O.K., so the news that new claims for unemployment benefits fell below the benchmark 400,000 level (which sent the Dow up 180 points) gets buried on page C5, while news that the unemployment rate for last month stayed stubbornly stable (which didn't send the Dow anywhere) gets splashed above the fold on the front page, along with Democratic doubts that Bush's tax cut does enough to stimulate the economy. That's standard operating procedure for today's New York Times -- 'If there's gloom, there's room!' -- and arguably the monthly employment numbers in the second story were more important because they're more reliable than weekly figures on claims. But I worry -- what if the economy recovers? Will the NYT be able to gracefully make the shift from arguing that the Bush tax cuts are a bad idea because the economy's in the dumps to the (inevitable) argument that the Bush tax cuts are a bad idea because the economy's recovered without them? ...
P.S. If the tax cut proposals are all about "psychology," as Joe Klein claimed today on Face the Nation, is it possible that the necessary psychological benefits could be achieved without the cuts actually having to go into effect? The sequence would be a) thestock market rallies on prospect of dividend tax cut; b) investors feel richer and start spending more; c) this spending helps jump-start the economy; d) the ensuing economic recovery is strong enough to start boosting stock prices by itself; so e) the Bush dividend tax cut can die in Congress without causing a fall in the stock market. Presto! You've got recovery without taxes actually being cut and without blowing a hole in the long-term budget -- a bootstrapping trick not unlike the virtuous circle of bogus self-esteem. (The circle: a) You falsely, baselessly increase your self esteem; b) this increases serotonin production; c) the serotonin helps you perform better; d) you achieve genuine, deserved self-esteem).... 3:42 A.M.
John Ellis has noticed a near-unbelievable Boston Globe quote about Ted Kennedy. 2:17 A.M.
The U.S. military has begun an e-mail campaign urging military and civilian leaders in Iraq to turn away from President Saddam Hussein as the Pentagon builds forces for a possible invasion of the country, defense officials said on Saturday.
Thanks to next-generation technology that allows researchers to divine U.S. strategy from a close analysis of the fonts on Andrew Sullivan's Web site, kausfiles has been able to obtain a copy of these top-secret emails to the Iraqi high command. Evidently our psy-op warriors are employing state-of-the-art e-marketing techniques. ... 1:02 A.M. Friday, January 10, 2003
Friday, January 10, 2003
They're after him: Prof. Eugene Volokh (not me!) on whether Paul Krugman's latest distillation of complaints against
the Bush administration's creation of a cult of personality, its obsessive secretiveness, its propensity for mass arrests, and its evident fondness for Big-Brotherish schemes of public surveillance
is a sign of formerly "reasoned criticism" turning into "blind hatred." Volokh particularly derides the "cult of personality" charge ("Oh, yes, outside my office window I see the sign on the street corner -- 'Long live Bush, hero of all times and nations!'").
Krugman calls his critics "web stalkers." He also seems to believe he's such a threat that the Bush administration and its henchmen have been investigating his private life. Alerted to an anonymous web query for bio info, he writes
friends of the administration must have already looked into all of this. Read Lou Dubose's new book "Boy Genius", about Karl Rove, and you'll realize that if there was something there they would have used it. In fact, they would have invented something if they thought it would stick ...
Yes, but now your Web stalkers have tenure at UCLA. They're closing in! (And what's that clicking on the phone line? You know, when you call 411 and can't get the dial tone back?) Whatever you do, don't get any dental fillings -- we have the implants ready! ... 6:15 P.M.
Pickering update: An alert kf reader reminded me of Michael Crowley's counter-contrarian TNR piece of last year, defending the Democratic prosecution of Judge Pickering. It's here. We link, you decide! My take: I was surprised at how little Crowley has on Pickering -- the piece reads as if he'd been fed tendentious arguments by the camp of Sen. John Edwards, when the Edwards folks were panicked by some respectable criticism of his Judiciary committee cross-examination of Pickering. ...
