if Steve Reinhardt should think it unconstitutional ... D.C.'s Moten Elementary School, where 98 percent of the students qualify for subsidized lunches, quietly instituted same-sex instruction (in a mixed-sex school, presumably with the same old teachers, etc.) and saw its Stanford 9 scores in reading and math soar. Now 88 percent test as "advanced" or "proficient" in math, 91.5 percent in reading. ... Update: Alert kf reader Bob Somerby, of Howler fame, e-mails to sound a note of caution::
Never accept pleasing test score jumps without the greatest skepticism. In an earlier incarnation, I spent years on this issue ... But teachers and principals routinely invalidate testing programs, sometimes deliberately, sometimes not. ... Test scores can be gimmicked in a hundred different ways. Every one has been done, repeatedly. Teachers and principals make sure the dumb kids don't get tested. They give students too much time on the tests. They go over the specific test items in advance. They simply give out the answers as the testing proceeds. And yes, they even take the answers sheets, after the testing, and erase the wrong answers and fill in the right ones. That last practice is so widespread that, for a fee, test companies will electronically scan answer sheets, looking for inordinate numbers of erasures and looking for improbable erasure patterns (all wrong-to-right, none right-to-wrong). Examples of these practices have been documented all over the country, always treated as puzzling anomalies by a press corps that is one part hapless, one part in the bag for urban school systems. ... It's a tremendous advance that the Post actually raised the possibility that the scores involved might be bogus.
There's no evidence I know of, in the Post story or elsewhere, that any of these tricks were involved at Moten, of course. Let's assume Moten's results really were as good as they seem, and wait to see if they hold up under examination. Someone --WaPo, one hopes, after billing them on the front page -- should subject them to that scrutiny. ... At least we didn't just put in place an entire national education reform plan that depends on the integrity of these sort of tests! . .. Oh ... wait a minute ... 1:15 A.M.
Wednesday, June 26, 2002
Impressive spin control by Secretary of State Colin Powell in yesterday's NYT. From all appearances, indeed, from the Times' own account, there was an "internal debate" within the Administration, which "squared off Secretary Powell and the State Department's Middle East Experts against the camps of Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld" -- and Powell's side lost. A normal, competent cabinet official, having been defeated in such a battle, would then give the strong impression that he nevertheless agreed with the resulting policy. Powell's brilliance is to go a step further, and get the NYT's Todd Purdum to give the impression that Bush's anti-Arafat speech was really Powell's idea! Indeed, according to Purdum's lede paragraph, the speech was the concrete result of Powell's intensive efforts to negotiate with the man who Bush now says has to go:
President Bush's public demand that Yasir Arafat be replaced as the Palestinian leader began in private 10 weeks ago in a small room in Mr. Arafat's besieged and battered headquarters in Ramallah, with tough talk from Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. ...
Sure there was an internal debate, Purdum says, but "in recent weeks" Powell swung into action and caved ... I mean, "a strong consensus emerged"! ... That's according to "one senior administration official." ... Could it be a senior official who 10 weeks ago visited Arafat's beseiged and battered headquarters? ...Coming soon: Strom Thurmond explains how he integrated the South! ... John Kerry: "I voted against the Gulf War because Bush wouldn't buy my plan to take out Saddam!" ... Hillary Clinton on why welfare reform was her idea all along! [That one's already happened--ed.] ... (Thanks to alert kf reader M.K.) 2:00 A.M.
Nicholas Confessore is the latest escapee from The American Prospect.Confessore will go to work for The Washington Monthly, for whom he wrote an excellent recent article on the Bush Administration's rejection of an effective program for tracking foreign students. Here's an excerpt:
[S]ince September 11, these [Bush administration] officials have been operating below the media radar to make sure that a broken immigration-security system stays broken. Why would members of the Bush administration want to do such a thing, given the president's firm commitment to fight terrorism? Because of the president's other firm commitment to courting Hispanic voters. Key Bush officials know that an effective system of tracking immigrants is the last thing Hispanic and other immigration lobbyists want to see.
