Reich crispy.

A mostly political Weblog.
Sept. 3 2002 4:10 AM

Reich Crispy

Plus: Is it reform -- or R & R?

Reform -- or vacation? Josh Marshall notes that the NYT seems to have relented on the Kissinger question -- i.e. whether he should be classified as a Bush dissenter or Bush supporter. ... Hmmm. A good front-page welfare story. A good front-page disability story. Fairer coverage of the Iraq debate. Evidence of reform on the Times' part is beginning to pile up. (Andrew Sullivan has noticed the change  too.)... Two main theories seem plausible: 1) Someone important at the NYT has realized that the paper's marked, error-inducing politicization is rather quickly undermining its credibility and embarrassing it within the profession. Bill Keller's bold op-ed rebuke  is the most obvious candidate for change-inducing agent here. 2) The NYT editors and reporters who are responsible for the paper's marked, error-inducing politicization have been on holiday, and the Times will revert to form when they return. ...Which theory is right? Only time will tell! ...12:34 A.M.

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Monday, September 2, 2002
 

Rauch vs. Reich -- Don't Burn the Toast!  Jonathan Rauch's Slate expose of Robert Reich's "memoir" has become an issue in Reich's campaign for Massachusetts governor. One of Reich's Democratic primary opponents, Warren Tolman, is running ads charging, accurately, that Reich was ''forced to rewrite his book after the media exposed numerous untruths." Reich has responded by accusing Tolman of ''gutter politics," adding ( according to the Boston Globe):

''I'm frankly surprised that he would stoop to this. ...This is the worst form of old-style dirty politics. Shame on him.''

I suppose Reich himself can't be fairly accused of actually believing that.... Probably the biggest objection to the former Labor secretary, among those who know him, isn't that he's not smart. (He's very smart.) It isn't that he's not a leader. (He's a born leader.) It isn't that he doesn't care. It's that he's a bull______r.  How is it "gutter politcs" for Tolman to bring up this most salient aspect of Reich's character? If Ken Lay ran for office, would it be "dirty politics" to bring up Enron?... According to the polls, Reich is in second place, but instead of being able to focus his attack on the candidate in first place, state treasurer Shannon O'Brien, he's coming under fire from the fast-rising #3 or #4 candidate, Tolman. This isn't a good position to be in, two weeks out... P.S.: Reich recently claimed credit as a Clinton-administration deficit-fighter, a boast that will cause peals of laughter in Washington. As Scott Lehigh points out (in a Globe op-ed piece you can read if, unlike me, you can somehow get past the paper's annoying registration form) Reich was actually on the opposite side of that intra-administration debate. ... P.P.S.: Here is a general overview  of the race as it stands. ...  9:41 P.M.

Everybody Hates 'Homeland': Alert kf reader A.C. emails to claim, correctly, that Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist, made the basic arguments against the word "Homeland"  on NPR's "Fresh Air" back in October, 2001, before either Peggy Noonan or kausfiles.  ... At the end of a piece criticizing the song "America the Beautiful," Nunberg said:

Granted, we all love our purple mountains, not to mention the deserts, wetlands ...  But it's reductive to make our landscape the focus of our national anthem. Any country can do that. The Swiss sing about the Alps going bright with splendor; the Czechs sing about water bubbling across the meadows and pinewoods rustling amongst the crags ...

Anthems like those are appropriate for nations that have no essential commitment to a particular form of government: landscapes don't have any politics, after all. But the American experiment was supposed to be different ...

There's a curious parallel between the swelling popularity of "America the Beautiful" and the Administration's choice of the phrase "homeland security" rather than "domestic security" ... It's easy to understand what they were getting at, given the shock of an attack on American soil. But even though "homeland" is a perfectly good English word, up to now we've never used it to describe our own country. It has an alien sound, like the German word Heimat ... it's the word we use for peoples who feel an ancestral connection to a particular plot of ground. Whereas the idea of America isn't that it's a place that people come from but a place that they come to. The Germans and Palestinians and Kurds and Ukrainians have homelands; we just have a nation and a flag.

Well, and tactfully, put! ... But the NYT, in its recent piece, still should have mentioned Noonan's opposition, at least on the Scowcroft-Bites-Man principle (that prominent Bush-affiliated dissenters from Bush policies are more newsworthy than the usual dissenters). ... 2:46 P.M.

