Puff Dad to Baghdad,

Puff Dad to Baghdad,

Puff Dad to Baghdad,

A mostly political Weblog.
June 26 2003 8:39 PM

Katherine Harris West

Plus: From Puff Daddy to Baghdaddy

Lost the case, won the vase! Marine Col. Matthew Bogdanos, the "Manhattan district attorney and reservist" who is a hero in this WaPo piece about missing Iraqi artifacts--he helped recover the "Uruk Vase"--wouldn't be the same Matthew Bogdanos who unsuccessfully prosecuted hip-hop star and entrepreneur Sean "P. Diddy" Combs after a 1999 Manhattan nightclub shooting, would he? ... From this Court TV bio page it sure looks like it. ... Doesn't WaPo's Nora Boustany read the N.Y. Post? ...1:44 A.M.

California's Katherine Harris? Is California's Democratic Secretary of State Kevin Shelley  fudging up the law to save Gray Davis from a recall? That's Bee blogger Daniel Weintraub's suspicion. First, Shelley's office wouldn't give a straight answer to the question of whether a Davis resignation would work to cancel the recall. (Weintraub wondered if Shelley wanted "to keep things vague so he can make it up as he goes along.")  Now Shelley's requiring signature-counting procedures that will "almost certainly delay the election until March." ... More Weintraub:

This is looking more like a mirror image of Florida every day. Instead of a Republican Secretary of State fighting to slow a recount and elect a Republican president, we have a Democratic Secretary of State acting to slow a signature count to prevent the recall of a Democratic governor.

And just like in Florida, this one might also wind up in the courts. Except for one problem: if the recall proponents sue, they might find themselves locked in a legal death struggle that could delay rather than quicken the pace of the count. So they may be trapped into accepting Shelley's edict.


I don't necessarily want a recall myself. But I do want a Secretary of State who plays it straight. ... P.S.: Who will be the first, as the recall procedure gets even more complex and perverse due to the Secretary's of State's rulings, to use the obvious "SHELLEY'S FRANKENSTEIN" hed?  I certainly plan to at the first available opportunity. ...[You already stole Weintraub's 'Katherine Harris' hed. Good work-ed.8:10 P.M.

Kf on drugs: I'm confused!

1) I understand why, as Holman Jenkins Jr. argued in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, drug companies need to make big profits on successful drugs if they are going to finance the risky research to discover new drugs, which involves following a lot of false leads.

The occasional gusher provides investors a return on all the money thrown down dry holes.


I also understand why, if there's a drug benefit within a government-run Medicare system (what Democrats want), the government might use its massive buying power to demand low "dictated prices that don't cover" the costs of discovering those new and better drugs.

2) And I also understand why, as Robert Moffit of the Heritage Foundation argued in the New York Post yesterday, "new entitlements always wind up costing far, far more than initial estimates," and the Medicare drug entitlement is likely to be no exception. I understand why, under the alternative, partly-privatized program initially proposed by President Bush, in which you could choose from a variety of private health plans, "[m]arket pressures" would "control costs."

3) What I don't understand is how both these right-wing critiques of the Senate's prescription drug entitlement can be true at the same time. How does the partly-privatized plan give more money to drug companies (solving problem #1) while simultaneously being cheaper (solving problem #2)? I should think that, as a crude first approximation, controlling costs through "market pressures" would involve controlling the cost of drugs (substituting generics, bargaining down prices, making sure treatment is warranted, etc.)--which would mean less money for the drug companies to use to reward investors and fund risky research.

Either the drug companies get more money or they get less money, right? A system that sends them more money will be more expensive, no? Or is the miracle of the market even more miraculous than I thought? ... Pleafor toughlove: Straighten kausfiles out at Mickey_Kaus@msn.com ... 5:02 P.M


Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Kurtz-Skipper: Sometimes you don't know what the fuss over a story is all about until you hit a key novelistic detail in the jump. In today's talked-about Kurtz piece on the NYT's embedded reporter Judith Miller, it's a mere seven words (conveniently highlighted below) in the thirty-third paragraph:

Miller formed a friendship with MET Alpha's leader, Chief Warrant Officer Gonzales, and several officers said they were surprised when she participated in a Baghdad ceremony in which Gonzales was promoted. She pinned the rank to his uniform, an eyewitness said ...

P.S.: Miller has gotten in trouble, Kurtz suggests, through her excessive reliance on Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress. But Chalabi's organization was good enough for Kurtz  when it came to supplying documents that could be used to embarrass UPI's Arnaud de Borchgrave. ...  2:15 A.M.