Crowley completely ignores what Byron York and the WSJ editorial page describe as Pickering's chief complaint in the cross-burning case -- that the government cut a lenient deal with the wrong guy, the ringleader who had the most racial animus. Conceding (as an honest judge would do) that the letter of the law required a stiff sentence for the man Pickering regarded as the non-ringleader, Pickering asked whether Congress, when it enacted the mandatory sentencing guidelines, really "intended to extract seven or eight years on something like this." That's a fairly standard lawyer's complaint about the drafters of formal rules not anticipating the facts of a particular case. Crowley somehow inflates this into impermissible attempt at "questioning congressional intent," part of Pickering's "facile contempt for the federal government." ... There just doesn't seem to be that much there. If a smart reporter like Crowley, in touch with Pickering's critics, can't come up with anything substantial, that's even more assurance that there's not much there. ...
P.S.: Even ABC's mighty (and mainstream) Note is turning against Senator Charles Schumer's irresponsible promise to tar Pickering on the race issue. Crowley's piece reminds us that Schumer is not the only Democrat with a lot to lose here. Edwards, the Dem challenger with the most mojo at the moment, also has a lot riding on his evisceration of Pickering. ...
P.P.S.: I dissent from the current CW (also on display in The Note) that the Bushies are using Pickering as a human shield -- a nominee who will lose but divert attention from all the other Bush nominees. I think they are using Pickering to prick the Lott bubble, to disarm and defuse the old Democratic civil rights/racial politics machine currently clanking back into action. That is, the Bushies expect to win on Pickering, not lose. The case that Lott had expressed unacceptable segregationist longings was strong, after all. The case against Pickering on race grounds is weak. What better place for the Republicans to make a stand? If the Dems are smart, they'll realize this and find a better victim. ... 6:14 P.M.
Alive? David Ignatius debriefs some security sources and writes a useful column, P.O.V. al Qaeda. One insider wrinkle:
... the smartest thing the American interrogators have done is to move [captured al Qaeda] people to countries where they have relatives. That's the pressure that's hardest to resist -- from mother, father, sister, brother.
I hope Ignatius is right -- his account is awfully optimistic, from our P.O.V. But he assumes bin Laden is alive, which means his sources do too. What do they know that we don't? ... 12:44 A.M.
Source-Greaser Alert! The head of the House Government Reform Committee, which conducts investigations and "oversight," is always someone you want leaking to you and not the competition. Incoming chairman Tom Davis gets a big wet one from WaPo. ... 12:26 A.M.
Thursday, January 9, 2003
Thursday, January 9, 2003
Too Good to Check, but Soon to be a Major Motion Picture: Does Pat Conroy's Washington Post description of a Gonzaga College High School brawl -- allegedly started when his father smacked him -- bear a resemblance to reality? Dave McKenna, the ghost at the WaPo sports section's banquet, raises troubling questions! He's got good Pat Buchanan quote, and better quote from Danny Costello, a Gonzaga official, who says of Conroy:
Everything he writes, his dad beats him up—I know he gets pounded in The Great Santini and The Prince of Tides—and stories about his dad beating him up are in every article that's ever been written about the guy. So nobody should be surprised that he gets beat up in this book, too.
Conroy's explanation, though his agent, for why nobody else seems to remember the brawl: "No one saw him get hit,and he did not discuss it with anyone." Er, then how could the blow have started a "free-for-all" in which Conroy, in his own words,
"looked up from the floor and saw my father being tossed around like a Raggedy Ann doll."
Advantage, McKenna! ... Take it away, Mr. Kurtz!... 1:43 P.M.
Even the liberal WaPo ... The fight against Judge Charles Pickering always seemed to have more to do with fund-raising and muscle-flexing by civil rights and liberal legal watchdog groups (e.g., People for the American Way) than with Pickering's unfitness for the appellate bench. The lobbying groups have to righteously oppose someone or they might as well go out of business. We'll see if Byron York's persuasive brief for Pickering in the cross-burning case (in which Pickering's accused of "racial insensitivity") holds up. But even the Washington Post editorial page, which is not soft on civil rights, and which eventually opposed Pickering as an undistinguished nominee, wrote (on 2/17 of last year):
The judge's opponents, ... have plucked a number of unconnected incidents from a long career: a law review article from 1959 on the state's anti-miscegenation statute, written when Judge Pickering was a law student; his incidental contacts as a state legislator in the 1970s with the Mississippi state Sovereignty Commission; and his handling of a cross-burning case in his court a few years back, to cite a few examples. None of these incidents, when examined closely, amounts to much, but opponents string them together, gloss over their complexities and self-righteously present a caricature of an unworthy candidate.