Here's another argument against the current employer-based health care system, one even Republicans should appreciate: When laid-off veteran workers with chronic bad backs or stress problems can't find new jobs -- because potential employers, understandably, don't want to foot the bill for their health care -- they go on Social Security disability and become dependent on the state. ... Louis Uchitelle's excellent article really belongs where it's been put -- on Page A1. Column 6. This isn't one of those Robert Pear slow-weekend sneak jobs. Whichever NYT editors are now on vacation should stay on vacation! ... Uchitelle's piece is also a warning to Tipper Gore types about the potential costs of mental health "parity," since many of the new disability claims involve vague hard-to-disprove claims of stress and depression. ... 1:48 P.M.

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Sunday, September 1, 2002
 

Retiring GOP Majority Leader Dick Armey is experiencing "strange new respect," the well-documented phenomenon in which the press detects growth, statesmanship and character in formerly-vilified Republicans who take stands Democrats agree with. Armey opposes invading Iraq, and gets a nice farewell interview with Jake Tapper in the Times magazine. ... 9:35 A.M.

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Saturday, August 31, 2002
 

If the phrase "homeland security" fails to be the best match for the country's mood or memory, the president can always change it.

1) Unfortunately, the NYT joining the cause is unlikely to win over many Bushies, who loathe the Times. 2) A better tack, suggested by Becker's reporting is this: It's a Clinton-era phrase. Bush can blame him3) Shouldn't Peggy Noonan get some credit for being the first, as far as I know, to dis "homeland" in public? 4) Note again that even the "good," patriotic meaning of "homeland" --  "your roots, the region where you grew up, your identity, where you belong" -- is a bad and un-American meaning. We're a country of people who abandoned their regions and roots and even identities because they rightly recognized that other things (e.g. life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) are more important (a point Noonan made in a second anti-Heimat column). Outside the U.S., too, geography-based identity politics -- of which Islamic fundamentalism is one conspicuous example -- is not something to be celebrated or encouraged. ... [Do you think it's an accident that two NYT pieces you like -- Becker's and Kaufman's (see below) -- appear on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, in one of the least-read papers of the year? It's all part of the conspiracy, don't you see?--ed. You're beginning to sound like an obsessive crank. Think positive!]  10:15 P.M.

Kaufman vs. Bernstein: It's a blowout! The NYT gives front-page play to an excellent Leslie Kaufman story  on how the predictions from the left that welfare caseloads would soar once the economy went sour are proving wrong. The long-anticipated welfare increase

has not happened in New York City, which has the largest number of public assistance cases of any city in the nation. Nor has it happened in many other large urban areas.

Although unemployment in New York City has risen more than 20 percent from its low in March and the numbers of families calling themselves homeless have jumped to record levels, the number of people who get public assistance has tumbled to 418,277, down 9.5 percent since the start of the year.

But wasn't it only seven-and-a-half months ago that the NYT ran a piece, co-authored by Raymond Hernandez and the wildly-biased Nina Bernstein, under the headline

Welfare Rolls Grew in City Late Last Year

It was! On January 17, 2002, Hernandez and Bernstein wrote that

For the first time in six years, New York City's welfare rolls began to rise by several thousand people in the late fall, adding to growing concerns among government officials nationwide that the country's revamped welfare system may be caught short in the recession.

What's more, in their second graf, Hernandez and Bernstein cited a "new study [that] projects that unemployment could drive the number of public assistance recipients up 14 percent by next fall."  The "shift has been abrupt," they declared,  suggesting that New York might be one of the states running out of federal welfare money due to "surging caseloads."

In New York City alone, today's report projects, the caseload can be expected to rise by 66,000 by September, reaching 530,000 and leaving the current budget for grants short by $40 million.

It's not September yet, but the actual, real figure certainly looks like it will be closer to the 418,000 in Kaufman's story.

Nor was this just an earnest bit of reporting by Hernandez and Bernstein that proved to be misguided. It was something worse than that. Even at the time, back in January, a close reading of Hernandez and Bernstein's article (by, for example, their editors) would have indicated it was bogus. Their lede was based on a mild welfare increase "of 5,000, or about 1 percent, in October and November, to 469,000." But, buried skillfully in the seventh paragraph, was the news that

the caseload increases in October and November were followed by a drop to 462,595 in December.

In other words, the caseloads rose by 5,000 over two months, then they dropped by 6,400. The NYT billed this as "Welfare Rolls Grew"! After all, they grew for two months! The "shift" was "abrupt"! ...