Plan B, for Bustamante: Prof. Hasen goes to the statute books and confirms that Bob Novak was wrong--Gray Davis cannot derail a recall election by resigning, at least once the recall petitions are "filed" (whatever that means). ... Davis seemingly has to make his decision fairly soon if he wants to stop the recall election. ...  But presumably there is a window, even after petitions are "filed," in which Davis' resignation would still benefit the Democrats--not by cancelling the recall election but by allowing another Dem to gracefully jump into the race to succeed him, a race decided in the "replacement election" that is held on the same day the recall is voted on. This "jumping in" decision apparently might be able to be made as late as 59 days before Election Day  . (It would make no sense to have no window, after a recall petition with enough signatures is "filed," in which candidates to succeed Davis could jump in. Not that the California recall law necessarily makes sense.) ... The wrinkle: Once Davis resigns, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante becomes governor until the "replacement election"--and he thus becomes the obvious Democratic candidate to run in that election. Does any other Democrat want to jump in and elbow Bustamante out of the way? It might not look good to try to block the historic election of a Hispanic governor, no? ... That might work to the Dems advantage, of course, by forcing them to have a single candidate, namely Bustamante. If it's Bustamante versus three ambitious Republicans, Bustamante is likely to win handily simply because the Republicans will split their party's vote. There's no runoff, remember. ... Update: A "spokeswoman for the California secretary of state's office" is less clear on resignation/derailment issue than Hasen is. I'd go with Hasen. Robert Musil emails: "Except that the people who went with people who read statutes like Hasen does all ended up frustrated in the Torricelli case." Good point! ...More: Prof. Hasen responds --

In the Torricelli case, the statute said what happened about putting a new name on the ballot when a vacancy occurred at least x days before an election. It was silent on what happened if a vacancy occurred in fewer than x days.  And there was caselaw in New Jersey before the controversy (unlike in the California situation, where there is no caselaw defining "filing") saying that the deadline for putting the name on the ballot was there for the convenience of the elections officials, and could be changed.  So people who read statutes like I do would have said the NJ court could have gone either way.

Hasen may have more faith in the ability of California courts to enforce the clear meaning of a statute than is warranted in this situation. See California Insider's more cynical take, also discussed above. ... 10:59 A.M.

SCRUM, not Shrum! The mysterious Scrum blogger, whose identity is known only to a select elite group, notes that Christopher Hitchens has made clear a point about Senator Kerry that kf obscurely tried to make with a reference to George Romney's famous Vietnam-era "brainwashing" remark:

Christopher Hitchens has little respect for Kerry's claim that Bush misled him on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. "So, the junior senator from Massachusetts has finally come up with a winning line. 'Vote for me,' says John Kerry. 'I'm easily fooled.' This appears to be the implication of his claim to have been 'misled' by the Bush administration in the matter of WMD. And, considering the way in which Democratic Party activists generally portray the president as a fool and an ignoramus, one might as well go the whole distance and suggest a catchy line for the campaign: 'Kerry. Duped by a Dope.'" (Slate)


Old Chinese proverb: "Man who is 'misled' once is likely to be 'misled' again!" ... P.S.: "Unlikely to make good president no matter how craggy jaw!"... Update: Taranto has made this point as well. ...3:02 A.M.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Recall-o-nomics: California Governor Gray Davis is now facing recall primarily because of the state's big budget crisis. Isn't it unfair to punish Davis for the slowdown in the state's economy and the resulting shortfall of revenues? Aren't voters always childishly angry with their elected leaders when services have to be cut or taxes have to be raised? Then when the deed is done or the economy picks up, the pols' polls start to rise again. Why punish an elected leader by recalling him any time his ratings dip into a temporary budget-induced trough?

The recall system definitely produces instability,which is  William Safire's objection. And you can argue it discourages tough budget choices: Who dares to raise taxes or cut spending if it might to spark a recall--a ballot mechanism that's increasingly easy to invoke in today's fast-paced Web-powered political environment, etc.?

That's what I thought. Then I read  Dennis Cauchon's USA Today article, pointing out that the Gray Davis budget crisis is the result of bad political decisions, not a bad economy. Some states (Utah, even Howard Dean-governed Vermont) saw the slowdown coming, and held back on spending and tax cuts during the good times. They don't have Davis-style crises now.