Tuesday, June 25, 2002
The Schnorring Gene: Did you know that too-slick Democratic National Committee head Terry McAuliffe's brother Joseph is also a big fundraiser ... but for Pat Robertson? "Two brothers,... same unique skill," says Gary North's Reality Check, the free e-mail newsletter from which I learned this. (A solitary NEXIS hit from the Tampa Tribune confirms it, though that 5/13/01 story suggests that Joseph, while pro-life and "conservative on social issues," has otherwise been drifting to the Dems.) ...2:35 P.M.
The brilliant Brit rewrite men who pull The Economist out of their ... out of thin air every week might not have realized that Karl Rove's aides may not have dropped a computer disk on the sidewalk (there was no disk, claims the American Prowler), but they do nail down what seems to be Rove's problem: The real problem with Rove is his growing belief that politics is about bribing specific pressure groups, such as steel workers in important Rust Belt states, rather than pursuing the national interest. ... Rove's defenders say he is dealing with a political stalemate. ...Yet the best way to ensure a tight election is to govern as if you expect one. Bush's first year was successful precisely because he governed as if he had won by a landslide.
The real problem with Rove is his growing belief that politics is about bribing specific pressure groups, such as steel workers in important Rust Belt states, rather than pursuing the national interest. ... Rove's defenders say he is dealing with a political stalemate. ...Yet the best way to ensure a tight election is to govern as if you expect one. Bush's first year was successful precisely because he governed as if he had won by a landslide.
The Economist worries more about pandering to the steel industry than pandering to Hispanics, but it's the same complaint. ... At some point this will become the certified media CW on Rove, like the "Fibber Gore" CW in the 2000 campaign -- which should have the salutary effect of making Bush think twice about future panders. [Note: Link requires a subscription to Roll Call or to The Economist.] ... 12:40 P.M.
Monday, June 24, 2002
Welfare reform: Void in NY and California? Jason Turner, NY mayor Giuliani's welfare commissioner and a kausfiles hero, ran one of the few welfare programs in the nation that required recipients to work in public jobs if necessary. But Turner's efforts in NYC were hampered because under NY state law, if recipients refuse to work, they only lose part of their monthly welfare check -- it falls from $588 per month to $475 for a family of three, plus they get to keep food stamps, public housing, and Medicaid. The liberal NY state legislature prohibits a tougher "sanction." (Allegedly it would violate a vague state constitutional provision requiring "aid, care and support of the needy ... in such manner ...as the legislature may from time to time determine.") Recipients soon learned they could take the $113 hit and then tell the welfare department to get lost when it tried to get them into the labor force. ...Only 17 states have this weak penalty-- most states have a "full-check sanction" that eventually cuts off welfare entirely. But the 17 states include New York and California, which between them have 32 percent of the nation's welfare cases. ... Republicans in the House recently tried to require that all states install a "full-check sanction" or else pay for the continuing benefits out of their own funds. But the provision was gutted by GOP Ways & Means chairman Bill Thomas, who stuck in an exemption for New York and California. Thomas argued the two states were going to keep paying the benefits anyway, so why make them take the budgetary hit? But the underlying debate among reformers is whether Congress should tell states (and can get away with telling states) what to do in this sort of detail. ... Turner makes his case here. ...6:15 P.M.
Two weeks ago a BET.com message board called on its readers to post their "Happy Father's Day shout-out." The site's staff urged: "Go ahead, tell your father how much you love him." BET.com expected "positive messages of love and support." Instead, its audience posted messages like:
I WANT TO THANK MY DAD FOR … NOT BEING THERE FOR ME. I WANT HIM TO KNOW HOW MUCH I HATE HIM!!
So much for any thought of glossing over the crisis of the black family. (In a follow-up, BET.com says it was "surprised" by "the intense anger shown on the message boards.") ... Maybe the Bush administration's "marriage promotion" PR initiative isn't such an idiotic idea after all. ...(Link via Instapundit and MarriageMovement.org) 1:00 P.M.