P.S.: Kaufman's story, cleaning up the Hernandez/Bernstein mess, gives fair play to the claim, by the left, that the rolls are so low because New York is discouraging those who really can't find jobs from applying. But it might also be that welfare reform has changed the expectations of single mothers at the low-end of the labor market, so that now when they lose a job the first thing they do is go out and get a new one (since they know the welfare office is just going to make them look for work anyway, and they only have so many years of federal welfare benefits to draw on). And because the recession has hit low-end jobs in New York (and some other cities) less severely than it's hit better-paid jobs, it's still possible for many potential welfare recipients to find work. P.P.S.: Isn't it also possible that at least some quondam welfare recipients, who went to work in the late 90s, now qualify for unemployment compensation, and thus don't need welfare? ... Caveat: I'm assuming that Kaufman's numbers, showing a continuing national welfare decline, include recipients who have been transferred to various special state-funded welfare programs that states have created as a "safety net" for those who don't qualify for the main federal welfare program.. If not, all bets are off. ... 12:23 P.M.

For Ghost World fans: Enid lives!  (The CD the linked page discusses is good -- heart-breakingly grrrrlish, even if "The New Sound" turns out to be  Pachelbel's Canon again.) 12:26 P.M.

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Wednesday, August 28, 2002
 

Sustainable hackery: Paul Krugman's most recent column  ends with this paragraph:

A final thought: Wouldn't it be nice if just once, on some issue, the Bush administration came up with a plan that didn't involve weakened environmental protection, financial breaks for wealthy individuals and corporations and reduced public oversight?

What about EPA administrator Christie Whitman's decision to go ahead and get pollutants out of diesel fuel and engines, which most of the oil industry lobbied against?   Is Whitman somehow not part of the "Bush administration"? ... P.S.: When President Clinton's EPA first approved those diesel rules in the closing days of his administration, the NYT ran the story as its front page lead. (""In terms of the environment,it just doesn't get any bigger than these smudge pots on wheels," was the unnamed-EPA-official's quote in the third paragraph.) But when Bush resisted explicit industry lobbying and affirmed the rules -- he could have rescinded them, since they hadn't taken effect when he took office -- the NYT ran the story on page A-19. ... P.P.S.: Bush ultimately approved the full-strength anti-arsenic rules also. ... P.P.S.: Whitman also ordered General Electric to spend $480 million to clean toxins from the Hudson. ... P.P.P.S.: Does Krugman make any effort these days to get a full picture? ... Update: Some readers suggest that Bush shouldn't get credit for plans the Clinton EPA "came up with" and that Bush only affirmed -- even though in the case of diesel fuel Bush was the one who took the brunt of the oil lobbyists' heat (Clinton conveniently having waited until the 2000 election was over and he had a few weeks left in office). But if you want a plan the Bushies "came up with," there's his "Blue Skies" plan to require a two-thirds cut in most power plant emissions. You can say this plan doesn't go far enough -- it cuts sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury, but not carbon dioxide -- but it's hard to argue, as Krugman does, that it means "weakened environmental protection." ... Link: For a clear-headed and highly-readable discussion of how Bush's enivronmental record has been unfairly portrayed by, yes, the media, see Gregg Easterbrook's "Everything You Know About the Bush Environmental Record is Wrong."  ...  12:59 A.M.

Media Whores Online denies, somewhat unconvincingly, that it has become responsible. (MWO claims: "[I]n this issue, we count 22 instances of namecalling ...") ... 12:13 A.M.

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Tuesday, August 27, 2002
 

Just a hunch: If you were Winona Ryder, and you were facing a trial on shoplifting charges, wouldn't you time any plea bargain so it became public the week before Labor Day, when nobody's paying attention? To be more specific, you'd announce the plea deal late this coming Friday afternoon. Then the news will come too late to be included in most Sunday thumbsuckers (typically written on Friday), and instead appear mainly in the traditionally little-read Saturday papers. ...12:39 P.M.

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Monday, August 26, 2002
 

Am I warped, or has Media Whores Online  been much more ... responsible lately? Its commentary on the McKinney/Majette contest was a model of progressive probity:

There is no question Republicans helped defeat McKinney.  But Majette's candidacy was principled.  She played by the rules, and was not installed through some arbitrary process like, say, a Supreme Court intervention. There is no reason to believe that she and the many Democrats who voted for her do not strongly believe that she will be a more effective representative than McKinney.  McKinney's gaffes and associations made her a hopeless liability.