California, the worst-performing state in the analysis, did the opposite. It approved huge spending increases and tax cuts during the boom. When the economy soured, the state began borrowing money and using accounting gimmicks to avoid its day of reckoning. Today, it continues to spend $1 billion a month more than it takes in.

Wouldn't it be a good thing if politicians knew there was a heavy price to pay for this crowd-pleasing irresponsibility--not just an inevitable fiscal crisis that can be put off until after the next election and then forgotten before the election after that, but a swift mid-term hammer that might crush their careers? I tend to think yes.

Under the current system, after all, state legislatures binge with tax cuts and spending during boom times and then go on a harsh budget-cutting, tax-hiking jag when the economy slows. That's exactly the opposite of what you'd want them to do in Keynesian, countercyclical terms. The fiscal drag from all the formerly big-spending states grimly cutting their budgets and raising taxes is currently a big factor nullifying the strenuous efforts of the Fed, Congress, and the White House to pump some life into the economy. In an easy-recall regime, in contrast, states would tend to be model Keynesian citizens, saving up money in rainy day funds during booms and spending that money during busts, avoiding recall-inducing budget crunches at all costs. ...

If a recall system is good for old-fashioned budget balancing economists and good for Keynesian, deficit-running economists, maybe its good! ... P.S.: That's not to defend California's wacky no-runoff system for choosing Davis' replacement should he be recalled--a system in which the potential winning threshhold is so low that Robert Blake would have a good shot at the governor's mansion!  ... Or Tom Hayden, if he could hold the left together while the center and right fragmented. ... Or, better yet,  radical centrist Jill Stewart. ... Update: Several e-mailers suggest that the state's Democratic legislature was more to blame for overspending than Davis. ("[T]he recall seems a little like the common baseball practice of firing the manager when the players stink.") Well, maybe the legislators should be recalled too! Reconstitute the government, as in a parliamentary system faced with a no confidence vote. (It's only a state, remember, so we don't have to worry about continuity of foreign policy.) ... Even without a full legislative recall, though, a recall of Davis would punish blameworthy California Democratic legislators by threatening to make them work under a Republican governor (when they thought they had the state locked up for a generation). ... Were the legislative and executive branches controlled by different parties, it might be a different story. ... 2:55 P.M.

Monday, June 23, 2003

Daniel Weintraub--blogger of the Bee-- makes a good case  that Andrew Sullivan has falsely accused Hillary Clinton  of being a "waffler" and "prevaricator" when what she's really guilty of is taking a position different from that of Andrew Sullivan. (She's against gay marriage and for civil unions--that might be wrong, but it's a clear position.) ... P.S.: Weintraub also has some smart items about the recall of California governor Gray Davis. For example, he corrects Robert Novak on what happens if Davis quits before the recall balloting. ... 1:50 P.M.

A few months ago, I heard that a drug called memantine might help Alzheimer's patients. Then a friend whose father has Alzheimer's told me her father was actually on the drug, which she'd obtained from Europe with the permission of a U.S. doctor. I immediately told another friend whose father has the disease. Then, last week, Gina Kolata of the New York Times reported on the popularity of memantine, which--according to one study publicized in a reputable medical journal--seems to slightly slow the progress of the disease. My second friend soon emailed:

 I have taken my father to three doctors in  CT to try to get a memantine prescription in the last month.  none of them had ever heard of it.  so when -- three days after talking to a yale neurologist who had never heard of it -- I read about it in the NYT that everyone in america is taking it, I went ballistic.

Thanks in part to the Internet, in part to better journalism, sick people are finding out about potential cures very quickly--in this case long before even seemingly qualified front-line doctors. Instead of whining about drug "hype" and "false hopes" (and overcrowded waiting rooms) whenever desperate patients turn out to want a new drug, leaders of our medical establishment might try to come up with some sort of drug-alert system that kept members of their profession at least as well-informed as average readers of the New York Times! ... It's the 21st century. Info moves fast. Deal with it! ... I'm not even talking here about delays in getting promising new drugs approved. In this case, practicing doctors hadn't even gotten the word that a promising new drug existed, approved or unapproved, despite its widespread use. ... P.S.: I've thought for years that practicing M.D.s, however conscientious and well-educated, tend to be the most boring people around. They're lawyers who don't read the papers! But I always figured they at least read the New England Journal of Medicine. ... 1:17 A.M.