The portrayal is particularly unfair because Judge Pickering's history on race is actually quite complicated. His unattractive moments as a politician -- voting for unconstitutional voting schemes, for example -- hardly distinguish him from other white politicians from his region and of his age. What does distinguish Judge Pickering is that he testified publicly against the Ku Klux Klan in the 1960s and that, as a young prosecutor, he aided the FBI's efforts against the Klan. He has worked since in racial reconciliation efforts. ... The need on the part of liberal groups and Democratic senators to portray him as a Neanderthal -- all the while denying they are doing so -- in order to justify voting him down is the latest example of the degradation of the confirmation process. [Emphasis added.]
I accuse Weekly Standard editor Chris Caldwell of trying to be interesting. He claims the Bush tax cut represents a "dead loss" for middle class Americans, because what they gain in child tax credits ($800 for a family of four) they lose in the "relative wealth" race with the rich:
The middle class, in certain circumstances, must compete against the rich as if in a luxury market - not just for luxury goods but for the staples of life. What do middle-class parents want for their children? A house in a neighbourhood with a good public school system, orthodontia, a college education, maybe even (heaven forbid) a kidney transplant. The prices of all these commodities will be bid up (and by considerably more than $800) when top earners start getting their annual five-figure windfalls.
Interesting! But if it's relative wealth we're worried about, whatever changes might be wrought by Bush's tax cut are minor compared with the inegalitarian trends in the underlying economy that are increasingly rewarding skill, education, and luck. Why not tamp down those trends -- and their consequences -- too? Is this a road Caldwell wants to travel down?
If he does, he should maybe not worry about who is "unconservative." Once you start fretting about relative wealth -- i.e. money equality -- more than prosperity, it's not easy to see where to stop. Caldwell could say he'll stop whenever "the working class is capable of imagining it can join the rich." But it's hard to see why they can imagine it today but won't be able to if the proposed Bush tax cut passes. (The estate tax repeal is another matter.) Weren't they able to imagine it in the far more inegalitarian early decades of the 20th century? ... If I were sure -- and I'm not -- that the proposed Bush cut really would a) stimulate the economy and b) prevent corporate shenanigans involving retained earnings, I'd be for it even if it also disproportionately increased the wealth of the rich. After all, we've learned that the best thing you can do for the poor, and for poor neighborhoods, is to run a hot economy with a tight labor market at the bottom that pushes up wages. (Does the middle class also lose ground in Caldwell's bidding war if the poor get richer? He could make a plausible argument. But should we care? It would definitely be good for social equality.) ... P.S.:Orthodontia? Are the rich really bidding up the price of braces? ... 2:48 A.M.
Wednesday, January 8, 2003
Danes Mince No Words: Bjorn Lomborg's book, The Skeptical Environmentalist, is
"a provocative debate-generating paper"
according to a branch of the Danish Research Agency. Is that a rebuke or a blurb? 10:49 P.M.
Gourmet greasing: You can buy a lot more than a "pizza" for $50 per person, the new limit the GOP congress has established for the free meals lobbyists can provide to Congressmen and their staffs. Note to Galileo's: Time to open up that catering division. ... Is this really the way the Republicans want to start off their period of Congressional control? It could be a short run. ... Prediction: This is an irresistible slam dunk for the press. Steaks for tax breaks! There will be embarrassing stories and the rule will be repealed by the weekend. ... P.S.: The "charity golf junket" loophole stinks too. ... 10:58 A.M.
By the way: This paragraph was buried as a bullet item in the "Washington in Brief" section inside today's Washington Post:
Discoveries in Afghanistan show that al Qaeda's research into biological weapons was more advanced than previously estimated by the United States, a CIA report to Congress said. While terrorists still prefer conventional bombs and other traditional methods of attack, they are becoming increasingly interested in using poisons, disease weapons and other biological weapons, the report added.
You and Which Armey?
"Dick Armey, the retiring majority leader of the House, one of the most principled politicians, has been in this town a long time. He's proving how principled he is; he's not going to go into lobbying, he's going to do part-time work for the ACLU defending civil liberties at a time of war. A very principled gentleman."