Well-said!  ..You know, a few of us get together at the club once a week -- very low key, nothing on the record, mind you -- and we were wondering if you, and maybe Mrs. Whores Online, would care to  .....  10:30 P.M.

Times v. Times, Part II (b): Several alert kf readers have pointed out that Bill Keller's Saturday NYT op-ed  on Iraq contains what seems to be a second indirect swipe at the NYT's news coverage under Howell Raines, who was picked over Keller for the NYT editor's job. Keller writes:

The last time America dispatched soldiers in the cause of "regime change," less than a year ago in Afghanistan, the opposition was mostly limited to the people who are reflexively against the American use of power. There were pundits who whispered "quagmire" and allies whose applause for the effort was one-handed, but the outright opposition came from isolationists ...

Gee, what "pundits" jumped to use the word "quagmire" after a few days of initial setbacks in Afghan? Could Keller have been referring to Timesman R.W. Apple's now-embarrassing "news analysis," which led the special "Nation Challenged" section on October 31, 2001? Apple's first sentence:

Like an unwelcome specter from an unhappy past, the ominous word "quagmire" has begun to haunt conversations among government officials and students of foreign policy, both here and abroad.

P.S.  Apple's piece will still be embarrassing even if Afghanistan does turn into a quagmire. That's because it consisted of Washington-dinner-party huffings about immediate American military prospects -- misgivings that were quickly proven wrong. Here's a sampling:

Despite the insistence of President Bush and members of his cabinet that all is well, the war in Afghanistan has gone less smoothly than many had hoped. Not that anyone expected a lightning campaign without setbacks ...But signs of progress are sparse. A week ago, the Pentagon said the military capacity of Taliban leaders in Afghanistan had been "eviscerated" by allied bombing raids; now ranking officials describe those leaders as "tough characters" who remain full of fight. The sole known commando sortie into enemy territory produced minimal results and ample evidence that American intelligence about the Taliban is thin.

The Northern Alliance, whose generals bragged for weeks that it was about to capture the pivotal city of Mazar-i-Sharif, has failed to do so.

Mazar-i-Sharif was captured within 10 days.  A week after that, with the Taliban on the run across Afghanistan, the NYT "Week in Review" ran an article entitled: "Surprise. War Works After All."  ... Link: If it's worth $2.95 to you to see Apple make a fool of himself, click here. Update: It's free here. [Thanks to reader J.A.C.]... 12:26 A.M.

  

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Links

Drudge Report--80 % true. Close enough! Instapundit--All-powerful hit king. Joshua Marshall--Escapee from American Prospect. Salon--Better click fast! Andrew Sullivan--He asks, he tells. He sells! Washington Monthly--Includes "Tilting at Windmills" Lucianne.com--Stirs the drink. Virginia Postrel--Friend of the future! Peggy Noonan--Gold in every column. Matt Miller--Savvy rad-centrism. WaPo--Waking from post-Bradlee snooze. The Liberal Death Star--Registration required.  NY Observer--Read it before the good writers are all hired away. New Republic--Left on welfare, right on warfare!  Jim Pinkerton--Quality ideas come from quantity ideas. Tom Tomorrow--Everyone's favorite leftish cartoonists' blog.  Ann "Too Far" Coulter--Sometimes it's just far enough. Bull Moose--National Greatness Central. John Ellis--Forget that Florida business! The cuz knows politics, and he has, ah, sources. "The Note"--How the pros start their day. Romenesko's MediaNews--O.K. they actually start it here. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities--Money Liberal Central.. Steve Chapman--Ornery-but-lovable libertarian. Rich Galen--Sophisticated GOP insider. Man Without Qualities--Seems to know a lot about white collar crime. Hmmm. Overlawyered.com--Daily horror stories. Eugene Volokh --Smart, packin' prof, and not Instapundit! Eve Tushnet--Queer, Catholic, conservative and not Andrew Sullivan! WSJ's Best of the Web--James Taranto's excellent obsessions. Walter Shapiro--Politics and (don't laugh) neoliberal humor! Eric Alterman -- Always annoying, occasionally right. Joe Conason -- Bush-bashing, free most days.  Nonzero--Bob Wright explains it all. [More tk.]

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