WaPo reports that former FBI deputy general counsel, Thomas A. Kelley, who is heading the Congressional intelligence committee's inquiry into the bureau's pre-9/11 antiterrorist performance, was accused of obstructing the Danforth inquiry into Waco:
According to a December 2000 internal FBI memo, Kelley "continued to thwart and obstruct" the Waco investigation to the point that Danforth was forced to send a team to search FBI headquarters for documents Kelley refused to turn over.
Danforth himself is quoted saying that getting documents from the FBI "was like pulling teeth." ... He's just a bit gruff, say his defenders. .. Note: As I read it, WaPo only charges that Kelley obstructed Justice, not that he obstructed justice. (Link via Instapundit) 2:00 A.M.
How to make Andrew Sullivan swoon: Tell him you'd marry him! ... Robert Reich has come out in favor of gay marriage, and Sullivan, who disagrees vehemently with Reich on probably 80 percent of all other issues, says, "For this reason alone, it seems to me voters in Massachusetts should vote for Reich." ... I would suggest that Andrew has lost perspective. Meanwhile, Reich has brilliantly solved his fundraising problem (he'll now get contributions from gay rights supporters all over the country). ... 1:30 A.M.
Sunday, June 23, 2002
LAT's Tim Rutten busts kausfiles for comparing Woodward and Bernstein's Watergate coverage to blogging and arguing that their blog-like methods -- producing a steady stream of stories that force sources to react, even if that comes at the expense of 100-percent accuracy -- are superior to former LAT editor Bill Thomas' method of "Do It Once. Do It Right."
1) It's not clear if Rutten is against Woodward and Bernstein or just "narcissistic" bloggers. But W & B's methods -- striving to publish "the best obtainable version of the truth" (Bernstein's words) in a series of non-definitive stories -- wound up revealing important truths and helped produce a revolution in governance. Thomas' "Do It Once" philosophy, when applied to California's amazingly juicy 1983-1987 Moriarty scandal (involving a fireworks manufacturer who plied state legislators with prostitutes and laundered campaign funds), produced a handful of lower-level convictions but (as two LAT reporters wrote)
"never penetrated the top echeleons of political power in Sacramento, as many former Moriarty associates and law enforcement officials had initially anticipated."
"Do It Once. Do It Right" is probably a good motto for an academic biographer. It's a ridiculous motto for a newspaperman, which is why the LAT of the Thomas era never really seemed like a newspaper, and why the Times' new owners, Chicago's Tribune Company, are busy trying to dismantle the dead, "velvet coffin" culture Thomas helped build.
2) Obeying what seems to be an iron law that applies to pieces by mainstream journalists huffing about blogger inaccuracy, Rutten's piece itself contains a non-trivial inaccuracy, attributing to me words (describing how W & B sometimes revealed "unsubstantiated or simply wrong information") that were actually written by historian Stanley Kutler and were clearly identified as such (see the item in the 6/19 entries below). The misreporting is non-trivial because it conveniently avoids the need for Rutten to mention that it was Kutler, who isn't a narcissistic blogger, who initially made the point Rutten's dismissing.. (It goes without saying that if Rutten were a blogger he'd have corrected his mistake by now, but since he works for a "serious newspaper" the falsehood will probably stand uncorrected forever.)
3) The pro-blog argument doesn't, I think, advocate anyone publishing anything less than Bernstein's "best obtainable version of the truth." What it does suggest is that the full truth will come out faster -- especially in an era of instant Web-based reactions and corrections --when journalists who have 50 percent of the story, or even 40 percent, publish what they know when they find it out rather than waiting until they think they have100 percent of the story (which of course they probably never do). ... I'd even claim, irresponsibly, that you'll often have a better chance of getting the truth from reluctant sources if you print the charges first (couched in the suitably uncertain phrases and questions most easily employed by opinion writers and bloggers) and get the reactions second -- since at that point sources who'll be reacting won't be tempted to think that by lying they can kill the story in its crib and prevent the charges from ever being made.