-- McLaughlin Group panelist Tony Blankley, giving his nomination for the "Sorry to See You Go" award on the show's year end roundup.
Dick Armey, the departing House majority leader, summarized the situation in his usual succinct style when he was asked on Friday how much money he would be making in his new job starting this week at Piper Rudnick, a law firm with a large lobbying operation. "I don't anticipate going hungry," Mr. Armey replied.
-- from " G.O.P. Lobbyists in Demand in New Congress," by John Tierney, New York Times, January 6, 2003.
P.S.: Chatterbox has more on Armey's disingenuous, too-scripted departure spin. ... 1:31 A.M.
Monday, January 6, 2003
In DeLong's Run: Berkeley economist Brad DeLong claims to have found a passage in Bush economic adviser Glenn Hubbard's own textbook that says deficits, such as those now projected, do too raise interest rates. But isn't the question how much? (DeLong doesn't catch Hubbard saying "deficits don't matter" -- that's a reporter summarizing Hubbard.) DeLong's view: What an honest economic adviser would say is that a long-term deficit certainly does raise interest rates, certainly does reduce investment, and certainly does put a drag on long-run economic growth. She would say that we really don't know how large the drag is, but that there is no good reason to think that it can be neglected as small, and some good reason to think it is large.
What an honest economic adviser would say is that a long-term deficit certainly does raise interest rates, certainly does reduce investment, and certainly does put a drag on long-run economic growth. She would say that we really don't know how large the drag is, but that there is no good reason to think that it can be neglected as small, and some good reason to think it is large.
Reasonable enough. Assuming DeLong's right, though, that doesn't end the debate. Even if interest rates go up a bit, their short-term depressive effect can presumably be countered by the stimulative effect of short-term tax cuts and spending. Meanwhile, mightn't there be a countervailing political virtue in using the prospect of long-run deficits to hold down government spending today -- so that when we (i.e., Democrats) inevitably raise taxes in the years ahead, a smaller portion of Washington's total tax take will have to go to paying for the existing government, and a larger portion can go for expanding government in new, worthwhile directions (such as universal health care)? ...Yesterday's WaPo piece by Dan Morgan nicely illustrates the point. Morgan writes:
But Democratic leaders have been charging for months that the administration's main motives for squeezing domestic programs are to offset the revenue lost through the president's 2001 tax cut and make room in the budget for further cuts and new priorities such as a Medicare prescription drug benefit for seniors. [Emphasis added.]
Uh, don't Democratic leaders want a "Medicare prescription drug benefit for seniors" -- a more expensive one, even, than the Republicans have proposed? If "squeezing domestic programs" makes "room in the budget" for this benefit, isn't that a good thing? ... 2:15 A.M.
Friday, January 3, 2003
Nothing a little Photoshop can't fix: Kf's spinoff automotive blog, "Gearbox," has a sophisticated exegesis of the German Expressionist aesthetics now incorporated in consumer transportation products. ... Plus pix of how the new BMW could look way more bitchin' ... 1:11 P.M.
Thursday, January 2, 2003 Nothing a little Bauhaus can't fix? Can architecture change culture? Specifically, can spiffing up the design turn an unsafe public housing project into a decent place to live? I'm skeptical. The Archer Courts housing project in Chicago could be a good test case for this proposition, since the architect who remodeled it seems to have done an exceptionally good job, judging from the photos in today's NYT. But there's no way to reach a conclusion because Gwenda Blair's accompanying text seems so naive and credulous. ... A few actual statistics on the incidence of crime at the project, instead of bland tell-the-reporter-what-she-wants quotes -- "Every day I thank the people who made my apartment better" -- would help. Also, if the project is in fact safer, is it because a) the new Mondrian-like curtain wall has instilled a sense of pride; b) the new fences have kept criminals out; c) the new, private owners are able to evict bad tenants without worrying about due process requirements that hamstrung the old owner, the Chicago Housing Authority; or d) the surrounding community has been transformed by gentrification? By a general crime decline? Or by welfare reform! ... You get the impression Blair's editors didn't want to delve too deeply into these issues, because it might have muddied up the planned, comforting message -- that the ghettos would be nice places to live if only the "haves" were generous enough to pay for a good remodeling. ...7:46 P.M.