Sunday, June 22, 2003

Hillary Clinton's book "scanned" sales of 438,701 in its first week according to Nielsen Bookscan data cited on Drudge. That's a lot of books. On the other hand, Simon & Schuster spokesman Adam Rothberg told the N.Y. Times on June 11 that "after initially printing a million copies the publisher has ordered an additional 300,000." In other words, S&S says it has printed at least 1,300,000 copies, yet it's sold 439,000 (that Nielsen's counted). Since this is probably a book whose sales will decline fairly sharply after the initial burst--S&S claimed 200,000 sales the first day, and obviously didn't sustain that pace for the week--then isn't Simon & Schuster at risk of having a gigantic number of unsold books on its hands? Like, hundreds of thousands? ... That is, if you actually believe S&S's claim about the number printed. ... Oh well. They can always sell them at Home Depot as bricks for constructing ecologically sound houses. If hay bales work, why not Hillary bales? I would think they have excellent insulating properties. 10:56 P.M.

Friday, June 20, 2003

I've always found myself agreeing with Robert Kuttner on health care. (Believe me, if I could disagree, I would.) Plus, he writes clearly on the topic. Here  Kuttner backs up Edward Kennedy's conclusion that the Senate Finance Committee bill is a good camel's nose under the tent. Certainly a $40 billion-a-year subsidy seems like plenty for a "down payment." (The food stamp program, for example, costs $26 billion.)... If you read only one op-ed piece on  prescription drug benefits all week, this would be a good one! ... 2:39 P.M.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Grover Norquist's so confident about the secret GOP strategy to achieve a flat (single-rate) income tax that he's boasted about it  on the op-ed page of WaPo. A big advantage of the single-rate tax for conservatives, Norquist argues, is that it will "unite all taxpayers."

When taxpayers are divided into different tax brackets, they can be mugged one at a time through the "divide, isolate and tax" strategy that Clinton pursued when he promised to tax "just the top 2 percent" of earners.

David Broder accepts this theory. It's left to The New Republic's anonymous blogger (Noam Scheiber, I suspect) to point out that the theory makes little sense.  Suppose we had a flat tax. Unless it was written into the Constitution, what's to prevent a Clinton-like Democrat from coming along and proposing to raise taxes on just the top 2 percent? This "divide, isolate and tax" strategy would presumably be just as appealing to the bottom 98 percent as it was when the tax structure was progressive....

But TNR's ill-chosen example--Social Security taxes--complicates the situation. Social Security taxes, after all, are close to flat taxes for most Americans. But the flat-rate Social Security payroll tax has also been a very hard one to make more progressive, Clinton-style. Proposals to fund the system by raising taxing only on the rich (as well as proposals to exempt the poor) typically face heavy sledding. Why? Because voters feel their flat payroll contributions are what entitle them to Social Security benefits. Tamper with this tax structure and Social Security becomes "welfare," the system's defenders will say. ... It's also very difficult, as a result, to cut Social Security benefits, even progressively (for example, by 'means-testing' that eliminates checks to the rich). ....

Which raises a question: In Norquist's flat-tax paradise, would it really be so easy to reduce the size of government, as Broder sensibly assumes Norquist wants to do? What if flat-taxpayers come to view big government as a bought-and-paid-for "entitlement," like Social-Security? "You can't cut my farm benefits--I paid for them with my 15 percent," etc. ... I don't think this would happen. Most of Social Security's "entitlement" appeal comes from the fiction that payroll taxes are invested and that benefits are simply the return on "my money."  But at least part of it comes from the system's egalitarian aspect--everybody who works chips in at the same rate, so everybody feels less guilty about demanding "their" share. This is something Norquist might want to think about before he and his co-conspirators make too much progress with their brilliant scheme. Or is he perfectly happy with big government as long as it's funded with a flat tax? ... 4:02 P.M.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Kerry: 'I might have been brainwashed!' ... Whoops, he said "misled." Sorry ... [???-ed. Click here. Search for "Romney." ... Or just go here.] 11:25 P.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 Charlie Peters' proto-blog. 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. Calmer Times--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--Born to blog. Joe Conason--Bush-bashing, free most days. Lloyd Grove--Don't let him write about you. Arianna--A hybrid vehicle. TomPaine.com--Web-lib populists. Take on the News--TomPaine's blog.  B-Log--Blog of spirituality!  Hit & Run--Reason gone wild! Daniel Weintraub--Beeblogger and Davis Recall Central. Nonzero--Bob Wright explains it all. [More tk.]