Thursday, January 2, 2003
Nothing a little Bauhaus can't fix? Can architecture change culture? Specifically, can spiffing up the design turn an unsafe public housing project into a decent place to live? I'm skeptical. The Archer Courts housing project in Chicago could be a good test case for this proposition, since the architect who remodeled it seems to have done an exceptionally good job, judging from the photos in today's NYT. But there's no way to reach a conclusion because Gwenda Blair's accompanying text seems so naive and credulous. ... A few actual statistics on the incidence of crime at the project, instead of bland tell-the-reporter-what-she-wants quotes -- "Every day I thank the people who made my apartment better" -- would help. Also, if the project is in fact safer, is it because a) the new Mondrian-like curtain wall has instilled a sense of pride; b) the new fences have kept criminals out; c) the new, private owners are able to evict bad tenants without worrying about due process requirements that hamstrung the old owner, the Chicago Housing Authority; or d) the surrounding community has been transformed by gentrification? By a general crime decline? Or by welfare reform! ... You get the impression Blair's editors didn't want to delve too deeply into these issues, because it might have muddied up the planned, comforting message -- that the ghettos would be nice places to live if only the "haves" were generous enough to pay for a good remodeling. ...7:46 P.M.
Democrats: 'We're just not mean and simplistic enough!' From the NYT yesterday--
Liberal radio programs have not worked very well in the past. Liberals and conservatives said they believed this was in part because the most prominent liberal hosts have tended to present policy issues in all of their dry complexity while refraining from baring fangs against conservative opponents.
Talk about pathetic, comforting myths! As John Ellis notes, regarding the general we-need-a-Fox line of thinking among Democrats:
If Democrats believe that they are losing elections because the media are not liberal enough, then they really ought to just give up.
P.S.: At some point, in its ongoing coverage of the relative power of liberal and conservative "media voices," isn't the NYT going to have to discuss itself? Or would that be "unseemly and self-absorbed"? 2:28 A.M.
Food Stamps and the English Language: The editorial board of the New York Times declares:
In fact, food stamps are not welfare, not even charity, but a nutrition program that helps the poor buy food.
I love the bogus, whistling-past-the-graveyard authority of "In fact." ... Of course food stamps are welfare, under virtually all definitions of the term. The most common definition-- and my definition -- would define "welfare" as assistance that a) helps people get what they need to live and b) that's available to poor recipients even if they don't work. Despite some spotty "work requirements" decreed over the years, food stamps remain largely available to poor workers and shirkers alike.
It doesn't matter, then, that food stamps aren't cash -- they readily substitute for cash and can be traded for cash. It doesn't matter that, as the Times notes, many food stamp recipients actualy do some work -- many recipients of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (the successor program to the hated Aid to Families with Dependent Children) work also. Indeed, the Times could just as easily have claimed that TANF itself is "not welfare, not even charity, but a financial assistance program that helps the poor buy food and housing." (Isn't housing and clothing as important as food?) But if TANF isn't welfare, what is? Like TANF and AFDC, the food stamp program is stigmatized, and rightly so, not because nobody on food stamps works, but because you don't have to work to get the aid ...
It's a measure of the Times' distance from the citizenry that they would think the average American might conceivably be bullied into agreeing that "food stamps are not welfare." ...(If you adopt a broader definition of "welfare" occassionally used by both liberals and conservatives -- in which any means-tested program qualifies -- food stamps are still welfare.)
The NYT didn't need to try this semantic bluff to make its point. There's a plausible argument that a continuation of food stamps was part of the welfare reform deal of 1996, and that cities like New York should make sure that people are aware of their rights. On the other hand, if poor New Yorkers -- including many full-time workers who qualify for a few food stamp dollars because they have large families -- don't want to sign up for the program because of the (justified) "welfare" stigma, that's their right too. It should also permissable for the New York welfare authorities to remind potential recipients of the stigma. Which means the Times' proposed measure of success for the Bloomberg administration -- the more people on food stamps the better -- can't be the right one. ... P.S.: A food stamp program restricted to workers would be another story -- and another program. ... [Thanks to kf reader J.W.] ...1:31 A.M
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. Lloyd Grove--Don't let him write about you. Arianna--A hybrid vehicle. Tom Paine.com--Web-lib populists. Nonzero--Bob Wright explains it all. [More tk.